PRAY WITHOUT CEASING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 5:17
2-23-58 7:30 p.m.
Now after a glorious singing like that, we ought to read this Bible with love and appreciation and especially my text tonight, the first Thessalonian letter, the fifth, the last chapter, let us all turn to it. First Thessalonians, the fifth chapter, the last chapter, and let us read beginning at the sixteenth verse and read to the end. We all have it? Now my text is the second verse you will read, but I want to talk about all three of those little verses there, beginning at the sixteenth verse. Let us all read them together clear to the end:
Pray without ceasing.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Quench not the Spirit.
Despise not prophesyings.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it. Brethren, pray for us. Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.
I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
[1 Thessalonians 5:16-28]
My text, Pray Without Ceasing; following immediately the text of this morning, Rejoice Evermore, and my text followed by, “In everything give thanks” [1 Thessalonians 5:18]. Those three little short words, but oh, how full of meaning they are. My text: Pray Without Ceasing. Look what it follows: “Rejoice evermore” [1 Thessalonians 5:16], as though a man would stagger at that commandment to rejoice all the time. Then Paul appends a reply, “Pray without ceasing.” The way to rejoice evermore is to pray without ceasing [1 Thessalonians 5:17]: the more rejoicing, the more praying, the more praying, the more rejoicing, as though our praying opened the channels of our hearts, and the sorrows and the sadnesses and the despairs of our lives flowed away, and in their stead came the fullness of the Spirit of God. Rejoice evermore by praying without ceasing. Then look what follows, “In every thing give thanks.” When rejoicing and praying are married, their firstborn child is gratitude. “In every thing give thanks.” Isn’t that a wonderful trio of texts? “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks” [1 Thessalonians 5:18]. Here we are borne up between rejoicing all the time, giving thanks all the time, and praying all the time. And those three: never-ceasing praise, and never-ceasing thanksgiving, and never-ceasing prayer are three pictures that represent the whole Christian life. And they are representative of the life of our Savior in heaven, who ever lives to pray for us [Hebrews 7:25]. Truly the union between the vine and the Branch is to be found in this never-ceasing prayer. Our Lord in heaven, praying, saving, keeping to the uttermost [Hebrews 7:25], and His children down here in this earth, united to Him in never-ceasing supplication and intercession [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. It was the example of our Savior’s praying that caused the disciples to ask that He teach them how to pray [Luke 11:1]. And it is the glorious ever-living presence of our Lord in the sanctuary of heaven [Hebrews 7:25], that encourages us to be in constant and daily communion with Him in prayerful intercession. “Rejoice evermore [1 Thessalonians 5:16]. Pray without ceasing [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. In every thing give thanks” [1 Thessalonians 5:18].
Now, that is first of all a wonderful privilege. The veil is rent in twain [Matthew 27:51]; entrance into the mercy seat is wide open. Come and welcome, any time, any day, any hour. You can bow your head in prayer anyplace, anytime, anywhere, upon any occasion. In the story of Queen Esther, when Mordecai encouraged her to go see King Ahasuerus, she replied, “One who enters the presence of the king unbidden, is subject to death, except he extends the golden scepter” [Esther 4:11]. To us, the golden scepter is always extended. Come any day, come any hour, come any time, come any place. If it is midnight, it’s not too late. If it is at the dawning of the morning, it’s not too early. If it’s at midday, He is not too busy. If it’s in the evening, He is not too weary. The temple gates are never closed. Come and welcome; God bids us approach the throne of grace boldly [Hebrews 4:16].
