Pray continually. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
This singular instruction has caused much struggle for those who a) believe the Bible is primarily a rule book to follow and/or b) believe prayer is about "talking with God."
If the Bible is a rule book to follow, one must figure out how to obey this command to pray. It quickly becomes an obligation and a burden. If prayer is about "talking with God" one must figure out how to engage in a constant conversation in the midst of other busyness and important things in life. Even important things can become "distractions" from our essential business of talking with God.
But, if prayer is about an invitation into a love relationship and if the Bible is pointing us in the direction of how to live the abundant life of Jesus well, it opens the door to hear the words "pray continually" very differently. To pray continually is to continually live within the context of a love relationship as the beloved of the Father. That is to say that no matter what we are doing, where we go, and when we do it we have the privilege of doing it with God.
Brother Lawrence was a seventeenth-century monk in France. Before entering the monastery he had fought in the 30 years war where he sustained a serious and near-fatal sciatic nerve injury that caused him to suffer the rest of his life. After a period of time as a civil servant (self-reportedly a poor one) he entered a newly formed monastery in Paris. There he served fifteen years as the cook, despite his debilitating physical condition, followed by years in the sandal repair shop. His renown, though, was not because of his cooking or his sandal repairs. Nor was it because of his preaching or specific service.
Brother Lawrence is known today because he came to understand the essence of prayer and the life-giving sustenance that came with it. The short book that recounts how he lived within this life-giving love relationship with God is called, "Practicing the Presence of God." In it, he does speak of a continual "conversation with God" but his life was marked by an all-encompassing relational interaction with a loving God.
As we think about prayer, may we accept the invitation to walk in a love relationship with God who calls us his beloved. May we converse with God - sharing from our heart and seeking to listen. May we seek change - starting with ourselves and how we act within the world. Each step we take, as a church community and as individual Jesus followers, may we practice the presence of God. In this, we will be responding to the invitation to pray continually in the fullest, most beautiful sense of what it means to pray.