By J.R. Miller
How can we pray without ceasing? Are we to spend all our time on our knees? This certainly is not the meaning. We have our work to do. We are set in our places in this world to toil. A little bit of garden is given to everyone of us--to tend and keep. Our duties fill our hands every hour. We sin when we neglect any allotted task. We can conceive of praying which would be wrong--praying when some imperative duty is calling us out, kneeling in our closet in devotion when some distress needs our help outside. When a sick child requires a mother's care and devotion some Sunday morning, she would not please God if she left her child and went to a church service. When a physician is needed at a sufferer's bedside, he would not please God by leaving his place to attend a communion service. So there are times, when prayer is not the duty of the hour.
What, then, are we to understand by the counsel to pray without ceasing? For one thing we know that prayer is part of the expression of the Christian's very life. One who does not pray--is not a Christian. We are God's children, and if we always keep ourselves in the relation of children to our Father, loving, obedient, trustful, submissive to his will--we shall pray without ceasing. Our communion with him never will be broken. That was the way Jesus lived. He was not always on his knees. His days were filled with intense activities. Often he had not time to eat or to sleep. Yet there was never any instant of interruption of his fellowship with his Father. He was in communion with him even in his busiest hours. And he would have us live in the same way. We shall then pray at our work. Our heart will be in communion with Christ even when our hands are engaged in the day's duties.
To pray without ceasing, is to do everything with prayer. This does not mean that every separate piece of work we undertake, shall be begun with a formal act of prayer, stopping, kneeling, and offering a petition in words. This would be a physical impossibility. But we may keep our heart always in converse with God, never out of tune with him. We may live so near to God that we can talk with him wherever we are, ask him questions and get answers, seek his wisdom in all perplexities, and his help in al experiences, and have his direction and guidance at every turn. We like to go to some human friend in whose love and wisdom we have confidence, and talk over matters that are causing us anxiety, or about which we are uncertain. We sit down with our friend and consider the case and get advice, at least get light. Have you ever thought that you can do just this with Jesus Christ? You cannot see him and cannot hear his voice--but he is as really with you as was the human friend with whom you took counsel yesterday. He listens to every word you say, as you falteringly tell him of your difficulties, your perplexities, your fear, and as you ask him what you ought to do. He is interested in all the things on which you desire light and wisdom. Nothing in your life is too small for him to talk over with you, on his busiest day.
You say, "Yes--but I cannot hear what he says in answer to my questions, and how can I get advice or direction from him?" You believe that Christ is able to find some way to make you understand whatever he wants you to know. He may whisper in your heart a suggestion as to your duty, or he may speak to you in his Word, which is meant to be a lamp to your feet. Or the advice may come through a human friend. He can find some way at least to make his will known to you. No joy in the world is sweeter than the joy of being trusted, of having others come to us in their needs or sorrow, that we may help them. One of the saddest things we can conceive of is not to be needed longer by anyone, to have no one turn to us any more for help or love or friendship. It strengthens us to have another lean on us and need us. To have Christ empower us in guiding and blessing others is the deepest, sweetest joy of earth. We need to pray without ceasing if we are to be wise helpers of others. We dare not give advice to anyone in perplexity without first asking Christ what to say. We might say the wrong word. It is his work, not our own, that we are doing, and we must have him tell us what to do. Wrong or mistaken advice has wrecked many a destiny. Ofttimes a life's whole future depends upon the word we say at some critical point. We must first get wisdom ourselves, before we can give wisdom to others.
Sometimes we wonder how the great God, with all the worlds in his hands, can give attention to a little worry of ours today. We are even amazed to learn that some great man with a thousand responsibilities can think of us, be interested in us, and take time to do things for us. How then can our Master, with the countless worlds in his thoughts, keep us in his heart, and be interested in the minute things of our lives?
