“God’s command to ‘pray without ceasing’ is founded on the necessity we have of his grace to preserve the life of God in the soul, which can no more subsist one moment without it, than the body can without air.”
The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), but how do we do that? How do I do all the other things that God asks me to do and pray the entire time? It sounds like it isn’t physically possible. But it is. Prayer is a practice that we can do on its own but we can also do while we are doing something else. You can go for a walk on your own or go on a walk with a friend. You can work on a puzzle alone or with a friend. You can eat by yourself or with a friend. We can do any part of life on our own but life with God is more meaningful and prayer is a means for experiencing life with God.
If we think of prayer as communicating with God, then we need to think of all parts of the communication process. What we say, what we hear, non-verbal cues, and context are all parts of prayer. When we are fully present with God at all times, then we are experiencing “praying without ceasing.”
This is easier said than done. We don’t go from being a “beginner” at prayer to “praying without ceasing” in one step. It takes practice and time.The more time we spend in focused prayer, the easier it will be to be fully present with God over time. While there are many ways to practice prayer, these three are ways that will exercise the parts of the communication process that are non-verbal on our end. The more often you do these, the easier it will be to pray without ceasing.
1) Practice Breath Prayer
In a breath prayer, a simple prayer of only one or two sentences can be said over and over until it becomes a rhythm. One breath prayer that I like to pray is:
Breathe in slowly and deeply as you whisper or think: “The Lord is my Shepherd…”
Hold your breath and your consciousness of God’s presence…
And then exhale as you whisper or think: “…I shall not want.”
Its that easy. Doing this type of prayer reminds us that we have the breath of God inside of us (Genesis 2:5) and that Jesus breathed on the disciples for them to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). The more we practice this, the more we are reminded of God when we breathe. Thus we are mindful to pray without ceasing.
2) Practice Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is a method of silent prayer that prepares us to experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. Thomas Keating is an expert on centering prayer and walks through instructions on this video. I typically spend a few seconds asking God to share with me a centering word. Then I set a timer and focus on that word and being present with God until my timer goes off.
3) Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the art of being aware of something as it is happening. Some people practice mindfulness when eating to be fully aware of the foods they are eating so that they slow down and eat in healthier ways. When we talk about Christian mindfulness, we are talking about being mindful of where God is in any situation. There are many ways to practice mindfulness. I started practicing mindfulness by setting an alarm four times a day. When the alarm went off, I took a deep breath and became aware of God’s presence with me. After several days, I increased this to six times per day. Soon I discovered that I didn’t need an alarm and that I was mindful of God more often than not.
Remember that these are ways to strengthen our prayer life. It doesn’t automatically cause you to pray without ceasing. But when practiced enough, these methods will move you closer to a time when you can rejoice in all things because you see God in all things.