[by Dean Smith] My children were the first to get it. A couple of weeks later, I started to feel stuffed up. Then came the sore throat and finally the cough.
It wasn’t like I coughed all the time, but I had regular coughing episodes three or four times an hour. And through this miserable time, I learned a lesson on prayer.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing.” This verse is a bit puzzling, because if you prayed without ceasing — as the New American Standard reads — it would be near impossible to do anything else, like work, talk, eat or sleep.
At first glance, the Greek word “adialeiptos” (translated unceasing) suggests we are to pray all the time. Thayer interprets it as “unceasing and continual.”
But how did the people of Paul’s day interpret the word. Their usage would certainly suggest its intended meaning.
The ancient Jewish-historian Josephus used the word to describe the Roman’s continuous attacks against Jotaphatha (Josephus Jewish Wars). Did this mean the Romans were attacking all the time? No, because if they were it would be one constant battle. Obviously, they came back and again and again and between the attacks there were moments of respite.
And Paul uses the word in much the same way in Romans 1:9, where he says “For God … is my witness to how unceasingly I make mention of you [the Romans].”
Does this mean he prayed for no one else but the Romans. No, but the Romans were regularly and consistently prayed for. This consistency certainly was a trade mark of Paul’s prayer life.
But one usage of “adialeiptos” from Paul’s day struck me. I refer to how the word was used in a papyrus scroll from Egypt. In this text, the word described a cough — an incessant cough.
It is impossible to cough all the time. However, as my experience showed, I was persistently caught up with the urge to cough throughout the day — at work or at home or even at our kids sporting events.
Maybe this was what Paul was referring to. Whether you are at home, at work or out shopping, there are always moments you are waiting for something to happen.
These are opportune times to utter a brief prayer. It doesn’t have to be long. It could be just a few second prayer, similar to a cough in length.
During these moments, pray very simple, but specific prayers. Nothing like “God bless the world,” which is so general it’s almost meaningless.
Rather pray: “Jesus save my parents” or “Jesus provide my kids with Godly spouses.”
Pray for your coworkers. You can even ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind things or people you should pray for during these moments.
It is a habit that takes time to develop. We aren’t used to praying during our moments of down-time scattered throughout our day.
But you know we always find time to cough when the urge strikes and maybe this was what Paul was referring to when he said “Pray without ceasing.”
A few years back, there was an article published in the Globe and Mail in their regular column called “Ask the Doctor” about the natural benefits of coughing. In this article, they said:
“Coughing is a natural and important defense mechanism that helps us rid our bodies of secretions, irritants and offending agents such as viruses and bacteria. For that reason, it is never a good idea to suppress a cough.”
So don’t suppress those urges to pray.
- Coughing a natural body defense so it’s not a good idea to suppress it: Ask the Doctor (Globe and Mail, February 6, 2007)