Is it Possible to Pray without Ceasing? - 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Published: Mar 04, 2021
Is it Possible to Pray without Ceasing? - 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Is it possible to remain in ceaseless prayer? What exactly did Paul mean when he told the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing”? If we could pray without ceasing, what could be possible?

pray without ceasing,” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

When Jesus entered our world, he brought with him the message of a Kingdom that defied the "proper" order of things. In the same way that he astonished listeners with his teachings (Luke 4:32), offended others with his nearness to the untouchables (Luke 7:39), Jesus also would have stunned the people of his day with his way of addressing God, calling Him “Abba, Father,” in his prayers.

Jesus demonstrated, in his prayers, that a life reconciled to a holy God goes far beyond justification and salvation. It’s an adoption into a family—entrance into a new kind of nearness and intimacy with a King who becomes Father. Before Christ arrived with this radical vision, no one would have dreamed of addressing Yahweh as “Dad.” But by hearing such a prayer as Jesus prayed in Matthew 6:9-13, listeners and followers would have had the chance to witness just what kind of a relationship God invites us into. It’s a connection that no power can sever—a kind of dwelling that we, who are sustained by Him, cannot afford to take for granted.

Jesus modeled the kind of abiding we were made for, constantly slipping away somewhere quiet to pray (Luke 5:12), and living to do the will of his Father, which he described as nourishment to him. “‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work’” (John 4:34).

It’s not surprising then that in order to live this new life, to follow Jesus, Scripture exhorts us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Unlike Jesus however, our conversation with God can experience its ebbs and flows. As is much of the Christian life, the command is terribly simple, but not always easy.

Is it possible to remain in ceaseless prayer? What exactly did Paul mean when he told the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing”? If we could pray without ceasing, what could be possible?

Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Ismael Paramo

A woman praying, The Joy of Loving God with All Your Soul

Why Did Paul Write 1 Thessalonians 5:17?

In 1 Thessalonians Paul displays his deep care for believers living in a hostile culture. In his letter he reminds them of the gospel he preached to them, and how he wants them to grow in their faith, stand strong in the face of persecution, and strive for holy living. Paul “shares the belief that knowledge of the promised end times will give them hope to remain steadfast,” and he encourages their continued growth in Christ and for way of life to be fueled by this hope in the coming of Christ’s kingdom (

Paul exhorts God’s people to not “be like others, who are asleep.” Or as Eugene Peterson’s The Message Bible puts it, “So let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others. Let’s keep our eyes open and be smart… Since we’re creatures of Day, let’s act like it.” He warns them against being, like their surrounding culture, too confident in their safety and control.

To Live Your Life Wide Awake

Instead of being blinded by the false belief that we are in control of our destiny, be “awake and be sober” (5:6). Why? “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (5:9). Paul is reminding the church of the reason for which Christ gave his life—for them to step into the new, resurrected life in Jesus, and not suffer the consequences of their sins. “[He] died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (10).

Paul goes on to instruct his readers on how to live as people who live in the light of day. He tells them how to honor those who serve and lead the church (5:12-13). He urges them to use their time well, work diligently, to encourage each other, be patient with each other, and “always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (5:15).

Note the “always” in verse 15. This verse further reveals Paul’s heart, as John Piper explains, “[his] burden is not just a kind of private piety when he comes to speak of prayer. This is a radical call to counterintuitive, countercultural love. Don’t repay people evil for evil. Do good to everyone always.”

For Paul, a mark of the Christian life and its witness to the unbelieving world, is persistence in goodness to one’s neighbor, Christian or not. Even in the face of hostility or persecution.

And how are they to go about that?

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, emphasis added). Persistent, unceasing, holding fast, not giving up—this is the Christian way.

Is It Possible to Pray All the Time “without Ceasing”?

One reason the idea of constant prayer can seem an impossible ideal is that we often overcomplicate what it means to pray.

Prayer can be many things, just as the way we communicate can take many forms: speech, gestures, the written word, or music. It’s difficult to narrow it down to any one definition. Prayer is communication with God, and it is also an engaging posture of a life directed toward God.

“Beloved Scottish author George MacDonald wrote: “‘Oh God,’ I said, and that was all. But what are the prayers of the whole universe more than expansion of that one cry? It is not what God can give us, but God that we want.” (What Is the Definition of Prayer?)

Prayer is a continual drawing near to the One who desires our fellowship, and knows our deep need for him above all things. Such a posture directs our souls toward God, to who he is, and desires to have his will worked into our lives and the world around us.

Praying over Every Moment

Whether we’re washing dishes, struggling with doubt, or engaging in the most spiritual matters,  we need to do these things with prayer in order to do them in a way that makes an eternal impact.

We so easily forget about the riches of communion with God when the ordinary stuff of life crowds our attention, and we assume that prayer isn’t necessary to go about our mundane, daily tasks. But something potentially wonderful is lost if we reserve our prayer lives for the big asks, and we let the tame, benign moments pass by, untouched by our prayerful notice, and we miss what God might choose to reveal to us if we brought them to Him as well.

Paul’s exhortation to the early Christians to keep praying, keep rejoicing are his instructions for them to be equipped to usher in God’s upside down Kingdom, in the small ways and the big ways. Allow prayer to shake up your understanding of what matters for God’s Kingdom, waking you up to see how every chore, every interaction, can be lived to bring yourself and others closer to God’s Kingdom come, and his will done.

But Really, All the Time?

John Piper makes some important distinctions on what Paul implies when he says to “pray without ceasing.” Paul used the same expression in Romans 1:9, “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you.”

As Piper says, Paul certainly didn’t occupy every minute of every day mentioning the Romans in his prayers, for he preached on and prayed for many things. What this infers is Paul’s frequent and repeated mentioning of these believers in his prayers. So to pray without ceasing for Paul is to pray often and repeatedly.

This is a persistent prayer life. It doesn’t give up. “‘Without ceasing’ means you should never come to a point in your life when you say, ‘Prayer doesn’t work. I am done. I am giving up on prayer.’”

Lastly Piper points out that is this kind of prayer is disciplined. Not in a legalistic sense, but in the regular prayer practices that “fit us for the kind of spirit that enables us to enjoy the hour-by-hour, spontaneous walk with God.”

Both in its spontaneity and its faithful continuity, the unceasing prayer life is what makes one’s faith in God a more authentic relationship with a heavenly Dad.

Alternate Translations of 1 Thessalonians 5:17

New International Version (NIV)

“pray continually,”

King James Version (KJV)

“Pray without ceasing.”

New Living Translation (NLT)

“Never stop praying.”

Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

“pray constantly,"

The Message Bible (MSG)

“pray all the time;”

Bible Verses about Prayer

Luke 22:40 – On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

Luke 21:36 – Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.

John 15:7 – If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Matthew 15:8-9 – “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”

Matthew 7:7-11 – “Ask and it will be given to you; see and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for break, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Matthew 6:5-7 – “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

More Resources on Prayer

Prayers for Every Need and Situation

iBelieve’s YouTube Channel

How to Pray: A Biblical Guide to Prayer

10 Powerful Reasons to Pray Scripture (And How to Start)

What Jesus Christ Taught About Prayer
How Do I Pray Without Ceasing?

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Tinnakorn Jorruang

Sarah E Martin is a sister, aunt, daughter, and sometimes a globe trotter. She has a background in English literature, and a devotion to good tea. When she’s not writing or studying, she is attempting to learn the names of her backyard birds, or planning long, unhurried walks in her favorite places. She believes that Jesus is the answer to bringing all our stories together, and is the one who satisfies our ache for home.

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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