Praying less to pray more

Church bulletin:

Matt 26:40, Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour?” I think most of us would struggle to pray for one hour. I have prayed on occasions for an hour and longer, but they are the exceptions not the rule. I don’t believe that God expects us to engage in particularly long sessions of prayer. When Christ rebuked the three disciples it is in relation to the climax of His ministry. He is entering into His passion and the intensity of what He is going through called for a time of prolonged prayer. In similar fashion, there may be times when we find ourselves compelled to pray for an hour plus, but what about in the ordinary busyness of day-to-day life.

I read somewhere (I cannot for the life of me remember where) – Spurgeon kept his prayer times to under ten minutes. But he prayed frequently throughout the day. This was of much encouragement to me, not because of the brevity of his prayers, but because it meant he prayed a great deal more often. I did come across this Spurgeonic quote – I rarely pray for more than 5 minutes, but I never go 5 minutes without praying.’ We should set aside time to specifically pray and to pray for a while. Having said that, I think we should also see prayer as a lifestyle rather than something we dip into during a quiet time and leave off until the next quiet time.

Here are three thoughts to encourage us in regular, consistent prayer.

Less is more. Most people don’t eat one big meal per day and they are done. I imagine we all consume two or three main meals and the odd snack in between. One big meal is a lot in one hit. One big meal does not provide a balanced way of eating. Similarly with prayer. It is hard to pray comprehensively in one go – praise for who God is, thanksgiving for God’s blessings, intercession for other people, other churches, our own church, supplication for one’s own needs, confession of sin, etc. It is more manageable to break prayer down into smaller sections. Multiple times of prayer throughout the day actually allows us to cover more ground – less is more.

Pray without ceasing. Paul’s well-known exhortation “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) – surely this is accomplished in greater measure by praying in a staggered way, rather than in bulk. It could be argued that the person who prays every morning is praying without ceasing, but if that’s all there is, have they not ceased to pray in the afternoon and the evening? We cannot literally pray around the clock and Spurgeon’s quip is probably unattainable for most of us. Nevertheless, Paul’s exhortation relates as much to frequency (throughout the day) as it does consistency (every day).

Practicing the presence of God. If we pray throughout the day, it means we are consciously living in the presence of God. We are including God in our comings and goings, our routines and responsibilities. Seventeenth century Carmelite friar Brother Lawrence wrote 15 short letters which have been published as The Practice of the Presence of God. He believed that we need to live in the awareness of God’s presence in every moment of every day and conduct ourselves accordingly. Prayer is one way that we cultivate sensitivity to the reality of divine omnipresence. This means that every place is sacred – from the throne in the bathroom to the pews in the cathedral. This means we can pray silently on a crowded train or sitting on a park bench. This means that any opportunity to pray is a providential blessing not to be ignored.

Don’t think of prayer as a foreboding five-course meal, but a grazing table to be savored little by little over time.