This is not only a wonderful privilege; it is also a precept, a commandment. “Pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. We are never to turn aside from this appeal and this commandment and this duty of praying. Never are we to abandon prayer. If I cease to breathe, I die. When I am born into this world, I must breathe to live. When I am born into the kingdom of God, I must pray to live. And when the heavens are brass and prayer seems unanswered, I am to pray without ceasing. And when my heart is cold, and there is no interest and no fervor, I am to pray without ceasing. If the iron is cold, I am to hammer it until it is heated and burning. If I am puzzled and cannot understand and don’t have an explanation, I am to pray without ceasing. We are never to abandon our supplication. We are never to despair in our praying. When Elijah said to his servant, “Go look.” And the servant stood on the brow of Mount Carmel, looked out over the Mediterranean Sea, came back and said, “There is nothing.” Elijah prayed again, and six times the servant came back from his lookout and said, “And there is nothing.” And Elijah prayed the seventh time, and the seventh time the servant came back and said, “I see a cloud the size of a man’s hand” [1 Kings 18:42-44]. And Elijah replied, “There is the sound of abundance of rain” [1 Kings 18:41]. We are never to despair in our praying. We are to pray without ceasing [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. We are to pray about all of the tasks and ministries of our life. All of it! All of it!
We are not to give ourselves to activity all the time. It’s a wonderful thing to talk about soulwinning, and visitation, and knocking at the door, and how little of it we do. And it’s a wonderful thing to prepare the lesson and to teach it and to go down to God’s house. It’s a great thing to busy ourselves about the work of the Lord. But we go further on our knees than we do in the swiftest running. We’re to take time out to ask God’s blessings upon the work of our hands. “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: and except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” [Psalms 127:1]. We can teach and teach and teach, and nobody ultimately learns. Preach and preach and preach, and nobody ultimately be saved. We can come down here and go through the motions and the motions and the motions of worship and our hearts never be moved toward God. These things are heavenly in origin, and they are channeled to us through never ceasing prayer. We never get beyond it ourselves; there are virtues to acquire, there are faults to correct, there are sins to confess, there are weaknesses to admit. All through our lives there is that never ceasing need of dependence upon God. We never quite arrive, never ever. And the need of these around us who are lost, and who are sick, and who are dying, and who are heathens, and who are pagans, this whole world without Christ; pray without ceasing [1 Thessalonians 5:17].
Now, how would you implement that? Pray without ceasing: God knows we are sensitive to the needs, how would you do it? “Pray without ceasing,” all right, this: all of us, all of us ought to have seasons and times when we are alone. You can’t be close to God and live all of your life, and all of your time, and all of your hours in the presence of somebody else, in a crowd, in a throng, where people are, or even in your family. There is such a thing as public prayer, and we need it, to gather together for prayer; there’s such a thing as family prayer. There is also such a thing as talking to God in private, baring your soul before the Lord, alone, closet prayer, when the door is shut and nobody knows and nobody sees; and everyone of us should have, must have, a time to ourselves, alone. If you have a little house, and the houses Jesus knew were little houses, He never lived in a palace. The only time He was ever in one was when He was judged by Pontius Pilate [Matthew 27:1-2, 11-26]. He called it going into a closet and shutting the door and being by yourself, and talking to the Father who “seeth in secret and who knoweth all things” [Matthew 6:6-8]. Every child of God should have a place of prayer, a time of prayer, where you can be to yourself. That’s one of the meanings of that text.
“Well,” you say, “that’s not praying without ceasing.” That’s the way we use the word. When I go down Akard Street, there’s a blind fellow there, and he sells pencils, and I can say that fellow is on the street all the time, selling pencils. Well, I don’t mean that every day and every night, and all the twenty-four hours of every day and every night he’s there. “He’s there all the time selling pencils,” that is, at stated intervals, you’ll find him there selling pencils—a blind man. That’s the way this text partly means, “Praying without ceasing.” There is a place and a time, all the time, every time, when it comes around, there you are, alone with God. And you’ll never find great fullness of soul and great witness of Christian life if you do not have a place to yourself. Even your husband doesn’t hear what you say to God, or your wife doesn’t hear what you say to God, or your family, or friends. Nobody knows. It’s you and God—a place for you.
