Very Productive TimeBy Nathan Mates
Many in this world are caught up in business. Get up, commute to work, work long hours, come home, deal with kids (if applicable), activities in their Church and/or social clubs, watch TV, feed the pets, water the lawn, and more. Modern life requires much time spent on upkeep of the commitments people make-- buying a car means you need to wash it regularly, service it, take care of it. Buying a house, and the garden needs work. Buy a computer, and games or the internet cry out for attention.
But, where's God fit into all of this? If people do have a relationship with God, they try and fit it neatly into Sunday morning, between household chores, football games, and visiting relatives. And time spent with God during the week in prayer? Many see their busyness immediately resulting in something-- a paycheck, a task completed, some kind of reward they can check off in their mind. Prayer has no such immediate reward guaranteed to be attached to it. Sure, some prayers may be answered quickly. But, many more may take longer to see results.
However, in the Bible, we see many examples of great things being done through prayer, and great Biblical figures spending much time in prayer. Why were these figures great? It wasn't because of their deeds. Or their misdeeds. It wasn't their high or low stature. It wasn't their natural giftings. It wasn't because they won God's lottery and got to be recognized. God did mighty things through them because they stayed close to him in prayer.
First, look at Jesus. The Son of God, who'd created the world, who'd been with God from the beginning. If anyone had an excuse not to pray due to overfamiliarity with God, Jesus was it. Nobody had spent more time with God than Jesus-- from the beginning of creation to his time on Earth, Jesus was still with God. And yet, Jesus refused to slide on any excuses. Luke records "But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." [Luke 5:16] These were not merely sporadic prayers early in the morning; before major changes in Jesus's ministry, he'd spend even more time with God: "One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles:" [Luke 6:12-13] The Garden of Gethsemane is the more intense hours of prayer in the Bible, leading directly to Jesus's ultimate act, the cross.
Ok, Jesus happens to be the Son of God, without sin, and perfect. Problem: we're not. Jesus spent much time in prayer, but that was only because he was doing big miracles, right? Nope. In an explanation of one of Jesus's parables, Luke records this: "Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up." [Luke 18:1] The disciples were human just like us. The disciples definitely didn't perfectly practice Jesus's teachings, especially before Jesus's death. But, what was true for the disciples-- always pray and not give up-- also applies to us.
Even back in the Old Testament, we see many of God's people spending much time in prayer. Moses's prayers on many occasions kept the Israelites alive. [Deuteronomy 9:26 and many more places] King David, even after sinning in adultery, prayed and pleaded for the child of that: "Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." Nathan replied, "The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die." After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground." [2 Samuel 12:13-16] This son was not to live. But, another child, Solomon, of David and Bathsheba, would reign after David.
The temple that Solomon built was dedicated to, among other things, receiving prayers. [1 Kings 8:22-53] Much later, Isaiah said it more clearly about the temple: "And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant-- these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." [Isaiah 56:6-7] God wanted his people-- and even foreigners-- to come before him in prayer for all situations.
Later on, as Jerusalem and this temple lay in ruins, Nehemiah's heart was broken over the news of that: "When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven." [Nehemiah 1:4] God answered these prayers, and the city was rebuilt. In the same period, Daniel was personally threatened by his worship of God being outlawed, but his reaction was similar: "Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before." [Daniel 6:10] Through prayer, Daniel was saved, and went on to great things.
Back in the New Testament, we see that the disciples finally "got it" regarding prayer after Jesus's death: "They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers." [Acts 1:14] Jesus, their leader, had been crucified, but then was resurrected, and ascended into heaven before them. The disciples finally saw clearly what had happened, and they followed Jesus's example of prayer. And, the early Church was filled with that, even beyond the disciples: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." [Acts 2:42]
Reading the book of Acts, we see many examples [Acts 6:3-4, 10:2, 12:5, others] of the Church and its members spending much time in prayer. Great things happened through these members of the church, not simply because the Church was newly created, but because great amounts of prayer was the norm.
The apostle Paul, one of the recipients of much prayer in the early Church, also had much prayer in his own work. As he writes, "For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God," [Colossians 1:9-10]
This sentiment of Paul's is not an abberation; it was his nature to pray and urge similar prayers-- see Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 4:2-4, Colossians 4:12, 1 Thessalonians 3:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12,1 Timothy 2:1-4. Even towards the end of his life, in one of his last letters, Paul still kept up his prayers: "I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers." [2 Timothy 1:3]
Jesus, in the sermon on the mount gave some practical advice for prayer: "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." [Matthew 6:5-8]
As Jesus said, prayer is not to be public, it's not to be done on street corners for show. It's time with God, and should be with as few distractions and as few people as possible. Prayer in small groups is also effective, as the early Church practiced-- a core group of believers coming together for Christ to lift up each other and their work to God.
James, the brother of Jesus, also reminds us why and how we should pray: "Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops." [James 5:13-18]
Great things were done through all these Biblical figures. But, that is not to imply that extensive prayer ended with John's writing of Revelation. Throughout the church, hours spent in prayer have done great things for God's kingdom. Why? Jesus said it clearly: "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." [Matthew 21:22] So, in our lives, the world and the Devil may want us to see the immediate results of busyness and its payoff, totally neglecting prayer. But, as so many in the Bible have proven, time spent with God pays back far more in people's lives than any amount of worldly activities can. God has shown time and time again that he'll do great and awesome things through those who are near him in prayer. Are you content to sit back and let others work for God, or are you ready to spend some very productive time with God in prayer?