This is Chapter 11 of "Discovering Joy," a devotion-style diary written during the coronavirus self-isolation. I've been posting it chapter-by-chapter on Wattpad. Enjoy!
7. Pray continually throughout the day.
When we read books on prayer or accounts of Christians who have been known for their prayer lives, we usually only hear about the hours that they spend in dedicated prayer. While those prayer times are important (see my thoughts on "set apart prayer time" in the next section), when we're developing prayer-muscles or we are in a particularly demanding season of life, five-second prayers are totally legitimate. They overcome the first barrier to prayer (the reluctance to start praying at all) and they direct our thoughts toward the Lord many times throughout the day. Instead of "saving up our prayers" for a particular time and place in which we can offer set-apart prayer, we see all times and places and contexts as legitimate for prayer. Many times, we see people in the Bible pray as they go, seeking that brief connection with the Lord in the midst of their activities.
There's a post that went around Facebook recently among my friends that suggests that, while men often had to go up to the temple or up to the mountaintop to meet with God, that God often came to the women: to Samson's mother, to Mary, to Mary Magdalene. That God met the women where they are. I think a case can be made for God meeting the men too (He called to Samuel, for example, and met Elijah when Elijah was hiding from Queen Jezebel).
When He offers Himself to us through prayer, we should not simply ignore Him because we have "better things to do."
However, the heart of God is to be in fellowship, not to shame the one who is seeking Him imperfectly.
In other words, when an exhausted woman does not have a dedicated prayer time but, throughout the day, lifts her heart to the Lord in whatever quiet moments she can spare, God doesn't grumble about her lack of devotion. He receives her prayers and works on her behalf with delight, because she finds her rest in His presence, like Lazarus' sister Mary. He responds, not to her lack, but to her love.
To add a final thought to this: It is good for a husband and a wife to have dedicated time alone to themselves, to talk about their day, to connect emotionally, and to rekindle romance. This is healthy. But if that was the only time they ever spoke to one another, if there were no random conversations about anything and everything, we might wonder whether they truly do enjoy one another's company. Is their relationship relegated just to that dedicated connection time? So I think there's a place too for the randomness of conversation with God as life ebbs and flows around us.
8. Pray in a set-apart time.
When the high officials of the Medes and Persians sought to displace Daniel, because his authority competed with their own, they realized, "We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” (Daniel 6:5) Thus they came up with a clever scheme--they would trap Daniel to his death through his prayer life. Daniel heard the news, but this was his response:
Not only was Daniel's public life so blameless that his enemies could not find anything of which to accuse him, but the reputation of his consistent prayer life was so well established that it was the only obvious choice for their conspiracy. There were three opportunities in a day to catch Daniel in the act of praying. Piece of cake!
In today's world, we often see Muslims more dedicated to their prayer life than Christians. Up to five times a day, they stand on their prayer rugs and perform the rituals and prayers of their faith. While we internally debate whether or not it would be too embarrassing to bow our heads over our bowl of salad at lunch, the Muslims interrupt their work day to declare their devotion to Allah. This dedicated prayer time is extremely important to devout Muslims, and comprises one of the five pillars of their faith.
Eric and Leslie Ludy of Ellerslie ministries advocate for something they call "wrestling prayer." This is focused, audacious, sword-swinging prayer that prays until God gives a clear answer. Paul Washer advocates for something similar, asking, "Have you ever silently labeled a few men that you were going to focus your prayer life upon and hit your knees and fought and fought and wrestled and wrestled until Christ is formed in them and you saw a maturity and a glow and a life that was absolutely unexplainable apart from the power of the living God? ...You see we are to pray all the time, but how do we learn to practice the presence of God? How do we learn to pray all the time? I submit to you it is by the discipline of a separated prayer life."
I admit that this is the concept behind prayer which I find the most difficult to put into practice. Two things that have helped me to establish a more consistent prayer schedule are a morning ritual and an accountability structure.
If I wake up whenever I feel like it and go to sleep whenever I feel like it, it is impossible to keep any kind of schedule. My Bible reading may or may not happen, and any number of things may get procrastinated or forgotten altogether. When I keep a regular sleep-wake cycle, however, I can commit myself to a morning routine. Right now, I get up, make myself and my husband some breakfast, then sit down and sip coffee while reading my Bible. Afterward, I pray for the day, for the people on my mind, for the things that I am most anxious about, and I also thank God for the prayers answered.
Accountability is a huge help in learning to establish a prayer routine. Right now, I pray daily over video chat with the women in my church group. We each take a turn and, often, the prayer is no more than 10 or 15 minutes, but the consistent practice of prayer with one another has had a tremendous impact on all of us. For some women, it's the highlight of their day. "I can be having a really crummy day, but I keep thinking, 'Prayer time is coming up. I can make it until prayer time!'" For me, I often arrive at prayer time with reluctance and exhaustion, but because I'm the host of these meetings, I don't have the opportunity to flake out on the appointment. Always, I finish the prayer meeting with a rejuvenated spirit.
A third thing that can sometimes help is using some daily task or event as a "trigger." When I take my almost-daily walks around my neighborhood, I love to spend the time praying out loud. It's a great way to exercise both my body and my spirit! Some people pray during their morning commute instead of listening to music or an audiobook. Others pray as part of their just-before-bed routine. Whatever the timing, it's helpful to choose a "trigger" to remind yourself to pray.
9. Consistency is better than length of time.
Even in my "long prayers," I rarely pray for more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time. There have been seasons in my life when I've prayed for... man, literally hours at a time. But those were rare seasons and it wasn't an every day thing. Now, I know of those Christians whose prayer life was so well established that they did pray regularly for hours, and in long seasons of life. But they didn't get there in a day. When you've been living a sedentary life, you don't immediately jump from the couch to a full marathon in one day. You'll injure yourself, you'll feel like a failure, and you'll never want to attempt running again. Those who plan to run a marathon build their muscle and stamina day by day, little by little. They know that the consistency of months will do far more than the brute strength of a few days.
So it is with prayer. I find that if I start with 2 or 3 minutes a day and keep at it, soon I'm talking to God for longer periods of time, about a greater number of things. Two minutes turn into ten.
Prayer fuels prayer. As we continue praying consistently, we discover that we begin to hunger for more communication. Just as the endorphins of exercise addict the athlete to activity, so the joy and peace of prayer addicts the Christian to the the presence of God.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.