Passages Taken Out of Context: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Pray Without Ceasing”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reads:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (ESV)

What does it mean to “pray without ceasing?”  I once heard a pastor give a sermon on this passage and he interpreted the words in their extreme literal sense.  For him, to pray without ceasing meant to always be praying every minute of every day!  His entire sermon was focused on teaching us how we can accomplish this in our lives.  You see, it is easy to get distracted from praying when you are working on other things that necessarily have to be done.  But if you practice at just “having an on-going conversation with God as you do your other tasks”, you will be praying around the clock in no time.

Forgive me if I seem skeptical, but I do not think that is what this passage is about.  Is Paul’s (the biblical author) point that we should literally be in constant prayer around the clock?  What about while we are sleeping?  Can we train ourselves to pray in our dreams?  What about when we are doing something that requires our undivided attention?  Does God want us walking around with our focus divided between him and our task at hand?

A better way to understand these verses would be to understand that Paul is using a figure of speech.  He is telling his readers to be prayers.  They should pray all of the time.  It does not mean that they never stop praying in the literal sense, but that they continually go before God in prayer (over and over again).  Much like when I tell someone, “Stop by my house any time.  I am always home.”  Well, I am home a great deal of the time, but I do leave once in a while.  I do not mean I am never gone.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 instructs Christians to be people of prayer.  It should characterize our lives.  Do not get discouraged if you have been unable to pray around the clock as some either have or are attempting.  It is not possible and it is not God’s expectation.


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9 Responses to Passages Taken Out of Context: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Pray Without Ceasing”

  1. internet elias says:

    Good post. But my experience has been that prayer is the literal ‘desir’ of the heart rather than a deliberate ‘speaking’ to God with words.
    Mt 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

    Mt 6:8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

    Ro 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

    Ro 8:27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

    Mt 12:34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh

    Mt 12:35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

    The desire in my heart is so STRONG concerning things of God that it never ceases. Who we are, in our hearts, remains constant whether we are busy on our job, at play, or sleeping. And God judges the heart. But we can’t know our own heart.

    Ps 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:

    PRAYER WITHOUT CEASING, I believe, is the continual spiritual connection between an individual and God. If the HEART is right…the DESIRE is right. If the DESIRE is right…the PRAYER is right…and heard..and answered by the Father.

    Joh 15:7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

    My prayer life is so much simpler not. All I have to do is DESIRE needs to be met, to DESIRE salvation for the lost as God extends His love to them through me, not in words, but in DEEDS. The ONLY prayer I pray is, ‘Thy will be done.’ One can’t ask for more than that.

    Again, good post. Thanks for allowing me to spend an opinion. As they say, ‘opinions are a dime a dozen and everybody has one.’ 🙂 Best Wishes

  2. Davo says:

    Yeah! Way to go, skeptic! I liked this post. (Surprise?)

    I think that there’s something good about constantly praying, meditating and reflecting on our circumstances and actions. I think if everyone were to pause for a moment of contemplation on a regular basis, our world would be a more peaceful place.

    Your interpretation of this passage rings true with my experience. It seems unrealistic to pray while sleeping or concentrating hard while driving in stop-and-go traffic. But I surmise that devoting oneself to constant prayer and meditation would lead build intentionality and integrity.

  3. Tim Farley says:

    internet elias:

    Thanks for your thoughts. You are always welcome to share your opinions here. I too believe that prayer can happen without specific words being uttered. But I do think it involves intentional conversation/communication with God, which I think is a little different than your idea of “desires”.


    You may not realize it, but I tend to be a skeptic in most things. However, I tend to be fairly conservative as well. 🙂

    I agree that a person devoted to a life of prayer would benefit greatly in the ways you mention.

  4. fivepeasinapod says:

    Hi Tim.

    A great thought provoking post!

    I agree that “Praying” involves an intentional conversation/communication with God, but I also agree that through our heart’s “desires” a greater level of prayer is acheived. When our heart is for God, and we are consciously seeking him constantly, our intentional communication with Him increases.

    Just like a fence-sitter to spoil a good difference of opinion! 😉

    Blessings to you all.

  5. Tim Farley says:


    Good to hear from you. I agree with you. “When our heart is for God, and we are consciously seeking him constantly, our intentional communication with Him increases.” The more we seek to be in tune with God, the greater our desire will be to communicate with him. I believe the reverse is also true. The more we communicate with God, the more our hearts will be in tune with him.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. Davo says:


    Theologically, I thing you’re probably pretty similar to my dad. I appreciate the intelligent skepticism that you and him both seem to possess. Many accept what they have been taught without questioning. You seem to have examined and questioned many of those beliefs and arrived at a place where you still agree with many of them (a different place where I probably arrived).

    While we may not agree on everything, I greatly value your input, since you seem to critically think about questions rather than sweeping them under the rug of unquestionable orthodoxy.

  7. Tim Farley says:


    Thanks for your kind words. I like to believe that I have wrestled with the things I have been taught and the things that I hold to. One thing that I have realized is that there many doctrines that people and churches hold tightly onto that really are not as clear (or as important) as some seem to make them.

    By the way, I value your input as well because it continues to help me think of things from a different perspective, even if I still disagree with you in the end.

  8. michal-ann says:

    lastnight i caught myself praying in my sleep but out loud i could hear myself what does this mean…. i am not a christian but i have christian faith i do pray not always as i should i couuld her myselp praying for safety for my family n myself

  9. Tim Farley says:


    What do you mean when you say “i am not a christian but have christian faith”?

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