Friday, October 12, 2012

The Value of Planned Prayer

            Last weekend, Great Oaks had our 3rd annual 24-hour prayer vigil.  We signed up for 1-hour shifts, so that someone was here at the building praying constantly from 6 pm Friday night until 6 pm Saturday night.  To give direction to our prayers, people turned in prayer request cards about issues in their own life (we might have had more prayer cards this time than ever before), and we had a “Great Oaks Outreach Prayer Sheet,” which listed the many ways we are trying to shine God’s light, both locally and through missions.  So for 24 straight hours, we lifted up our work and our lives before God, asking His blessing, and reminding ourselves that “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1). 

            Arinne and I had the 3-4 am Saturday morning shift (yes, someone was at our house to make sure the kids were OK!).  It was difficult to crawl out of bed, but I loved praying at that time because it felt like the whole world was stopped.  Hardly any traffic, hardly any movement at all outside of twinkling stars and an occasional breeze, and mostly just a silent, chilly stillness.  It was perfect “prayer weather,” and it made me think of Jesus praying all night while the rest of the world slept (Luke 6:12).

            It also made me think of the value of having a planned time to pray.  Planned prayer seems to be a little out of style these days, or at least seems to be less emphasized.  I hear many Christians point out the value of prayer as a running conversation with God throughout the day.  I love that idea, and I’m glad it’s part of so many of our lives.  It’s certainly biblical.  Jesus often offered short, “in the spur of the moment” prayers to God, such as: “Father, glorify Your name” (John 12:28), “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matt. 27:46), and the brief 2 sentence prayer before raising Lazarus (John 11:41-42).  A constant communication with God, often in short exchanges throughout the day, is a good prayer habit and shows a proper recognition of God’s presence.

            However, let’s not think that short prayers throughout the day are a substitute for times of planned prayer with God, because planned prayer has its own value.  Thus we see Jesus often slipping away to the wilderness to pray (Luke 5:16).  We see Daniel stopping 3 times a day to go to his house and pray to God (Daniel 6:10).  We see Peter and John joining the Jews for “the hour of prayer” (Acts 3:1).  These men stopped their busy, important lives, and got first things first, spending time in prayer to God.

I loved having an assigned hour of prayer at the prayer vigil.  I knew my cell phone would be off.  The television and internet would not call me away.  My list of things I need to do would not be relevant.  This was a time for nothing else but prayer, and it allowed a focus that my daily prayers often lack. 

It convicted me about a time in life a few years back, when I got intentional about having a stronger prayer life and emphasized planned prayer in my own life.  I decided to follow the “3 times a day” example of Daniel 6:10.  I prayed first thing in the morning, for God’s blessing on the activities of the day, for open doors in ministry, and for the work of the church.  I prayed at lunch for those who are sick and hurting, using Great Oaks’ weekly prayer sheet as a guide.  And I prayed around bedtime for my family and close friends.  It was meaningful and wonderful; it helped teach me more about self-control and priorities, and it certainly deepened my relationship with God.  But somewhere along the way I’m sad to say I got out of the 3 times per day habit. 

            In our fast-paced world (and perhaps our worldliness that contributes to make it such a fast pace), we are much more open to “running conversation” prayers, while making time for planned prayer is a greater self-control struggle.  Jesus, here to save the world, wasn’t too busy for planned prayer.  Daniel, one of the highest rulers of Babylon, wasn’t too busy for planned prayer.  The apostles, charged to take the gospel to the whole world, weren’t too busy for planned prayer.  And neither am I, when I really think about it.

            Which makes me ask myself, what am I choosing over times of planned prayer?  I seem to make time for watching sports, or at least keeping up with the sports world; I never miss a meal; I read the paper and part of a few books on most days; my email stays pretty up to date; I get household errands done.  All the “culturally acceptable” ways of spending my time are easy to make happen.  What about my time with God?

            Thanks to the 24-hour prayer vigil, I’m renewing my emphasis on planned prayer.  There’s something special about saying, “My next 15 minutes are going to for nothing for prayer with God.”  Or 20 minutes, or whatever the time might be.  It won’t be “half-prayer, half-whatever-else-I’m-doing.”  It will just be prayer, hopefully several times each day.  God deserves it, and my soul needs it. 

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