Pray without ceasing.
1 Thessalonians 5:17
What kind of statement is this? Doesn't it seem
unreasonable to you? Is it a command, advice or a recommendation? How
could Paul have been keeping this himself as he spoke the words of the
epistle that contains these words? Yet, here they are. Was he being
over-expressive or poetic? Couldn't he have better said, "Pray as much
as you can." or "Pray whenever you have an opportunity."? We could have
possibly attained to this. He didn't say it in any other way, however,
and he meant what he said. "Oh," you say, rather dismally. Were you
hoping I was going to explain it away?
We'll find understanding, and hence, progress towards its
fulfillment, in looking at what prayer is.
4Rejoice in the Lord
alway: and again I say, Rejoice. 5Let
your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. 6Be careful
for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7And the peace
God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds
through Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever
things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of
good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think
on these things. 9Those things, which ye have both learned, and
received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be
This passage sheds a lot of light on the issue. First, we
need to rearrange our definition. We see here that prayer isn't
supplication. To supplicate is to request. Asking for things. We often
envision prayer as being this. It is not. This passage lists these as
two separate things. Next we see it isn't thanksgiving, for this is
likewise separate from prayer in this passage. Now I have you really
stumped, huh? We are to pray always, we are to make requests and give
thanks and rejoice. What's more, we are to rejoice on the one hand and
live in moderation on the other. Moderation means refraining ourselves.
Not giving our flesh every thing it craves. How can we likewise be so
cheery as to rejoice all the time, while living on a continual kind of
diet, as it were? Our source of life and our heart's abode is brought
into focus. This helps define prayer. We know we're to pray always and
supplicate and rejoice and give thanks. This means that to do these
other things must be included in prayer as part of a larger meaning.
Supplication is prayer. Rejoicing is prayer. Thanksgiving is prayer,
but you can't say supplication is rejoicing or that rejoicing is
thanksgiving. We have some direction now as to a definition of prayer.
Looking at that rejoicing and moderation, we go back to the source of
life and abiding.
5 I am the vine, ye are
the branches: He that abideth in
me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye
can do nothing.
Remember that fruit is the natural outcome of life.
comes from the supplier of life. This explains how, in our rejoicing,
we're living in moderation. A rejoicing heart is part of the fruit
(Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 5:9). Some pruning of the flesh enables the
fruit of the Spirit to blossom forth.
Note: VERY IMPORTANT - it
doesn't say or show we gain the
fruit of the Spirit by living as Stoics. This is a form of religion
that looks noble to the fleshly mind, but has no source of life. The
warning to moderation is a warning against overindulging the flesh.
I would say we now have enough elements to venture forth a
definition for prayer. A prayer which can realistically be done without
ceasing. Prayer is a communion with God. A fellowship in which we share
everything with Him. Our hopes, our joys, our fears, our love. We're
called to walk through life holding His hand, as it were, like a little
child walking hand in hand with his father as the child excitedly goes
through the fair, or maybe as a little child being carried by his
father through the fair. Some things may scare him at the fair, but if
he buries his face in his father's shoulder, he finds comfort. The
child knows his father is ever with him and can take care of him. This
unity in going together is abiding together. Now if our religion was
make believe, this life of fellowship and the Spirit's abiding
presence, could never flow in us, but our God is indeed true. We do
have a Father who will carry, comfort and rejoice with us. His
delightful presence is ever powerfully with us. Those who know Him have
no doubt of this. You can't touch life and wonder what you're in
A Picture of Life in Action
Looking back at our passage, we see "Be careful for
nothing;". This is also translated as, "be anxious for nothing;". The
passage goes on to tell us, "and the peace of God which passeth all
understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Here is that real abiding life you encounter in this constant communion
with God. Our fears and worries will disappear in this constant union
and abiding with God.
We have seen what prayer is, but how does it come down to
actual living experience? We get caught in the things surrounding us.
This is where our moderation problem spins out of control. We forget to
keep holding the Father's hand, letting it slip out of ours, and run
off to view the things around us at the fair. We get lost in the
crowds, suddenly finding our fears overrun us, as we look for the
Father and can't see Him. We cry to Him and suddenly find His face
looking down at us. He sweeps us up in His arms, and we're secure once
again. If we never let go of His hand, we wouldn't be overcome by the
flesh. We find that continued strength as we make sure to hold His
hand. His life and strength flow through us and into us in a way that
even this simple illustration can't properly demonstrate. This is
because the illustration relies on flesh experiences, but the strength
and communion actually takes place in our spirits. Our spirit is one
with His in the body of Christ - "through Christ Jesus" from this
What to Think On
This leads us to our final observations of this passage. I
consider this very powerful:
whatsoever things are
true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever
things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any
praise, think on these things. 9Those things, which ye have both
learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of
peace shall be with you."
