God has given us gifts called time and prayer that coincide within our lives. Prayer is intended to be an ongoing conversation, personally and/or corporately, with God- at all times and in all places. Yet often, prayer is treated like it functions on a light switch; being turned on, then off, then on again as we have needs. Then off again when things seem under control and we can manage things going forward.
Solomon talks about the matter of time in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 14:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
What about time to pray? In verse 7, Solomon mentions there's time to be silent and a time to speak. So, does that mean we can shut off prayer? No it doesn't. Prayer (communicating with God) is intended to be an ongoing two-way conversation within our personal relationship with Him. That means we share with God what's on our hearts, AND we stop so we can listen to His reply. Listening to God will help us consider which season of time we're in- and/or how He'd have us respond within that given season! Listening to God also can inspire worship- something He's worthy of receiving at all times and in all places as well!
Paul, in encouraging all kinds of prayer, states the matter this way:
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19
Rejoice, pray, and give thanks- always, continually, and in all circumstances. All, means everything, or without exception. Continually, means without ceasing or stopping. Many Christians believe prayer is the most powerful and active gift God has given us. If that's true, why are we as Christians so quick to stop praying once we begin?
“Our devotions are not measured by the clock, but time is of the essence. The ability to wait, and stay, and press belongs essentially to our intercourse with God.” ― E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer
Often, like young children called to the dinner table while playing games with friends, we set our hearts on other things that can have an immediacy or importance in the moment, but are secondary to what matters most. Children don't see the bigger picture that parents do. Children quickly sit down and eat with hopes they'll return to their friends and continue the game, but often find their parents want to keep them at the table longer than they desire. There's friction, squabbling, and sometimes some tension as the children wrestle to get their way. But for their greater good, the parents keep them at the table until the meal, and conversation, is finished.
Often, when God calls us into a time of focused prayer (maintaining our ongoing prayer mindset of speaking and listening with Him, but pressing further into Him still), it may seem to come at an inconvenient time to us. We may be focused on our schedule, a task, some form of entertainment, or something else entirely. The matter we're involved in wrestles to take precedent over what/whom God is calling us to be in prayer for in the moment.
We immediately face some choices.
1. Will I immediately press into God in prayer about this, or will I make Him wait?
2. Will I neglect or pass on praying altogether in favor of what I'm doing currently?
3. If I press further into God about this, will I remain with and in Him until He declares it settled, or will I just give God a few seconds or minutes, then hurry back to what I am doing?
Prayer often changes us more than what/whom we pray for! How we answer these questions will determine how much we'll permit God to change us as we pray. It will also affect how we see God answer that burden He invited us to be in prayer for. Make no mistake, He will accomplish His will fully- whether we obediently pray in that moment or not! How much we're allowed to see and experience of that answer may directly relate to the decision we make and time we invest.
Is it any surprise that our adversary would do all he could to keep us from using the most powerful weapon God's given us in spiritual warfare? A bumper sticker was recently seen that read, "If Satan can't make you immoral, he'll make you busy."
Busyness is an adversary to prayer- and keeps many Christians from utilizing their most important and powerful weapon! Busyness also hinders many from growing in deeper relationship with God through prayer and the reading of Scripture. How busy are you? How much time with God are you losing each day because other priorities take precedent over communication and communion with Him?
Poor Modeling of Prayer
Whether we care to admit it or not; how we pray, or choose not to pray with or around others impacts how they think about prayer.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:19, Paul states, "Do not quench the Spirit." Quench means to sadden, disappoint, or grieve the Holy Spirit. The idea of quenching the Spirit should make us uncomfortable. Yet is it possible to do so when we pray?
Often, like children at the dinner table, eager to return to playing with friends, we can back away and dart off from the dinner table (times of prayer) without a second thought. The Holy Spirit might caution or encourage us to stay longer in worship or prayer, but He won't force us against our will. When we dart off before He's finished, we cut off our individual or corporate prayer times abruptly; quenching Him and placing something other than God in higher importance in that moment. We also miss out on greater worship, truth, or power He may intend to share if we'd stick around with Him until He's finished in that time.
As others around us see prayer, worship, and/or the Spirit quenched, it may give the impression to them that it's okay to do such a thing. If they see it happen repeatedly, soon it can turn into an expectation, something's that anticipated, a common practice, and even possibly a tradition.
What if the Holy Spirit has something deeper to share or do if we'd stay with Him a few minutes more? What if He's starting a work in someone's heart in the midst of the prayer group that suddenly risks screeching to a halt because someone sees time on the clock butting against the traditional ending time of the prayer/worship meeting? Can we truly afford to stop praying deeply until He's given the okay to do so?
In corporate prayer settings, tradition often seems to trump the Holy Spirit. We all lose when this happens.
"Take the mind that God has given you, and use it as an instrument of worship; for that's what it was created for." - Ravi Zacharias
The Remedy- Liberty
Breaking the binds of traditionalism or the tyranny of the urgent (busyness) may simply be accomplished by extending liberty to all in attendance (speaking mostly within the context of a corporate prayer gathering). Prior to the group pressing in to pray, a leader may announce the intent to follow the Holy Spirit until He's completed all He desires to do during that time of prayer. Those desiring to leave prior to that time have full liberty to leave whenever they desire (as quietly as possible).
This extends both an openness and willingness to follow the Spirit, as well as freedom to allow those who need to leave earlier the ability to do so. If the Spirit leads 2-3 within the group to pray deeply for 2-3 hours (or longer), nobody leaving earlier need feel guilty- especially if the Holy Spirit has released them at that earlier time.
Our times of personal and corporate prayer will see much greater fruits of the Spirit when we permit the Spirit to begin, and complete, all He desires to do each time we meet together in prayer!
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. - Galatians 5:22-26