Like Martha in the Bible, I have lots to do—office work, writing projects, laundry, cooking, cleaning. Just this week, for instance, I had a deadline to meet, my daughter-in-law was hospitalized, and I cared for her baby. Add in meals to cook, a household to run, a prayer group to lead, and preparation for an overseas ministry trip. It's a real challenge to squeeze in time for prayer!
I used to think, If I don't pray at a certain time of day, then my prayers don't really count. Then my prayer life underwent a radical transformation. I discovered the apostle Paul's command to "pray continually" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) means more than just spending a lot of time in prayer; it means sharing a continual dialogue with God wherever I go.
The truth that God listens to my prayers wherever I am didn't sink in until my son, Chris, left to attend a university 20 hours from home. Oh, how I missed hearing his voice! Busy with premed classes, intramural basketball, and studying, Chris didn't call often. But once in a while, the phone would ring, and it would be Chris. I'd drop everything—the project I was working on, dinner preparations—just to hear my son's voice.
One day I realized God feels the same way about me, only hundreds of times more, because I'm his child (John 1:12)! Whether I'm walking, driving across town, or sending a prayer heavenward from my computer, he delights in hearing from me—not just once a day, but throughout the day. Scripture says he "inclines his ear" and is "open to hear" my prayers (Psalm 40:1 34:15).
I became even more excited about the effects of praying continuously when I noticed that throughout the Bible, God used short prayers to accomplish great things—such as raising the dead or parting the Red Sea. It dawned on me that thoughts such as, But I can't pray long enough, or If I can't pray one hour, then why pray? have no biblical basis. It's wonderful to have longer sessions of prayer when I can, but remembering that my short prayers can have a big impact encourages me to pray throughout the day.
Whether you're married or single, with or without children, you probably struggle with your prayer life as I did with mine. The good news is, you don't have to put either life or prayer on hold. Here's how to begin building a 24/7 prayer life.
Get a Good Start
For me, a life of continuous prayer now starts even before I lift my head off the pillow. I say, "Lord, this is the day you've made; help me focus on you in the midst of all I've got to do."
I read God's Word before the demands of the day flood in, because Scripture never fails to draw me into prayer and praise. Praying things such as "Lord, help me to trust in you with all my heart and not lean on my own understanding" (from Proverbs 3:5-6), or "Thank you, Father, that you are compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love" (from Psalm 103:8), helps me zero in on the Mountain-Mover instead of the mountains I may be facing. And most days I pray these and other prayers for my family and friends during my morning walk.
My friend Betsy also starts her day with prayer and exercise. Betsy—who's active in her church's women's ministry, leads a neighborhood Bible study, and serves on various committees and boards—still finds time to pray faithfully for many people and concerns while walking 30 minutes on her treadmill. For example, Betsy prayed for me to experience energy and strength while I spoke at her church's retreat—and I did! I know that Betsy's "treadmill prayers" are effective because I've personally experienced God's answers to them.
Clue into Visual Reminders
I use the things around me as visual cues to prompt me to pray. For example, as I pass the windows of neighbors' houses on my morning walk, I pray, "God, let your light shine in; bless them and draw them closer so they'll know you." As I shower after walking, I pray, "Lord, please create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me; cleanse my heart of sin" (from Psalm 51:10). When I drive past a school and see a school-zone sign, I make the area a "prayer zone" by asking God to protect the students and to give all the teachers wisdom.
Later, as I bake bread or cook a meal, I'm reminded to pray that Christ would be the Bread of Life for the person receiving it. Picking up a loved one's shoes triggers me to pray that his feet will stay on God's path. Seeing something lovely—a mallard duck flying through the sky or fresh blooms on a rose bush—reminds me to say a prayer of thanks to God for his creation.
My friend Peggy also likes using visual cues. When she puts on her seat belt before heading to the high school to substitute teach, she says, "Lord, I want to abide in you and be yoked with you." When she stops at a stop sign, she takes a deep breath and says, "My rest is in you alone, Lord. I may be trying to get somewhere, but thank you that you are preparing the way."
With visual cues to prompt us, all our daily activities—gardening, cleaning, working, or creating—become springboards to conversation with God.
Use Tools to Stay Focused
It's easy for my mind to wander during prayer. One way I counteract this is by using the acronym B-L-E-S-S as I pray for my family and friends. Each letter in the acronym stands for a key area of life: Body, Labor, Emotional, Social, and Spiritual.
For example, for our son, Chris, who's now a Navy doctor, I prayed today: "Lord, bless Chris's body; strengthen and protect him during his deployment. Bless Chris's labor; give him wisdom as he cares for the Marines' medical needs and injuries. Bless Chris's emotional life; help him trust you concerning his and his wife Maggie's move to Hawaii. Father, bless Chris's social relationships; bring him a Christian friend on the ship while he's deployed. And bless Chris's spiritual life; help him draw near to you and your Word more each day."
Dena, a busy mother of four, always felt guilty about not praying more often. She needed a way to focus her attention during the snippets of time she found herself alone. So one day she wrote down every prayer request she could think of—for herself, family, friends, church, community, nation, and world. Then she divided them into 31 equal segments and put them in a notebook. She keeps the notebook in her bathroom, one of the only places she has a few minutes alone. Each day she prays over the few items that correspond to the day of the month. Dena's notebook helps her focus on each of the many needs in her world—one day, one minute at a time.
Pray on the Spot
With all I've got going on, I don't want to forget to pray for others' struggles. So instead of saving those prayers for a special prayer time, I pray right on the spot. If a friend asks me to pray for a specific need, I offer to pray with her right then. If a speeding ambulance passes me while I'm driving, I immediately pray for the people in it and for the doctors who'll care for the injured people at the hospital.
Connie, a busy mom, Bible teacher, and Christian psychotherapist, finds time to pray for the many people she sees each day by praying on the spot, too. At the end of each counseling session, Connie takes a few moments to pray with her client. She then pauses to ask God that he would give her wisdom and discernment to help the next patient before he or she arrives (Psalm 119:66). Connie also prays the same prayer for the patients she sees heading into nearby medical offices.
"Even in the midst of my busy days, God gives me 'mini-moments' to lift those around me in prayer," says Connie. "Everyone we come in contact with daily is struggling with something. It may be their job, their marriage, an illness, or stress. Everyone needs our prayers."
I'm still a Martha by nature, but I've found praying continually isn't just another duty or heavy burden to bear. Prayer is how I know God, not just know about him; it's how I hear God, not just hear about him. Time after time, when I pour out my burdens, concerns, and problems, I experience his peace and hope. I see his faithfulness more clearly. I experience his comfort in trials, his unfailing love as I see him provide for needs about which I've prayed.
E.M. Bounds, a 19th-century pastor, said, "Your prayers will outlive your life." Long after my address has changed to heaven, the short prayers I've said while rocking a feverish baby, working on the computer, or moving throughout my day, still will be a blessing to those for whom I've prayed. tcw
Cheri Fuller is a speaker and author of books such as One Year of Praying Through the Bible (Tyndale). Her website, www.cherifuller.com, contains a monthly column, resources, and inspiration on prayer.
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