August 23, 2016

Prayer is a challenge

One of my friends used to say, “I need to have a quiet time with God every day. If I miss one day, God knows it. If I miss two days, I know it. If I miss three days, everyone knows it.”

Chambers says, “Unless in the first waking moment of the day you learn to fling the door wide back and let God in, you will work on a wrong level all day; but swing the door wide open and pray to your Father in secret, and every public thing will be stamped with the presence of God.”

That quiet time consists of reading and studying the Word of God, and prayer — which includes petition, praise, thanksgiving, and listening.

For me, daily reading is easy. I credit my mother’s example for this habit of a daily time focused on the Lord. Kudos also to my sister who was saved through the witness of a missionary in a country that forbids missionaries. When she came home to discover we were now sisters in Christ, she told me how to have a quiet time. I’d been reading the Bible for years without understanding it, but Jesus came into my life just before she arrived, and my habit soon became as important to me as eating. Her method (read until something jumps out at you, and then write it down) has stayed with me for fifty-five years.

However, prayer has not developed so easily. I realize that my spiritual enemy will put up with me listening to God speak, but not doing what He says, and certainly not praying in His will. This is a mysterious teamwork that ‘moves mountains’ and changes lives — mostly mine. Jesus said this about prayer:

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

Prayer is about being alone with God. The Bible also says, “Pray without ceasing,” which means having that attitude of communion with God at any time and in all situations, but I can’t pray without ceasing in a closet. However, I’ve learned that praying in that secret place is vital in learning how to pray wherever and whenever.

Yet as Chambers says, this is not as easy as it sounds. My wandering thoughts conflict with my best intentions. Sometimes those wanderings can turn into prayer requests, but most of the time my easily distracted mind wanders to my to-do list, or other responsibilities and distractions.

I also have trouble praying in a static location like a closet. Strange as it sounds, doing two things helps me focus on one thing. So I go for a walk or ride my stationary bike — with my prayer list in hand. The movement keeps me from looking at the sink full of dishes or my craft table with a half-finished project, and if I am outside, I’m not distracted by the phone (even if I don’t answer it) or by the dust on the dresser.

My prayers are not static either. If I pray for missions on Monday, church on Tuesday, and so on, I wind up using rote prayers — praying with my mouth but thinking about something else at the same time. To overcome that distraction, I’ve found a way to keep my prayer list revolving. I’m also learning to listen more so the Holy Spirit pops in pray thoughts that are not on my reminder list.

Besides the names and needs, I use pages with the words of familiar songs of praise. I’m not a great singer, but that is okay — singing aloud and praying aloud helps my focus. If I am outside, I just turn it down a bit.  

Determining to pray without ceasing is like going to war. It is a battle, more difficult some days than others, yet there is that promise that spurs me to continue: “My Father who sees in secret will reward me.” And He does.

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