Think of the three exhortations in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – be joyful, pray continually, give thanks - as the three poles that hold up an old-fashioned canvas tent. If one pole breaks the tent can no longer stand upright. Paul positions the strong center pole of the three verses as the need to “pray continually.” Without a continual conversation with God it would be very hard to always be joyful or to give thanks in all circumstances.
Verse 17 says to PRAY CONTINUALLY. This verse is about the importance of relationship and communication. A healthy relationship has regular communication. Without it the relationship would wither and die. If I do not give time and attention to my husband our marriage will struggle. Communicating with my husband has to be so much more than what’s for dinner and, “how was your day dear?”
Paul encourages us to be in constant conversation with God so that we can align our hearts and minds with the heart and mind of God. Think of prayer as the breath of our spiritual life. To keep our earthly body alive we must keep breathing. To keep our spiritual life alive we must keep praying. To pray continually means so much more than an ongoing litany of requests and petitions. It also means times of confession, adoration, worship, praise and thanksgiving throughout the day.
Brother Lawrence in the Christian classic of the same title called it “Practicing the Presence of God.” We need to get in the habit of referring everything to God moment by moment in our day. Including him in each circumstance that comes our way. Instead of posting it on Facebook, or calling a friend or complaining to a co-worker, a roommate or a spouse.
Think of prayer not just as a structured time but as a deliberate choice to be in touch with the Father, feeling that he is all around you. It really is a constant conversation with God that invites him into every part of your life.
We see this modeled throughout the New Testament. A few examples (emphasis mine) include Ephesians 6:18, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2 says, “We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.” Romans 1:9-10 says, “God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers all the time.”
If praying continually is already a part of your daily life – good for you! If not, here are a couple of suggestions to get you started. Pray before you even get out of bed in the morning. Invite God into every meeting, situation and circumstance of your day. Turn off the radio in your car or the music in your ears and pray on your way to and from work. Make a point to notice God’s beauty all around you. Thank him for the changing leaves, a smile on a very young or very old face, a bird soaring overhead. And then look forward to a deepening faith and relationship with God as you strive to pray continually.