The Time Dimension of Prayer-When We Pray
“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
Did you ever sit in a room before a glowing fire with someone you love?
Did you talk every minute? Or did you feel compelled every now and then to clear your throat and say, “Now dear, I think I’ll say something to you.” Then with a bright introduction, did you proceed with a formal speech? Of course not. When you’re with a person you love, there need not be a bit of conversation in order for you to experience real communication. If you feel like saying something, you do; if not, you don’t, but the line of communication is always open.
Praying without ceasing is like that. How? It’s simply turning the dial of our communication system with God to on, making possible a two-way
conversation with Him at any time. When that communication line is open, we can say whatever we want to Him, and He in turn can say anything He wishes to us. Yes, it’s possible to “pray without ceasing” 24 hours a day.
When we leave our daily closet praying, do we walk out and slam the door, saying, “That’s it for today. Same time tomorrow, Lord, same station”? That isn’t what the Holy Spirit meant when He inspired Paul to write, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17). Nor is it what Christ meant when He taught His disciples, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).
After Paul lists the armor with which we are to resist Satan, he goes on to say, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18). The source of strength in our battle with the enemy is “praying always.” But when the line of communication with God closes, wham-the fiery darts of Satan strike! But that need not be the case. Let’s break down the day and see how the communication system between us and God can be open all 24 hours.
A Lark or an Owl?
How do you start your day? Are you a “lark” or an “owl”? “Larks” twitter and sing in the morning, but by the end of the day they’re not doing too well; they have slowed down considerably. “Owls” take a little longer to get going in the morning. You know-“Right now I don’t love anybody, but when I start loving again, you’ll be first on the list.” But owls gain momentum as the night progresses.
We’re divided at our house. I’m a “lark” and my husband is definitely an “owl.” When we pray together at night and Chris prays on and on, I sometimes have to say, “Hurry up, Chris; you’re losing me.” But in the morning it’s a different story. Chris groans and pulls the covers up tighter when I shake him to tell him some great gem that I’ve just gotten from the Lord.
Because our individual, inbuilt clocks function differently, I’ve learned that there are no spiritual “brownie points” for being a “lark.” Is it possible our heavenly Father created some of us to be
“larks” and some to be “owls” so He would have somebody on the alert all 24 hours of the day?
I used to say, and I’m sure it was with pride, “I’m creative in the morning. That is my creative time.” Then I realized, Ev, you’re not creative in the morning; you’ve just learned to listen to God in the wee hours.
When I’m asked, “How do you get all those messages ready? How can you possibly write so many?” I have to reply, “I don’t write messages, but I keep a little notebook on my bedstand at all times. Then lying there communing with my heavenly Father early in the morning, I just jot down whatever He says to me.”
When I awaken, I say, “Lord, here I am. What do You want to say to me?” I usually think they should be ideas for immediate needs, but frequently He gives thoughts for retreats and messages months away. I write them down and keep them in file folders. Then when I put those papers in outline form, it’s astounding to learn that God has given me every single thought I’ll ever need-in time!
It’s a very exciting procedure to wait upon God early in the morning while the mind is fresh, before anyone else comes upon the scene, or before the “tyranny of the urgent” rushes in. Have you learned to say in the morning, “Lord, here I am. You tell me what You want me to know today, what You want me to do”? Have you asked Him, “Is there someone You want me to call? What do You have in mind for me today?” You’ll be amazed at His answers!
One morning as I was lying in bed talking to the Lord, I said, as I frequently do, “OK, Lord whom would You have me call on the phone today?” The answer came as if it were in lights, “Mona.”
“But Lord, I don’t know Mona. I met her at a band concert, and at a PTA meeting-and that’s it. I waited until the kids left for school; then I went to the phone and said, “Lord, You’re going to have to tell me what to say to Mona-I don’t know.”
I really felt a little silly about calling her, but I dialed and said, “Good morning, Mona. This is Evelyn Christenson from down the street.” That’s all I said. And Mona started to cry. She told me that the day before, she and her husband had been told by the doctors that their son, Dave (our Jan’s friend), had leukemia and would never recover. My obedience gave me the opportunity to at least build a bridge to Mona and to comfort her in her distress.
