“If you want to convict a congregation, preach on prayer.” This is what we were taught in seminary and what I’ve experienced in my own life.
There are countless reasons why our prayer lives become anaemic. But the one factor that haunts us like no other in this crazy busy world is perceived lack of time. I say “perceived” because we have the same twenty-four hours that every prayer warrior has, and that all our forefathers had. And yet William Wilberforce confessed in the late 1700’s,
This perpetual hurry of business and company ruins me in soul if not in body. I suspect that I have been allotting habitually too little time to private devotion and religious meditation, Scripture reading, etc. Hence I am lean and cold and hard. I had better allot two hours or an hour and half daily…[For] All may be done through prayer, mighty prayer.”
And if we’re honest, the real paucity of time for prayer is self-imposed (and selfie-imposed), as John Piper sagely warns:
One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”
In this post I’d like to offer a beginning therapy to help rehabilitate your prayer life. This is a five minute template of prayer, with a five simple segments, each of which can easily be filled with one minute of prayer. And then the idea is that you increase the time you spend on each segment; twelve minutes per segment fills an hour.
This suggestion is meant to help Christians who are already convinced of the need to pray, who perhaps pray sporadically throughout the day, but would like a more structured plan on which to build.
If you feel that you are too busy for five minutes a day to start this exercise then you are simply too busy for what God created you to do. Rework your priorities (you’ve spent some precious minutes reading this blog post already; I’d be happy if this was your last time on our blog if it meant more prayer to God for whom we maintain this site).
I call it the CACTIS method, and that’s not because I misspelled a plant that can thrive in desperately dry conditions (though that metaphor does seem apropos). It’s a variation on the common ACTS plan.
Before you start the five minutes, it helps to have carved out a time and place in which to pray in a focused way. The tradition of a prayer closet (based on Jesus’ instruction to pray in secret, Matt 6:6) is one with an ancient legacy. Even Susanna Wesley escaped her hordes of offspring by retreating under her apron to pray! Yes, you can pray while driving, gardening, or dozing off. But if you want to get serious about a structured prayer time, it helps to isolate yourself from distractions. Closeting involves at the very least a muted mobile phone, a sleeping laptop, and preferably closed eyes.
As Jesus taught, our prayers should being with adoration and praise. This involved primarily praising God for who he is, i.e. an attribute of his. Each day decide on a new one, perhaps also praying in the words of Psalmists who extol God’s attributes.
Jesus said to pray “Forgive us our trespasses.” Adoration of who God is naturally leads into the admission that we are sinful and in need of forgiveness. This clears the sense of distance that you may feel between you and God due to sin (1 John 1:9). Confession simply means “to say the same thing” as God about your sin.
Another natural progression from confessing sin is to be grateful for forgiveness and mercy and grace. Thanking God for what he’s done in your life is a way of making you more alert to how much blessing he gives you each day.
To intercede means to approach God on behalf of someone else. This can be interceding for the physical and spiritual needs of others. It can and should include prayer for government, spiritual leaders, friends, family, unbelievers and saints you know and know of.
1 Tim 2:1-2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
(If you can find an synonym for intercession that begins with a “U” my spellcheck would be most gratified).
This is the time when you cast your own needs, desires, and concerns on God who cares for you (1 Pet 5:5). Jesus modelled that we should pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
I like that this comes only after the others, as it reminds us that prayer is not only about our needs. However, it is a wonderful privilege to admit our needs and hand them off to God who is a good and loving Father that loves to give us good gifts that are of benefit to us and bring us joy.
Try to balance your physical needs with your spiritual ones. Even though confession has already dealt with the need for mercy, there are many ways you need God to bless you spiritually. For example, you may want to pray through the list of fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, or for a particular sign of maturity you are working on such as those listed in 2 Peter 1:5-8.
Again, I’d like to stress that this is only a suggested template, a framework on which to build your own prayer time. But I found it helps to have a plan in place that can be adjusted, rather than haphazard improvisation each day.
Please share any other plans you use that may be helpful for other readers.