I have been reading a puritan devotional entitled 'Voices From The Past'. Today's reading was based upon Ezekiel Hopkins sermon from 1 Thes 5:17. I have posted a little piece of this writing as it appears online. I have modified it somewhat for length and readability. I hope you enjoy it.
Pray without ceasing. 1 Thes 5:17
To pray without ceasing is not always to be actually engaged in this duty of prayer; either orally, verbally, or mentally: it is not that all other duties shall be swallowed up and give place unto prayer. Yea, although prayer be so spiritual and so heavenly a duty, yet we are not to neglect the duties of our particular callings, only that we may have the more time for prayer: God hath divided out the work, and hath given unto every thing its season, in which alone it is beautiful. Prayer makes melody in God's ears, then only when it is well timed: when we justle out one duty by another, beside the sinful omission of what we should perform, that, which we do perform, becomes unacceptable, because unseasonable. Neither can we hope that that prayer will prevail with God, which appea;s before him guilty of the death and murder, if I may so phase it, of other duties. This, therefore, cannot be the meaning of it, that we should do nothing but pray. That may be said to be done without ceasing, which is done constantly, and at set times and seasons.
To pray without ceasing, is to pray with all importunity and vehemency. So, in Acts xii. 5. the Church is said to pray for St. Peter without ceasing: that is, they were very earnest and importunate, and would give God no rest until he heard them.
To pray without ceasing, is to take all occasions, at every turn, to be darting up our souls unto God in holy meditations. And this we may and ought to do, when we hear or read the word, or whatever duty of religion we are engaged about: per,
this we may and ought to do, in our worldly employments.
If your hearts and affections be heavenly, your thoughts will force out a passage, through the crowd and tumult of worldly businesses, to heaven. For there is a holy mystery in pointing our earthly employments with these heavenly arrows, as men point their writings sometimes with stops ; ever now and then shooting up a short mental prayer unto heaven : such pauses as these are you will find to be no impediments to your worldy affairs. This is the way for a Christian to be retired and private, in the midst of a multitude; to turn his shop or his field into a closet; to trade for earth, and yet to get haven also into the bargain. So we read of Nehemiah 5.4. that, while the king was discoursing to him of the state, of Judea, Nehemiah prayed unto God: that is, he sent up secret prayers to God, which, though they escaped the king's notice and observation, yet were so prevalent as to bow and incline his heart.
And that is this : we may then be said to pray without ceasing, when we keep our hearts in such a frame, as that we are fit at all times to vent ourselves before God in prayer. When we keep alive and cherish a praying spirit and can, upon all opportunities, draw near to God, with full souls and with quick and vigorous affections: this is to pray without ceasing.
And this I take to be the most genuine, natural sense of the words, and the true hope of the Apostle here; to have the habit of prayer, inclining them always freely and sweetly to breathe out their requests unto God, and to take all occasions to
prostrate themselves before his Throne of Grace.
Now those, who would maintain this praying temper, must be especially careful of Two things. That they do not too much engulf themselves in the Businesses and Pleasures of this life. For this will exceedingly damp and deaden the heart to this holy duty. As earth, cast upon the fire, puts it out; so the world, when it is spread over the affections, must needs stifle and extinguish that holy flame, which should ascend up to heaven. How hard is it for a man, who oppresseth himself with a heap of businesses, to raise his heart uhto God under all that load! How hard is it for those, who let out their hearts thus to and fro, a thousand ways, to summon them in the next moment to attend upon God, with that awful and serious frame which becomes all those who appear before him! When we come to prayer reaking hot out of the affairs of this world, we find our hearts subject to manifold distractions and discomposures; and our thoughts scattered like bees, still flying from one flower to another, still bringing some intelligence from worldly objects, even then when we are about divine employments.
If you would maintain a praying temper of soul, be careful not to fall into the commission of any known, presumptuous Sin. The guilt of sin lying upon the conscience, will exceedingly deaden the heart to prayer. Alas how can we go to God with any freedom of spirit; how can we call him Father, with any boldness and confidence ; while we are conscious to ourselves, that we have daringly provoked him by some wilful offence? I may appeal to your own experience in this: do not your consciences fly in your faces? do they not take you by the throat and even choke your speech, while you are praying, with some such suggestions as these? "What! can I pray for the pardon of sin, who frequently commit that, which I know to be sin. Shall I dare to lift up unclean hands before his pure and holy eyes, or to speak to him in prayer, when as those sins, which rankle and fester in my conscience, must needs make my breath unsavory and noisome to him? Will the Lord hear such prayers, or, if he doth hear them, will he not accouut them an abomination?" You now, whose consciences thus accuse you, do you not find such reflections as these to be great deadenings to your hearts, great damps to duty, and clippings of the wings of the Spirit of God and takings-off of the wheels of the soul, so that it drives on but slowly and heavily in the performance of that duty? Certainly, guilt is the greatest impediment to duty in the world: for it takes off from the freeness and filialness of our spirits ; and fills us with distrust, diffidence, and a slavish fear of coming before God, rather as our Judge than as our Father. And therefore we find, that, as soon as Adam had sinned against his Maker, he hid himself from him: yea, and we may observe in ourselves, what a slavish dejectedness and deadness seizeth upon us, when we come to God ip duty, after we have wronged him by any known sin: how doth this make us come with such misgiving fears, as if we would not have God to take notice that we were in his presence ; making us to be continually in pain until the duty be done!
And, thus, you see -what it is to pray without ceasing. It is to pray constantly, at set times and seasons: it is to pray importunately and vehemently: it is, upon all occasions, to be sending up holy petitions unto God: and, especially, to keep alive and sherish a praying frame of heart; which whosoever would do, he must beware of immerging himself in the, world, and of committing any known and presumptuous sin.
Ezekiel Hopkins; Works Volume 4; pp. 503-506