One morning, after my daughter had asked me to pray for a girl who was feuding with her parents, I said, “Lord, if You want me to talk to her, have her call or come over.” At 2 o’clock in the afternoon I answered my doorbell, and there she stood with a suitcase in her hand. “Hi, I’ve come to move in with you for a while.”
It had been one of those unbelievably hectic days, and I glanced heavenward and sighed, “Lord, I didn’t mean that literally.”
I used to think that if one were an “owl,” talking with God in the morning wasn’t necessary. But one day, as I was reading Psalm 5, I saw something for the first time. I said to Chris, “Hey, it’s really scriptural to talk to God first thing in the morning.” In all the times I had read that psalm, it had never really hit me before. “Give ear to my words, 0 Lord, consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto Thee will I pray. My voice shalt Thou bear in the morning, 0 Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up” (Ps. 5:1-3).
It doesn’t say hours of prayer time are necessary, but at least we must say good morning to the Lord and give Him our day. So whether you are a “lark” or an “owl,” God’s Word says early in the morning, before the “tyranny of the urgent,” before breakfast, before the school busses, before anyone says a word to you, “Early in the morning, Lord, I will look up, and pray unto You.”
Prayer Before School
After breakfast, it’s time for the children to start off to school. Since our first child was in kindergarten, we have made a practice in our home of praying individually with each of our children just as they left for school. This to me has been a very precious experience. It’s been more than a time to pray! We have been able to put our arms around our children, assuring them of the security of their home, and then to send them out into the big, often overwhelming world with God watching over them, whatever they will face that day.
Every once in a while I’m told by my son, “Hurry up, Mom, make it short. The school bus is coming,” and out the door he goes! Sometimes it’s only one or two sentences. But meeting God with our family before we separate is a very vital part of our day.
The Day Progresses
I have a great time with the Lord in the morning. As God and I communicate with one another, He tells me what He wants me to do, and I say, “OK, Lord.” There are no problems. There aren’t any people around to bother me. There are no bad reactions for me to contend with. You know, I could really be a tremendous Christian if I could stay in my “closet” with God. But I can’t stay there all day. I can’t even remain sheltered with members of my own family, those who love me. I have to get out and meet people-and occasionally my early morning relationship with God suddenly falls apart!
I’m a “people person,” and I really like almost everybody I meet But once in a while somebody makes me bristle, and I retaliate. There are other occasions when I just look at someone and think, “Oh, brother!”
How do I solve the problem? I’ve learned what I call my SOS prayer. I say, “Help, Lord.” (But not out loud!) “Lord, give me the attitude You want me to have toward that person.”
Perhaps you can imagine what it’s like for a wife and mother to prepare to go out-of-town for a speaking engagement. You get all the laundry done, matching the socks with the shirts. Then you stock the refrigerator with enough food for all the days you’ll be gone, outline each of your messages, try to get yourself and your clothes ready, and do the last-minute shopping. It’s really hectic! In addition, you have to get “prayed up.” You just can’t go without spiritual preparation, so you spend extra time with the Lord. Finally you settle into the plane seat, review your notes once more, and pray.
Things had gone that way before I arrived in an eastern city for a retreat a few years ago. As I was being introduced to the ladies, a pastor’s wife who was sitting next to me leaned over and gibed, almost sneering, “Do you really like these little women’s meetings?”
Wow! After all I’d gone through to get there! Besides, I didn’t think that meeting was so little -about 200 women were there from several states. And I was all primed and ready to share what the Lord had given me for them. Do you know what I did? I bristled!
Now, I didn’t have time to say a long prayer. I had only seconds left before speaking. As I walked to the platform, I silently pleaded with the Lord. “Help, SOS, give me the attitude You want me to have toward that pastor’s wife.” And do you know, all the bristle disappeared. Because God knew I didn’t have a lot of time to get this cleaned up, He answered my SOS prayer just like that! What would have happened if I had started out bristling at that audience? It would have “pulled the rug” right out from under the whole retreat.
One of the prayer requests presented at a faculty wives’ prayer meeting I attended several months ago involved a serious financial problem. On the day before, the promise of a large gift of money for the new campus had been withdrawn, and we were going to pray about it.
