1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us to “pray continually,” or “without ceasing.” Let’s first look at what this verse actually means. It doesn’t mean that you never have anything on your mind except prayer. Obviously, we have other responsibilities in life.
The word “continually” can mean: very often; at regular or frequent intervals; habitually; without cessation or intermission; unceasingly; or, always. Similarly, the word “continuously” can mean: uninterrupted in time; without cessation (e. g., continuous coughing during a concert); being in immediate connection or spatial relationship (e. g., a continuous series of blasts, or a continuous row of warehouses).
It’s sort of like when a person is on the phone. He isn’t necessarily talking or listening every second. There may be lulls in the conversation, or he may also be multi-tasking: texting, typing on his computer, watching television, or thinking about other things. When a person prays without ceasing, he always has a line to God open, even though he may be temporarily preoccupied with his job, his family, etc.
What 1 Thessalonians 5:-16-18 actually says is this: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The key words here are: rejoice; pray; thanks; God; and, Christ Jesus. We are commanded by God to follow His will through Jesus Christ by continually sharing our joy, thanksgiving, and supplications with Him. If we have anything to rejoice about or to be thankful for, or if we need anything, we’re told to share it with God.
But is continual prayer worth it? While driving today, I approached an intersection that can be dangerous due to having two left-hand turn lanes when drivers often fail to stay within the dotted lines of their lane throughout the entire turn. As I do almost every day when approaching that intersection, I prayed that God would keep me safe and accident-free throughout that turn, and after He did, I prayed again and thanked Him for it. On some days I forget to pray before I reach that intersection. I don’t think of it until afterward, but then I thank Him for keeping me safe. Then on other days I’m preoccupied and don’t pray at that intersection at all.
Now, I’m sure that many other drivers breezed through that intersection today without an accident–and without prayer. They were kept safe, so was my prayer really worthwhile? It would be difficult to convince an unbeliever of this, but here’s how I look at it:
1) I believe that God has filled me with a desire to pray. I love to be in fellowship with God. It’s not a burden. It’s something that I like to do anyway.
2) On the practical side, is it worth it to pray hundreds of prayers every day and tens of thousands of prayers every year? After all, think of all the other things I could have been doing (or thinking) otherwise. Well, what if only one of those 10,000 prayers was answered? Regardless of whether or not all of the other prayers went unanswered, what if He really did keep me safe in His divine providence instead of allowing me to be involved in an accident? Even if nobody was hurt and the accident wasn’t serious, the hassle would be overwhelming–involving policemen, other drivers, witnesses, traffic tickets, court appearances, judges, insurance companies, repairs, auto rentals, being late for work, bosses, etc. That one accident could seemingly ruin my whole year.
For me, I liked the other 10,000 prayers anyway–having fellowship with God. So, that one in 10,000 was definitely worth it, even if I don’t credit Him for keeping me safe all those other times.