Thursday, February 05, 2009

No Time To Pray. No Time To Pray?



"No Time to Pray"

As I write this devotional, I am in the midst of a period where I am leading three Prayer Summits in two weeks. These Summits involve time away from the routines and demands of life to give God our undivided attention. Typically spanning three days, men and women go to a retreat center to read Scripture, worship in song, and pray responsively as the Holy Spirit directs. All of this is done in community. It is a life-transforming experience that teaches participants more about prayer than any sermon series or seminar ever could. Truly, these lives are never the same again.

I am especially amazed that these spiritually hungry people are willing to spend their most precious commodity on the privilege of prayer. This commodity is not money or even physical energy. It is the commodity of time.

J. Oswald Sanders wrote in his book Spiritual Leadership, “Mastering the art of prayer, like any other art, will take time, and the amount of time we allocate to it will be the true measure of our conception of its importance. We always find time for that which we deem most important.” In the same paragraph, Sanders comments on Martin Luther’s busy schedule, stating that extra work was a compelling argument for spending MORE time in prayer. Quoting Luther’s reasoning he notes, “Work, work, work -- from early till late. In fact I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.“

Biblical Models of Wise Time Investment

This sounds so very radical to our overloaded and technologically sophisticated society. But it is good to remember that the early church found their power to “turn the world upside down” through their commitment of TIME to prayer. They spent ten solid days seeking God in prayer prior to Pentecost. They devoted themselves continually to praying together (Acts 2:42) and gathered every day for spiritual nourishment and encouragement (Acts 2:46, 5:42). I would guess that they spent many hours every week in united prayer.

The leaders modeled this wise and power-conscious use of time. In Acts 6:4, the apostles did not want to take time to solve a major administrative problem, but instead delegated this important task to other capable men. Their rationale was simply, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word.” The original language and context in this verse indicates that these leaders gave substantive amounts of time every day to praying together as a leadership team.

Of course, the early church “caught” this commitment to prayer from Jesus’ example. He spent substantive amounts of time in prayer early in the day (Mark 1:35). He often spent hours in prayer in the wilderness (Luke 5:16). Jesus made it a habit to pray at the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39). He spent an entire night in prayer prior to selecting the disciples (Luke 6:12). After finding his disciples sleeping following His hour of prayer in the garden, He went back and prayed two more times (Matthew 22:36-46).

Clearly Jesus, the early church leaders, and New Testament Christians understood the value of substantive amounts of time dedicated to prayer. So, maybe a three-day Prayer Summit every once in awhile is not so radical after all?

Do the Math

I show a video clip occasionally when I speak. The piece is titled “40 Million Minutes” and powerfully demonstrates the following facts:
* The average person lives 77 years. That equates to 28,000 days, 670,000 hours, or 40 million minutes.
* The average person spends 24 minutes a day getting dressed. That equals 13 hours a month, 7 days a year, or 1 year in a lifetime.
* The average person spends 40 minutes a day on the phone. That factors out to 20 hours a month, 10 days a year, or 2 years in a lifetime.
* The average person spends 1 hour a day in the bathroom. This amounts to 30 hours a month, 15 days a year, and 3 years in a lifetime.
* The average person spends 3 hours a day watching television. That's 90 hours a month, 45 days a year, and 9 years in a lifetime.
* Then the video presents this riveting fact. The average Christian spends less than 10 minutes a day in prayer. That equates to less than 6 hours a month, 3 days a year, and 7 months in a lifetime.
* The video ends with this line: “You do the math.”
One Inspiring Example
One of the recent Prayer Summits I recently enjoyed was in Denver, Colorado. World Venture, a dynamic missions agency, sets aside one important week a year for a renewal conference. They bring all of their stateside missionaries together for training. All of their U.S. staff also attends. In all, over 100 mission leaders participate. Even though the week is very busy and they have more to cover than time allows, World Venture spends the entire first two days of this five-day event in uninterrupted prayer. That is an investment that speaks volumes. Hans Finzel, President of World Venture, states, “This is not an option for us. We know we must put prayer first if we are going to know God’s direction and experience His power for our mission."
The great preacher and writer E.M Bounds wrote these challenging words about our use of TIME and our commitment to prayer:
"Prayer cannot be retired as a secondary force in this world. To do so is to retire God from the movement. It is to make God secondary. The prayer ministry is an all-engaging force. It must be so to be a force at all. The estimate and place of prayer is the estimate and place of God. To give prayer the secondary place is to make God secondary in life's affairs. To substitute other forces for prayer retires God and materializes the whole movement.”
“It is better to let the work go by default than to let the praying go by neglect. Whatever affects the intensity of our praying affects the value of our work. 'Too busy to pray' is not only the keynote to backsliding, but it mars even the work done. Nothing is well done without prayer for the simple reason that it leaves God out of the account. It is so easy to be seduced by the good to neglect of the best, until both the good and the best perish. How easy to neglect prayer or abbreviate our praying simply by the plea that we have church work on our hands. Satan has effectively disarmed us when he can keep us too busy doing things to stop and pray. " E.M. Bounds, The Weapon of Prayer
The Real Issue
Of course, the goal of this devotion is not to “guilt” us all into spending more time in prayer. The real issue is not time. Time is just the delivery system of spiritual desire and genuine dependence on God. As my mom used to say, “You do what you want to do.” We do not allocate substantive time to prayer because we do not want to, do not feel that we need to, and fundamentally doubt the value of doing so.
It is not that we are too busy to pray. It is that we value other activities, efforts, and strategies above the call to prayer. This is a heart issue each of us must resolve with the Lord at the deepest level of our souls.
In the meantime, I am still humbled and amazed at the hundreds of very busy people who take precious TIME to go away for three days to seek the Lord. It is never easy, but always worth it. Ultimately, it is time well invested for the sake of the character and mission to which God has called us all – because we certainly cannot do it on our own resolve and power. He alone is able and worthy to be sought.
Copyright © 2009 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
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If you would like a tool to help you spend more quality time in prayer, check out The 29:59 Plan. Pastor Peter Lord designed this plan to help Christians spend 30 minutes a day in prayer, but in a non-legalistic way (thus the name “29:59”). Over 600,000 people have used this tool and Strategic Renewal has partnered with Peter Lord in revising it for today’s Christian. Please check it out at www.pray2959.com.

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1 comment:

Pat said...

Interesting article on prayer habits. I had read the average Pastor spends 39 minutes in prayer. But less that 10 minutes for a Christian is not good.