In the city where I live, you can hear the call to prayer broadcast from loudspeakers at mosques all across the city [and they aren't called loudspeakers for nothing.] The first prayer time is in the pre-dawn hours, the last prayer time is around 10 PM.
During the daylight hours, you can often see people [actually men, to be gender-specific] who stop their work, get out a prayer mat, bow, and recite their prescribed prayers. By doing this five times a day, they are fulfilling one of the five pillars of Islam.
But set prayer times have been around much longer than Islam. In the early church, Christians developed daily prayer times based on the bell that was rung in the Roman forum every three hours. Starting at 6 AM and going until 6 PM, the bell marked the progress of the day’s work. Eventually two more prayer times were added, for a total of seven, and monasteries were started to take on this systematic work of prayer from early morning matins to late night compline.
I confess this kind of continual, regular prayer has never appealed to me.
My view has tended to be, “I would never want to be forced to pray at a specific time. It would be a bother to stop what I’m doing. It would distract me from my work.”
And then one day as I willingly, even eagerly, interrupted what I was working on to check Facebook, I realized I don’t mind switching mental gears in the middle of my day. Although I’ve never tracked how often I slide my mouse over and make a tiny click, I suspect there are days when it’s well over seven times.
Suddenly I am checking email, my rss blog feed, the online news, Facebook [thankfully I gave up Twitter], or googling some stray thought that has entered into my brain space without getting permission from the air traffic control.
Ten, fifteen, thirty minutes later, long after the man praying on the street corner has returned to work, I am still lost in the wonderland known as the world wide web [created, I imagine, by a giant, time-sucking spider.]
So the question I need to ask is not, “Will I stop in the middle of the day and turn my attention to something else?” Rather it’s, “When I stop, what I will turn my attention to?” Will I answer the siren call of the internet, or will I turn my eyes on Jesus and praise my Creator?
Even still, God doesn’t demand an hourly tribute of praise from us. For all the commands He gave the Israelites to follow [613 to be exact], not one talks about how often they were supposed to pray. And Jesus didn’t specify this either. When the disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, He only replied, “When you pray…”
Of course, regular prayer is a good idea.
“Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.” Psalm 119:164.
“Three times a day Daniel got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” Daniel 6:10
But that’s not what makes us holy.
Instead, I find it helpful to think about praying at regular intervals like taking a drink of water.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my souls pants for You, O God. Psalm 42:1
It’s a chance to enlarge my vision from the micro focus of the moment to God’s eternal perspective. When I lift my eyes away from the computer screen to pray, I reaffirm core truths such as:
*I’m not the center of the universe
*God is in charge
*He is ready to listen to my concerns
*Work cannot satisfy my deepest desires
Stopping to pray doesn’t come naturally for me; I’m not a perfect spiritual being. And there is much in the internet age that is waiting to distract me. My enemy prowls around like a hungry lion hoping to get me addicted to clicking on links–or just preoccupied enough with the cares of my life that I forget about God.
The other danger I face is that I’m capable of turning regular prayer into a task that needs to be checked off my to-do list. Before I know it, I’ve punched a little mental prayer clock, put in my minutes, and gone back to work, satisfied I’ve ‘done’ it.
Perhaps that’s why when Paul talks about praying on all occasions time in Ephesians 6, it’s in the context of the great spiritual battle that is being fought. One minute Paul is reminding us the fight is not against flesh and blood, and in the next he’s encouraging us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasion, always keep on praying for all the saints.”
Praying isn’t a duty or a distraction. It’s my soul’s lifeblood.
“Prayer is traffic between earth and heaven, ‘a commerce of love.’” Amy Carmichael
What about you?
Do you pray regularly during the day? What does it look like?
And how do you fight the temptations that might distract you from it?