I have to be honest. I have always struggled with prayer.
Maybe my struggle has been with the way in which our culture has always portrayed prayer, as this redundant and repetitive exercise before meals and before bed, in which we ask God for things and then thank God for what we have.
I am not pointing fingers here.
In many ways, my wife and I have this regular, repetitive rhythm with our kids when we pray with one another each day.
And insofar as it goes, there is really nothing wrong with offering our petitions and thanksgiving to God in a regular daily rhythm, as we will soon see.
However, the issue is when that is the final destination of our prayer lives.
When we only pray to God as a genie, of sorts, who we go to in order ask for those things we want.
When we only pray to God as a blessing machine who needs to be thanked for all of our material wealth.
When the depth of our prayer lives can only be measured in singular, finite moments before a meal or before bed.
That is not God’s intention with prayer- to be a genie who grants our every wish and desire, to be viewed as a blessing generator who only offers goods and services for our consumption, or to only be addressed at fixed times throughout the day.
God’s intention for prayer is so much more dynamic, so much more encompassing, so much more intimate, so much more fulfilling, and so much more purposeful than anything we could ever imagine.
But it starts in a very intimidating place.
Or, as another version says… pray without ceasing.
How do we even do that?
How do we pray without ceasing?
How do we make movements from praying a couple of times a day to praying all the time?
Even more, how is that even humanly possible?
Believe me. I get it.
One significant limitation we have is that there is only one word for the word prayer in the English language… and that word is… prayer. So when a person mentions prayer, one immediately thinks of folded hands, bowed heads, and words spoken to God.
However, an interesting thing happens when you begin to look at the languages, Hebrew and Greek, in which the Bible was written. You begin to quickly find that there are dozens of words for prayer, each meaning something slightly different from the others.
The Greek word used in the pray without ceasing verse is actually the most all-encompassing word for prayer in the entire Bible. It is the big dog of all prayer words, if you will.
The word is proseuchomai and it doesn’t just capture one single element of prayer, it captures every element of prayer– submission, confession, petition, intercession, supplication, praise, and thanksgiving.
And with that understanding, think about what the verse is actually saying to us.
Submit to God without ceasing.
Confess to God without ceasing.
Petition to God without ceasing.
Supplicate to God without ceasing.
Intercede to God without ceasing.
Praise God without ceasing.
Give thanks to God without ceasing.
But it even goes beyond that.
Proseuchomai means to come toward, to come face to face with God.
In proseuchomai, we do not find a distant god removed from our lives or a god who only wants our prayer a couple of times a day or a god who simply wants our wish lists or a god who just wants to hand out blessings to us.
Instead, we find a God who wants us to come close to him, to come face to face with him, and to bring it all, everything we have, everything we are, as a constant and continual intimate conversation with him with every single breath we take.
Ancient cultures believed that there was a sacredness in breathing, a sacredness in each person’s inhaling and exhaling. Jewish sages and scholars intimated that the sacred name of God, YHWH, could be heard with every exhalation of breath. So it was, in our first breath of life, YHWH breathed life and his name into our lungs. And with every subsequent breath in each of our lives, as we exhale, the sacred name of God is spoken.
Whether this is true or not is inconsequential, but it speaks to an incredible intimacy between us and YHWH. And, it is interesting to consider the words of Paul in Ephesians when he says to, “proseuchomai” in the “pneuma.”
The Greek word pneuma means spirit, wind, or breath.
To me, this paints an absolutely beautiful picture of prayer and intimacy with the Divine.
That in our spirit, and in the sacredness of every breath we take, there is a sweet communion with YHWH as we breathe in and breathe out, and as YHWH invites us to come closer, intimately close, face-to-face close, in humility to share our heartaches, our struggles, our hardships, our burdens, our insecurities, our requests, our celebrations, our praises, and our thanksgiving.
This practice of prayer is a moment by moment, intimate communion with YHWH that never ceases, as YHWH continually invites us to come closer and closer in all things and with every breath.
Indeed, let everything that has breath…