Prayer is a crucial part of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Prayer is one of the first disciplines that new Christians are encouraged to practice. The word prayer in it’s simplest definition means “plea, petition, or request.” Expanded definitions include the concepts of reverence, worship, or thanks. Often when teaching someone to pray, we use acronyms – Like ACTS … Adoration, Confession, Thanks, and Supplication.
When I was a young single woman and new Christian, I was taught the Quiet Time Model and it went something like this: Arise early in the morning, get away alone and have a Quiet Time before you do anything else. Read some scripture, read a daily entry in a devotional book, pull out your prayer journal and pray down the list of requests. Record answers. Then go about your day, confident that you have communicated with God.
It was a model that worked well for me as a new Christian. I loved those Quiet Times with God. I saw prayers answered, grew in my relationship with Jesus, wrote him letters and love notes in my prayer journal. I noted things he was teaching me from scripture. It was a time of great spiritual growth.
Fast forward a few years, I was married to a man who worked long hours and the mother of two baby boys born 13 months apart. I really wanted to have a traditional quiet time like I had done when I was single and childless, but I couldn’t seem to make it work. No matter how early I awoke and tiptoed down the stairs, one or both babies would awake and need attention — and Quiet time didn’t happen. I felt guilty and frustrated that I couldn’t maintain the same level of structure and consistency in my devotional life that I had enjoyed in earlier years.
And I wasn’t the only mother of young children who struggled in this area. When I talked with other women, they often had the same struggles and guilt. I suspected that “How to Pray” books were written by men, or single women or mothers of grown children. What mother of young children had time to write anyway!? I decided the Quiet Time Model lacked something for this stage of my life. What was I missing, I wondered? I began to look in the Bible for guidance. What did Jesus’ prayer life look like?
Devotional teachers nearly always emphasized that Quiet time should happen early in the morning, alone and privately, and writers referenced scriptures about Jesus rising early and going into the wilderness to pray. The closest I ever got to the wilderness was the toy jungle in the playroom. I discovered that those scriptures only told part of the story. Jesus also prayed at night, sometimes all night long. He prayed when he was in crowds and he prayed alone. He prayed before doing miracles – and after. He prayed for people and situations as they presented themselves through his day. He prayed for himself, seeking God’s direction and guidance. He prayed prayers of thanksgiving and petition. He prayed as the needs arose. He didn’t keep a prayer journal or list of requests; he prayed immediately, in crowds, with his disciples, and alone. His prayers included words of petition, worship, direction, and deliverance from trials and evil. He prayed for food, for life, for healing. He prayed with thanksgiving. But his recorded prayers rarely included all these elements at once.
I began to recognize the danger of using the quiet time model like a check list to measure my faithfulness. Do the task, mark it off, move on to the next task. To be sure, God honored my efforts, answered prayers, taught me many things during those early morning meetings, but that still left 23 or so other hours in the day when I wasn’t necessarily interacting with God.
I Thessalonians 5:17 says: “Pray without ceasing.” (NIV 1984)
Colossians 4:3 reads: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (NIV 1984)
I discovered that I could pray without ceasing and devote myself to prayer throughout the day if I modeled Jesus’ prayer life. Some days the boys took long naps at the same time and I would have a luxurious hour or two of prayer, bible study, mediating on God’s word. Other days I might grab a moment to read a short devotional while they played. I listened to praise songs in my kitchen, in my car. If someone shared a prayer concern, I prayed with them right then – no prayer list needed. If I sensed they would be embarrassed with public prayer, I prayed silently as they talked. God didn’t need a fancy, longwinded prayer from me. I just spoke a few words on another’s behalf, confident that God knew the details of the need. And the next time I saw the person, I often learned how God had answered the prayer they didn’t know I’d prayed for them.
I began to recognize that to pray without ceasing and to be devoted to prayer simply meant to practice the presence of God throughout each day, recognizing the opportunities God placed in my pathways moment by moment. When a crying baby awoke in the middle of the night, I seized those times to rock and pray for the precious baby in my arms. I prayed God’s protection over little arms and legs –and lives. I prayed down the years of their lives for careers and wives and grandchildren and their relationships to God. I realized I didn’t have to pray and read the Bible and read a devotional all in one setting. These things could happen throughout the varied structure of my days.
Prayer is simply communicating with God. Sometimes, I’ve learned, we just need to sit quietly and listen for his still small voice after the raging storm has passed. Sometimes we hear his voice over the roar of our days as we rush and tumble through the craziness of 21st century life. Our prayer life, our devotional time spent in the presence of Creator God is a variety-filled relationship with our Heavenly Father. He can’t be contained in a box and He didn’t create us for a one size fits all prayer life either. We can talk to and with Him as we go through our days, sing to him, listen to him, read his word and hear his word read and taught to us. We can praise him with our words, our behaviors, our lifestyle choices, our thought processes.
We pray without ceasing and remain devoted to prayer when we keep the lines of communication open with God all day long. Prayer is our awesome opportunity to interact with our loving, caring Heavenly Father. We can do that any time of day or night, whether we are in a crowd or in a closet. He always hears – and answers.
Thank you, Father, for creating a variety of ways for us to interact with you, from structured to unstructured models to match the variety of people you created. Thank you for always being by our side, ears attuned to the prayers of our hearts, day and night, throughout the seasons of our lives. Amen.