Then there is the stated time when family devotions are held; that’s the hardest thing in this earth that I know of. The tempo of our life is so ragged and jagged, it is almost impossible it seems for a modern family to be like those country families that I knew as a boy and a young preacher. So many of those godly country people, when the evening came and the chores were done and the day’s tasks were finished, after the supper would gather around, and the father would read out of the Bible, and they would all kneel and have a prayer. We have lost something of the virility of our Christian message and the strength of the Christian church in the passing away of that evening family altar. Just once in a while will you ever see it anymore, but there needs to be, there ought to be a prayer in which all of the family shares, and if possible, each member of the family praying. How we need to be reminded, all of us, how we need to be encouraged in this thing. These sermons need to be preached every hour on God’s day; praying, praying in a family circle.
I read this week, and I have forgotten the man’s name, sitting here I was trying to think of the man’s name, he was made the Lord Mayor of London: a very famous man. And upon the night of the banquet when they celebrated his appointment, when the hour came for family devotions, that great, good man dismissed himself from the beautiful occasion, said he had a most important engagement to keep, slipped away, conducted family devotion and came back into the scintillating company and the brilliant feast. Why, he’s one in a million! But if God had people like that, I don’t know what God could do with them.
Then it refers also to our lives being all given up in the spirit of prayer and intercession. By that, I mean this: we can pray while our hands are busy: washing dishes, sweeping out the house, punching a typewriter, riding to town, coming back from work, selling goods over the counter, poring over these law books, out into the real estate world. All through the day we can breathe a prayer. All these things that we can ask God for in behalf of our church, in behalf of revival appeal, in behalf of the services, in behalf of the laws, in behalf of home and family, in behalf of the pastor, in behalf of the work of God in the earth, in behalf of our hospitals, our schools, our mission fields, our missionaries. How many times in the course of a day, while our hands are busy, can we ask God’s blessings? Praying without ceasing, our whole lives, a continuous intercession [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. I have tried this thing.
There are people who provoke me, and that is a very mild word; they get under my skin, they get in my hair, they greatly upset me. Some of them are dumb, and they can’t ever learn. Some of them are lazy, and they can’t ever do. Some of them are stupid, and what they do, they don’t do right. And a thousand things, and then there are people you dislike, you just don’t like the way they do. And then there are people who stand in the way; and a thousand things that all of us know. Well, I have tried it, and it works beyond anything, any magic you could ever discover. You pray and ask God to bless, and to sanctify, and to help, and to be good to somebody who provokes you, or stands in the way, or otherwise makes you unhappy, or you don’t like them. Pray! And see if the next time you meet them, there’s not a soft glow, a blessedness of understanding and fellowship. There is something between you that is sweet and good when you pray.
For example, “God, take it out of my life to say things that are cutting, and bitter, and highly critical, and damaging.” When I see the fellow that I’ve talked about and against, when I stand in his presence, he may be worthy of every cutting thing I could say about him, or he may be in error, and I can easily point out such fault and such failure. And yet, when I expatiate upon it and talk about it, then when I stand in his presence, there is a wall, there is a breaking, there is a something in between. And my own heart, and my own hand, and my own life are weaker because of what I’ve said and the spirit I’ve had in my heart. I can turn that thing around gloriously; I can pray. I can ask God’s blessings upon, I can ask God to direct, and forgive, and overlook, and be good to, and then when I stand in his presence, I stand ten feet tall. I stand strong and able; I stand mighty in the Lord.
There’s hardly anyone that in prayer you cannot work with, hardly anyone. There comes to the praying soul a certain turn of voice; a certain gesture of the hand; a certain look in the face and the eye; a certain way that you couldn’t describe, but it has in it the gentleness of Jesus and the wonder of the dissolving of heaven. May I ask you to try it? Pick out somebody that you don’t like, pick out somebody that seems to provoke you or stand in the way. Pick out somebody that you have cause to dislike, pray for them and ask God’s blessings upon them and His direction in their lives and His goodness to them. Try it and see if there is not a new sun in the sky that shines and a new heart in your soul that responds. Try it, there’s nothing in this world that will work like praying. Praying! Praying! Infinite patience comes to you when you pray for the people with whom you work and with whom you have to do, “Pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17].
Now look at this. In the parable of the importunate widow [Luke 18:1-8], she went to the unjust judge and bothered him and bothered him and bothered him until he was so weary of her he said, “I will do what this woman wants just to get rid of her” [Luke 18:5]. And He says that’s the way we ought to be in prayer [Luke 18:7-8]. Well, that widow was after one blessing, one blessing.
