Life gets busy quickly. A few months ago I accepted my first full-time, permanent ministry position; I like to call it my first real “big boy” job. Along with this new position came a new city, a new ministry context and scores of new relationships that needed developing and maintenance. My first day in the office I made a to-do list with over 20 items on it. That list was based only on what I knew I should be doing on my first day on the job. Currently, my to-do list averages 25-30 items.
But this isn’t a post to elicit sympathy for how busy I am. I serve students who are incredibly busy and I have colleagues who have just as much “to do” as I. Everyone is busy.
During this season of my life I’ve felt impressed by the Lord to re-examine my practice of spiritual discipline. The first aspect the Lord led me to examine was my prayer life. I’m ashamed to admit but also feel that I’m not alone in the fact that when my schedule gets busy my prayer life is choked. While Martin Luther purportedly stated, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done,” my attitude is often the opposite. When I have much to do prayer simply becomes an afterthought or a brief warm-up to my day so that I feel a little better or at least less guilty about diving into my to-do list.
When that happens my prayer life becomes about survival. I pray about immediate concerns like being able to figure out how to correctly input a budget without wasting too much time on Quickbooks or the nice blanket, “Help me get done what needs to get done today” prayer. Occasionally my focus will drift off of myself and I’ll remember to pray for that sick relative or the difficult situation a friend is facing. Ashamedly, most of my prayer life remains me-centric.
Then I run across prayers in the New Testament, particularly the prayers of Paul. Paul was definitely not a “survival prayer” type of pray-er. Just this morning during my devotional time I read Paul’s prayer for the church at Collosae. In just a few verses Paul prayed that:
- they would be filled with knowledge of God’s will and spiritual understanding
- that they would live lives that are fully pleasing to the Lord
- that they would bear fruit
- that they would be strengthened for endurance and patience
- that they would be filled with joy
- that they would be filled with a spirit of thankfulness
- explicitly stated the reality that God has saved them from darkness through Christ
Not once in Paul’s prayer does he mention anything about himself. This is most notable for the fact that he is probably authoring it from prison. If I’m Paul I’m probably throwing that fact in their once or twice just in case the Colossians don’t know or may have forgotten. Yet Paul’s prayer remains centered on the Colossians, on God’s work of sanctifying them through Christ and the ministry of the Spirit and is incredibly “big picture.”
When we get busy it’s very easy to focus on the minutiae of surviving the day-to-day. True, authentic, God-centered prayer should lead us to something deeper and more meaningful. To illustrate this fact I’ve found it helpful to have people write out two prayers. For the first, make a bullet-point list of everything you’ve prayed for in the last week. For the second, write out a one to two paragraph prayer audaciously asking God for big things. Comparing the two lists highlights the point: we too often allow busyness to choke our faith and our prayers.
I’m resolving to not allow busyness to choke my prayer life any longer. However, I know myself. I’m not committing to spending a certain amount of time in prayer each day. I’m simply stating my intention to approach the throne of grace with confidence in light of the salvation I have been extended in Christ.
I’m going to pray big prayers. I’m going to control the busyness. I’m going to act as if I actually do depend on the Lord rather than just saying I do.