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Monday, September 26, 2011

Prioritizing Prayer

In C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, the senior demon advises the novice that the best way to defeat people in their prayer life is to lead them to feel that they have to be in the right mood or frame of mind in order to pray.  It is true that I have often thought that I was too tired, overworked, or stressed to take time out of my schedule to pray, or that it was "just not the right time." As a consequence, I can confess to some dry, defeated periods in my personal prayer life.

The truth is really that we should always be willing to pray.  Always.  The Bible literally says, "Pray without ceasing," (1 Thessalonians 5: 17 KJV).  God is always ready to hear from us, whether we are in a bad mood, happy to the point of distraction, harried and scatterbrained, contentedly busy, or deeply upset about something.  He is a friend who likes to talk to us, and He always has time for us.  Honestly, we all can be hard to talk to, at times. What human friend do we have that is this available, and patient with us through our most extreme moods?

Now, that said, it is easier to quote Bible verses like this than it is to put them into practice.  Because of our human weaknesses, we often forget to talk to God.  It frequently is not meant as a deliberate slight...we just...forget. Or maybe, at the heart of the matter, we don't prioritize prayer.

Daniel had a daily routine for prayer.  Though he was one of three administrators over one of the greatest kingdoms of ancient history (the Medo-Persian Empire), he took time out of that busy office and court schedule to pray three times a day, every day (Daniel 6: 1,2; 10).  We don't know when he started doing this, but the Bible reports "he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before," (Daniel 6: 10 NIV). He already had a routine when the edict was passed.  It could be that he had specially built his house with windows that opened toward Jerusalem, so he could pray toward the temple there, as Solomon had taught, to acknowledge God's living presence among his people and attentiveness to their requests (2 Chronicles 6: 18-21, 36-39). However long he had been doing this is not as important as the fact that Daniel considered these prayer times such an important routine that he was willing to disobey a royal edict to keep to it.  He put such priority on speaking to God that he risked death to pray!

What can we derive from his example?  For one thing, the tenacity in Daniel's faith and prayer life is something I think we should try to match.  He suffered great hardship, and even the things he did well were not without their hazards.  In the midst of all of this, he learned that persistence in his relationship with God was beneficial (both to himself and to others).  Whether things were going well or going south, he was consistent in his obedience. He prayed because it pleased and honored God, who was constantly watching him.  More than once this humble but stubborn prayer habit saved his life and lifted him above disaster.  Because of what he had seen, he valued prayer and refused to neglect the opportunity, for any reason.

Daniel was a captive of an invading enemy, living far from home in a land where his faith and lifestyle were not generally accepted (and sometimes prosecuted).  Today, most of us are not living in such times.  I know we may not have the same obstacles that Daniel faced, but I won't say that persistence in prayer will be easy.  Our flesh, our attitudes, and our schedules will constantly work to disrupt this habit, if we let it.  Prayer is not even considered politically correct, so we might encounter some persecution.  If we can overcome these things, with God's help, and hold prayer as our highest priority, we will be rewarded in our life, and most importantly, in the depth of our relationship with God.

Can we manage this?  Let's try.

"[P]ray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people," (Ephesians 6: 18 NIV).