Now the story of the friend at midnight: he came and wanted some bread for a guest who had come at midnight, and he had nothing to lay before him. And he went to his friend’s house and knocked at the door. And the fellow stuck his head out from the loft up there and said, “Who is that bothering me?” And the man said, “I have got a friend and he is hungry, I do not have anything to eat, and I have come to borrow a loaf of bread.” And the man said, “Listen, I am in bed. And my children and my family are all asleep. Go away!” And he slams the window up there. And the fellow keeps on a-knocking, and the fellow up there in that loft, he says, “If I do not go down and give that fellow bread, he will keep me awake all night long.” And he comes down and gives him everything he wants [Luke 11:5-8].
And Jesus said that’s the way we ought to be in prayer [Luke 11:9-13]. Well, that’s an importunate illustration for one thing, one thing. What this appeal directed to us and made to us by the apostle Paul is that our whole lives are to be importunate. Our whole lives are to flow toward God. We are to pray without ceasing: a constant appeal to heaven in behalf of this work, and our lives, and these tasks, “Pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17].
Now, how would you do that? How would you implement it? May I make some observations? One: you don’t need your voice to say it. You don’t need words to pronounce it. I suppose that the greatest prayer in your life will be one that you couldn’t put in syllable and in sentence—praying, agonizing, groaning—you couldn’t say it. I remember reading here in the Bible: the Lord said to Moses, “Moses, why criest thou unto Me?” And yet, it is not recorded that Moses said anything to the Lord, he hadn’t said a syllable, he hadn’t uttered a sentence. And yet God says to Moses, “Moses, why criest thou unto Me?” [Exodus 14:15].
I remember reading here in the Bible where it describes Hannah. She was there in the Lord’s house. And she was praying for a great burden on her heart [1 Samuel 1:9-11]. Eli looked at her, and he said to her, “Woman, put away thy wine and be no longer drunken.” For it says that when Hannah prayed, she didn’t say anything. No words came out of her mouth, but she prayed in her heart. And when old Eli looked at her and saw her there, and saw her there, and saw her there, and thought she was drunken—”Put away your wine!” And she replied, “Thy handmaiden is not drunken with wine, but I have a great burden on my heart” [1 Samuel 1:12-15].
You listen to me, one earnest groan in the soul is worth a thousand litanies, however beautifully they are said or read. And one breathing of the soul upward to God is worth a thousand collects. By that you could understand I don’t believe in writ-out prayers, just say it to God in the language of the heart and of the spirit and of the soul. In my humble persuasion, there are thousands and thousands of people who gather every Lord’s Day and read those prayers and go through those collects and make responses in those litanies. And they are words and syllables, beautiful, I know. Expressive, I know. But that’s not praying. Praying is of the heart, it’s of the soul, it’s not of the voice, nor is it of beautiful sentence.
When they dedicated Bunker Hill, Joseph Parker was there to lead the prayer of dedication, and it was—and wait a minute, it was Theodore Parker. Theodore Parker was there to lead the dedication, and he said the prayer beautifully and eloquently, magnificently. And the newspaper author, in writing it up in the Boston paper, said, “It was the most eloquent prayer ever addressed to a Boston audience,” and never felt that he’d said anything or written anything wrong. “The most eloquent prayer ever addressed to a Boston audience,” do you see anything wrong with that? “Beautifully said, every sentence balanced, fine address, glorious salutations,” but words, and sentence, and language! Real prayer of the heart and of the soul, and I say one groan in the spirit is worth a thousand such. And one thirsting after God is worth a whole book of them, “Praying without ceasing.”
