1 Thessalonians 5: 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost For His Highest, a compilation of lectures from the early 1900’s, has been turned into a daily devotional and has been a significant inspiration to me, and many others. I recently read one entitled Thinking of Prayer as Jesus Taught which addresses the short verse: “pray continually” (1 Thess 5:17). Chambers suggests that the correct way to think about prayer is as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts. “Our blood flows and our breathing continues ‘without ceasing’; we are not even conscious of it, but it never stops”.
This made me think of an athlete in competition or training. Whatever their event, their concentration is on what they are performing whether that is hitting an object with a stick, kicking or catching a ball, or jumping over a bar. It is rare that much or any attention is spent making sure that they breathe or that their heart beats blood through their veins. These are all what are called involuntary actions, which occur without choice.
Chambers is saying that this is where we need to get to as Christians, as followers of Christ. He says that “Prayer is not an exercise; it is the life of the saint”. When our relationship is solid with God; when we live a life of obedience, although we are not conscious of it, we are living a life of continual prayer. We need to develop and maintain a childlike habit of offering up prayers in our heart to God all the time.
God longs to have a relationship with us. He is not interested in fancy, rehearsed prayers at a specific time in the day, but is much more interested if we speak to Him as we would to a loving father, as we would to our closest friend. He’d love to hear us talk about our daily joys, our successes, our trials. He would love to be treated as more than just a giant vending machine where we drop in our prayers and select our wishes when hungry for something. In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi he writes: 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philipp. 4:6) To me the key words are “in every situation” and “with thanksgiving”.
If we can learn to come to God with thankful hearts and we can create the habit of coming to God in every situation, then prayer becomes as natural as breathing or as natural as the blood flowing through our veins. It becomes an involuntary action – something we just do naturally without putting much thought into it. Spending our day speaking to our loving father, our wonderful friend needs to become as natural to you and me as breathing is when we are participating in our sport. It just happens.