Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
– Colossians 4:2-6
“Dr. Moody Stuart, a great praying man of a past generation, once drew up a set of rules to guide him in his prayers. Among these rules is this one: ‘Pray till you pray.’ …
“The habit of breaking off our prayers before we have truly prayed is as common as it is unfortunate. Often the last ten minutes may mean more to us than the first half hour, because we must spend a long time getting into the struggle with our thoughts to draw them in from where they have been scattered through the multitude of distractions that result from the task of living in a disordered world. …
“If when we come to prayer our hearts feel dull and unspiritual, we should not try to argue ourselves out of it. Rather, we should admit it frankly and pray our way through. Some Christians smile at the thought of ‘praying through,’ but something of the same idea is found in the writings of practically every great praying saint from Daniel to the present day. We cannot afford to stop praying till we have actually prayed.”
– Rev. A. W. Tozer, This World: Playground or Battlefield?
As I think about the Apostle Paul telling us to devote ourselves to prayer, I think of something that I said to a friend recently. I talked about ‘Praying Till You Pray.’ I asked him, “How many of us quote a little from the Psalms or some rote memorized prayer, say a few supplications that are on our hearts at the time, say ‘Amen,’ and then grab the remote?” Praying till you pray means that you bear your soul for a long time. What Praying till you pray means is that after you finish your ‘prayers,’ your brain is then empty of your agenda. At that point, keep going, and God can start pointing you in the right direction for the next topic of prayer, as Tozer suggests getting your mind focused and your attitude in tune with God. At that point two-way communication can start. Praying till you pray is a muscle that needs to be exercised for your attention span to stick with it.
I am not saying that rote prayers are not good ones. My mother-in-law spent hours praying her rosary. Her words may have been memorized and repetitious, but what was in her heart was heart-felt and genuine.
The key to what Tozer is saying here is to remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
I had a brief thought of learning how to fly while in college. I was already committed to serve in the Army. They were willing to pay for me to get my private pilot’s license during my senior year of college. All that I had to do was to serve one additional year on active duty, flying helicopters. When I went to ROTC summer camp, between my junior and senior years of college, I had to pass the flight physical. My problem was that I failed. For about two weeks, I would be pulled out of morning formation and instructed to go to the dispensary twice each week. I didn’t mind. I only missed the two-mile run and the calisthenics. The only thing that the medic would do was to check my blood pressure, or so I thought.
On Monday of the third week, when I heard my name again called for mandatory sick call, a jeep drove up. A young private drove me to the far side of Fort Bragg, maybe even into the adjoined Air Force Base. All I know is that I was lost. I was ushered up a flight of stairs and into the office of a full-bird colonel, the base flight surgeon. He had a stark office. A World War II vintage metal desk and a cot against the far wall. He had his diplomas framed on the wall along with his military commission. He instructed me to lie down and go to sleep if I could manage. I asked, “Sir?” His reply was that he was too busy to explain. My job was to follow orders. Uh, oh, I was going to miss more than physical training this morning. About an hour later, he stopped his paperwork long enough to turn around and ask me if I was relaxed. I said that I was. He then took my pulse and my blood pressure. He then told me, “Just as I thought. This was your last chance to make it into the flight program. Your pulse has been too high. Each time you were singled out in morning formation without being told what was wrong, your pulse spiked higher. I figured that if you got a chance to relax, your pulse would come down. If I told you why you were here, it might spike even higher out of fear. You have a naturally high pulse rate, barely within the acceptable range. Any elevation from normal, and you would flunk the physical. Congratulations. As of now, you are officially in the flight program.”
At that moment, knowing that I was barely within the limits, I didn’t know if I wanted to fly airplanes or helicopters anymore. As it turned out, my overload in course work caused me to only have free time for actual flying when it was too hazy to fly. I never got to solo, and the Army dropped me from the program around Christmas of my senior year. I had some really fun adventures in my limited time as a student pilot, that might appear in future posts.
My point of bringing up this bizarre medical drama was that I was already in a world where I was outside my comfort zone. I went to college to be an engineer, not an Army officer. The draft lottery result added studying to be an Army officer to that goal. In six weeks of basic training, essentially, I was learning new and more efficient ways of killing people each day. That doesn’t fit with the Christian ethic. Now, they add the peer pressure of being told to go to sick call, singling me out among the other guys. “What’s wrong with him? Is he faking something to get out of his Army commitment?” Then you add the “White Coat Syndrome” where your pulse quickens and your blood pressure spikes seeing the medical staff approach in their white coats. No wonder my pulse was high. I needed to relax and clear my mind. I needed to release my fears and go with the flow.
Praying till you pray is the same thing. We must get totally out of the hustle and bustle to find enough quiet between our ears to be able to hear God instruct us in the ‘real prayer’ of the day. The important prayer is not our agenda, but what we are to learn from God’s Word that day and what our focus will be as we go through the day.
The thought of hustle and bustle in Dr. Moody Stuart’s day is interesting. He lived from 1809 to 1898. The automobile had only been patented three years before he died. He had not seen automobiles driving everywhere. He had not seen airplanes. His only introduction to going to the moon was in the fictional world of Jules Verne. Alexander Graham Bell may have invented the telephone, but it was not in people’s homes 20 years after first being invented, and cell phones would not become the monster that they are for about 100 years after his death. Yet, Dr. Moody Stuart did enter the ministry at the approximate end of the Industrial Revolution. We were officially in the industrial age and the stresses of life that accompanied that form of living. He understood the hustle and bustle, just not the distractions that we have today.
Tozer gives the idea that a forty-minute prayer time is about normal. Of course, he is writing to other ministers. But for each of us who thinks five minutes is a long prayer, we need to figure out why we have become too busy for effectively serving our God. ‘Praying Till You Pray’ is not just for preachers. It is for anyone who wants to grow stronger as a Christian.
Sometimes, a blend of Bible Study and prayer are needed. You could start in prayer, then while still in a prayerful mood, go to devotions and Bible Study. When you approach Bible reading in the attitude of ‘what is God going to say today?’ you will gain more from the study than just advancing the bookmark in your Bible.
As for distractions, I can find quiet time, and I like it quiet. If there is noise outside, I often use an electric fan to create ‘white noise’ to drown out the outside distractions. My wife is different. She first lights a candle to signify the light from God. She then finds some New Age style instrumental music or contemporary Christian music on the television. Then she moves to her prayers, followed by her Bible study and devotions. She often has a call an hour or so later from one of her sisters, “Why was your cell phone off? You have to keep it on! I needed to talk.” My wife’s reply is always, “My cell phone is always off when I spend time in prayer.”
Most people today think that cell phones have to be used continuously. Most who feel this way are among those who laugh when the preacher says something about praying continuously. “How can anyone do anything continuously?” They may ask, as their thumbs are quickly clicking something on their phone’s screen.
But what is on your mind once you have prayed everything that you intended to pray about? Your mind may be empty of your agenda, but your mind is not empty. What is still there? If you have not shut down your prayerful attitude, there will be something there. Is it an earworm, a hymn or Christian song going through your mind? If so, look up the words if you don’t know them. That may be God sending a message. When your agenda is finally empty, do Bible verses come to mind? Re-read them. Do you find yourself talking to God about the devotion that you just read? Do you find that instead of anything glorious to think about, you find guilt over a sin blocking your communication with God? If so, God’s message for you today may be that it is time to confess it, repent, and move forward.
You will never know what God has in store for you in your prayer life, until you pray till you pray.
Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God Alone.