I grew up being taught I should have a “daily quiet time” with Jesus every day. This daily quiet time consisted of about five minutes of Bible reading — it wasn’t long or deep enough to be called study — and five minutes of prayer. Usually the prayer was giving Jesus a long list of things you wanted Him to fix. It was fast and easy, simple and efficient. Get in and get out. It wasn’t unusual to be in conversation with someone in the church and have them spontaneously grill you about your “daily quiet time.”
For some reason, every good Christian spent a good ten minutes with Jesus.
Baptists, by their nature, are doers. We don’t overthink things. We are committed to action. Jesus is coming back soon and we’re running out of time. Time to get to work. We aren’t by nature a contemplative people.
You can imagine my curiosity when I began to encounter the great saints of the faith who considered prayer to be their work. Their lives were focused not on doing stuff for Jesus, but simply being in the presence of Jesus. According to these saints, it was important for the world to have someone constantly in the presence of Jesus praying for them. As in Revelation, saints needed to be always in the presence of God reciting His praises. Not only was this offering one’s life in praise a worthwhile focus of a life, praising God was the best thing a person could do with their lives.
The other thing I noticed was how many times people in the Bible prayed for days and even all night long. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I had been told by God to lead my church around the walls of Jericho for seven days. We know what would have happened. The first day or two, we would have had pretty good crowds. By the seventh day, however, we all know I would have been walking by myself.
The night before Jesus chose His disciples, Jesus prayed all night long. He prayed in the garden with such intensity, the capillaries in his skin burst and the blood oozing from His skin mixed with His sweat. I’ve never broken a sweat during prayer. I’ve never been uncomfortable for long when I pray. If something begins to hurt or go numb, I change positions.
And that explains a lot.
Why? Because the battle is fought in prayer. We don’t pray for the battle. Prayer is the battle. Prayer is the place where justification and sanctification happen., An old preacher told me once that he really began to understand “justification” when he was working construction one summer. As he would place a stud in the wall of the home they were building, either he or his partner would have to step off and hold up a plum line to make sure the stud was straight. One day, he said, he finally understood this was what the Spirit was doing to him in prayer. The Spirit would hold up the plum line of Christ against his life and then hammer him straight in the places he didn’t line up with Jesus.
When we leave our prayers, we should be totally aligned with what God is doing in us and through us. You can’t do that in a few minutes a day. That takes a while.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus was able to endure the torture of His arrest and crucifixion with such peace and strength? Because he had already fought the battle in the Garden of Gethsemane. The moments of agony surrendering to His Father’s will was the place and time of the greatest battle aligning the humanity of Jesus with the desires of the Father’s heart. “Not my will,” Jesus prayed, “but yours.”
When the soldiers showed up to arrest Him, Jesus was at peace. The battle had been fought. The victory won. There was nothing left to do but to live out the choice Jesus had made to trust the Father’s way for the salvation of humanity.
Prayer like that takes time. We have to give ourselves time to slip past all of the noise and distractions of our world and sink into the silence before God where silence is the only response. In this moment, we’re called to surrender our lives to His continuing creation, molding and re-molding us into the likeness of Christ.
Our thoughts are placed before Him and those thoughts that don’t align with His thoughts are swept away.
The desires that don’t match His desires are quenched.
The grudges we’ve held, the pain we carry are all washed away like trash from an alley.
When we emerge from our prayers, we’re ready for whatever the world will bring against us. The battle has already been fought. The victory has been won.
But it’s going to take more than a few minutes a day. True prayer is more than mumbling a few words of gratitude and asking Jesus to fix a few things. It’s measuring our lives against the plum line of Jesus and squaring up those places where our lives don’t match His.
This is the true work of prayer. It’s the true work of our lives.