Have you ever felt that religion makes demands that are just too hard to meet, not realistic for today's living?
One little Bible verse certainly affected me that way. It is in Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians and admonishes us to "pray without ceasing" (5:17).
As a mother of five young children, I felt my life was an endless round of preparing meals, washing, cleaning, and driving the car here, there, and everywhere. Many nights when I fell into bed, I felt guilty because the day had passed without my thoughts turning to God at all. From time to time, as I read the Bible and came across that little verse, I would quickly read over it. I felt there was no way I could pray unceasingly. Maybe for half an hour. But not all the time.
I remembered reading in the Bible in the book of Luke that Jesus Christ visited the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha (see 10:38-42). It says Martha "was cumbered about much serving" but that Mary "sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word." This prompted Martha to point out to Jesus how busy she was, and to try and get him to suggest that Mary help her. But Jesus instead pointed out that Mary's choice to hear him was the right one.
My life, it seemed, was filled with Martha-type activities, and yet I yearned to be more like Mary.
The textbook of Christian Science sheds great light on the Bible. Imagine my interest when I read in this book that "the habitual struggle to be always good is unceasing prayer" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures," Pg. 4).
Now, here was something I felt I could handle! I pondered this statement. I realized that even in the busy round of daily activities I could strive to be a good mother, a good wife, a good neighbor, a good church member, a good citizen. It was such a relief to know that this, in itself, was a form of prayer. I saw, too, that I could be a "Mary" by listening for messages that were inspired by God - even at the same time that I was making beds or cooking meals. I started doing this by lifting my thoughts to consider the nature of God, to acknowledge His presence and power, to claim my heritage as His beloved child. I also spent time being consciously grateful for the proofs of His care and guidance our family had seen in our lives. Interestingly, as I did this, the daily routine was more orderly and efficient. And when I did find time to study the Bible, I was better prepared to be receptive to what I read.
That sentence, "the habitual struggle to be always good is unceasing prayer," also led me to realize that, because God is good, I was striving to be more Godlike when I worked at being good. Seven names Christian Science gives as synonyms for God are Life, Truth, Love, Spirit, Soul, Mind, and Principle. Considering these synonyms, I made a list of qualities to express daily. These included love, honesty, joy, unselfishness, tolerance, intelligence, courage, and understanding. It was one of those lists you can keep adding to. At times it was a struggle for me to replace intolerance with tolerance, anger with love, sadness with joy; but the goal was there, and I achieved it with persistence.
Anything done regularly has a continuity about it and becomes a natural part of one's actions. And I have found that as the years have passed, my habitual desire to be good has become more and more of a joy rather than a struggle.
It's interesting to note the position of that verse in First Thessalonians. It comes between two other short verses: "Rejoice evermore" and "In every thing give thanks." Joy and gratitude are integral elements of prayer. If our desire to be good is motivated by a sense of pressure, guilt, or fear of punishment, this will diminish the effectiveness of prayer. But when we have joy and gratitude in our hearts, our prayers are empowered.
Your situation may be very different from mine. But no matter what circumstances you face in daily life, you really can pray without ceasing, and expect to experience the blessings that follow.
You'll find other articles like this one in the Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly magazine.