Over the years I’ve developed a much broader definition of prayer than I used to hold. Like most new Christians in the 1970s, the need for personal prayer was drilled into me. I’m not suggesting this was a bad thing. It was a good thing. I wish there was more drilling like this today. However, the concepts of prayer that I embraced were very limited.
For example, when I started out, I thought of prayer as those times when I sat with my eyes closed and I talked to God. Sometimes my prayers focused on my personal needs, and other times my prayers were “lifting up” the needs of others (I used a lot more Christianese back then). If you were really spiritual you called this intercession. If you got really good at intercession (I’m not sure how this was ever measured), you could be called an intercessor, or better yet—a prayer warrior. Anyway, for me prayer simply meant bringing my needs to God in one-way communication. Notice that I did not say one-way conversation? Communication can be one-way, conversation cannot.
Here’s a spiritual formation formula: communication with God + conversation with God + communion with God = keeping company with God = prayer.
Communication is when I talk to God. Conversation is when God and I communicate back and forth. Communion refers to those times when there is a sense of closeness, harmony, and connection between God and me. These times can include, but are not limited to, traditional prayer. Whenever communion occurs and I am keeping company with God—I am praying.
Let me describe what I mean.
There are a number of things I might do when I sit down to meet with God. Sometimes I sit in silence practicing deep breathing. Sometimes I read my Bible or meditate on the scriptures. I journal. I pray for my needs. I might pray out loud or silently, or I might write my prayers down. I read devotional classics. I might concentrate on an object like a cross, or a picture on my wall or the clouds in the sky. I might sing. Other times I might pray for people. I seldom do all of these at one sitting.
My times with God will look different from day to day. Sometimes I don’t even pray per se. I’ve come to regard all of my practices as forms of prayer. I am communicating, conversing, having communion with, and keeping company with God. For me, it’s all prayer.
Some time ago, I decided to quit calling my daily time a prayer time. I didn’t feel this was accurate. A prayer time gives the impression that all I’m doing during that time is talking to God about my needs and the needs of others. Instead, I prefer to call it my quiet time or my time to be with God.
I spend an hour each day, first thing in the morning, with God. I know this is impressive to some. To be honest, it doesn’t impress me at all. I would like to devote more time, and sometimes I do, but normally my time lasts an hour.
There are times when I’m helping a pastor develop a spiritual formation plan that he or she will ask me about my practices. When I tell the pastor that I spend an hour each day, he or she assumes I’m saying that I talk for an hour to God.
“Wow, I can’t imagine doing that.”
“Praying for an hour. What do you pray about all that time?”
Once I clarify how I spend my hour the pastor begins to see this is something relatively easy to attain. I’m not just praying. I’m doing any number of things that, for me, amount to prayer. Now let me address the question, “How much time is enough time?”
My answer? I don’t know. You tell me.
How much time can you afford to take? How much time will be enough so that you feel relaxed and unhurried? How much time do you feel is needed for you to connect with God?
For me the starting point for having a leisurely time with God is an hour. Can I achieve that leisure in less than an hour? Yes. Can you? I don’t know, you tell me. There is no hard and fast rule for this. No one can tell you how much time is necessary. The issue is not so much time spent, as it is how meaningful that time is.
The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.