About three weeks ago, I challenged our church to partner with the leadership and me to pray for our church and the impact we can have on our community for a full 24 hour period. We broke the 24 hours into 15-minute time slots and asked people to sign up for slots that they would commit to praying for the whole time they signed up for. I committed to take any of the time slots that were still left, so that we were assured of covering the full 24 hours.
As I write this now, we completed our 24-Hours of Prayer about three and a half hours ago, and as I’ve reflected on the time spent in prayer, focused on our church, I realized that God has taught me a lot through this process. I’m still processing everything (and exhausted because I was up most of the night), but I feel that there is value for you to hear what I learned as well.
Prayer is one of those disciplines that I always feel like I can and need to improve in, and having a commitment to praying for a specific amount of time caused me to set up a plan for how to follow through and keep my commitment. My wife graciously helped me cover some of the open slots, but in the end I had three hours and forty-five minutes that I had committed to praying during. A big chunk of that time (two hours and 15 minutes) was in one block, from 1:15-3:30 AM. I’m not saying this because I’m trying to brag about praying this much. In fact, I was really concerned at the beginning that I wouldn’t be able to concentrate and pray constantly through that entire time.
There were others that had committed to large chunks of time in one sitting like that as well, so to help them out, and myself, I put together a prayer packet, with a suggested order of prayer, Psalms that they could read and pray through, different prayers of Jesus they could read and pray as well, and also a selected reading from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline about prayer. It was through this process that I discovered something that helped me so much. Prayer is more about setting aside time to communicate with God than it is about the words that we say. It should be a conversation between you and God, instead of just a one-sided listing of things you want from Him.
So, what did I specifically learn?
1. Start your prayer time with Confession
Starting prayer with time of confession to lay all of your sins at God’s feet really sets the time apart. The time I spent in confession last night means more than I ever thought it would. A prayer partner of mine taught me to do this a few years ago, but I never really understood the benefit of it until last night. I started my prayer time confessing those things that I just can seem to shake in my life, and it was the usual reaction on my part. That is until I realized just how broken I really am. That was a hard realization, and it led me to literally weeping for a few minutes in my brokeness. And it caused me to cry out to God like I hadn’t done in a long time.
Crying out to God like that helped me connect with Him again. It led to the rest of what I learned throughout the rest of the night. I got into the flow of a conversation like I was literally speaking to a friend in the same room. That was something that I hadn’t felt in a long time either. My two hour and 15 minute time block of prayer seemed to fly by after I was able to settle in to that conversation like I had. If you are having a hard time connecting with God, make a point of spending time in confession to Him on a regular basis. It may just be that the sin in your life is keeping you from that connection, and that confession and crying out for His help is all you need to reconnect.
2. There is value in praying for individuals
My prayer time actually started with a simple 15 minute session at 7:30 PM. Since I just had 15 minutes, and was just finishing up dinner as well, I decided that that 15 minutes would be best spent praying for each individual that had agreed to pray during our prayer event.
Later on in the evening, after my time of confession during my long block, I wrote out a list of all the people that attend our church (we’re a small congregation, so it wasn’t too hard to name each person), and then spent some time praying for each individual and family. It made me appreciate each person, even if there are things that I don’t agree with them on. How can you hold a grudge with someone if you are committed to praying for them on a consistent basis?
3. Find your own style
For me, I concentrate best with music on in the background. Complete silence allows my mind to wander, or I just flat out fall asleep (especially at 1:30 in the morning). So I put headphones on, turned on my Pandora shuffle, and listened to Christian music while I was spending time with God. In fact, when certain songs came on that really connect with me and are like prayers from my heart, I treated them just like that. I stopped talking, and just worshipped along with the song that was playing. They became my own prayers, and I even literally hit my knees a couple of times during the songs, because I was drawn to throw myself down before God.
The point I’m trying to make here is simple. Find your own way to remain focused, especially if you are undertaking a long prayer time. If it wasn’t for music playing in my ears, no matter how committed I was to praying, I would have either fallen asleep or I would have been just daydreaming. But knowing that about myself, I was able to correct it and spend that time focused on God.
4. There is value in praying others’ prayers
I knew there I was going to have a hard time praying my own words for that long, no matter how committed I was to it. So I took my own advice, and spent time praying through prayers from Psalms and Jesus’ own prayers. I did this during my 6:00-6:30 time slot. After my 3:30 session ended, I caught a little bit of a nap, setting an alarm for 5:50, so I would be awake for this short 30 minute session.
I was out of it, but awake enough to be able to follow through with my commitment. This seemed like a good time to pray some already written prayers, instead of having to come up with my own words. But at the same time, I wanted these to become my own prayers as well. So I read through them, concentrating on the words, and placing them in my own life.
5. Journaling is great
Writing is something that I find great joy in. I process things through my writing, whether someone else will ever read those words or not. Journaling during my prayer time, however, is not something that I have been very consistent with over the years. One of the journals that I have is a combination of Bible study notes, thoughts, and even a few prayers, although not many. I had that laid out, not really sure what I was going to do with it, but at one point, when I had run out of words, I flipped through that journal, reading every prayer that I had written there. It was a great experience, but it was also a little terrifying, because I realized some of the things that I was struggling with now, and had confessed earlier, were the same things I was confessing throughout this prayer journal, dating back several years.
I also spent over an hour total writing down some of my prayers. That was a great experience, because I was able to really concentrate on my words, and communicate exactly what I wanted to say to God at that moment. It is also great because now I have a record of my prayer time. I prayed some pretty big prayers, and now I have a record of that, so I can look back at later and see how God has chosen to answer those prayers. One of the prayers is actually going to be worked into my sermon this week, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t have them recorded.
6. Silence is part of prayer
Prayer cannot just be one sided. If you are doing all of the talking the whole time, there is really no value in it. It’s almost as if you are just dictating to God. There is value in “Being still, and knowing that He is God”. Sitting in silence, and just listening for what God may be trying to tell you is one of the best parts of prayer. This world is full of noise, yet when we can shut out the outside world (even if that means listening to music) and just patiently waiting for God really helps our connection with Him.
This 24-Hours of Prayer that we did with our church has been an eye-opening experience for my. In a lot of ways, I was actually disappointed when my time was over. That is until I realized that I can spend time with God in these same ways anytime I want. I just have to be committed to setting aside the time to spend with Him, and I am going to try to make this a daily thing for me from here on out (maybe not almost four hours a day).
What do you need to do to improve your prayer life? Is there anything I can do to help? Trust me when I say that spending committed time with God in prayer can truly change things!