“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5: 16-18)”
Yeah, right. Rejoice always? Pray without ceasing? In everything give thanks? For years, I’ve relegated this verse to my list of “it would be nice, but it just isn’t realistic” Bible passages.
Lately I’ve started thinking that maybe I’ve been wrong to do that. God isn’t making a suggestion here. This is an out-and-out command. So I asked God to teach me how to rejoice always, how to pray all the time, how to be thankful in all circumstances.
I think God must absolutely relish answering these sorts of prayers. Let me tell you what I’ve learned so far about praying without ceasing.
Our friends have a seven-year-old son, Christopher, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. This is a relatively mild form of autism. Christopher is exceptionally intelligent, full of creative energy, and an all-round terrific kid. But he tended to live in a world of his own. While most young children look to their parents for feedback on their behaviors, “Aspie” kids like Christopher don’t naturally do this. Plus, he had no interest in making friends with other kids his age. It’s as if he was unaware of, or just uninterested in, those around him.
Unfortunately, many of us treat God the same way. We tend to ignore Him most of the time, even though He tells us He is with us always.
Happily, there are some things Christopher’s parents were able to teach him, to help counteract his natural tendencies to isolate himself. Let me give you one example.
One day Christopher was out with his dad, and they were at the grocery store. He and his dad held onto the cart together, both of them pushing it up one aisle and down the next. As usual, Christopher’s attention was focused on the cans and boxes for sale, rather than his shopping companion. So Dad decided to be a bit unpredictable.
When they came to the end of the row, instead of turning to go down the next aisle, Dad simply stopped the cart. Surprised, Christopher looked up and asked what was going on. Dad simply smiled at him, and started pushing the cart again. A few moments later, Dad turned the cart in an unexpected direction. Feeling the sudden tug against his arms, Christopher again looked up at his father. Again, Dad kindly smiled at him. After a few more unexpected turns, Christopher started paying attention to Dad on a continual basis. A psychologist would say that he had learned to “reference” his father.
In the same way, we can reference God. It’s not that we stop what we’re doing so that we can pray. We just keep in mind that God is with us as we go about our daily activities, and we frequently “look up” to see if He has some input for us. We continually seek God’s opinion.
For example, we’re getting dressed for church. Maybe God doesn’t usually care if we wear a red shirt or a green shirt. But on this particular day, there is someone He’d like us to run into, and the red shirt is much more visible in a crowd. If we’re listening, we’ll hear his desire for us to wear the red shirt. As a result, a friend we need to talk to will see us in the crowd and come over to say hi.
Or, perhaps we’re out driving on our way to work. We usually take one route, but this time, if we’re listening, God may want us to go another way. The reason may be obvious—there is a stranded mom needing a tire changed—or we may never know about the accident we avoided by taking a different street.
Referencing God is just a fancy way of saying that our antenna is up, paying attention to God. All those little comments we make to ourselves as the day goes by now include Him. We’re actually maintaining a background conversation with the creator and sustainer of the universe. Just think of the possibilities!