For a long time, I thought of the phrase “pray without ceasing” in purely individualistic ways. So, I developed techniques to bring me back into a spirit of prayer throughout the day. I continue to make use of these “calls to prayer,” and I believe there is a personal dimension to unceasing prayer. The contemplative life is a disposition of the heart, and we are to grow in that disposition.
But what I came to discover is that early in the history of Christianity, unceasing prayer became a ministry of the Church. When I realized this, it both broadened my understanding of unceasing prayer and took the pressure off of my exclusively individualized practice of it.
Simply put, the Church came to see that with 24 time zones encircling the earth, the Body of Christ is living simultaneously in them all. Even Jimmy Buffett seized on this realization (for a different reason!) when he sang, “It’s always five o’clock somewhere.” So…back to the Church…the Christian community saw that Night prayer, Morning Prayer, The Hours, and Evening Prayer are happening at the same time! Amazing, but true. Unceasing prayer became “standing watch” in your particular time and place.
This means that every Christian is part of a global team devoted to “unceasing prayer.” So, in addition to the ways each of us trains ourselves in the private dimension, we should also put ourselves into the corporate dimension and “take our turn” in keeping prayer perpetual on the earth.
I think of it like “the wave” that moves around athletic stadiums. The wave itself is unceasing, but each person in the grandstand has his or her moment to keep it going. The result is a continuous pattern that encircles the stadium.
So, train yourself in godliness. Grow in your personal contemplation, and allow the spirit of unceasing prayer to increase in your life. But as you do this, offer a time (or times) each day when you can “stand watch” within the larger Church and help keep the wave of unceasing prayer encircling the earth.