One writes: "One day last week I was exceedingly busy. A score of things lay on my table, each one seeming to demand instant attention. It seemed that nothing else could be thought of. Just then a stranger came in and asked for assistance, stating in a sentence or two the nature of the matter on which advice and help were desired. I saw at once that the visitor was in great distress and needed instant help. God had sent the person to me. 'Have you time to give me--twenty minutes or a half hour?' was asked. My answer was, 'Yes, I have nothing whatever to do now, but to listen to you and to try to help you.' My answer was true. Listening to this stranger was God's will for me at that hour, a bit of God's work clearly brought to me to be done, and I literally had nothing to do but that." God's will is always the first thing any day, any moment, and the only thing we have to do at that time. Nothing else can be so pressing, that that may be declined. It is the same with Christ himself. When you take to him any need, any question, any trouble, everything else is laid aside for the time.
To pray without ceasing, means also that we are always to be in the spirit of prayer. There never should be a moment any day or night, when we cannot at once look into God's face without shame, without fear, without remorse, without shrinking--and ask his blessing on what we are doing. This is a searching test of life. We cannot ask a blessing on any wrong thing. If a man is dishonest in his business transactions, he cannot pray until he makes things right. Paul gives a similar test in his exhortation, "Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." The counsel covers all life--our words as well as our acts. Think what it would mean to have every word that drops from our lips winged and hallowed with prayer, always to breathe a little prayer before we speak and as we speak. This would make all our words true, kindly, loving, gentle--speech that will cheer and help those who hear. We can scarcely think of one using bitter words, angry, vindictive words, while his heart is filled with prayer.
Think of a man doing all his day's business in this spirit--breathing a little prayer as he commends his wares, as he makes a bargain, as he measures his goods, as he dictates his business letters, as he talks with men. Think of a woman busied with her household cares, literally taking everything to God for his counsel, for his approval, for his direction. These are not by any means impractical or impossible suppositions. Indeed, that is the way a Christian always should live--doing all in the name of the Lord Jesus, praying without ceasing.
"But we have not time in this busy life," someone says, "to pray so much." We have time for everything else we want to do; have we not time then to look into God's face for five minutes before we begin a new day? We do not know what the day may have for us--what temptations, what sudden surprises of danger, what sorrow; what would we do if we did not have God to guide us and help us in all this maddening maze of things? Dare we fail to ask God's blessing on the journey we are about to take, on the piece of work we are about to begin, on the investment we are about to make, on the new friendship we are just forming, on the new home we are going to move into tomorrow? Time is never wasted that is spent in getting God's blessing upon our life.
Then, really, it does not require time. We can pray as we work, and--work as we pray. It is only looking into God's face every little while, and saying, "Father, bless me in this piece of work that I am about to begin; sweeten this friendship that I am forming; strengthen me for this struggle upon which I am entering; guide me through this tangle in which I am enmeshed; keep me sweet and patient in this annoyance, this irritation which has come to me."
Francis of Assisi was said to live a life of unceasing prayer. A friend desired to get the secret of his devotion, and watched him to see how he prayed. All he saw, however, was this--no long hours spent in prayer, no agonies of supplication on his knees--but, again and again, as he went on with his duties, he was heard saying, with bowed head and clasped hands, "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!" That was the way he prayed. He did everything in the name of Christ. He and Jesus walked together continually--they were never separated. Francis did not need, when he felt the pressure of weakness, when the burden was growing too heavy, when he was in danger of falling--he did not need in any emergency to leave his work and hurry away to pray. He prayed just where he was; he talked to Christ about everything, as familiarly as he would have done with a friend.
This is the kind of Christian life our Master would have us live. We are not to pray merely at certain hours, nor in formal acts of devotion; every breath is to be a prayer. Nor is our prayer to be only coming to God with requests, asking him to do things for us. Request is really the smallest part of true praying. What do you and your close and trusted friend do, when you are together? What do you talk about? Is the burden of your conversation asking favors? May you not be with your friend for hours and never make a single request? You talk of things that are dear to you. Sometimes indeed you may not speak at all--but sit in silence, your hearts flowing together in love and fellowship. Prayer to God--is not all clamor for favors. Much of it is love's tryst, sweet communion without words--as when John leaned his head on Jesus' breast, and loved and rested in silence.
"Rather, as friends sit sometimes hand in hand,
Nor mar with words the sweet speech of their eyes;
So in soft silence let us oftener bow,
Nor try with words to make God understand."