Verse of the Day – 1 Thessalonians 5:17
…pray without ceasing…
The Third Key to a Grateful Heart – Unceasing Prayer
Gratitude is the opposite of greed and as a result gratitude is a powerful offensive weapon to use when battling lust. Lust is a desire for the fulfillment of self. Gratitude is an attitude and a lifestyle of praising others for what they have done and for who they are. One gets, the other gives, and so to be grateful makes it impossible to be ruled by our lust.
Here as we continue in 1 Thessalonians 5 we are studying a passage that revolves around verse 18, which states, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” As we continue to learn how to do God’s will by the giving of thanks we see that in verse 17 we are told to pray without ceasing. The truth is that the previous verses give us the whole picture of that which is labeled as “the will of God.” To do God’s will is to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks. When we are under girded by joy and when we pray without ceasing then we are able to give thanks always and for everything.
So what does it mean to pray without ceasing? Some think of this as if it were to always have our heads bowed and eyes closed with folded hands talking to God. But this proves a basic misunderstanding of prayer. Prayer is communion. It is communication, and communication has many forms. We communicate with friends and family by email, phone, and in person. And communication involves talking and listening. Likewise to understand what it means to pray without ceasing we must see that prayer is more than just talking to God.
Prayer is in fact an act of worship (Acts 2:42) and therefore it is to be directed only to God. But prayer is not just talking to God, or thinking about Him. It is living and walking in a growing relationship of dependence with God. We commune. We talk. We listen. And the key to praying without ceasing is found in keeping those lines of communication open at all times.
What hinders communion? Sin! What is falling to temptation and lust? Sin! And so we see that we will either be in communion with God or we will be serving self. Gratitude then, humble and thankful dependence upon God requires that we be living in victory over sin. It also requires that if we fail and fall we immediately confess and repent and do whatever we need to do to restore communion.
I want to give two examples of prayer for us to look at today to encourage us to learn to pray without ceasing. The first is in Psalm 22. This is a Messianic Psalm, one that is prophetic and is even quoted by Jesus from the cross. It begins with the words, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” David is being tormented by his enemies and writes what is to be a prophetic look at the crucifixion of Christ for our sins.
The first 21 verses find David pouring out his complaint to God. He is being tormented, hunted, and hounded. He fears for his life. And he cries out for help – for salvation. And the most fascinating thing happens. In verse 21 there is a break in the song David is writing and rather abruptly the text tells us, “You have answered Me.”
Immediately there is a change. David is praising, giving thanks, worshipping, and exalting God. He has moved from expressing his urgent need to proclaiming the greatness of God in hearing and answering his prayer. His attitude, emotions, and words change as God hears and answers him.
There is a great demonstration of power when God answers prayer. He hears, acknowledges our need, and assists us! He, GOD HIMSELF, answers our prayers!!
This is one of the greatest reasons we have to be thankful and to keep these lines of communication open. He answers. He is there for us. He never leaves of forsakes us. He provides for our every need, and He is eager to fellowship with us.
Often we think of God as far off, cold and distant. But in truth He is right here with us, desiring to commune with us. And that brings us to our second text. Psalm 24:3-5 asks and answers an important question:
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Here is the question – who may dwell in God’s presence? Who can commune with Him without interruption or obstacle? Who can pray without ceasing?
The answer is that only the person who has clean hands, a pure heart, no idolatry in his heart, and a truthful tongue can dwell in God’s presence in unbroken communion. These things speak to our actions, heart attitude, worship, and words. And each of these categories has come up in the discussion of greed vs. gratitude. Greed corrupts us in each of these areas – but gratitude keeps us where we need to be to dwell in God’s presence.
Think about it. When was the last time you stopped before you prayed and asked if God was even listening?!? If we are to be in His presence then there are requirements. We cannot just barge in to the Holy Place and stand before God as if sinners were fit for His presence! But we have been taught to pray, not without ceasing, but without preparation. We must keep in mind what is required of us to walk with God and we must strive to be holy, clean, and right with Him.
This pursuit rules out fulfilling lust doesn’t it? Do we so desire fellowship and communion with God that we will not allow lust or greed to interrupt our prayer? In other words, if we are in communion with God and praying without ceasing we will not have time to fulfill our lust. And as soon as we focus on self and begin to pursue satisfying self we have stepped out of communion with God and are no longer fit to be in His presence through prayer.
We must take the focus off of self and do what David did when he saw his prayer answered. We must focus even more intently upon God. Worship does not draw attention to the worshipper – it should draw attention only to the One being worshipped. And so just as with prayer also with any act of worship we must be prepared. We must be deliberately ready to worship, to praise, to pray, and to hear and do the Word as it is preached.
Gratitude requires open communication and open communication with God precludes self serving sin.
Links for Further Study
(links to study each daily topic in more detail if you have the desire and the time)