As Michael and I were kicking around the idea of this week’s debate on prayer times (morning or evening), I asked people on my Facebook page when was the best time for them to pray. I got a few people who said that the morning was their best time and a few who said that the evening was. What I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of religious, Sunday school answers I got. Over and over I got, “Pray without ceasing. Duh, Chris!” I rephrased the question multiple times so people understood that I wasn’t asking when should we pray, but when did they find was the best time for them to pray. The overwhelming answer was the same.
Either they didn’t understand what I was asking or they didn’t understand prayer. Since I rephrased, put all caps, and tried a few times to get the question right, I’m left with the thought that people don’t truly understand what the Bible means to pray or they wouldn’t be saying they’re doing it without ceasing. I know I don’t pray without ceasing (and I consider myself a person of prayer), and I’m pretty sure most of my friends don’t either. I can count on one hand the amount of people I know who spend hours in prayer each day. They’re the closest ones I know to praying without ceasing.
Sending up a, “God please help me,” a “please let this problem go away,” or a “bless my food” prayer isn’t praying without ceasing. The Greek word for that verse is proseúxomai. It means an exchange, as in a dialogue. Prayer is not about you giving God a wish list. It’s about you having an exchange of words, a conversation with Him. The quick one liner prayers when you’re in a bind don’t constitute an exchange. They’re one sided and don’t invite God to speak back. They only invite Him to listen and to come to your rescue. He wants more than that from you and me.
My wife and I have a monitor in my son’s room so we can hear him and he can talk to us. The problem is that it’s one way. We can hear him, but he can’t hear us. Too many Christians operate that way with God. They think He’s got a monitor in their life where He can hear us, but not talk back. Just like my wife and I talk back to our son without him hearing, so too we aren’t listening for God to speak to us.
I was in a conference with John Maxwell this week. One of the many thought provoking things he said was, “There’s a direct correlation between you being willing to listen and God being willing to talk.” This week, Michael and I have gone back and forth making arguments for when the best time to pray is. The truth is, the best time to pray is when you have the time to listen. God is always wanting to speak to us. The problem is we only give Him the opportunity to listen. Change that as you go forward. Give Him space and time to speak, then get ready to listen. Once you start listening to God speak, you’ll want to pray without ceasing.
Have you ever been talking to someone only to figure out they were looking at you, but not listening? It’s frustrating. You’re going through the emotions that you feel, describing each detail to them, and they aren’t even paying attention. Would you go back to that person the next time you needed the support of a listening ear? No! You wanted someone to listen and to help you, and they weren’t even giving you the respect of listening.
Have you ever felt like God was that way? Have you felt like you poured out your heart to Him in prayer, but it was like He wasn’t listening? It’s frustrating to be in prayer and to feel like your prayers aren’t escaping the room you’re in. Maybe you’ve tried praying louder or just sat there weeping in that place crying out to God for mercy. In any case, God is not like us. He does not have selective hearing. He hears every prayer, even those that seem to fall flat on the floor.
In Psalm 116:1-2, the Psalmist wrote, “I love the Lord, because he hears me; he listens to my prayers. He listens to me every time I call to him” (GNT). God hears every prayer you’ve ever prayed from the silent ones that you could barely muster the energy to say to the loud “can you hear me” prayers. When you and I pour out our heart before God, we have a guarantee that He hears us and listens to us.
We are not guaranteed to have every prayer answered, but we are guaranteed an audience with God every time we pray. Since He gives us an audience and hears us, we should have confidence and approach His throne where we will find mercy and grace to help us just when we need it (Hebrews 4:16). We don’t have to leave prayer frustrated because we know He hears us, and if He hears us, He will give us the grace and mercy we need for whatever our situation holds.
How do you keep going when you can’t see the future because your present is so dark? How do you begin to pick up the pieces of a broken life when you’re hurting inside? How do you keep praying when it feels like God has left you alone and unprotected? How do you keep from being angry and bitter when everything you had has been taken from you in a moment? As a person who has struggled with these questions, I have people ask me them all the time. I don’t have all the answers to them. I can only tell you how I did it.
When life sucker punches you, it’s hard to get back up knowing you’ll be sucker punched again and again. The easy thing to do is to give up. The hard thing to do is to open your eyes each day, get up and face life. I had the support of family and friends who constantly picked me up and helped me keep going. If you are struggling right now, don’t push away those whom God has put in your life to help. No, they really don’t understand what you’re going through, but they don’t have to in order to hold you up.
When it’s time and you have the strength, you’ll have to stop trying to hold it all together and start to rebuild. It’s no fun having to start over when you’ve already started and built a life. The good news is you’ll make fewer mistakes this time around and you can build the kind of life you really want. My idea of what life should be was a lot different at 30 than it was at 20. It will still take time, but you can avoid several of the pitfalls you made when you were younger. Pick up the pieces of your life that you want to keep. Leave the ones you don’t behind. Rebuild with good material on a solid foundation.
Even though it feels like God has abandoned you and none of your prayers are being answered, let alone heard, stay in the habit of praying. You can be honest with God about your pain, your struggles and fears. You’ll probably never pray more honest prayers than when you’ve been knocked down. God hears every prayer and sees what’s going on in your life. He has not abandoned you. He has not forgotten you or left you to fend for yourself. He is your strong tower and place of refuge. Run to Him. Hide in Him. He will bring peace in the midst of your chaos.
I prayed two scriptures to help me get through my struggles. I prayed Nehemiah 8:10, “For the joy of The Lord is your (my) strength.” I prayed, “Lord, give me your joy that isn’t dependent on circumstances so that I can have strength to walk through this.” I also prayed Hebrews 12:15, “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you.” I prayed, “Lord, I know I have every right to be bitter, but please don’t let any of it take root. I don’t want this to affect my future relationships.” I repeated those constantly even when it felt like they were just words and not prayers. I believe God answered them.
If you are in a place today where these questions haunt you and life has sucker punched you, don’t give up. You don’t have to be strong and put on a brave face for everyone. It’s in our weakness that God’s grace is made perfect. He has given you all the grace you will need to survive this. He has placed people in your life to help pull you through. He is walking by your side even when you can’t see Him. It will take time to recover, to rebuild and to heal. Don’t try to speed up the process. Trust God’s plan and timing. You will make it through this.