The longer I follow Jesus the more I realize how important prayer is to the Christian life. During the first 10 years following my conversion, if asked, I would have elevated the reading of Scripture over prayer. Given the opportunity to engage in one over the other, I would have chosen the Bible. Things are different now, but I wouldn't say the pendulum has swung the other way. Pendulum swinging is never healthy, always resulting in an overreaction to a problem while creating another imbalance. I was not over-valuing the word, but undervaluing prayer. Now I would say that what is most important is prayerful meditation on the word, or word-saturated prayer. Someone once challenged the pitting of the two disciplines by saying something like, "What's better-- an hour in the word, or an hour on our knees? Better an hour in the word on our knees!" That's closer to where I am, but obviously I think prayer should be bigger than one spiritual exercise during the day. The longer I follow Jesus the more critical I find prayer to be, because it is the primary way I can "practice the presence of God," staying in regular and vital communion with him. I have been preaching this to myself lately saying, "You can't live for God unless you're living with God," and the greatest means of doing so is prayer.
But I have found there are two things in my life that work against the cultivation and maintenance of a vital prayer life: busyness and distraction. We are all busy these days, and the pace of life is fast. From work, to family and house responsibilities, to church life, to personal hobbies and interests, our days quickly fill up. Added to our busy and full lives is a culture that provides an endless stream of distractions that rob us of any remaining minutes. Well, robbery is the wrong word. Being this busy we are often happy to hand over what little time we might have left to distraction just to get a break from what we are, or have been, working on. Busyness and distraction can overwhelm me and lead me to a virtually prayerless day.
For most people cultivating a strong and authentic prayer life is helped along by having a plan. I know I benefit from one. Over a few separate posts I will be writing to encourage the practice of prayer throughout the day. As I share my thoughts, feel free to share yours as well in the comments.
But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. (Psalm 88:13 ESV)
It's not that God commands his people to pray before they do anything else that day, but there is both a biblical example for praying early as well as great reward in doing so. The Psalms often emphasize such devotional acts as prayer happening early in the morning because the morning itself is often the evidence of Gods's grace (he sustains me), as well as the reason to plead for more grace (I need him to give me strength for this day).
Jesus also modeled this for us in his early rising to pray to his Father in Heaven.
It is good for everyone to start the day early (a somewhat relative term), and with God. I understand that some of you are not morning people, but keep in mind I am not suggesting that you spend an hour working through a long inductive Bible study. If that's a part of what gets you going, then get on it. I am arguing that you should make your first meeting of the day with God.
Since many of us have have such a commitment before, only to give up after a week of half-hearted attempts, here is some practical advice for starting your day with prayer.
1. Sleep when you're tired, wake on time. Go to bed when you are tired, but get up at the same time every day. If you are sleepy at 9:30pm, hit the hay. If it's 11:00pm, turn out the lights then. Ultimately you have to figure out how much sleep you need to be fully functional the next day, and how much time you need to get ready and take care of morning responsibilities. So adjust your bed time and stabilize your wake time to allow for solid prayer time before hitting everything else on your to-do list.
2. Do NOT turn that thing on. Do not turn on anything electronic. My immediate temptation when I wake up is the grab my iPhone and check email. If you share my temptation commit to not starting your day by looking at texts, email, Twitter, Facebook, or the even the news. At best, you will waste time you need to meet with God. Worse, you will find something to distract you from prayer, or even steal your affection from God. Email can be a great tool of the devil. A criticism, complaint, or problem expressed electronically can undo your day before you get started. I have found that communication with God first thing prepares me for what I might find when opening email.
3. Have a prayer objective in the morning. In this morning prayer, let it be a time of worship where you focus on God's attributes, and a time of preparation as you seek grace to handle all that God has in store for you that day.
4. Start with Scripture. Begin with a reading from God's word. You just can't go wrong here. Psalms are great for morning prayer, as are Proverbs, but you can work through any book of the bible. Make sure you read passages of appropriate length for you and the time you have set aside. Scripture, as the revelation of God, guides our thoughts to Him and prepares us to cry out to and seek him.
These simple guidelines help me to set aside a great time of prayer in the morning-- when I follow them. Do you set aside time in the morning to meet with God? When and where? What advice would you give people to start the day with prayer?