Pray Without Ceasing
The novel coronavirus carries threats other than itself. Of course, the disease itself is bad enough, but it threatens us in other ways, too. The headlines tell the story: “10 travel shows and movies to avoid coronavirus cabin fever”; “How To Deal With Coronavirus Cabin Fever”; “Four Ways To Avoid Cabin Fever During Self-Isolation.” All of the major news outlets are running these kinds of feature pieces. A quick Google search will turn up results from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, among others.
Our response to the virus has forced us to stop and confront how much we hate “idle” time—and how much of it we fill with busywork. We had made an art of it in America, but the virus now denies us many of our pastimes, and the cabin fever is setting in.
Filling time has always been its own pasttime. The French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, wrote reams about it in the 18th century. “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness, and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things. … That is why gaming and feminine society, war and high office are so popular. It is not that they really bring happiness…. What people want is not the easy peaceful life that allows us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the burdens of office, but the agitation that takes our mind off it and diverts us. That is why we prefer the hunt to the capture. That is why men are so fond of hustle and bustle; that is why prison is such a fearful punishment; that is why the pleasures of solitude are so incomprehensible.”
Nothing has changed. There’s a reason there’s so much money to be made in the entertainment industry. Just as in the past, we cannot bear our empty hours, and we will pay people to fill them for us.
The coronavirus has set us in front of the mirror, as it were. Will we learn anything from it?
Before I go any further, let me confess that I’m just as bad as the next man. I fall into these traps constantly. I write these words to admonish myself as much as anyone else. In the past three two weeks, I have picked up (and put right back down) all kinds of trivial hobbies to fill my time: building micro-scale LEGO models, reading snippets The Count of Monte Cristo, idly picking up a few instruments that I haven’t played in years, writing a lot of Dungeons & Dragons (I have also spent a lot of time editing and rendering videos, but that’s another story). This isn’t to say that any of those hobbies are bad in and of themselves. The point is that the only reason I’m doing them now is to pass the time. The problem is that I have something better to do, and I haven’t spent enough of my time doing it: submitting myself to God in prayer.
The Apostle Paul fills his first letter to the brothers in Thessalonica with a host of exhortations. We find this among them: “Pray without ceasing.” Prayer is to be our constant habit. These solitary weeks provide us ample opportunity for it.
Perhaps you have trouble finding enough things to pray about to fill significant amounts of time. Let me conclude today by recommending that you pray through prewritten prayers in addition to any spontaneous prayers that you offer to the Lord. Pray through some of the Psalms. Pray the Lord’s Prayer regularly. You can look to our brothers and sisters for inspiration as well. Christians of the past have filled whole tomes with prayers, many of which are preserved on the Internet (and, of course, in books!).
Prewritten prayers have the advantage of not being my own creation. That is, they are in no way centered on me. I am not expressing my will to God; rather, I am learning to submit my will to God in prayer.
If you’ve not had experience praying a prewritten prayer, you need to know that it differs from praying spontaneously. I find that my spontaneous prayers tend to go quickly, but it’s easy for me to focus during them because I’m coming up with the content of the prayer myself. Prewritten prayer is the opposite. If I’m not careful, I’ll find myself simply reading the prayer instead of praying it. The trick to prewritten prayers, including the Psalms, is to slow down. Dwell on meaning of the prayer. During this time, consider how you can submit yourself more fully to God in terms of the things you are praying. Your meditation should bring the Word to mind.
Coincidentally, shortly after I began writing this article, our brother Wayne shared with me a prayer that he wrote in response to everything going on. I’d like to share it with you.
As we teeter over the edge
of this precipice of death,
snatch us, O Lord, from the pit of that grave!
When our sense of entitlement
and our feelings of superiority
have been thoroughy shattered,
release us from our bonds!
When we turn from rebellious individualism
and the need for personal gratification,
relieve these our terrors!
When remorse runs deep,
as sorrows abide,
and our pride drowns
in the whirlpool of lfame,
return and heal our forlorn souls.
But not until then, O Lord.
Not until then!
Who can know the mind of God? Perhaps this virus is a judgment against modernity. Perhaps God has some other purpose for it. It’s likely that God is accomplishing thousands of things with this one virus, and each of us will be blessed to perceive or to guess even a fraction of what’s going on behind the scenes. One thing I do know: we would do well to work with the Lord to accomplish spiritual growth during this time. That comes through prayer.
Let us fill our hours with devotion to our Lord.