We need to pray unceasingly throughout life

  • January 17, 2008

{mosimage}This year's theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan. 20-26) uses Paul's words “Pray without ceasing” from his letter to the Thessalonians (5:13b-18). This is sage advice, not only in the cause of Christian unity, but for life in general.

While all the world's major religions promote prayer in one form or another, in practice all but the most ardent religious folks find it easier to keep themselves busy doing things in God's name, rather than praying about them. This is not surprising; prayer itself is hard work. But it is also essential work, a necessary grease to help smooth all those actions in our lives in which we strive to live out our life's purpose, to, as the old Baltimore Catechism used to say, “know, love and serve God in this world.”

Christian Unity Week in its 100th year is calling upon Christians to pray unceasingly to God to restore the unity of the Christian church, split asunder as it is into hundreds of denominations. There is recognition in recent years that the early optimism about significant progress for Christian unity was a little rose-tinted. These days ecumenists and those who care about Christian unity look for hope in grassroots co-operation more than in grand statements from church leaders, though they continue to labour away at the former as well. Perhaps, we've begun to realize that the work of Christian unity is God's work; we are here as helpers and collaborators, not creators. And to keep in touch with where God wishes us to go, we need to pray. As the old saying goes, “When all else fails, read the instructions.” Through prayer, we read the instructions God writes in our hearts.

In some circles, prayer is seen as a last resort, a poor substitute for action, whether the cause is Christian unity or any other worthy endeavour. But it is nothing of the sort. Nor is it an either/or question. Prayer and work must labour together in partnership in the Lord's vineyard. In fact, work itself can be prayer if done while consciously aware that God is always present.

While God helps us in ways beyond human comprehension, prayer helps us keep God in our own minds. Our conversations with God remind us that our work is not just an endless series of tasks, but has a transcendent end. They also remind us that our work is not about us, but about everything but us.

Paul's words have been the subject of centuries of reflection among Christians, with countless guides written on how to pray contemplatively or use such mantras as the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”). But prayer does not boil down to proper technique, the right tools, or words. Prayer comes from the heart and sometimes the most moving prayers are not words at all. Oh Lord, teach us to pray.

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