John Piper on What It Means to Pray Without Ceasing

John Piper
John Piper

Click here to listen to the audio.

Audio Transcript

Thanks for listening to the Ask Pastor John podcast. We begin the week with a question from Zach, a listener to the podcast, who writes in to ask about prayer. “Hello Pastor John! Thanks for being such a great resource and answering hard questions in this podcast. My question for you is this: In your own words and application, what does it mean to ‘pray without ceasing’?”

Let’s get the text in front of us with a little bit of context, because that really has significant things to say about the little phrase. Here is 1 Thessalonians 5:15–18: “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always” — note that word — “always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” So, I start here with verse 15 just so that we can see that Paul’s burden is not just a kind of private piety when he comes to speak of prayer. This is a radical call to counterintuitive, countercultural love. Don’t repay people evil for evil. Do good to everyone always.

Next verse: “Rejoice always,” which is not the kind of emotional response one would ordinarily have to being mistreated and treating others better than we are treated. You might be wounded. You might be spurned. You might be in jail if people have treated you badly. So, this is a really amazing way of life in Paul’s mind — a miraculous one. Being treated badly, returning good for evil, and all the while rejoicing always. Always doing good to those who do bad to you, always rejoicing. This is incredible.

And then comes the phrase that Zach was asking about, and it makes sense, now, a little more: “Pray without ceasing.” If that life sounds hard to you, “pray without ceasing.” And then he gives a specific example of the kind of prayer in verse 18: not just, “Help, Lord,” which, of course, we would pray, “Help all the time. I need help to live this way.” But he goes on and says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Let’s keep in mind two things about that context. One is the every’s and the all’s. 1) Do good always to everyone. 2) Rejoice always. 3) Pray always or without ceasing. 4) Give thanks always or in every circumstance. The other contextual observation is that there seems to be a deepening to the question: How? How to life? Answer: Do good always to everyone, even when they don’t do good to you. How? Rejoice always. Find your joy in something other than the way you are treated. How? Pray without ceasing. How? Be in a continual disposition of thankfulness to God.

So, in those contexts, what does “pray without ceasing,” then, mean? That is what Zach asked. And I see at least three things here that it means.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Desiring God
John Piper