Pray Without Ceasing

“The captive exile hastens, that he may be loosed, that he should not die in the pit, and that his bread should not fail.” Isaiah 51:14

I’ve had a few recurring dreams. One in particular is very disturbing, and I’m always relieved to wake up from it. It may sound silly, this dream, but I hate it. In it, I have a parakeet that I’ve forgotten to feed or water for a long time. When I finally notice the poor bird, who is caged and depends entirely on me for sustenance, it isn’t quite dead, only skeletal and suffering—I know, this is awful, hard to write even—and the bird has suffered in silence a long time. That’s part of my awareness in the dream, the knowledge that its pain has gone on a long time. And it’s my fault, not because I was deliberately cruel, but because I was simply neglectful. I didn’t bother to notice. I was busy and didn’t pay attention. The last time I dreamed this dream, a couple of months ago, there was a new twist: I didn’t feed the bird because I thought it was dead already. This twist finally elevated the dream from an occasional, unpleasant experience to a teachable moment. Perhaps I’m a little like King David of Israel, who was more empathetic toward slaughtered lambs than slaughtered spouses, a fact the prophet Nathan leveraged to make the king understand the grievous nature of his sin against Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah (2 Samuel 12).

I think this dream of mine is not so much about parakeets as prayer.

I know of one congregation in California who pray as if they are the only ones praying. That seems like a very good idea, despite our secret belief as Christians that if we don’t do something we feel impressed to do, surely the Lord will move someone else to do it. You know, someone more “called” to that particular task. It’s probably not realistic to believe there will always be someone else to do what we should be doing and aren’t. That’s not really how life works, is it? Chances are, if it’s ours to do, and we don’t, it won’t get done.

Paul instructed the Thessalonian church to pray without ceasing. We could read 1 Thessalonians 5:17 with a hyper-spiritual notion about keeping a line open to heaven, but that line is always open to the believer. It stays open because of what Jesus did, not what we do. So I’m wondering if Paul might have had praying for others, a.k.a. intercession, on his mind. Those three little words might just be my command to keep praying for the ones who belong to me—I know who they are—even if the unenviable circumstances of their lives have gone on so long that it’s almost impossible to believe they will ever change. It doesn’t matter if I really don’t  want to see these people ever again—my sentiments are beside the point. It doesn’t even matter if I’m dead to them or they’re dead to me. My charge is simple: Pray. Every day. Don’t stop. Even if the prayer is no more than, “Lord, give them this day their daily bread.”

I don’t know if the Lord spoke to me through that crazy dream or not, but I do find fresh compassion in my heart where there was apathy before. I wouldn’t say my heart grew three sizes like the Grinch’s, but it’s definitely roomier in there.

And, hey, maybe I won’t ever have that darned old dream again.

© M K Simonds

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