Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Time to Pray

 by Dina Sleiman

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Today we’re going to talk about prayer.” The youthful pastor glanced over the faces of the congregation lining the pews. One by one smiles turned to frowns of guilt and remorse. Several sets of eyes glazed over with disinterest, while others turned away from him. A sweet, elderly lady in the front row continued to gaze up with a beatific grin.

He rubbed his hands together in anticipation. This should be good. “How many of you have heard a sermon before that instructed you to rise early each morning and pray?”

Every hand in the audience shot up. “How many of you have tried to do this?”

Over half the hands stayed in the air. “And how many have succeeded?”

As he suspected, only five or six remained, including the saintly white-haired woman up front. “Well, I have good news for you. Jesus liked to pray at night.”

A few sighs met his ears, followed by a murmured, “Thank God.”

The pastor chuckled. “Different question. How many of you have been taught that you should set aside an hour a day to pray?”

Again every hand rose. “And how many of you actually pray an hour a day.” All hands fell. Even his friend in the front row lowered her wrinkled one and wobbled it back and forth to indicate hit and miss. Then one brave soul in the back raised his hand high. Several nearby parishioners glared at him and grumbling exploded about the building.

Oh, great. The last thing he needed was to get in trouble with the senior pastor. Again. “Settle down everyone. Today we’re going to talk about a different approach to prayer.”
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Would it surprise you to know that every school morning for four years straight I’ve had a devotional time with my children? Often when I mention that to people, I’m met by disbelief, glares, or guilt. But we’ve found a simple formula that works for us. And if ever one child is running late, another will fuss at them because they love our prayer time. They crave that special moment to start the day.

However, we do not wake up early, and we don’t spend an hour. Allow me to share our recipe for prayer success.

1) Keep it short: Our prayer time is five minutes long.
2) Build it into your daily routine: We pray every morning at 8:00 am by the front window right before the youngest has to go outside and catch the bus.
3) Have a plan: We say the Lord’s Prayer together, then I read a 5-10 verse passage of scripture from a specified book. Finally, I (or Dad if he’s home) close with a prayer for our day.

Perhaps that sounds too simple. Too easy. But if you read my last post you will remember that prayer is meant to be enjoyed. Not dreaded. Let’s look at these simple steps in more detail.

Keep it short. When you first attempt to enter into a daily habit of prayer, start simple. Choose a reasonable goal that you feel confident you can conquer. Five minutes a day. Ten at the most. Once this becomes a habit and you begin to enjoy your prayer time, chances are you will find this time too short and want to pray longer. But take it easy on yourself and start out slow.

Build it into your daily routine. What do you do everyday? Have a cup of coffee in the morning and read the newspaper? Check your email when you get home from work? Read before you go to bed? Take a lunch break? Go running? If you’re super busy then what about drive to work? Or take a shower? Choose one of these times and add your five minutes of prayer to it. Once it successfully becomes a habit and you are enjoying it, consider extending it, or adding a second, and later a third time.


Have a plan: It certainly doesn’t have to be the same as my family’s plan. Maybe you’d like open with a worship song, read a devotional, listen quietly, and close with an out loud prayer. Maybe you’d like to read a scripture and meditate on it and then journal about it. Maybe you’d like to begin with a time of thanksgiving, then pray for friends, and finally for yourself. You might enjoy trying something different such as deep breathing, repeating a single scripture, and imagining meeting with God to talk about your day. Traditional folks might like to use a liturgical prayer and light a candle. Our more charismatic friends might want to incorporate praying in the spirit or even dancing. The plan is only to help you, and you get to set it. One day you might want to change it, or scrap it completely. No problem! But a plan will help you see how you can easily fill that time. In fact, before long you’ll find that five minutes is not nearly long enough.

And this is just a starting point to help you enjoy your prayer time. Also keep in mind what we learned in my posts “A Place to Pray” and some of the prayer techniques we’ve discussed. Soon every hand in our audience might go up when the pastor asks who prays an hour a day. The goal is not to sit miserably, whiling away the time. The goal is to enjoy God’s presence so that you seek it more and more. To long to meet with him again. To dream of those moments. To pray without ceasing.

Because you want to!

Do you have a prayer routine that you’d be willing to share with us? What helps you to enjoy your time with God? If you don’t have a regular prayer time, what might help you establish one?
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 Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her first novel, Dance of the Dandelion, will release with Whitefire Publishing in 2011. She has recently become an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire as well. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at http://dinasleiman.com/

16 comments:

  1. Dina, I absolutely love the image of you praying and doing a devotional with your kids before they go off the school. And no, it doesn't surprise me. It's lovely and the fact that they enjoy it so much shows this will undoubtedly be one of the things that helps cement their relationship with Christ as they go through life.