We have instructions to help us keep in moderation
see we don't run off at the fair. The things in this world, our daily
affairs, interactions with others, events and fears, capture our whole
attention. We're told what to let occupy our attention. The list is
wonderfully positive but sometimes, to help us realize what sort of
things the list refers to, we need to see what the positive things are
the opposite of.
Starting with "true" we have "false". This would include
watching documentaries that attack the Word of God such as those
promoting evolution or questioning the reality of the biblical
miracles. These drive a wedge in our communion with God. His fellowship
goes, His peace and strength also go. We need to actively grab hold of
the "true" things and powerfully shove away those "false".
Next we have "honest". The opposite is easy, "dishonest".
What's the difference between "honest" and "true" ? "True" speaks of
fact. "Honest" speaks of intention. What's the motive? Is the intent
good even though the action might be slightly misled. The dishonest
thing to avoid would hit propaganda. We are constantly fed news
intended to corrupt our beliefs by being given false impressions.
Choose news sources that don't have a brainwashing "agenda" to
Now we find "just". The opposite is "unjust". No, I don't
think I'm speaking to idiots. Of course you knew the opposite, but I
must list it. "Unjust" is a corruption of justice. I encounter people
who get consumed with political corruptions. These fill them with a
life of fear and terror. We have always been surrounded by political
corruption, back to the time this Bible passage was written under Roman
rule. Paul didn't live his life mulling over Roman injustices. He
looked to the Author and Finisher of our salvation. In Him we find
"just". Don't always dream of a just government. We're told to "Pray
for peace" (1 Timothy 2:1,2), but a just government won't exist on this
world until Christ returns.
"Pure" and its opposite is "impure". Impure things often
have pure things in them, but mixed with bad. It's like enjoying an ice
cream cone and finding the chunk in the ice cream isn't butter brickle,
but a clump of dirt. That would certainly ruin the ice cream! Now what
about the movies you watch? Are they like that ice cream cone? Is there
evil, like obscenities, mixed in with the movie? If so, this is the
impure sort of thing to avoid that pulls us out of communion with God.
Now we see "lovely". Its opposite is "ugly". If our heart
delights in anything ugly, this grieves the Spirit of our heavenly
Father. This quickly cuts off communion. The crudities of this world
should be quickly shunned. I saw a Christian who had an ashtray that
had a rubber figurine of a dog positioned to urinate into the ashtray.
This is crude in its suggestion. This sort of delight separates us from
"Good report's" opposite is that of a "bad reputation".
What's the reputation of the thing you get involved with? If I go to
where your club meets, will I find things that uplift holiness, or just
the opposite? I once worked a service job where I went into one of
these community philanthropic lodges. In that lodge was a bar and on
the bulletin board was a sexually explicit and vulgar cartoon. The
"club" may proclaim its community contributions, but will a little
closer look reveal such crudities?
Virtue & Praise
"Virtue" and "praise" go together for an overall flavor.
Their opposites are things smacking of "ungodliness" or "condemnation".
Would you be willing to shine a light on them and examine them? If
you're afraid the light would reveal something, you can know you're
holding on to something you shouldn't.
Think on these things
We're called to "think on these things". The meditation of
our heart and the pursuit of the wonderful things, listed prior, will
keep our communion with God intact.
Peace of God & God of
Paul finishes this up saying he has so lived, and continues
to live. From personal experience, he could declare it works. He says,
"follow my words and my actions". Why does he so finish it here? Look
at that blessed conclusion, "and the God of peace shall be with you".
Prior to the list he said, "peace of God", but he switches the order to
"God of peace". This is important, in fact, the crux of the matter. We
easily look at "peace" as a goal and object in and of itself. A
possession, like a toy, if you would. What God wants, isn't our hearts
full of some possession or possessions, but Him. It's not peace, per
se, we get, but God in whom is peace. "Pray without ceasing." Communion
that abides in the presence of God. This isn't an ideal of labor, but a
joy of fellowship.
May the "peace of God" and the "God of peace" be with you.
IN THE ARMS OF MY FATHER
In the arms of my Father,
I go, embraced by His love.
Joy so unspeakable,
To know His care, at my side, from above.
I need not fear,
Though terrors, they seem to lurk.
To know He cares,
I can trust, my preservation, He'll work.
'Never worry!' He says,
For my fears had me looking too lean.
'Never worry?' I say,
As I realize what a fool I had been.
My fears, never ending,
Kept my faith, down and cold.
When I realized, His love unending,
Put to shame those fears so bold.
Now I frolic in His presence,
Knowing He's always by my side.
Trusting in His lovingkindness,
Embraced in His arms so wide.