1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 says: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” How do we obey these verses? Specifically, how do we pray without ceasing? Part of the answer to this is to obey verse 18 which says: “give thanks in all circumstances.” Let me share a powerful story from Corrie Ten Boom that relates to these verses from 1st Thessalonians 5. She and her family were Christians who hid Jews in their home in Holland during World War II. They hid Jews in their home undetected from 1943 to the early part of 1944. Then in February 1944 Corrie and her entire family were arrested. Corrie and her sister Betsie were both in their 50’s at this time. They were sent to a few different prison camps, but eventually they were transferred to a horrible prison camp named Ravensbruck. This camp was in operation from 1939-1945 and during that time about 130,000 female prisoners passed through this camp. Of that 130,000, it is estimated that 50,000 ‘of them perished from disease, starvation, overwork and despair; some 2,200 were killed in the gas chambers. Only 15,000 of the total survived until liberation.’
Giving Thanks In All Circumstances
Here is Corrie Ten Boom in her own words describing being moved to the horrible prison camp Ravensbruck:
“The move to permanent quarters came the second week in October. We were marched, ten abreast, along the wide cinder avenue…Several times the column halted while numbers were read out–names were never used at Ravensbruck. At last Betsie’s and mine were called…We stepped out of line with a dozen or so others and stared at the long gray front of Barracks 28.Betsie and I followed a prisoner-guide through the door at the right. Because of the broken windows, the vast room was in semi-twilight. Our noses told us, first, that the place was filthy: somewhere, plumbing had backed up, the bedding was soiled and rancid.
Then as our eyes adjusted to the gloom we saw that there were no individual beds at all, but great square tiers stacked three high, and wedged side by side and end to end with only an occasional narrow aisle slicing through.
We followed our guide single file–the aisle was not wide enough for two–fighting back the claustrophobia of these platforms rising everywhere above us…At last she pointed to a second tier in the center of a large block.
To reach it, we had to stand on the bottom level, haul ourselves up, and then crawl across three other straw-covered platforms to reach the one that we would share with–how many?
The deck above us was too close to let us sit up. We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw…Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.
‘Fleas!’ I cried. ‘Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’
We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle and hedged our way to a patch of light.
‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’
‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.
‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ‘He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’
I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.
In the feeble light I turned the pages. ‘Here it is’: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.
‘Go on,’ said Betsie. ‘That wasn’t all.’
‘Oh yes:’…”Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’
‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.
‘Such as?’ I said.
‘Such as being assigned here together.’
I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’
‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.
‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’
‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’ She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.
‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’
‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–‘
The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’
‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.’
And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
Back at the barracks we formed yet another line–would there never be an end to columns and waits?–to receive our ladle of turnip soup in the center room. Then, as quickly as we could for the press of people, Betsie and I made our way to the rear of the dormitory room where we held our worship “service.” Around our own platform area there was not enough light to read the Bible, but back here a small light bulb cast a wan yellow circle on the wall, and here an ever larger group of women gathered.
They were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28.
At first Betsie and I called these meetings with great timidity. But as night after night went by and no guard ever came near us, we grew bolder. So many now wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call.
There on the Lagerstrasse we were under rigid surveillance, guards in their warm wool capes marching constantly up and down. It was the same in the center room of the barracks: half a dozen guards or camp police always present. Yet in the large dormitory room there was almost no supervision at all. We did not understand it.
One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.
‘You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,’ I told her.
‘You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said. ‘Well–I’ve found out.’
That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.
‘But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?’
Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, “That place is crawling with fleas!’”
My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”
Pray Without Ceasing
A key then to praying without ceasing is to give thanks in all circumstances. If Betsie and Corrie Ten Boom could give thanks in Ravensbruck, how much more do we have to be thankful for? Let’s see if we can all cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in our hearts to God each day.
John Piper says that to pray without ceasing: “means that there is a spirit of dependence that should permeate all we do. This is the very spirit and essence of prayer. So, even when we are not speaking consciously to God, there is a deep, abiding dependence on him that is woven into the heart of faith. In that sense, we “pray” or have the spirit of prayer continuously.”
He goes on by saying: “I think praying without ceasing means not giving up on prayer. Don’t ever come to a point in your life where you cease to pray at all. Don’t abandon the God of hope and say, “There’s no use praying.” Go on praying. Don’t cease.” To pray continually according to Piper means that we: “lean on God all the time. Never give up looking to him for help, and come to him repeatedly during the day and often. Make the default mental state a Godward longing.”
Something else that I think is helpful on this topic is that we don’t have to be praying for 10-15 minutes at a time all throughout the day. I don’t think that is what Paul had in mind. Charles Spurgeon is helpful when he said:
“You may be…weighing your groceries, or you may be casting up an account and between the items you may say, “Lord, help me.” You may breathe a prayer to Heaven and say, “Lord, keep me.” It will take no time. It is one great advantage to persons who are hard pressed in business that such prayers as these will not, in the slightest degree, incapacitate them from attending to the business they may have in hand! It requires you to go to no particular place. You can stand where you are,…walk along the streets,…and yet pray just as well such prayers as these. No altar, no Church, no so called sacred place is needed!
Wherever you are, just a little prayer as that will reach the ear of God and win a blessing. Such a prayer as that can be offered anywhere, under any circumstances. I do not know in what condition a man could be in which he might not offer some such prayer as that. On the land, or on the sea, in sickness or in health, amidst losses or gains, great reverses or good returns, still might he breathe his soul in short, quick sentences to God! The advantage of such a way of praying is that you can pray often and pray always. If you must prolong your prayer for a quarter of an hour you might possibly be unable to spare the time, but if it only needs a quarter of a minute, why, then, it may come again and again and again and again—a hundred times a day!”
George Mueller who was an amazing man of prayer, describes what praying without ceasing looks like: “I live in the spirit of prayer. I pray as I walk about, when I lie down and when I rise up…From the very early morning, let us make everything a matter of prayer, and let it be so throughout the day, and throughout our whole life.”
Picture from here