September 9, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 6:12 (NRSV)
Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.
Short prayers are just fine. But sometimes, like Jesus, we need to devote more time to prayer. We need to share with the Lord more of what is in our hearts. And we need to be quiet long enough so we can hear the still, small voice of the Spirit. God will help us to spend the time we need in prayer so that our hearts might be more connected to the heart of God.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion we examined Jesus’s “all-nighter” in Luke 6:12. When faced with opposition and the need to make major decisions, Jesus “spent the night in prayer to God.” Today, I want to reflect a bit more on this verse, offering some practical advice on how you might go deeper and longer in your own experience of prayer.
Some people are so experienced in prayer that they do not struggle to pray for long periods of time. Even as world-class marathoners can run long distances without stopping, so can world-class people of prayer. I think, for example, of the pastor of my friend Billy. Some years ago, Billy and his pastor were driving from Los Angeles to San Diego during what we used to call “rush hour.” (Now it’s more like “rush day.”) Anyway, since Billy was driving, his pastor said, “Why don’t we use this time to pray?” Billy, thinking his pastor would offer a brief prayer for their trip, said, “Sure.” So his pastor closed his eyes and began to pray. Billy prayed along, though with his eyes open, thanks be to God. The pastor prayed and prayed and prayed . . . all the way to San Diego. This man did not think it unusual to pray for more than three hours. For Billy, however, this was a world record.
I’ll be honest. I’m not in the same league with Billy’s pastor when it comes to prayer. I do pray several times each day. When needed, I do talk with God for longer periods of time. But I am not one who can close his eyes and pray easily for hours at a time.
When I need to go deeper and longer in prayer, I have found that a couple of practices help me. I’ll share them with you here. These particular practices might be helpful to you also. Or they might encourage you to discover what enables you to pray more deeply and for a more extended period of time.
The first practice is writing my prayers. If I’m dealing with a challenge that needs lots of prayer, I find that I do better if I write out my prayers. For some reason, taking the time and effort to write, either longhand or on a keyboard, keeps my mind engaged. I know this works for others as well. Books on prayer frequently encourage folks to write their prayers in a journal. Another advantage to writing my prayers is that, later, I’m able to go back and remember what I was talking to God about. This often helps me to see God’s faithfulness in a new light, which encourages both my gratitude and my fortitude in prayer.
The second practice that helps me to spend more time in prayer is walking. Ideally, I walk in a place of quiet and beauty, a place with sufficient solitude that allows me to pray aloud without hesitation. But sometimes I walk and pray in ordinary, populated settings, like my neighborhood or even a busy city. In places like these I pray quietly or silently. Even there, however, I find that walking helps me to stay focused in prayer for longer periods of time.
We should remember, of course, that long prayers are not magic. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, his model prayer was rather short (see Luke 11:2-4). Plus, he praised the man who humbly prayed very few words, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:14). Yet Jesus also encouraged his followers to “pray always and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). He showed by example that extended times of prayer are sometimes valuable. When you need to spend a longer time with the Lord, perhaps, like Jesus, you can “go out to the mountain.” Or you might try writing your prayers or walking while you pray. Perhaps praying in a special place will help you, or joining in prayer with others. When your heart longs for a deeper relationship with God, God will help you by the Spirit to spend the time you need with him.
When you need to be more focused in prayer or to pray for a longer period of time, what helps you?
Are there special places in the world where you are able to pray more intentionally?
Have you every tried writing your prayers? If so, what was that like for you?
If you know some practice that helps you to pray, make a plan to do this soon. If you’re not sure what might help you, talk with God about this and do what the Spirit leads you to do.
Lord Jesus, thank you for your example of prayer. And thank you for Luke, who made it possible to see and emulate your example.
Jesus, I wish I were one of those people who found it easy to spend longer periods of time with you. I wish I were better at pouring out my whole heart to you. I wish I were able to be quieter for a longer period of time so that I might hear the still, small voice of your Spirit. Help me to grow in my life of prayer, to be more like you as I am formed by your grace. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling Archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Prayer Triggers