It has been said that the Christian has only one problem and that is prayer. Today I want to speak about prayer.
In my own prayer time, I've started reading Genesis again and was soon confronted with the image of the ark which Noah built to save himself and his family from the flood. I reflected that I too am called to build an ark to save myself (and others) from the rising waters of evil in this world. This ark is inner, it is within, and the hammer it is built with is the hammer of prayer. So let’s think a little about this topic which concerns our spiritual survival.
Fr Doug Lorig, an American priest, has a beautiful set of tapes on prayer and I confess to using many of his ideas. One of the first points he makes is the non-negotiable place of time in every Christian's prayer life. The first thing we have to understand as an absolute essential, if we are to grow in prayer, is the pivotal place of time because that's what prayer demands, and somehow it’s the one thing we find hard to give to God.
We can go to a movie and spend an entire afternoon looking at the big screen, we can spend hours on the golf course chasing that little white ball, we can drive for an hour to get to a football game, but we cannot give daily time to God in prayer. For some reason, our day seems to arrange itself in such a way that there is room for everything else except our prayer time; we always have this awful trouble finding time for prayer.
Some people solve this problem by just writing in their diary a specific time during which they have to be in the church, or in the bungalow, or in their bedroom. As the years go by these people find that their routine becomes a habit and their spiritual life ‘takes off’ and grows stronger day by day.
Other people solve their problem by saying it’s all too difficult and just give up. One thing’s for sure, their spiritual life is not going anywhere.
Most of us, however, want to make prayer a regular part of our lives, we just need encouragement and to be shown a ‘way’ to pray fruitfully.
When we find ourselves in the presence of God we have to remember that there is nothing really that we can give him that he hasn’t already got. Like money, for example. God does not have an account at the bank; he does not have a credit card; he doesn’t go bargain hunting at K-Mart. The whole cosmos is his; he made it all and the whole lot belongs to him.
All God wants from you is your time.
He needs your time so that you can be with him and so that he can be with you. Only you can give God your time.
Isn’t it funny how often we will do other things, charity work, 40 hour famines, collect money at major intersections, we will do virtually anything, even give money, so long as we don’t have to pray. We try to buy God off. 'Lord, you know how I would love to spend time with you in prayer but I’m so busy doing good things for you, you know.'
(I have seen quite a few marriages break up because he insisted on working hard to get money to buy her things, to make her understand how much he loved her. She on the other hand just wanted him to spend a little time with her.)
And we forget that God can get lots of other people to collect that money or do that charity work, but he can’t get our time from anyone else but us.
So an important fact to remember is that we can’t substitute anything else for time with God. Even reading holy books or gaining a degree in theology will not substitute for giving time to prayer.
When we give God time we give God access to our inner selves, to our hearts. We place ourselves on the operating table of God’s divine surgery and he can get to work on us. There he can deal with our problems, our weaknesses, our fears, our bad habits, our hardness of heart, our confusions and uncertainties, our angers and lack of forgiveness, our jealousies and insecurities, our lack of self esteem, our sexual urges, our compulsions, our lack of faith - our whole journey to maturity. Only God can do this for us and only if we give him time.
Now how much time would you say is a fair thing? 5 minutes a day? 10 minutes? Half an hour? An hour a day?
I can’t tell you how much time for prayer you need to set aside but I do know ten minutes a day just won’t do it.
Ten minutes exercise won’t give you a healthy body; ten minutes study won’t give you a pass in your exams; ten minutes practice on the golf course won’t lower your handicap; 10 minutes practice on the footy field won’t get you a game on Saturday. Can you imagine watching 10 minutes a day of your favourite TV show? Or worse still, can you imagine spending just 10 minutes a day with your boyfriend or your girlfriend, or your fiancé or you spouse?
The time you spend at prayer each day must tell God that you are serious about him and that you are putting him first.
Our world values activity, achievement, profit. In this kind of world where time equals money, prayer makes no sense at all. In this kind of world time spent on prayer is wasted time.
If you are a child of this secular, material world you will never pray. If you allow the world to give you your set of values and to dictate the meaning of your life you will never pray. Prayer will not hold any meaning for you.
So we seriously have to question ourselves. We have to ask: Where does our lifestyle come from? Who sets our agenda? What drives our life? Is it our fitness program? Is it our work? Is it our recreation? Is it our hobby? Or is it our desire for union with God?