How often do/should you pray? How long do/should you pray? Can you pray too much? What do/should you pray about? Is it possible to pray wrong? Are there certain words/phrases you need to use? What if you feel like God’s not listening? If God knows everything, why do I need to pray? Do I have to kneel every time I pray? What if you don’t have time to pray? Does praying really make any difference anyway?
Have you ever asked any or all of those questions? I have. I really struggle with the particulars of prayer. It’s not that I don’t pray, I do. The problem, for me, is that I’m pretty sure I’m missing some important component.
True confession time – I have a really hard time doing anything on a set schedule. It’s not that I don’t try or don’t want to keep a schedule. I really do! I make schedules and lists for myself all the time. I just rarely follow them, even though I know that certain things, (exercise, Bible study, cleaning, and prayer, for example) cannot be done correctly without scheduling them.
It’s not that I don’t want to do those things, I do. I know they’re all important. And it’s not that I don’t ever do those things, I do, just not regularly or often enough to really get the benefit of having done them.
I remember reading a story some time ago of an 85-year-old woman who got trapped in an elevator for four nights and three days. She was all alone – no one else in the building and no signal for her cell phone. Can you imagine how terrifying that would be? She came to the conclusion that she could either panic or pray. She chose to pray and turn the elevator into her own prayer closet.
When the woman was interviewed later she actually said that she had felt God’s presences with her giving her both strength and joy. She said that she felt like the whole experience was a gift from God to provide her with an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with Him.
Isn’t that amazing? I really covet that kind of a relationship with God. I’m fairly certain, though, that the woman had spent many years keeping appointments to spend time alone talking with God before being trapped in that elevator. That’s different than what Ron Halvorsen calls “crisis praying.”
“We usually don’t say much about prayer, and we don’t pray much, until a crisis comes into our life. Aunt Tillie is sick, so you go on your knees and you pray for the next few days that Aunt Tillie will get well. Or Uncle John. Or someone in the church is sick. That’s crisis praying. When you are sick, have you noticed that you pray more than you did before you got sick? That’s crisis praying. It still works, but is not as effective as the continual spirit of prayer.”1
Praying in a crisis is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be the only time we pray. And I think it can kind of mislead us, give us a sense that we are praying, so everything’s ok with our prayer lives. And can you imagine if the woman trapped in the elevator only had that kind of prayer experience? After the first few hours in the elevator, with no signs of rescue, she may have come to the conclusion that God wasn’t listening and given up.
When I was teaching, quite a few of our “classroom management” techniques involved learning the difference between “reactive” and “proactive.” You probably know the difference – reactive is dealing with each crisis as it comes along, while proactive is working in such a way that many of the crises don’t happen in the first place. The proactive route takes more time to begin with, but it works better than reacting to every little emergency as it comes along. I believe that prayer can be looked at much the same way. Like Halvorsen says, crisis praying still works, but is not as effective as the continual spirit of prayer.
Another author describes the importance of prayer as the key to success in any field of endeavor.
“Some things make you successful whatever path you take – whether you’re on the ‘mommy track’ or in a full-time career outside the home. You need to be with God daily. You need to be in constant prayer. You need to incorporate God’s Word into your life, constantly evaluating your life to make sure you are following God’s lead.” 2
That’s proactive praying – being with God daily. Do you remember when you or your kids were taking some kind of music lessons? The question was always, “How often do we have to practice?” and the answer was, “You only have to practice on the days that you eat.” How often do we need to pray? On the days we eat would be a good place to start, but probably the time we spend in prayer needs to increase to the point that it’s almost like breathing, don’t you think?
“Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears before God. You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the wants of His children. ‘The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.’ James 5:11. His heart of love is touched by our sorrows and even by our utterances of them. Take to Him everything that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. No calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest. ‘He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.’ Psalm 147:3. The relations between God and each soul are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon the earth to share His watch care, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son.” (Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 100)
Ron Halvorsen describes prayer as
“not what you say, it’s who you are. You see, prayer is your experience. It’s the breath of your soul. You don’t grab a breath at church, and then hold it until next week. And you don’t have to hit yourself on the head and say, ‘Breathe, Halvorsen!’
“No, it’s automatic. You see, once you come into that experience with God, you come in that experience with Jesus, you are with Him always in what you think.”3
The question is, how do I get to the point that talking to Jesus is a part of everything I do? I need to stop just reacting with crisis prayers and start, with the help of the Holy Spirit, building the spiritual discipline of personal prayer, worship and bible study time into each day so that when the crises do come, I can see them as opportunities to draw closer to God.
Where do we start? Sing it with me:
Into my heart,
Into my heart,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
Come in today, come in to stay,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.