We love statistics but know that they can either be twisted to tell false stories, or can tell true stories that surprise us.
Here’s an interesting one for you concerning pastors and prayers. According to LifeWay Research survey:
The amount of time spent in prayer and personal devotions raises questions about the vitality of many pastors’ spiritual lives. While 52 percent report spending one to six hours in prayer each week, 5 percent say they spend no time at all in prayer. Furthermore, while 52 percent say they spend two to five hours a week in personal devotions unrelated to teaching preparation, 14 percent indicate they spend an hour or less in personal devotions each week.
If this is the state of pastors (full-time, part-time, bi-vocational, etc.), what is the average time the average Christians pray? Many would guess it is less than 3-4 minutes per day (http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Faith-Tools/Meditation/2004/12/U-S-News-Beliefnet-Prayer-Survey-Results.aspx)
And we’re supposed to be the zealous ones.
Why so little? There could be several reasons. (Note that this blog is directed particularly at those who believe in a prayer-answering God. Those who don’t will have different reasons.):
-We’re too busy to pray.
-More practical courses of action could be taken, or we could resort to others, such as doctors, accountants.
-We might be embarrassed to have others pray for these matters.
-We may have prayed in the past and found it wanting, never to be tried again.
Briefly, we will look at three real-life situations from the Bible:
1) The situation of a despairing, childless woman;
2) The situation of an outlaw; and,
3) A situation of great physical danger.
- Hannah in the temple (1 Samuel 1-2)—a tragically realistic situation
Hannah is childless and one of two wives. The other had been blessed with children and wasn’t gracious about it, provoking Hannah year after year.
- Jonah in the fish (Jonah 1-4)—a fantastic situation
Scholars have disputed the historicity of this account, but there’s no compelling reason for skepticism. Events like this have been recorded more than once since Jonah, especially during the days of the whaling industry in the last 200-400 years. The main situation is that Jonah is running in disobedience from the Lord and is literally thrown overboard into a stormy, raging sea and then swallowed by a large fish.
- Peter in prison (Acts 12:1-20)—a dramatic situation
Peter had been imprisoned for his faith, James had already been killed, and the church itself was in danger. Who knows how far Herod would have gone in his persecution?
These aren’t fictional fairy-tales or made-up stories. Each situation is from real-life. How did these people respond to these situations?
- How does Hannah respond to her fear, anger, and shame? She prays (1 Sam. 1:9-18).
- Jonah was from the hill country, people who did not like the sea at all. Imagine his fear and uncertainty. His response was to pray (Jonah 2:1-8).
- The church’s response was to pray for Peter (Acts 12:5).
In the Bible, there’s very little direct teaching about prayer, but there is much prayer recorded. So many put so much on prayer. Why? What were the results of these prayers?
- Samuel 1:19-20—The Lord gave Hannah a child.
- Jonah 2:2-10—The fish vomited him onto dry land.
- Acts 12:6-19—Peter was miraculously freed from prison.
3 prayers. 3 answers.
Do you really, honestly believe these things happened? We have no real reason to believe they didn’t.
Yet, these things don’t seem the stuff our lives are made of. What do we learn from these situations?
We realize the desperation, sincerity, and specificity in these prayers. Their desperation led to their hearts’ sincere pleadings for specific things.
- Desperation: Whales and jails can make our state more obvious, but they can’t make it more desperate. Do you really need the triune God less than Jonah, Peter, or Hannah? No, though we may see less clearly our need of Him, we are just as dependent on God.
- Sincerity: Their desperate need led them to abandon any insincerity. When you go to God, talk truly honestly to Him about everything.
- Specificity: Sincere prayers are always going to tend to be specific prayers. What is it particularly that concerns you? If you want God to answer specifically, you have to ask specifically.
(If this experience of prayer hasn’t always been the way you’ve experienced it, wait till next blog.)
There are some warnings in these stories for us, though. These stories speak against our busyness, better-ness, and bitterness.
- Busyness: No matter what, time has to be made for prayer. It’s not all the Christian is called to, but it is essential.
- Better-ness: We seem to think there’s someone better to go to with our problems, but really, who’s better to go to when you experience, for ex., medical problems? Not that you shouldn’t also go to the doctor, but is prayer your first reflex? What do you do with your fears? Have you learned to trust Him with them?
- Bitterness: Did the church at Jerusalem pray just once? Was Jonah in the fish only one day? How long do you think Hannah prayed? Not that we always get everything we want simply by persistence, but God does instruct us to be persistent in our prayer. There is hope in God’s Word–keep praying. We simply cannot know the outcome, but we do know we have a God who delights to hear our prayers.
Are you convinced? Prayer is no less necessary for you in your relationship with God than talking is for your relationship with your husband, wife, best friend, boss, family, or child.
Biblical prayer is always rooted in and turns about the person of God, not ourselves. In coming to understand prayer, we’re coming to understand God and His character. Your prayer life shows a lot of what you believe about God.
Why do evangelical Christians spend so little time in prayer? You’d better ask yourself.