Paul What Were You Thinking? Pray Without Ceasing?

Text: Psalms 139: 1- 4, 23-24

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

    you discern my thoughts from far away.

 You search out my path and my lying down,

    and are acquainted with all my ways.

 Even before a word is on my tongue,

    O Lord, you know it completely.

 

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

    test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Message:

Psalm 139 written by King David talks to us of a God who is inescapable. He is everywhere. He is a God with us. He is Emmanuel. Before we go further down that road let us take a break and find out if it is so in our lives. Is God so present in our lives? Do we actually believe that? Ok if we believe that do we live like that? Psalms 139: 4 says “Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.” That statement has a lot of implication for our times. Rev Jacob Thomas, whom we called JT, is one of the most dynamic speakers that I have come across. When I was a teen I heard his ever thought provoking talk in a Teen Camp where he asked us the question “What is that one word that comes to your tongue when you are angry?” There was a long silence. The silence prolonged. He broke it by saying “I am sure that it is not God Bless You.” And we roared in laughter. We understood what he meant. I am sure even the readers have guessed it. It is 4 letter magic word that starts with ‘F’. Acharya Osho has a very interesting analysis of how this word became so prominent. Fredrick Neitzche propounded the philosophical statement that “God is Dead.” When this statement became accepted in the American Culture, Sex was the next obsession that took over. So this 4 letter word displaced God from the conversations. So this word espoused all the various range of emotions. More than a bad word it became an adverb which defines various ranges of emotions like ecstasy, anger, frustration, beauty, irritation and curiosity. This seems to be a very apt analysis. This 4 letter word is indispensable to our conversations. It is splashed out in our mental landscapes. You have songs, movies, dialogues all splashed with these words. If one follows Facebook this word is used very liberally and extensively. ‘WTF’ has become part of our accepted cool dude lingo. Now why am I insisting so much on this word? It is not just a word but it displays our attitude. Unlike the Psalmist, we feel that God is Dead. We act like that. Or if not that radical, we have assigned God to private spaces of prayer, church and songs.

Apostle Paul completely believed in this Psalm. That’s why he exhorted the people of Thessalonica to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). He does not talk about taking some time to pray or an hour to pray or about the benefits of having a quiet time. He says something more radical. He says pray without ceasing. Now the question arises is that “How is it possible?”The answer we may come to is “It is impossible.” This is because of our understandings about prayer. We normally divide our daily life into thoughts about God and thoughts about people and events. Therefore we have assigned God a space and time where we converse with him and think Holy thoughts and say holy things. God is therefore removed from our daily life and events. But Paul reminds us that Prayer is an unceasing conversation with God. It means to think and live in the presence of God. It is the joyful affirmation that God knows our minds and our hearts and that nothing is hidden from Him. Prayer is the presentation of all thoughts divine and mundane, ugly and pervert, daydreams and night dreams to our God. When I write it I know how easy it is to write such wonderful sounding good thoughts. But in my personal experience this is far from easy. This is asking too much. There is a deep resistance to making ourselves so vulnerable, so totally unprotected. I indeed want to love God and worship Him, but I also want to keep a huge part of my inner corner for myself,where I can hide and think of my own secret thoughts, where I can nurture my hatred, where I can fan my lust and speak whatever I want to. And when I come to pray I select the thoughts carefully and make it sound very pious and lofty.My fear is, can God tolerate what goes in my heart and my mind. Can he handle my cruel fantasies, shameful dreams, inflated illusions and my deep seated selfishness?Sometimes we just want to hold on to these things.

Paul is asking me to get into a fearless conversation with my God where I bring my good and bad, ordinary and extraordinary, evil and divine thoughts and deeds to the Lord. From unceasing thoughts I am asked to move to unceasing prayers where the touch of God heals my deepest contradictions and pains. Only then can we pray along with David with confidence “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me,and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalms 139: 23, 24) But then when we come to this point, I am reminded of a conversation where my friend asked “How do we feel God in a world that is so brutal and nasty. In my workplace and in the market it is very difficult to feel the presence of God. And to pray unceasingly is so much tougher in such circumstances. It is easier to worry than to pray.” Whenever we say this or that is difficult i am reminded of the words of Dr P. C. Mathews, who is a personal mentor to me. He says “Who told you that Christian life is easy? Who told you that being a disciple is a cake walk?”

John Newton, was converted to Christianity when he was on the sea and a terrible storm broke out. He cried out to God and he was saved. But even after his conversion he continued the trade slave that he was involved in.  He traded many African slaves. He prayed everyday but he also traded slaves. He was inhuman in his dealings but never missed to read the bible and pray. He had a friend in John Wesley who showed him that his prayer life and his practices are contradictory. But John Newton kept resisting it. But once in midst of prayer he felt convicted of his ways. He quit his life of a slave trader and became a crusader against Slave trade. It is in midst of his struggles that he wrote one of the most immortal songs“Amazing grace, How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” John Newton owned his wretchedness in the presence of the Lord and found that he was blind. He felt found by God and started seeing and feeling the presence of God.

In a world that denies the presence of God, we are called to‘Pray without ceasing.’ Prayer is a protest against the godlessness and the chaos of the world. Let us enter into a fearless, unceasing conversation with a God who searches our thoughts and minds and still loves us.

Let us close this meditation with a song that sums our life and journey as Christians.

 

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years

Bright shining as the sun.

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we’ve first begun.

 Amen.

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

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