We preachers know that prayer is the lifeblood of ministry. Without it, we are of all men most miserable. Spurgeon put it this way:
Of course the preacher is above all others distinguished as a man of prayer. He prays as an ordinary Christian, else he were a hypocrite. He prays more than ordinary Christians, else he were disqualified for the office which he has undertaken.
We must pray, and not only pray, we must pray more than the average Christian.
We all know the necessity of private prayer and the benefits of that most precious of Christian graces, and yet despite this understanding we still struggle with praying. We are both inspired and shamed by the stories of great saints of old who were known to spend hours in the closet – admiring such spiritual discipline and knowing we fall miserably short of their example.
Why is the prayer closet so elusive? Why is it so hard to find the time we want to pray? We have the same 24 hours in our day that the great men of the faith had. Why does the modern pulpit languish in prayerlessness?
The answers to those questions will vary with every individual, but let me share with you what I’ve noticed to be the two biggest hindrances to prayer in my own life.
First there is this matter of time – or better yet, timing. It’s not more time I need, it’s better timing. As a married-with-children, bivocational pastor a lot of people want my attention, which means they want my time. From the moment my feet hit the floor in the morning to the moment my head hits the pillow at night there is something needing to be done somewhere, and usually someone needing me to do it (in fact, as I type this paragraph my son is asking me to print out a picture of Master Chief for him, and my two-year old girl is riding the horsey on my knee).
If I try to get away from it all, or lock my self in a room somewhere, there’s always a phone ringing or some kind of distraction. So I figured out that if private prayer is going to be a habitual part of my life I’m either going to have to get up before everyone or stay up after everyone goes to bed. The evening is the only time when my wife and I can relax together and decompress after a long day, so I chose to get up early to pray.
This leads me to my second biggest hindrance to prayer – fatigue. We’ve all been there: kneeling to pray and waking up 30 minutes later, our Bibles wet with drool. Nothing is quite as discouraging in prayer as the inability to stay awake in prayer. In this we are not alone, for even the disciples’ prayer life was affected by fatigue.
“And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40-41
Well said. Our spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak. We want to pray, but so often we are so tired. Perhaps the disciples were feeling drowsy because of their big Passover meal and a few glasses of the ol’ fruit of the vine. Perhaps they were experiencing in the garden what we experience on the couch after the Thanksgiving meal. Whatever the reason, the disciples vividly depicted the ineffectiveness of drowsy prayer warriors.
In prayer, we want to cry out, not crash hard. But how? How do we stay alive, alert and attentive? A few tips from my own personal experience:
First, I prioritize sleep – at least seven hours. Fatigue is an indication of sleep deprivation, and for those of you inclined to believe that sleep deprivation is a mark of sanctification, stop now and read this post. Get your sleep, brethren. It will probably mean getting to bed earlier and perhaps turning off Letterman. So be it. Sleep is as necessary to productive ministry as any other physical activity.
Secondly, to some extent, I avoid horizontal praying. Face-down praying is a wonderful way to emphasize our obeisance to God and our worship of Him, but if I linger in that position for long, I’ll wake up later with carpet face. I don’t believe that there is only one proper posture in the prayer closet, so I alternate between kneeling, prostrating, and walking around the room.
Thirdly, I pray aloud. Prayer is – to our human perception – a one way conversation. We talk to God, but He does not respond audibly. I also have noticed that I pray more passionately when I pray out loud. Hearing my prayer helps me stay awake and focused.
Last, but not least, I make sure I have a hot beverage on hand. Of course, that would be coffee, and I like it hot, strong, and black. Now for those of you persisting in the error of your coffee-less ways, I suggest tea, or hot chocolate, or any number of namby-pamby drinks available today (kidding – relax!). Even decaffeinated coffee is fine. A bold tasting, warm beverage is what I need to get my brain to functioning before 6 in the morning.
These are just a few observations from a guy who definitely is not an example of a great prayer warrior. Most of my wisdom in life has been learned by doing things the wrong way, so feel free to share your own suggestions and success stories.
Until next time, keep it between the ditches and the greasy side down.