Paul tells us to 'pray continually': Here are five ways we can try
In 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 Paul comes out with one of his most demanding instructions to the church there.' Rejoice always,' he says, 'pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.'
Does continually really mean continually? Because that seems rather a lot... Let's have a look at a couple of other translations.
The NRSV says 'pray without ceasing', the Good News has 'pray at all times', while The Message (which is sometimes your get out of jail free card, if you're struggling with a phrase), also sounds pretty insistent. It says, 'pray all the time'.
If that's the case, though, isn't it just another example of Paul being unrealistic?
He's not the only one to say the stakes on prayer are pretty high. JC Ryle was the Bishop of Liverpool and a fiery preacher. Here is what he said about prayer. 'It is absolutely needful to salvation that a person should pray... To be prayerless is to be without God, without Christ, without grace, without hope, and without heaven.'
For many of us, prayer – something which is integral to the Christian life – is a struggle. It's something we know we should do, but it's something we also struggle to do.
Here are five suggestions to help us pray more.
St Augustine said, 'Salvator ambulado', which roughly translates as 'it is solved by walking'. If prayer isn't working for you sitting in your room, then get out and have a walk. Either in a local park, a beach, or just around the streets where we live, walking can change our perspective and help us to pray.
Whether it's a pilgrimage of hundreds of miles away or a quick stroll round the park – get outside and meet and talk to God in nature.
2. The Jesus Prayer
It's one of the oldest prayers of the Orthodox Church and it's very simple. 'Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me'. The repetition of this prayer over and over is one of the ways in which Orthodox spirituality has opened up to a number of people. If you don't find that helpful, you could use that other ancient prayer, 'Come Holy Spirit', or even just repeat the name of Jesus over to yourself. Give it a try for five minutes and I think you might be surprised how helpful you do find it.
3. Find a local service/meeting
Find a prayer service. Many churches offer a space for prayer every day. Especially in big cities, there will be options to suit whatever you need from a silent Quaker meeting to a liturgical service of evensong.
If you can find a service that's near to your workplace, then it can naturally become part of your week.
4. The Examen
At the end of the day, you could experiment with the Ignatian practice of the 'examen'. It's a very simple but profound tool to help you pray through the day you've just had. At its most basic, there are four very simple elements:
1. Become aware of God
2. Review the day.
3. Be thankful for the good and repent of the bad.
4. Look toward tomorrow.
It's a process that many millions around the world find helpful. There's even an app for it these days, called Pray As You Go.
5. Seek inspiration
Christians through history have found ways of praying that might be helpful to you. Use the resources they've developed as well as their inspiration.
On constant prayer, Brother Lawrence said: 'In order to form a habit of conversing with GOD continually, and referring all we do to him, we must at first apply to him with some diligence: but that after a little care we should find his love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.'
In other words, give it a go and see what happens! Which seems like a pretty good rule for the Christian life.