“In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” – Luke 6:12
I was roughly five minutes late for work on Monday. I wish I could say that it was for a good reason – like getting my coworkers donuts or walking a family of ducks across the street. But I was late because I was getting coffee. I have coffee at home and had plenty of time to make some, even though I had slept through my alarm by an hour and fifteen minutes. Instead I thought I’d be lazy and get a mocha from Dutch Bros.
As it turned out, there was a bit of a line at the Dutch Bros I decided to swing by. After waiting fifteen minutes and spending nearly $5, I got my mocha and drove to work. Fortunately enough, there weren’t any consequences for showing up a little late. But I point it out because I was a minute late Tuesday morning – and for a completely different reason.
I woke up at my usual time, ate breakfast at my usual time, and hopped in the shower at my usual time. And while I was in the shower, I started off a simple prayer for the day. Knowing that day was going to be busy – as well as the rest of the week – I thought it’d be best to set my mind in the right place. Shortly after praying, I turned off the shower and stepped out. Even though I normally take 5-10 minute showers, Tuesday morning’s rinse was nearly 20 minutes long.
I don’t really remember what I was praying about, either. I just know that at the time it was necessary and I wouldn’t have handled the day’s stress and frustration very well without having prayed. And as I was pulling into work one minute behind schedule, I thought of Luke 6:12 talking about Jesus praying all night in spite of His job. Moments before this verse, Luke records a couple encounters with the religious elite over someone whom Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. Moments after this verse, Luke records the naming of Jesus’ apostles and further healings after that. In spite of what Jesus had to do, He still sacrificed sleep to pray.
All-nighter prayers are very infrequent in my life. I’ve maybe pulled off a couple here and there. In recent days, praying has become rare in general. Work has been busier and busier with the football season in full throttle and my day to day tasks have multiplied as well. Praying on a regular basis isn’t very convenient.
Even if I do find the time to pray, they aren’t always the most focused of prayers. I start rambling about different things going on that day, which quickly turns into me reciting my to-do list out loud to myself. Next thing I know, I’m off to start my to-do list all the while I haven’t finished my talk with God. It’s like making a phone call, but walking away just as the other end picks up.
Prayer, in my experience, gets treated as a highly-formal religious rite or a simple, short-lived part of an every day routine (i.e. praying before going to bed). What I find challenging, though, is how Jesus uses prayer. Sometimes He’s praying alone (Matthew 14:23); other times He prays for what seems like hours when a major shift is about to take place (consider the garden of Gethsemane; Mark 14:32-40); and yet all the while, it is an intimate and special practice in our walks with God – something to be kept behind closed doors (Matthew 6:6). As Jesus teaches, God does not want our pretense; He wants our communion with Him.
Despite how we may treat it, prayer is not a fee; it is not something we have to do as part of being good Christians. Instead, it is total surrender of whatever we have going on to engage and embrace whatever God wants to have going on within us. It is not a small snack here and there, supplementing our main-course meals; it is all the meals combined (however many we may receive) because it is the very thing that sustains and drives our spiritual lives. To try and be Christian without prayer is like trying to drive a car without an engine: You’ll stay in one place without it.
“Pray,” as Paul says, “without ceasing,” (1st Thessalonians 5:17). Pray – even if it means being late to work, skipping breakfast, sacrificing a few hours of sleep, or whatever else. Jesus utilized prayer not because it was merely the most effective tool to continue His ministerial work, but because it was the only tool with which He could bring about His Father’s kingdom. It kept Him focused. It kept Him nourished. And it kept Him moving.
Days will only get busier. Maybe you take on more classes in school; maybe you gain more responsibility at work which requires more of your time; or maybe you start dating someone or raising a family. Life’s many stages will only cause us to work harder and retain a stronger focus. Prayer not only helps in these two areas, but causes us to look beyond the temporal circumstances (i.e. this life) toward the life that is to come. Isn’t that worth the 15-20 minutes here and there?
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit,” – 1st Thessalonians 5:16-19