How can we pray unceasingly? When I first became a Christian, I was amazed when I read in the Bible that we should unceasingly pray. I asked myself, “Does this mean that I should devote all my time praying and not do anything else? Then what should I do about eating, washing, going to work, and sleeping?” In the literal sense, this is illogical. If Paul were here, I would ask him, “Brother Paul, you told us to pray without ceasing. How is it possible?” Paul did not say, “Pray constantly” or “pray continually”; instead, he said, “Pray unceasingly.” “Pray unceasingly” is a stronger expression than “pray constantly” or “pray continually.” Constant or continual conveys only a sense of continuation. For example, I eat three meals a day; this is continual. I release a message every week, that is, I preach once every seven days. This is a continual preaching. However, if I eat or preach unceasingly, this means that I eat or preach all the time, twenty-four hours a day. Therefore, how can we pray without ceasing? Since my youth I tried to solve this problem, yet I could not find the answer.
However, every spiritual matter can be confirmed by practical things. We thank the Lord for this. This is God’s sovereign arrangement. For example, Hymn #231 in the Chinese hymnal borrows the good wine and sweet honey of our daily life, the great sea and vast ocean on earth, and the sun and moon in heaven to depict the Lord’s love. All these things describe the Lord’s love. Furthermore, the third stanza of Hymns, #482, says, “This the secret nature hideth, / Harvest grows from buried grain; / A poor tree with better grafted, / Richer, sweeter life doth gain.” This is true. Then, what can we find in nature to signify unceasing prayer? Eventually, I found that there is only one thing: our breathing.
There is no way that we can do anything continuously, without interruption. According to God’s law, within twenty-four hours there must be a night, and we must have eight hours of sleep. If you go to bed and rise up every day at a regular time, you will have a healthy body. George Müller, who lived to be over ninety years of age, said, “We Christian workers travel frequently, but we must avoid traveling at night because God has ordained nighttime for our sleep. If we work at night instead of sleeping, we act against God’s ordination.” This is true. By practicing a regular schedule of sleep at night we will not feel tired when we work during the day. But if we were to sleep during the day, we would not sleep well. Also to work until deep into the night would be very tiring, yet to sleep at night is very fitting. This is God’s law.
Not only is there a night for rest within each day, but there is also a day for rest every seven days. This is not a Jewish regulation; this is God’s ordination. However, today many people ruin such a day of rest and become even more tired by their indulgences. In God’s creation almost everything has an intermission, but in God’s ordination there is one thing that has no interruption, and that is our breathing. Eating, drinking, and sleeping are intermittent; only breathing is not intermittent. When breathing is interrupted, the result is death. While you are eating, drinking, and sleeping, you must still breathe. Therefore, our uninterrupted breathing is actually a picture of our unceasing prayer.
THE PRACTICE OF UNCEASING PRAYER
It is easy to explain the truth concerning unceasing prayer, but it is very difficult to practice it. We can breathe continuously, but how can we pray unceasingly in the same way we breathe? Yes, I have found out that breathing is a secret in nature which is very logical, because it is the only thing among the great things of human life that is unceasing. However, I could not understand how we can pray unceasingly as we do in breathing. We cannot use our physical organs incessantly; if we do, we will have problems. For example, after talking too much, our throat is tired and needs a rest. When our hands become too tired after carrying a heavy load for a long time, they need a rest. But among the organs of our body created by God, there is one that is used continuously, and that is our nose, which we use for breathing. We have never heard anyone say that he has been using his nose for breathing all the time and, therefore, his nose is tired and needs a rest. All our organs get tired, but we thank and praise the Lord that our breathing organ never gets tired.
Therefore, what does it mean to “unceasingly pray”? We must understand and realize that we have a spirit within us, which is our spiritual breathing organ. The reason we do not want to pray or cannot pray is that we basically do not use our spirit. To pray, we must use our spirit. Whenever we use our spirit, we are enlivened. The first function of our spirit is to pray. Your spirit prays automatically even without your prompting. Hence, in order to pray unceasingly, you must not interrupt your spirit’s activity. Instead, you must allow your spirit to be active all the time.
The spirit’s activity is to pray to the Lord. Even without opening my mouth to make a sound, my spirit automatically “breathes” in me to have fellowship with the Lord. Sometimes I may feel deflated; at that time I need to take a deep breath and call, “O Lord Jesus!” I may not make a sound, but still I am breathing in the Lord. We all should practice this kind of inaudible yet uninterrupted prayer.
When I was newly saved, I felt that it was very hard to pray unceasingly. Sometimes I stopped what I was doing in order to pray. Others thought it was strange and wondered why I would stop in the middle of my task and go away to pray. At that time I did not know what it meant to exercise my spirit; I never even heard of such an expression. It was not until later that I realized that there is no need for us to put aside the task at hand in order to devote ourselves to pray. To pray unceasingly means that we should always exercise our spirit to contact the Lord.
We are fallen people from our birth, and the spirit of a fallen man is dead. We have the organ, but it is dead and has lost its function; we basically do not use it. Hence, when we were young, we did not use our spirit. When we went to school, no one taught us to use our spirit, and we did not use our spirit in our daily walk. It was not until we heard the gospel and our conscience was enlightened by the shining of the light of the gospel that we were touched in our conscience, which is a part of our spirit. We then began to repent and confess. When we repented and confessed, that was the exercise of our spirit. It was at that moment that our spirit was activated, was made alive, and was no longer deadened. In this way we were saved.
At the time we were saved, our spirit was made alive. However, we still did not become accustomed to exercising this organ, and even when we prayed, we did not use it very much. In that period of time we had two kinds of prayer. One kind was that we closed our eyes and prayed in a routine way to the heavenly Father for several matters and then asked Him to give us peace. Another kind was when a great calamity came upon us. At such a time, even a Christian who does not know how to pray will be able to cry out, “O Lord Jesus, rescue me!” When we are so hard pressed, our spirit is stirred even though we may not know how to use it. This kind of prayer is a genuine prayer because our spirit truly has been exercised. All of us need to be reminded that we should not wait until a calamity comes to call on the Lord. Today we must exercise our spirit to pray. We should not pray from our mind or only because of an outward circumstance.
Forty years ago, by the Lord’s mercy, I learned to practice praying by exercising my spirit. Now I can say that I am accustomed to using my spirit. Just as we walk when our feet move, so we pray when our spirit moves. Hence, we all need to exercise our spirit that it may become living and strong. The secret to our abiding in the Lord and enjoying His life is that our spirit is living. Just as our eyes are our seeing organ, so our spirit is our praying organ. The function of our eyes is to see, and the function of our ears is to hear. Likewise, the function of our spirit is to pray. God created such a spirit for us. Therefore, we need to practice using our spirit that our spirit may be living.
Furthermore, we need to practice doing everything in our spirit and according to our activated spirit. If we do not move according to our activated spirit, we will practice religion. When our spirit is active, that is prayer; when our spirit is inactive, that is religion. Even when eating and drinking we need to practice having an active spirit. When our spirit is active, we pray. When we live and walk in our activated spirit, we pray unceasingly, and spontaneously we abide in the Lord and enjoy Him as our life.
(Abiding in the Lord to Enjoy His Life, Chapter 3, by Witness Lee)