The other evening Annie and I were about to watch a movie together – Rio, which turned out to be quite enjoyable – and yet I hadn’t had my prayer time for the day. Circumstances had conspired to put off our movie time, and realizing that sleep would come shortly after the show, I knew I wanted to pray first. Then again, I didn’t want to put off my sweet daughter much longer.
I told her that I would be back in ten minutes, and went upstairs. Now, I remember the founder of the Navigators, Dawson Trotman, saying once about prayer, “If you can’t give the Lord 1/48th of your day (a half an hour, if you don’t like fractions), then I don’t think He has anything great for you.” As much as I appreciate the guy, Daws was given to bold, sweeping pronouncements that could make spiritual midgets feel even shorter, and this was one of them. In the end, I had a nice, although somewhat hurried, time of prayer in about 10 minutes.
I think that mostly, my time in prayer is longer than this, simply because I have lots of empty jars to collect (see 2 Kings 4:1 – 7 or click here and listen to my message called “Unseen Realities” from last weekend), but I don’t think it has to be. Again, I am reminded of Martin Luther’s quote: “The best prayers are those God hears and answers.” Paul told the Thessalonians that he mentioned them in his prayers (1 Thessalonians 1:2), and that doesn’t sound like he prayed for 5 minutes over each person. It sounds more like, “God bless Bob and Mary and Joe”, etc.
A couple of other thoughts on this: For one, if you have a lot of things you’re bringing to the Lord in the form of a list, then make sure you are paying attention as you pray. Way too many times, I have caught myself praying through my list and not paying attention to what I was saying. (This is particularly embarrassing when you haven’t updated your requests and find yourself asking God for something that has already happened, like praying for your kid’s ACT test that it turns out was last week, or praying for a pain in your leg when your leg feels fine). I heard a quote recently that said basically, “If you don’t hear yourself pray, then don’t expect God to hear either.” Right on.
And lastly, there are two types of prayer – one, there is kind of prayer that is really hard work. Paul praised Epaphras, who was “always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers” (Colossians 4:12 NASB). Sounds like he was sweating as he prayed, and that’s right, because prayer is sometimes just plain work. That said, there is also a type of prayer that is purely joyous interaction with the Lord Jesus. I can enter into this kind of prayer in worship or sometimes, as I write prayers out in my journal, or as I take a walk and pour out my heart to the Lord (in the warmer months, generally). In this second type of prayer, time becomes very much less important, except that we wish there were more of it.