    As always, you've inspired and uplifted me. You are an incredible blessing in my life. Thank you. :)

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  2. Wonderful post, Dina, as always! I have a dear friend who suffered tremendous guilt because she didn't pray the way all the other ladies at church prayed - no set aside time, no prayer journal, etc. - but the thing was, she literally chatted with the Lord all day long, about everything! She probably prayed more than all the "hour a day" folks combined!

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  3. Thanks ladies. What I really hope to convey through this whole series is that there are many ways to pray and that prayer is simply an enjoyable time spent with our heavenly dad.

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  4. Dina, this was a beautiful post, and so, so true! I have often felt guilty when I fall short of long prayer times and Bible-reading. But in my Christian life, I've grown and figured out what works for me.

    I pray silently when I take long walks, and often right out loud in the car (sometimes other drivers stare--oh, well!)

    My family eats our dinner while we simultaneously ingest our Daily Bread. Whoever is not chewing gets to read. ;) But this is my favorite part: before we read the Gospels, my hubby puts on his best cartoon hero voice and says, "When last we left our Hero..." And then I read about Jesus, of course.

    Thank you for sharing your tips for working more prayer and devotion into our days. God bless you!

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  5. No, I'm not surprised at all, Dina.

    We shared a chapter of the Bible and prayer time each morning during breakfast for years. But so many things changed when Jess graduated and left home and somehow the family devotion time fell by the wayside. Mostly because our schedules are all different now and breakfasts are spread out. Perhaps it's time to switch devotions to the supper meal when we're all together. We can praise for the day and pray for the coming night and day.

    When we're out in public, whoever is 'in the middle' says grace, but at home like Gwen, it's whoever's mouth isn't full. :)

    And Gwen, your family prayer time is so special, the kids will remember it forever.

    Anita Mae.

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  6. Gwen, I shared about praying outside when I bike and walk in my post a few weeks ago. Thanks for sharing with us about your prayer life.

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  7. Anita, summers have always been harder to find a prayer time for us. The schedule is just too crazy. Finally, this year we started praying at 10pm when everyone is usually home. It's been working well, although we're more flexible with the time.

    We're going to try to stick with this plan in the fall. Dad isn't there in the morning half the time. For the last two years, high school daughter has left long before prayer time, but she's very good at doing her own devotional time.

    But now, middle son will be leaving early also. And he doesn't like to read. So it's either super early devos, long before youngest son needs to be out of bed, or bedtime devos. I'm voting bedtime.

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  8. I'm one of those "chat all day" prayers. I guess because I live with cats, and they mostly don't pay attention to anything but their food bowls.

    But I do pray every night before I do my Bible reading and then go to sleep.

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  9. I've often felt guilty about not praying enough. In fact I think I have an enlarged guilt gland. I can feel guilty about most anything. I did enjoy doing a devotion time with the kids each day when we home schooled. They loved it too. I really do need to pick that habit back up. Thanks for the inspiration, Dina!

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  10. DeAnna, I am a huge fan of chatting all day. Seems like many of the Inkies do this. But it's also nice to have those special moments of focused attention.

    I will admit, though, for my own personal quiet times, I'm less scheduled. It's usually sometime in the morning and varies in length.

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  11. Just say no to guilt, Lisa! But if God is leading you, certainly say yes to that :)

    The book I read that inspired this post recommended 3 five to fifteen minute prayer times a day in place of one long one. I really liked that, and I think it's much more manageable and guilt free. Then if you miss some it's not such a big deal.

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  12. Just wanted to mention to you all that in my research for Dandelion I learned that medieval nuns prayed every three hours, including waking up in the middle of the night. How's that for dedication?

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  13. Great post, Dina. I like your suggestions! Keeping it short and simple and having a routine is so helpful. Sometimes we make things harder than we need to be--prayer shouldn't be one of them.

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  14. Lovely post, Dina. I've enjoyed everyone's comments. I tend to do a lot of on the fly prayers so I wish I was more structured.

    I'm also trying to find that space between wishing to do better and feeling guilty. When that happens I just pray right then and there.

    Another goal is to pray with more power, remembering where I'm positioned in Christ.

    Thank you for your faithfulness to discuss this important subject over the last months!

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  15. Excellent point about praying with power, Deb. I haven't gone into anything like that at all, but its so true. My main goal for this series has mostly been to help people deepen their relationship and communication with God, but when we face a battle, it is so important to understand that position in Christ.

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