As we were drinking coffee and chatting before the start of the prayer meeting, a woman came in whom I had never met. I didn’t know who she was, but I looked down my spiritual nose and thought. My word, she’s the “squarest” woman I’ve ever seen in my life. And the more she talked the more “square” I thought she was.
Then the Lord began to reprove me: “Evelyn, that’s sin.” Do you remember our first prerequisite to answered prayer? “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me”? I suddenly realized that I was about to spend my morning in prayer for these financial needs with sin in my heart! Another SOS prayer flew to heaven, “Lord, please, give me the attitude You want me to have toward that woman, whoever she is.”
You know, when we pray that prayer, we never ask amiss. God knows what attitude He wants to give us. When we look at Christ’s life, we can see that sometimes His perfect attitude was love, sometimes it was righteous indignation, sometimes patience, sometimes discipline, sometimes compassion. That day God gave me a surprise.
Guess who prayed first at that prayer meeting? She did. And as she started to pray, I suddenly realized that this woman had a dimension to her prayer life that I knew nothing about. She said, “Thank You, Lord, that that money didn’t come through yesterday.” And I blinked. She went on, “Now, Lord, You have given us the privilege of being on our faces before You this morning with a desperate need. Lord, what a privilege this is. Thank You, Lord. And thank You that today the school’s president has the privilege of being on his face before You with this need. Thank You that the whole staff has this tremendous need, and thank You that they have the privilege of being on their faces before You.”
I felt two inches high.
When I learned who this woman was, I discovered some other things. She bad an intercessory prayer life that was never less than two hours a day. She used a prayer list that was pages and pages long, containing the names of the people for whom she prays daily. And I had looked at her and thought, Wow, is she “square!”
I had a trying experience when I was teaching wives during a pastors’ conference. We had gone over the material on praying in God’s will, and were going to have a spiritual exercise by taking partners with whom we would share and pray. My partner was a young pastor’s wife. We took our chairs to a corner as we were supposed to, and got all ready for the spiritual exercise, when suddenly she looked me right in the eye and said, “I hate you.”
Do you think I smiled and said, “Oh, I just love you”? Not on your life. I said, “I guess we had better not do our exercise; we’d better just talk. Tell me why you hate me.”
But as I was talking outwardly, inwardly I was praying, “SOS, Lord. Help me to have the attitude You want me to have toward this person.” And God gave me the ability to sit there calmly without becoming angry and retaliating. “Would you like to tell me why you hate me?” I asked.
She said, “OK, I’ll tell you. My husband has been interviewed by the pulpit committee seeking a pastor for your former church.” She went on, “I didn’t know who you were when I came to this meeting. I had never seen you before, had never heard one of your tapes, but I knew you were the wife of the former pastor of that church.” Then she exploded, “You’re everything I don’t want to be and can’t be in a pastor’s wife, so I hate you. Look at that dress you’re wearing,” she said. “I’m a sweatshirt and jeans girl myself.”
I was at a loss as to where to start, but God seemed to be saying to share deeply with her out of my heart. I told her of the hard things I bad talked about in my message that morning, things that had happened during my time at that church. I even told her of a very personal trial I never mention in public, and how those wonderful people prayed for me just as they would pray for her if she were their pastor’s wife. It wasn’t long before the two of us were in tears, clasping hands, and praying together.
As we parted, she said, “As my husband and I drive home this afternoon, I want to tell him about how I feel now. Will you pray for me?”
I said I would, but she didn’t wait until afternoon. At lunch her husband came flying across the dining room and asked, “What did you do to my wife?”
I told him I didn’t do anything to his wife, but I wanted to know what happened.
He said, “You know, God is calling me to leave the church I’m now serving, and my wife has been saying, `Absolutely not. I don’t care where you’re called. I won’t go.’ But she just came to me and said, `Honey, wherever God leads you, I’ll go along.’ What did you do?”
What had I done? I had prayed, “SOS, Lord. Give me the right attitude toward this woman.” And immediately He had given me an understanding attitude toward a young pastor’s wife who didn’t want to leave her rural community and her sweatshirt and jeans.
