Taking Time to Pray

When a crisis arose in the Jerusalem church in connection with the distribution of food to the widows, the apostles made the following proposal: “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3–4).

Many preachers and elders complain of too little time for recreation, too little time for correspondence, too little time for visitation and even for study—but for prayer? This may explain some of our modern ineffectiveness.

What is true of elders and preachers is true of most other Christians. We don’t value prayer sufficiently to make time for it, and if we do make time we don’t know what to do with it. How can one spend all night in prayer? We know that Jesus did (Luke 6:12). Even the early church did (Acts 12:5). But we quickly run out of things to ask for and begin repeating ourselves.

Much of our problem lies in the fact that we think of prayer as reading off a shopping list for God to fill for us. We think through our problems, determine what will be required to solve them and then come to God with a re- quest for the things we have decided we need. We need to back up and bring God into the search for solutions.

Prayer is more than supplication—even more than thanksgiving. It is the broad general act of talking to God. This is clear from Philippians 4:6. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

Talking out your problems with any other person can be helpful in finding a solution. Verbalizing our thoughts, explaining our situation, enumerating alternatives and analyzing them to point out the weakness and strength of each—all of this helps us to see the wisest course to follow. Our companion may say very little and may offer no advice, yet we thank him for the great help he has been.

My mother taught me a valuable lesson in the art of praying. “Son, whenever possible, talk aloud to God. It is better than silent prayer.”
I quickly learned that she was right. For one thing, I did not fall asleep so easily while praying. I must admit that at first I did feel a little silly “talking to myself.” But that very feeling judged me; if I felt I was talking to myself it meant that I was not really aware of God’s presence. Once I became conscious of a listening ear, God became more of a companion and prayer became more meaningful.

If talking to an earthly friend can be helpful, how much more talking to our heavenly Father! Some alternatives which I might propose to a human companion (especially a worldly one) I could not bring myself even to mention to God. And motives I might hide from
a friend, I know are “naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). A decision reached after literally talking it over with God will be a more spiritual decision for it will be modified by all that the Spirit has revealed to me concerning God. It will be the kind of decision, too, which I can confidently ask God to help me implement.

Quick petitions have their place. They can be made amid the din of traffic or the chaos of the market place. Nehemiah uttered a prayer between a question asked by the king and his own answer to that question (Nehemiah 2:4–5). We can, and should, pause to give thanks before meals (1 Timothy 4:4). But there are prayers which require more concentration than is possible with the distraction of blaring horns, tempting food or restless children.

The kind of praying that Jesus often did required Him to arise early in the morning, while it was still dark, to go out into a lonely place (Mark 1:35). The kind of communication with God that we are suggesting would be seriously interrupted by eating and is therefore logically accompanied by fasting (Nehemiah 1:4). It is the kind of exercise which might well prompt a devout husband and wife to suspend their normal relations “for a time that you might devote yourselves to prayer” (1 Corinthians 7:5). This kind of prayer takes time and it is this kind that is most neglected in our day.

What problems are troubling you just now? What decisions are you facing? Try prayer. Sometime today, find a quiet place—perhaps a park, a field, or if nothing else is possible, “go into your room, and when you have shut your door” spend at least thirty minutes talking aloud to God about the burden you are carrying. I predict that the blessing you will receive will make you want to spend more time in that way tomorrow.

From every stormy wind that blows, From every swelling tide of woes, There is a calm, a sure retreat; ’Tis found beneath the mercy-seat.

-- Hugh Stowell