Short-term Prayer with Long-term Effect
By Robert Munger
As you go on your short term, prayer may be one of your biggest joys – and one of your biggest struggles. To help you live your short-term to the fullest, let’s take a look at Jesus as he taught his followers to pray in the midst of ministry.
You already know that prayer is important. You can see it in Jesus’ life. He prayed early; he prayed late; he prayed all night. He prayed alone; he prayed with others. He prayed with confidence; he prayed in deep agony. He even prayed on the cross. And he teaches us to pray.
The Purpose of PrayerIn our eagerness to get things done for the Lord, we often lose sight of the point of it all. God wants you to work for his glory, but he also wants you to “enjoy him forever,” as the Westminster Confession puts it. “Forever” includes the days of your short term. The first command is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. It doesn’t say to work for him with all you have, but to love him with all you are. You can’t love someone you don’t know.
Don’t allow the pressure of activities or the demands of duties on your short term trip to crowd out time for personal communion with God. Take time to listen and talk with this friend, and tell him how you feel about yourself, about your relationship with him, and about the world around you. Let him tell you how he feels about you, what he has done for you, and what, with his help, you may do for him.
Prayer is essential to do the work of God. In fact, prayer allows God to do his work through us. It’s his way of receiving all the glory for what he accomplishes through our labor. As we see him answer prayer, we see that he is indeed an active, living, and loving God. And so does the world.
To take the time for prayer is never easy; at least it remains a constant struggle for me. But I’ve been learning how to follow Jesus’ example in a few practical ways.
The Priority of Prayer
I give prayer priority, as Jesus did (Luke 6:12). You should schedule regular time with the Lord each day. It’s often best at the start of the day when you’re mentally alert. Put it down as an appointment in your date book, if you keep one. Consider it your most important appointment. Ask God to help you keep it and fill it with his presence.
Regular time is more productive than occasional longer periods of time, so plan for and anticipate it as you would a meeting with the most significant, dearly loved person you know. Don’t consider it a duty or assignment to be done to fulfill requirements. Welcome it as an opportunity for sharing your heart with your most treasured compassion.
When you schedule time, be sure that your goals aren’t your lord. If you focus on the schedule instead of on your relationship with Jesus, you’ll find yourself feeling guilty when you can’t spend the time you’d expected. Don’t wallow in guilt. Confess to the Lord if you’re not spending the scheduled time with him. (Be sure to acknowledge his forgiveness.) Then change your goals to make them more realistic, if necessary. Tell someone. Having someone encourage you can help keep the whole process in perspective.
Using captured time is one way to keep from being trapped in guilt over a grueling schedule. In the routine of things, brief moments occur when you can have quick conversation with the Lord, such as when waiting for a bus, walking to the market, or standing in line. Be ready for such opportunities. Situations will present themselves; moments will suddenly surface.
You don’t have to pray a certain type of prayer. Maybe you only have time to make a comment like, “Wow, Jesus, send more laborers to reach this city,” or “Lord, give me a person t share the gospel with here,” or “Lord, how do you feel about that lady and child I saw on the bus? Does your heart ache like mine?” Impromptu conversations express close companionship with the friend with whom we move through the hours.
Occasionally plan for extended time in prayer. Schedule a few hours during a special morning or evening, or take an entire day or weekend, if your time and co-workers permit. You can spend extended time in prayer alone or with others. As you do this, you’ll again be following the example of Jesus; he spent extended time in prayer more than once.
Several hours will allow you to settle into prayer and praise and to dig deeply into what God is doing and can do on your short term. You may need to devote extended time for earnest intercession for the urgent spiritual and physical needs you’ve seen around you.
The Place of Prayer
Have a place for prayer. Jesus did (Luke 4:42, 22:39). Jesus’ counsel is to go into your room and shut the door (Matthew 6:6). Meeting regularly with God in a particular place quickens faith by reminding us of past gracious encounters with him, building faith in his presence and provision. Your place may be a quiet corner, an open field, an office before others arrive, or, if you’ll be traveling a lot, wherever you lay your head. When you first arrive on your short term, ask God to help you find a place to meet with him, and earnestly search for it.
The Power of Prayer
To be fresh in prayer, pray with an open Bible. Vital prayer is more than a monologue or recital of requests; it’s a conversation in which two or more participate. Jesus teaches that we are to live “on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We’re to listen for that word, hear it, and eagerly respond to it.
I find it helpful to let him begin the conversation by listening to what he is saying to me through the Bible and allowing him to give direction to my petitions. Look for promises in Scripture, and ask God to fulfill them. More importantly, search earnestly for his commands and concerns. When God’s will is being done, his promises are being fulfilled.
Also, pray with a team, because there is power in united prayer. Christianity is personal, but never solitary. To function fully under his direction in the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing his mind and doing his will, we need one another (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).
Gather as few as two or three to form a prayer team. That seems to be the pattern Jesus indicated when he said, “if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:19-20). Observe the scope of the promise in this text. Observe the conditions: agree with Christ and one another in the unity of the Spirit. And observe the assurance: it will be done. Where two or more teammates are able to pray together with common convictions and concerns, there is spiritual impact.
These prayer times can become great times of relationship building. Honestly share positive and negative experiences and feelings. Support one another in caring love, and build each other up in faith and obedience.
When you pray, whether alone or with a group, be sure to make your requests specific and expect specific answers. If you pray for Abdullah’s salvation, pray for specific indications of his interest in the gospel. If you’re praying for your teammate Joe’s needs, tell God what the answer to your prayer may look like. That way you can see the answers and be glad.