How Long Should You Pray?
Prayer is a mystery. On a lot of God stuff, I can eventually get to a place where I kind of get it. Prayer keeps hanging out there as an unanswered question. How does it work? Does it work? Does God ever change His mind? I know He hears me, but can I hear Him? For sure?
Before you hit delete and move on, know I’m not tackling that theological monster… not with my little, business-guy brain.
In my file under “Prayer,” there’s all kinds of stuff about how to pray. There’s the “John Maxwell-ian” alliteration approach where everything starts with “P”…
P lace – pick a place where you can be alone with God
P erson – address Him directly as God, your personal God, your Heavenly Father
P raise – start with pouring out praise for Him because He alone is worthy
P rovision – thank Him for giving you what you need to stay alive….and more
P ardon – ask Him to forgive your sins as you forgive other people’s sins against you
P rotection – ask Him to protect you, your family and others from evil
P etition – ask Him for what you want.
(Usually I can’t wait for the ‘petition’ part… It’s usually why I drop to my knees in the first place… Just being honest…)
Then there’s the tried and true A-C-T-S deal…
A – Acknowledge God as Omnipotent, Creator, Holy God
C – Confess my sins and ask forgiveness
T – Thank God for all He’s done for me
S – Supplication—Ask for what I want—(see “petition” above)
All good stuff.
But how long do I pray? Am I hurting God’s feelings if I only pray for 5 minutes? Am I more Christian if I pray all night like the song says?
On my prayer board, I have Isaiah 62:6-7 scrawled out in magic marker…
“I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or
night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till
He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth”. (NIV)
Talking about guilt.
Confession: There’ve been few things I’ve given God no rest about.
But then to make it worse, there’s Jesus’ teaching about prayer in Luke 11. The late-night visitor seeking bread knocks to no avail. Then look at verse 8…
“I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need”. (NIV)
“because of your shameless audacity”… Wow.
Now let me give you the other side.
Another translation of the same verse says He got up and gave him bread “yet to preserve His good name”.
So which is it?
Because of the shameless audacity of the ‘asker’? Or ‘to preserve the good name of the Master’? Like I said, I haven’t figured prayer out. It’s like the definitive opinion of economists… “I feel strongly both ways”. And you’ve never met a one-armed economist. It’s always, “But on the other hand….”
From what I’ve learned, a big part of prayer is about conforming my will to God’s will. Since God already knows what we need before we ask, prayer is the process God uses to infuse peace and faith into our souls. As we praise and petition, acknowledge His power and our lack of it, God is slipping little doses of faith, trust, and hope into our lifeblood. Sometimes that takes a while, especially when we want a certain outcome really bad.
But when we’ve emptied our ambition onto the altar in front of Him, and we’re ready to trust Him with the outcome, we can be done praying. In Matthew 6:7, Jesus Himself cautioned about babbling on and on. He said, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” Jesus always got right to the point.
You see, I think prayer is God’s idea. It’s Him who gives us the urge to pray. It’s not a natural human behavior.
And just like He pings us to pray, I think He lets us know when it’s o.k. to get up off our knees and go do something.
Don’t get me wrong. For those people praying for Jerusalem’s restoration, there wasn’t anything else they could do. When our son was clinging to life after his wreck, prayer was it. It was all we could do. All consuming. We wore God out for 24 hours straight.
But most days, praying until I’ve handed off my burdens to my omnipotent Dad is long enough.