Unceasing Prayer: Developing an Awareness of God
In the first article of this series, we discussed prayer as a means of developing a relationship with God and looked at a simple guide for praying to God, the ACTS Method (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). In this second part, we will look at maintaining our relationship with God through unceasing prayer. We will look at what unceasing prayer means and some methods we can put into practice in our lives of prayer.
Paul writes in his first letter to the Thessalonians an exhortation to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:16-18 NRSV) Many Christians throughout time have sought to understand how to “pray without ceasing”, and we will look at a few of them and their insights here.
Developing an Awareness of God
First, let us acknowledge that it would be literally impossible to talk to God every moment of every day. Speaking words to God is clearly not what is meant by “pray without ceasing”; rather, it is about remaining in the presence of God maintaining a constant awareness of His presence within and around us. It is about continuing an ongoing and unending conversation with God through His presence in us.
Dallas Willard writes about how over time blind faith and abstract reasoning can grow into a “powerful sense, feeling or impression of God’s presence”, which can in turn grow into a personal and conversational relationship. Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, wrote an entire collection on practicing the presence of God, filled with his experiences with having no differentiation between work and prayer:
“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”
Praying unceasingly is all about developing an awareness of God’s presence, acknowledging that God is present in you and in others around you, and opening your heart to perceive Him, listen to Him, and converse with Him. Brother Lawrence gives several instructions and tips on developing an awareness of God’s presence. Here is a list that I have compiled of my favorite twelve. Take a few moments to read through these and consider which ones you might already be practicing and others you could easily begin putting into your life of prayer.
Another practice from the Eastern Orthodox Church is the practice of praying short repetitive prayers. One of the most well-known prayers is called the Jesus Prayer. Though there are a variety of derivations, the prayer goes something like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Other shortened versions may include “Lord, have mercy” or “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
A common practice of Orthodox monks is to use a prayer rope, a rope typically of black wool that is tied with knots numbering either 33, 50, 100, or 200, to keep count of their repetitions as they pray. The belief behind repetitive prayer is that as we pray over and over again, hundreds and thousands of times, the prayer moves from our lips to our hearts and we carry it with us throughout our day.
Some people choose to align their prayers with their breathing pattern. For instance, as we inhale we would pray “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God”, and as we exhale we would pray “have mercy on me, a sinner.” This practice is sometimes called Breath Prayer, and can also be used with our own personal prayers. Some people practice Breath Prayer with a single word, such as “love”, or “peace”, or the name “Jesus”. Others will ask the Holy Spirit to put a name or a word on their heart and pray those words. The main point behind the Breath Prayer is the multitude of repetitions of short prayers, hundreds and thousands of times, used to center our hearts and minds on God through prayer.
Prayer of the Heart
Another practice to consider in maintaining a conversational relationship with God is the Prayer of the Heart. This is the deep heart-longing of your own spirit crying out for the Spirit of God: “Deep calls out to deep in the roar of your waterfalls” (Psalm 42:7). The heart knows that the depths of the human spirit are made to be filled with the Spirit of God, to be united with Him in spirit and truth. We desire intimacy with God, as He desires intimacy with us. This is what Jesus is saying in John 15:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me… If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:4, 7 ESV)
I love that word “abide.” It is so potent, so intimate. Christ calls us to abide in Him, and He in us; to be united in intimate love. This is the Prayer of the Heart, the deep cry of the human spirit to be united in love with the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus continues his prayer to the Father “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21 ESV)
The Prayer of the Heart is also the Holy Spirit praying with us and in us. As believers, we receive the Holy Spirit to dwell within us, who guides us, empowers us, and even prays with us and for us! This can look so many different ways. For some, it is a gift for intercessory prayer, a heart and special anointing to pray for others and their needs. For others, the Holy Spirit may give impressions or revelations about what to pray for, or even for other people as we pray for them. Still others are given the gift of praying in tongues, or a unique prayer language where the Holy Spirit prays through us with our spirit beyond our rational functions. There are even some who receive a spiritual rest in their prayers, resting in the presence of God’s love and peace. However the Prayer of the Heart manifests in our prayer lives, it is a deep longing of our human spirit for intimacy with God through His Holy Spirit where the two touch in a beautiful collision of love.
All of these are just a few ways in which we can develop a life of “praying without ceasing.” Developing an awareness of God keeps our hearts and minds focused on His presence with us throughout our day. Practicing repetitive prayer focuses our hearts and minds on God as we pray, taking that prayer with us in our hearts as we go about our day. The prayer of the heart brings our human spirit and the Holy Spirit together to function cooperatively in partnership with God himself. Let us continue to seek God without ceasing and develop a constant life of prayer.
About the Author
Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.
Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.
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