“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.” Romans 12:10-12
That we are to be devoted to prayer as followers of Jesus Christ is beyond dispute. That we actually are devoted to prayer? Well, that’s another story. Most Christians I have met in my life, and by most I mean well over 90%, estimating conservatively, struggle to pray consistently, fervently, and effectively. In short, most Christians want to be devoted to prayer but are regularly frustrated by their failure to achieve such devotion.
With that in mind, I issued the 2017 prayer challenge on New Year’s Day. I have heard from some of you that the challenge has spurred you on to greater prayerfulness and enjoyment of prayer. Praise the Lord! I pray you persevere. Others, though, have had a bit of a difficult time. Some tried it for a few days and then quit. Others never started. Some are trying to get started but not gaining any traction. For those who are not doing the prayer challenge or struggling with it, let me offer you some encouragement by tackling some objections and frustrations you might have.
1. The prayer challenge seems legalistic to me
While I understand conceptually the origin of this objection, I think it fails to consider what the prayer challenge actually is. To put it as simply as possible, the prayer challenge is simply an exhortation to grow closer to Christ through prayer in 2017. That’s it. I offer you some tools to help you in that pursuit, such as ten aspects of prayer you can use to structure your prayer time. Do you have to use this template? Of course not! Use whatever theologically sound structure (or lack thereof) you find useful.
But, you might ask, what about the hour prayer time each week; isn’t that legalistic? Nope. You don’t have to pray for an hour. You can pray for 30 minutes if that’s where you are. You can pray for three hours like Martin Luther routinely did. An hour comes from Jesus’ question to His disciples about why they could not watch and pray for an hour with Him. But there is nothing inherently holy about that time period. Here’s the deal: pick something that will stretch you and grow you in your prayer life. I recommend (not command) an hour one day a week every week, then whatever you want to do the other six days. While you consider that recommendation, remember the point of the prayer challenge is for you to grow closer to Christ through a growing prayer life this year. As long as that is happening, pick whatever time you want as you seek to be more devoted to prayer, and use whatever template you want that helps you draw near to the throne of grace throughout the week.
The prayer challenge is a call to grow in holiness through prayer. That’s not legalism; it’s a call to biblical sanctification.
2. I already have a prayer method in place
Great! You’re ahead of most of us. Soldier on, grow in grace, and don’t forget to pray for the rest of us who haven’t been as disciplined as you the past few years. Sincerely. We need you more than you know to encourage us as we seek to be more faithful in prayer.
3. I pray without ceasing
Beautiful! The Bible commands all Christians to do that. But through precept and example, the Bible also commands us to set aside time to pray without the distraction of our normal lives all around us. Jesus prayed without ceasing, and yet we find Him often slipping away to be alone with God without the noise of the crowds or the questions of the disciples.
The prayer challenge is not an either/or proposition. It’s both/and. Pray without ceasing and pray for set periods of time each day. One danger of the prayer challenge is that you might feel like once you finish your prayer time for the day, you’re done praying that day. We have to keep in mind that we set aside time for prayer but when that time is over we live and breathe in a spirit of prayer every other moment of the day.
Don’t parse this as an either/or. Pray without ceasing, and pray without distraction for set periods of time or through set lists. You can do both. You should do both. Jesus’ own example compels you to do both.
4. I HATE CHALLENGES!
Easy there! I get it. Not everyone likes a challenge. Call it something else. You won’t hurt my feelings. How about the 2017 Prayer Encouragement? Or maybe the 2017 Prayer Project? Have a better idea for what to call it? Let me know! Or don’t call it anything. Just seek to grow in your devotion to prayer and enjoyment of time alone with God. Because that’s really what this is all about anyways.
5. I can’t find a prayer partner
Please let me know if this is your objection. A prayer partner is absolutely vital to growing in prayer. Prayer is a team effort, which is why we so often find Christians praying together throughout the book of Acts. Don’t do this alone.
6. The prayer challenge is frustrating me
Please let me know if this is your objection as well. I would be interested in knowing what specifically is frustrating about it and if there is something that can be done to alleviate the frustration so that it becomes something you look forward to each day.
Have another objection I didn’t list? Let me know that, too. Why? Because all I am after with the prayer challenge is this: I want you to be able to look back at 2017 on December 31 and say, “I grew spiritually this year and I love Christ more now than I did in January.” Prayer is one of the indispensable means to get there. The only way you will grow in your love for Christ is by spending time with Him in His Word and in prayer. Let’s help each other become more devoted to prayer and thereby more obedient to Christ in 2017.