PRAY WITHOUT CEASING
T. Pierce Brown
Practically every commentator that I remember saying anything about 1 Thessalonians 5:17 where Paul said, “Pray without ceasing,” has made a comment something like this, “Of course he does not mean that we are to be muttering prayers constantly, but that we are to be in a prayerful attitude at all times.”
While my limited knowledge and ability makes me hesitate to take issue with more learned and astute brethren, I feel impelled to make some remarks about that conclusion, as innocuous as it may seem. I agree that it does not mean that we are to be muttering, or just uttering, prayers constantly, but that it means “be in a prayerful attitude at all times” I deny (although I do not have any objection to a person doing that, or teaching that it is a good thing — whatever it may mean).
In order to make clearer my objection to the claim that this is the meaning, let me ask a few questions. If we had translated the positive statement into a negative form and instead of saying, “Pray without ceasing” had said, “Do not stop praying” would you agree that the meaning of those two expressions is about the same? Now suppose we said of a person, “He has stopped attending church services,” or “He has stopped giving,” or “He has stopped taking the Lord’s Supper.” Would it not be appropriate to admonish a person, “Do not stop doing those things”?
If the Bible said, “Do not stop attending the assembly” (See Heb.10:25) would you conclude that an adequate exegesis of that passage would be, “That does not mean to assemble all the time, but it means have an assembling attitude?” If we were admonished to “Do not stop giving,” would you think some brilliant scholar should inform us that it does not mean to constantly give every minute of the day, but its real meaning is, “Have a giving attitude at all times?” Perhaps no one assumes that an admonition to not stop partaking of the Lord’s Supper would mean, “Eat and drink every minute of every day,” but I am strongly convinced that NO ONE would assert that it merely means, “Be in a partaking attitude at all times.”
May I suggest that the expression, “Pray without ceasing” should be treated the same way. Although I think I would have no objection to a person being “in a praying attitude” or “in a giving attitude,” or in “an assembling attitude” at all times, if I knew what that meant, it should not be too hard to see that it is far easier to make sense of all these similar expressions if we understand them to mean, “Do these things with the proper consistency and regularity.” “Pray” does not mean “be in a praying attitude” any more than “give” means “be in a giving attitude.”