In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul admonishes us to “pray without ceasing.” But what does this mean? If we try and make sense of this admonishment through mainstream contemporary Christianity, it would seem an impossible task. How can one pray all the time?
It’s actually not hard to learn, but we have to forget about our modern notions of what prayer is supposed to be. There is nothing wrong with asking God to bless loved ones, sanctify a meal, or guide our steps for the day. For anyone who wants to serve God, these yearnings come naturally from the heart. But this type of prayer is more of a one-way conversation with God, and it isn’t as beneficial as you might like to think it is. There is a prayer that goes much deeper. There is a prayer that can be considered communing with God, and the ancient prophets and earliest Christians considered this art sacred. This act of communing is what Paul means when he tells us to pray without ceasing.
So how do we commune with God all day?
A beautiful Christian Mystic of the 17th century, Jeanne Guyon, once said:
“I have stated that perfection can easily be attained, and this is true. Jesus Christ is perfection, and when we seek Him within ourselves, He is easily found.”
Jeanne Guyon, like many other Christians from ancient history, believed that Christ was found within every soul. One doesn’t need to do anything to have Christ within them. He is already present, but most of us are disconnected from this truth. Participating in certain events or even getting water baptized can make us feel good because they make us feel like we are again connecting with Christ, but if we do not find a way to permanently keep that connection, the feeling of communing with God is lost. This is where the act of “praying without ceasing” comes in; it helps us to bridge the gap between the Christ within us and our separate self (the ego).
“Praying without ceasing” is nothing short of meditation. My regular readers already understand this concept quite well, but my website has been getting an increase in traffic lately, so I thought it might be beneficial to write a post which describes meditation in familiar Christian terms. Jeanne Guyon has done this in her work, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, written back in 1685 A.D. She never used the word meditation, but she prescribes exactly that, and she does it in a way that I believe the contemporary Christian can appreciate and accept without prejudice.
I’ll quote her below. As you read, keep in mind what we have already said about praying without ceasing.
“…you must understand the workings of your inmost parts. Where do your five senses draw their life and energy? From your soul. It is your soul that gives life and energy to your five senses; and when your senses become aroused, they in turn stimulate your desires…Christians have sought to find many ways to overcome their desires. Perhaps the most common approach has been discipline and self-denial. But no matter how severe your self-denial may be, it will never completely conquer your senses….Even when it appears to have worked, what self-denial has actually done is to change only the outward expression of those desires.”
Guyon makes several interesting points here that merit pause for consideration. When I first became a Christian, I sought God through self-denial and discipline. By committing these seemingly righteous acts, I thought I was pleasing God. But these are really nothing more than external acts, acts of the ego, and the Christ within cannot be reached in any manner through the ego. It’s as useless as a dog chasing its own tail. Sure, self-denial and discipline have their place, and they can benefit the body in many ways—but they can never lead us to the Christ! Guyon tells us why in the next sentence:
“When you deal with externals, what you are really doing is driving your soul farther outward from your spirit. The more your soul is focused on these outward things, the farther it is removed from its center and from its resting place…Unfortunately, this is what always happens to a believer when his life is lived out on the surface.”
For the reasons that Guyon gives above, I have seen many a discontented Christian in the church. I can identify with them and feel their pain, because I used to go to church every Sunday and wonder why I felt no inner change. Sure, my life seemed to change on the outside, but I felt the same on the inside. Sometimes it would help to take out my Bible and read some passages and go to church and sing some songs, but even this was only a temporary fix.
So what is Guyon’s answer? She states:
“There is only one way to conqueror your five sense, and that is by inward recollection. Or, to put it another way, the only way to conquer your five sense is by turning your soul completely inward to your spirit, there to possess a present God. Your soul must turn all of its energies within, not without! Within to Christ, not without to the senses. Your main concern, therefore, is with the presence of Jesus Christ. Your main concern lies in dwelling continually upon the God who is within you. Then, without particularly thinking of self-denial or “putting away the deeds of the flesh,” God will cause you to experience a natural subduing of the flesh!”
I love the way Guyon has explained the practice of meditation without even using the word. This is ultimately what Paul was referring to. To “pray without ceasing” is continually turning our focus upon God and away from ourselves. This is exactly what we do in meditation when we go inward.
The more you practice the art of meditation, the more your awareness begins to shift. In time, you’ll find an ongoing abiding peace resonating from somewhere deep within your being. An intimate relationship is developing with God. This is the Christ within, and the process in which your nature begins to take on his nature. In time, the Christ within will radiate outwards and affect others, too. Different people will be affected differently, and different people will notice different things. At first these differences are quite subtle, but they are very real.
In church today we are continually taught that Christ doesn’t come into your heart until you accept him. This is only a half-truth. Christ is already there, even in the person who commits what others might consider terrible acts. The problem is the refusal to connect with what is already a part of us. It is a refusal to give up our egoic nature so that we can be transformed by his spirit. It is a refusal to receive God’s grace and the grace of his Son and the renewing of our mind.
Another problem with church today is its leaders continually being stubborn in refusing to see the deeper meaning of the Bible’s terms and stories.
If you are a Christian who is unfamiliar with the practice of meditation, now is a great time to start. Feel free to contact me on the contact page if you have any questions regarding how and I’ll be happy to share.
In our next post I will continue with meditation. We’ll break down one of Jesus’ Parables from Mark, and, in the process, redefine a commonly misunderstood concept about the return of Christ.