Not long ago a woman stopped me in a church and said, “We just called a new pastor.” Guess who it was? That same young man! Then she went on, “Do you know why we called him? He’s a great guy, but we were very impressed with his wife. She was so eager to have her husband where God wanted him to be, and she was undergirding his ministry like we’ve never seen any pastor’s wife do before.” I smiled and breathed a thank-you to God for that little sweatshirt-and-jeans girl who only a year before had said, “I hate you.”
When we say to God, “Give me the attitude You want me to have toward that person,” immediately these amazing attitudes come, the ones He wants us to have. We don’t have to reach for the pill bottle. I had one toddler who I said was not just an “Anacin headache kid,” she was a “Vanquish headache kid.” She could paint the back fence and her hair and everything else faster than I could get out there to grab the paint can! What do we do? We pray, “Lord, right now, give me the attitude You want me to have toward that person in my family, toward that person I meet on the street, even toward the one who looks at me and says, ‘I hate you.'” All day long if people rub us the wrong way, we can have the communication system open between us and God. We just pray, “SOS Lord. Give me the attitude You want me to have.” It works all day long, the whole 24 hours.
Bear Ye One Another’s Burdens-All the Time
How about your family? Is it as easy for your children to say, “Mom, I’m having a math test at 10:30, please pray,” as it is for them to ask you for $2.50 for lunch money? Do your children know that your communication system with God is always open?
One morning while she was still in high school, one of our daughters was so frightened about an up-coming important interview that I found her sick to her stomach in the bathroom. I helped her whom I won’t be safe, keep them going, Lord, keep them going.” I sat there for 15 minutes, and every set of headlights shot right by. Nobody stopped.
Then I saw a blinking red light and heard the sound of a siren behind me. For the first time in my life I was happy and excited to hear that sound! The state trooper got out of his car and said, “You know, Lady, that you’re in danger out here alone on the freeway this late at night, don’t you?”
I said, “Yes, sir, I know it.”
He told me that it would take about five minutes to transfer some gas from his patrol car to mine, and invited me to sit in the squad car. I noticed that be was trembling, and needed desperately to talk to someone.
He said, “I just came from an accident. A pregnant mother fell asleep, and her car veered off to the right and struck a cement culvert. I looked at the car with the right one-third sheared off and thought, Oh, oh, this is going to be one of those messy ones. But the first thing I saw was a little two-year-old girl walking around with just one pulled tendon in her leg. What really unnerved me, though, was that a Mrs. Beasley doll that was placed between the mother and daughter was decapitated by a piece of metal that came through the windshield, but the two of them were unharmed.” He turned to me and asked, “Do you believe in God?’
I said, “Yes.”
Then with deep emotion he said, “Do you think God was riding in the back seat of that car?”
I replied, “I think He may very well have been.” Then I added, “Do you know that you’re an answer to prayer, too?”
He said, “Me? I’m an answer to prayer?”
Then I told him how I bad prayed about every single pair of lights approaching my car that night.
This is only a part of the story, and we must go back to Jacque for the end of it. “Evelyn, why did I feel an overwhelming urgency to pray for you last night? We were having a birthday party and I couldn’t pray right then. But again God said, ‘Jacque, pray for Evelyn: So I gathered up the birthday wrappings, excused myself to take them out, and stood by the garbage cans, and prayed.” Then she told me the exact time. Can you guess what time it was? Yes, it was exactly the time I had run out of gas on that freeway!
Is your communication system so open to God that you are available to pray any time of the day or night? When God sees a need down here on Planet Earth, can He say to you, “Wake up, wake up, I need you to pray for somebody”? Or are you like I was at one time, thinking you need eight hours of sleep or you’ll collapse the next day? Are you one of those with whom God can trust His burdens?
“Pray without ceasing”-all day long, all night long. It’s just a matter of having the communication system open between yourself and God so you can say at any time of day or night “SOS., Lord.” And He can say to you, “Knock, knock. There’s a need down there. Will you please pray?”
For you to pray:
“Dear Father, I want to be available to You, 24 hours a day. Teach me to open my communication with You and never shut it. Also help me to be available to others whenever they need me to pray.”