Guest contributor: Ed Trego
“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstance; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Paul tells us we should pray constantly. That’s quite a mission. I’m not sure how anyone, Paul included, can pray constantly. Even cloistered nuns and brothers surely can’t pray constantly. They must eat, they must sleep. There must be some time that they are not praying. No one can achieve what Paul asks. Or can they?
Paul had to have known that praying constantly in the sense we normally consider prayer isn’t possible. So why did he tell us that this is God’s will for us? We get on our knees, or at least quiet ourselves, and pray to God. That takes time. Time we may not have on a daily basis. Most of us have a job we must accomplish, families we must care for and love. We must even find time for ourselves, to recoup our sanity from the daily chaos that many of us live with. So how is it possible to pray constantly? Perhaps Paul isn’t talking about what we normally think of as prayer.
If you’ve ever read of the life of Mother Teresa you might find a clue to what Paul may have been talking about. Mother Teresa was a small woman with a big heart and an enormous love of God. She devoted her life to the least of God’s children; those who were dying in the streets of Calcutta. How could such a woman do the things that she accomplished? Maybe it was because her life itself was prayer. Everything she did, she did for the greater glory of God. She risked injury, illness and death to help those whom no one else would help. She took them in, fed them, clothed them and cared for them. Most importantly she loved them with the love of Christ. She dignified their lives and their deaths by giving them love and respect in a world that had abandoned them. Maybe that is the kind of prayer Paul is referring to when he admonishes us to “pray constantly”.
Even so, that is a difficult task. How do we live our lives in such a way as to make our very lives a prayer? We can’t all live the life of Mother Teresa or other great spiritual women and men. How can we, the average Christian, approach the goal of constant prayer by the way in which we live our life”
In a Bible study I once attended, the leader of the group said that every morning when he woke up, before he even put his feet on the floor, he offered the day to God. We can do the same. We can give our day to God’s will, simply, sincerely and with conviction. We can ask God to watch over us, to guide us, to protect us as we go through the day. Our life can be a prayer to God if we give it to him and do our best to live it for him.
Of course we will fail at times. We are, after all, only human. But God knows that, he expects that we will fail at times; maybe many times. Regardless of our failings he is there for us, to welcome us back when we finally realize we have strayed. You see, God is more interested in our efforts to try to please him than in our failures. In many cases it is our failures that lead us back to God. If all is well and we are satisfied with our lives we, as humans, tend to take credit for the success and forget that there is no success without God. God wants us to know that even failure can lead to future success if we are truly seeking him in all that we do.
How are we to pray? There are many forms of prayer. They include petition, intercession, and thanksgiving. There are formula prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer; meditative prayer; contemplative prayer; and freestyle prayer. There are probably nearly as many ways to pray as there are people who wish to pray. Each is valuable in establishing and maintaining a relationship with our God.
All forms of prayer are pleasing to God because he desires our friendship and our love. He wants us to petition him for our needs, even though he knows far better than we what our needs are. He wants us to intercede for others who have need of his help. Sharing our love of God with others through intercession to help them through difficult times is good and God wishes us to share his love for us with others.
The form of prayer that is perhaps the most overlooked is prayer of thanksgiving. Each and every day we are given so many blessings. Unfortunately, we usually accept them as our due, never stopping to thank God for his gifts to us. We never have a problem asking him to fix something we believe is in need of repair, but we have a hard time thanking him for the things that aren’t broken because he loves us and watches over us. Perhaps take a few minutes at the end of the day to look back over your day, trying to find those events that are of God. If you look for them, you will find them. In this way, you can better realize the gifts God provides and thank him for his love.
Contemplative prayer can help us to better understand scripture and our relationship with God. Similar to a news reporter’s task of finding out the actuality of what the events were, we place ourselves in the scene as an observer to detail and more fully understand the events. If we contemplate the parables, for instance, we might consider not only what is being said but what the reaction of those around us is. Do they appear to understand? Do they agree with the principal or meaning of the parable? How are they reacting to the message? This allows us to more completely consider the scripture and, hopefully, get a clearer understanding.
Meditative prayer is quest to try to deepen our understanding of Christian life and how we are to live it. We seek to better understand what the Lord is asking of us and how to respond in a manner pleasing to him. When we meditate on scripture we seek a deeper meaning in what we have read. While contemplative prayer can be a more analytic view, meditative prayer is of the heart and feeling. Perhaps we will find that we can better apply that particular scripture to our life and our current situation. Thought, imagination, emotion and our desires are all a part of meditative prayer. This helps us to deepen our faith and strengthen our convictions. As with any prayer, meditative prayer will help us better understand God and our place in his plan.
One way to experience meditative prayer is to imagine yourself as a participant in the scripture you are reading. For instance, if you are reading the parable of the prodigal son, try to imagine yourself as the son. Think of the hurt you caused your father by demanding your share of the inheritance, in effect, wishing him dead. Consider the life of debauchery on which you wasted your inheritance. Experience in your mind the shame and dismay of tending to swine. Swine were unclean to the Jews, so you were unclean day after day. Can you begin to feel the sorrow once you realize the wrong you had done to your family and to God? Fully aware that you are no longer worthy to be called son, do you share in the hope that your father will at least take you back as a servant? Imagine the joy of seeing your father running toward you as you approach home. Experience the depth of love from a man whom you had wronged but who was now willing and anxious to reclaim you as his son, forgiving you completely. Feel in yourself the unrestrained joy of total and complete forgiveness.
Now reread the parable, this time imagining yourself you as the father. How would you feel as the father if your son whom you deeply loved betrayed you in such a way? Basically saying I wish you were dead so that I can have my money. Can you understand the hurt and the loss of a child who abandoned you and your love? Do you, as the father, watch for him every day; hoping; praying that one day he will return to you? Feel the joy when you first see him far off, finally coming home. Experience the joy of running to greet him and taking him in your arms. Know the love of a parent whose child has returned.
Freestyle prayer is also a means of developing a deeper relationship with God. Picture yourself simply talking to God as you would your best friend. After all, our best friend is what God truly wants to be. Take the time to sit down with him in the evening and share with him the joys and the trials you experience throughout your day. Ask him for help in living your life as he would have you live it. Prayer should be a two way communication. Take the time to be silent and listen for God. Some say they experience the voice of God. Many simply understand that God has a plan for them and if they honestly seek it, he will show them the way. However God responds to you in prayer, you must listen for it. God does not yell, he does not push, he simply is. Let him into your life and he will change it. I used to ask God to walk with me, but I’ve learned that it has to be the other way around. Instead of expecting him to walk with you, make it your prayer to walk where he will lead and follow joyfully, for it is in his will that eternal salvation is found.
Regardless of the type of prayer you are most comfortable with, the primary purpose of prayer is communication with God. St. Therese of Lisieux said, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” Prayer should be a joyful time, a time spent with our best friend. If we can develop a friendship with God in our prayer life it will deepen our love and adoration of the heavenly Father tremendously. There is no other joy that can compare with the relationship with God built by sincere, continuous prayer.
Paul gave us the path, it is up to us to follow it. “Rejoice always, pray constantly”.