Now, I can go on with that. You don’t need your voice, you can pray in your heart. You don’t have to have a place; any place is a good place. A kitchen corner is just as good as the most magnificent cathedral. Any time is a good time, while you’re working over the sink, while you’re busy about the duties of the house, while you’re on the way to work or back away from work. Any time is a good time: early or late. Any hour, the door is open. We’re not bound in our praying to any stated habit, any stated way, any stated time, or any stated place. The only reason for having our everyday prayer meeting all day Saturday is on account of God’s Day, Sunday. We could have that prayer just as well on Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday as we could on Saturday. The only reason for having it on Saturday is to get us ready to ask God to bless us on Sunday, on the Lord’s Day. Anywhere, any time, any place, in any language is a great time and a great place and a great hour for supplication. I must close.
“Pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17], we’re to pray in faith, we’re to pray in love, we’re to pray in humility. Don’t recount your virtues, not to Him who knows all about us. Like the Pharisee’s who commended himself to God, “Look what I do.” But the publican who beat on his breast and would not so much as lift up his face to God; he, God heard, and it was he that God justified [Luke 18:9-14]. In humility, we, who are but dust and ashes, we have taken upon ourselves to speak unto Thee O God [Genesis 18:27]. And I cannot emphasize too much, that is for me, that this “old buddy-buddy stuff” with God and this “pal, ol’ pal, stuff” with Jesus; I don’t think any soul that ever approached God and got close to God ever felt that way about Him. “We, who are but dust and ashes, we have taken upon ourselves to speak unto Thee, O Thou Judge of the earth” [Genesis 18:25], humble, on our knees, on our face, and if not in actual posture, then in spirit, praying to God.
While we sing this invitation hymn, somebody you give his heart to Jesus, a family you put your life in the church. However God shall open the door and say the word, would you come tonight, and stand by me? A prayer to Jesus will open the impossible, “I don’t see how I could follow the Lord. I don’t see how I could take Jesus as my Savior tonight. With all that I have against me and with so much to settle first, I couldn’t come down that aisle.” Yes, you can! Ask Jesus to help you. Don’t try to solve the problem and then come. Come, and ask Him to help you solve the problem, and He will see you through. Just a prayer, just a looking up, just an asking Jesus, He will open the door. He will lead in the way. He will make a miracle come to pass if you will just ask Him. Why don’t you try it? Why don’t you try it? Sometime, someday, we must meet God. That’s why we must have a Savior and an Advocate, and that Savior is Jesus [John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9-10]. Would you try it?
Down that stairwell, from side to side, into this aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, preacher, and here I come. I’ll take Jesus at His word [John 10:27-30]. If I ask Him, He will help me. If I confess to Him, He will forgive me [1 John 1:9]. If I lay myself in His hands, He will direct my way.” Try it and see. There is heaven for the asking, there is all of glory for the having, and just to be humble before the Lord and to ask for His help and for His forgiveness and for His salvation is to receive it and have it forever. He will not take away what He has promised. He will not give and call it back. It is yours for the asking, it is yours for the having, it is yours forever. Would you take it graciously, humbly, believingly, lovingly?
“Lord, I lift up my hands, fill them. My heart, fill it, my life and soul.” Try it and see. However God shall say the word and open the way, while we sing this song, would you come? While we stand and while we sing.
I. These texts, exceedingly short, are
what it follows(1 Thessalonians 5:16-17)
way to rejoice evermore is to pray without ceasing
what immediately follows the text(1
When rejoicing and praying are married, their firstborn child is gratitude
praise, thanksgiving and prayer are three pictures that represent the whole
of the life of our Savior in heaven(Luke 11:1)
II. A great privilege
veil is rent, access to the mercy seat is undisputed(Matthew 27:51, Esther 4:11)
any day, any hour; temple gates are never closed(Hebrews
III. A great precept, commandment and duty
are never to abandon prayer
We are never to fall into despair(1 Kings
We are ever to seek in believing faith God’s help in our life and work(Psalms 127:1)
1. Our own need in
2. Need of others
IV. How to obey this precept
Never suspend the regular offering of prayer(Matthew
whole life a looking up, a crying from inmost heart(Luke
V. What is need, necessary for such a life
of your voice is not essential(Exodus 14:15, 1
Particular time not essential
Pray with attention, faith, humility, love, perseverance (Luke 18:13-14, Genesis 18:25)