Prayer, Compost, and Praying without Ceasing

If you understand compost, you understand prayer. 

What is compost, but the scraps you left on your plate? And what is prayer, but those moments of margin throughout the day when you are in between the things you have to do; that “full plate” of errands and tasks and appointments and deadlines?

Let us unpack the parallel. You eat your meal, are strengthened and satisfied, and the purpose of the food is complete. But what of the compost? It invisibly restores the soil and multiplies the strength of what grows, such that your food supply is not merely replenished, but multiplied.

Let us discover the point in this. Between each thing you do, each thing on your plate, there are scraps of time, windows of opportunity both small and large wherein you can pause and pray. Prayer takes many forms on a continuum from silent listening to singing songs to shameless shouting. There is a place for intentionally scheduled, structured prayer. But we shall explore the spectrum and the structures in other essays. For now, let us extract the hidden pearl we always carry with us: moments of time between the things we do. Here are some examples:

  • I arrive at the office. I put down my backpack. The clock says 8:32. Until 8:37 I pray, reflecting back to the Lord the time from when I awoke and the tasks before me.
  • I leave a meeting. I get into my car. Instead of checking my phone, I look at the clock. It is 1:39 p.m. I pray as a listener until the clock turns to 1:40. 
  • I arrive at home. I hug Karen and say hi to the children. I drop my bag in the study. Having set the timer on my phone for 5 minutes, I recall before the Lord the people and events of the day. Sometimes I am reminded of a thing I should do. Sometimes I discover a kindness of God I can thank Him for. Sometimes I am simply  grateful for the aroma of dinner downstairs. Whatever the case, prayer has come up again in the margin of the day.

And this, along with many other things, is what it means to “pray without ceasing” (I Thess 5:17). The Greek word for “without ceasing” (a-dia-leíptōs) means “constantly recurring”, not continuously occurring; as if, in each gap of a thing, another thing takes place, such that there is no gap at all. 

Ruth, a Moabite ancestor through whose line the Messiah was born, practiced this in a prophetically symbolic way. 

“Ruth…entered the field to gather grain behind the harvesters.” 

~ Ruth 2:3 (CSB)

In other words, she gathered up the scraps. Nothing was wasted, in the same way that Jesus said to his disciples regarding the bread he had multiplied. “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” (John 6:12, ESV)

If you practice this kind of gathering of the scraps as prayer, you will experience a curious thing. You will notice that sometimes you linger. You will notice that sometimes you forget the clock. You will notice — not right away, but over years — that somehow the soil of your life has been renewed. The fruit has multiplied. You won’t quite know how, and you won’t quite be able to explain it, but the moments of “seeing Him who is invisible” in prayer (Heb 11:27) will have produced a visible harvest far beyond what can fit on your plate, and with a brimming cup of vintage joy to pair with it.

~ km

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