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Unending prayer: more than a conversation with God

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Chris Kostelc

What is the longest continuous conversation you have ever had?

When I first fell in love with my wife, we could talk for hours. We were both in college and had the kind of marathon conversations that happen when two young people are in love and have a lot of free time. As long as those conversations were, none of them rivaled a nearly nine-hour conversation we had on a road trip from St. Louis to Minneapolis. We talked about our kids and future plans. We read Wikipedia entries about random historical events and made lists of things to research later.

But as long as that ultra-marathon conversation lasted, it ended. Eventually, we pulled into our driveway, and the conversation came to an abrupt halt. All conversations, no matter their length, end.

If prayer is only a conversation with God, then Paul’s direction in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to Christians to “pray without ceasing” is impossible. If we consider prayer only sitting and speaking, then we will woefully fall short of the high mark of unending prayer.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells the simple parable about the necessity to pray always, without becoming weary. In the parable, a widow so badgers the wicked judge to deliver a just decision that he relents and rules in her favor. Is the point of the story that if we bother God enough he will give us whatever we want? I don’t think so.

Instead, I think the point is that the widow really believed that the judge would respond to her. She never lost hope that the judge would rule in her favor. In fact, she had faith that her appeals would sway the judge.

For us, then, our unending prayer is that we consistently and constantly believe that our prayer matters. To pray without ceasing means that we never stop believing that God really does hear us.

So what if I really believed that my prayer mattered? How would my prayer life change if I constantly and consistently believed that my prayers were heard? How does one get to that point?

Here are three practices that have helped me to believe that my prayer matters:

  1. Deepen our understanding – One way to deepen our understanding of prayer is to think of it as communion. When we understand prayer as that which unifies us with God, we can deepen our prayer practice. I communicate in many ways with my wife and only a few of them are verbalized. Sometimes sitting together in silence is the best form of communion.
  2. Practice the presence of God – Brother Lawrence was a Carmelite who lived in the 17th century. Brother Lawrence lived each moment as if God was present with him, which, of course, God is. This doesn’t mean that everything we do is prayer, as there is a distinction between prayer and work. But Brother Lawrence chose to do every act to please God. In this way, he focused on God’s intimate presence every moment of the day.
  3. Have consistent, intentional prayer time – I can’t pray all day if I don’t start in the morning. For me, I found that the amount of my day that I was able to live like someone who believed his prayer matters was contingent on whether I devoted the very beginning of my day to God. All my relationships are a struggle if I don’t take real time to build intimacy, and the same is true of my relationship with God.

Finally, while we might struggle to be a people who always focus on God, we can be assured that God is always focused on us. When we fail to pray without ceasing, we can be comforted in knowing that we have God’s unceasing love, affection and attention.

Kostelc is coordinator of adult faith formation at Holy Name of Jesus in Wayzata.