The apostle Paul urged the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing, but I've always struggled to understand what this might look like in our everyday lives. Do we walk around robotically praising God as we bounce from activity to activity in our crowded days? Or do we retreat to a quiet, spa-like atmosphere and kidnap our minds, forcing ourselves to stop thinking and start praying? Oswald Chambers writes this:
If we think of prayer as the breath in our lungs in the blood from our hearts, we think rightly. The blood flows ceaselessly, and the breathing continues ceaselessly; we are not conscious of it, but it is always going on. We are not always conscious of Jesus keeping us in perfect joint with God, but if we are obeying him, he always is. Prayer is not an exercise, it is the life.1
If prayer can be as natural as breathing, why does it seem to take so much effort? Why do our minds scatter and our words mumble? I have found help in my pursuit of a ceaseless prayer life in the notion of breath prayer.
Breath prayer really has its roots in the Psalms, where a phrase might be repeated over and over to focus the mind on a particular idea. David was a master of breath prayer as he uttered such phrases as "the Lord is my shepherd"; "delight yourself in the Lord"; "Lord, you are my rock and my salvation." Sometimes it seems as though David is whispering to himself, inviting God into a prayerful tryst that only the two of them can understand. Like breathing, the rhythm of this type of prayer redirects and refocuses a wandering mind or heart that needs to be reassured.
One night I was driving to the ballpark to watch a baseball game. Our team had just been sold to a new owner for more than $600 million. Rumors were flying that he was going to bring in a whole new staff to usher our last-place team to a place of significance in the standings. Having uprooted everything to move to Houston, with my dream of writing and speaking flourishing in this new city, nerves and tension tightened in me as I drove. Breath prayers began to swell, spelling out as a breath before the Lord: "my Savior, remove my fear"; "Sweet Jesus, cleanse me from all doubt"; "Abba Father, you are my confidence."
Short and sweet, this type of prayer asks for comfort and the kiss of assurance. It's the perfect ointment to a wandering mind that is prone to get distracted or pulled into the pit of despair.
1 Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Ulrichsville, Ohio: Barbour, 2000), 105.