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Unceasing prayer

Is it possible to pray unceasingly? Ordinary folk throughout the ages tell us it is. Brother Lawrence, for example, shares, “There is no mode of life in the world more pleasing and more full of delight than continual conversation with God.” But nobody can think of God all the time. God does not expect you and me to dive immediately into the ocean of constant communion and swim from one continent to the other. We move into this way of praying through a process of practised living that is both understandable and practical.

 

The biblical writers talked about this type of prayer. Paul, the apostle, wrote to the Romans, “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Rom 12:12, RSV). To the Ephesians, he said, “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18), to the Colossians, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Co. 4:2), and to the Philippians, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God” (Phi. 4:6).

 

Christians over the centuries have sought to follow the biblical injunction to “pray without ceasing”. To do so, they have developed two fundamental expressions of Unceasing Prayer. The first one is more formal and liturgical; the other is more conversational and spontaneous. Here is the first.

 

Originally from the Eastern Christian hesychastic tradition, the first fundamental expression is called “breath prayer”. Having its roots in the Psalms, this is a short, simple prayer of petition that can be spoken in one breath, seldom containing more than seven or eight syllables, hence its name: breath prayer. In this prayer, God is addressed in a close, personal way. The most famous breath prayer is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”, based on the parable in Luke 18:13. It was used extensively in the sixth century, it was revived in the Eastern Church in the 14th century. And in the 19th century, in 1870, a Russian peasant tells the moving story of his search to pray without ceasing in the book The Way of the Pilgrim. This particular book has had an influence upon Christians far beyond the borders of the Eastern Church.

 

Here are a few steps to discover for yourself your own Breath Prayer. 

  1. Find some uninterrupted time and a quiet place and sit in silence while being held in God’s loving presence. 

  2. After a few moments, allow God to call you by name: “Christy”, “George”, “John”, “Mimi”, “Rose”, “Susan”, “Mark”, etc. 

  3. After that, allow the question “What do you want?” to surface. 

  4. Answer it simply and directly. Maybe by a single word: peace, faith, strength, etc., or perhaps by a phrase, “to understand Your truth”, “to feel Your love”, etc.

  5. Connect this word or phrase with the most comfortable way you have of speaking about God: “Blessed Saviour”, “Abba”, “Immanuel”, “Holy Father”, “Gracious Lord”, etc. 

  6. Finally, write out your breath prayer, staying within what is comfortable to say in one breath. 

  7. Over the next few days allow God to adjust your breath prayer ever so slightly. With time, you will come to realize what you really need to pray.

  8. Begin praying your breath prayer as often as possible. Allow God to plant it deep into the depths of your spirit. You may pray this prayer for several weeks, a few months or even a whole year. Prayer. “Unceasing Prayer”, Richard Foster, p. 125-136.