Countdown clocks are a must. If you are watching any action-hero movie, there is a countdown clock that spells certain doom. The hero must fight his or her way for the entire movie against all obstacles to get to the bomb upon which the clock sits, dismantle the bomb, and make the clock stop. I do not know how many seasons of the show "24" I got sucked into watching with this simple premise. Same idea, only in this show the good guy has only, wait for it, 24 hours to stop the clock.
Most of my life I've been a prayer-mumbler. Dinner-time, mumble prayers; funerals, mumble prayers; weddings, baptisms, you know, the usual list of occasions, all mumbling. I don't want you to get the wrong idea, these were not the same prayers every time, though often at weddings and funerals you are given a program of prayers. At dinner, we prayed for people we knew who needed God's intervention. When I was a kid and said nightly prayers, those had customization.
This is not an all or nothing prayer condition. I have gone through periods of my life that I have prayed more. These prayerful times usually followed an inspiring sermon, the reading of a spiritual book, or a conversation with a fellow Christian that nudged me along. Such events would inspire me to pray regularly. However, eventually I would fall away and go back to old habits. It was like spiritual intents that showed my same history of dieting. For me, I fell off the prayer wagon because I just did not think there was that much to talk about. God knew me; I knew Him and we'd talk when there was something that required attention.
To tell you the truth, my deepest and most personal prayers to Christ were when there were countdown clocks in my life. At these times, my prayers were not general or infrequent. They were crystal clear, continual prayers. I do not know why I I chose these particular moments when others would have been so much more logical. Did I think I needed to bring the Creator of the Universe "up to speed" on a terrible event in my life or the lives of others? Was it my hope that God Almighty might change His plan at the moment of my prayers in the exact way I thought He needed to if I rang up the magic prayer phone? I don't think so. I was just scared. Something precious was beyond me to fix and I knew I needed God to be with me and help. (Please, if I could ask the all-Christian choir to say together, "Duh!" for me. Thank you). I had the purpose for prayer wrong.
Challenge: You only bring Jesus into your life as a last resort.
I have been taught all sorts of things about prayer. It has been explained to me as veneration, conversation, supplication, communication, gratification, recognizing, humbling, celebrating, requesting, praising, beseeching, and constant. I've been taught that it is all of those things all of the time. I've been taught that it is some of those things some of the time, and that it follows a pattern of what it should be each time. I started learning about prayer 49 years ago. I still am most clear, however, when there is a countdown clock. There is a reason. I didn't want to trouble God about little things, or waste His time talking about the day-to-day stuff. I mean, He's God, right? I figured He's busy. <sigh> I can be so stupid.
My son is 25 and is a lawyer. If he calls when my phone is across the room, I'll break furniture and upend reading lights to get to it before it goes to voicemail. I so desperately want to make certain I get that call. I have a friend I see almost every week for lunch who I look forward to seeing. We talk about everything and nothing. I wouldn't miss it. There are several small groups that I see for prayer, study, sharing, and laughs that are precious to me and I see every week. It has to be important for me to miss that. But of course, even though I am a child of God, I figure that He doesn't want to be bothered.
Most of us have been taught the Lord's Prayer as a prayer, "the prayer" or a structure for prayer. I've thought about that. Jesus prayed a lot. He prayed to bring Lazarus back to life, for the blind to see, and to bless food to feed thousands, and many, many more prayers. He prayed on the night of his betrayal. He prayed different prayers for each of those. The prayer we have the clearest vision of comes from the night of His betrayal. It sounds like He is talking to God like He knows Him (John 11:41-42, Mark 8:6, Luke 22:42). It gives me a great deal of hope, because if I am to go through the rest of my life trying to follow Jesus but praying as if I did not know Him, it would feel a little weird.
When Jesus taught his disciples The Lord's Prayer I think it was kind of a paint-by-numbers prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).They were not very bright yet. They were mostly uneducated and from meager means. The more time they spent with Jesus, the more they learned. As he sent them out they were able to begin to do as He had done. It was AFTER the Holy Spirit came upon them that they were able to profess in front of educated leaders, scholars, and rabbis. They were so passionate, eloquent, and filled with the Holy Spirit that they converted so many people as they spread the Good News.
For me, it has gotten down to this. Pick up the prayer phone and call your Father, every day. Talk, listen, laugh, listen, cry, listen, ask, and listen. Call your Father, every day. Prayer is not a nuke prevention button only to be pushed when the countdown clock is on. Your prayer may not be for you. There is only one prayer that we know Jesus prayed for Himself. I wonder if God just waits to get that "call" from you, like I do from my son, and will do anything to get to the "phone" to hear our voice and know that we want to talk to Him. He wants to know that we love Him, value Him, are grateful, know that he gave what we have to us. He wants to know our questions, our concerns and if there might be a way He can or should help or if it is better that He not. If my son calls this morning, I'll drop everything. As silly as it sounds, if he calls ten minutes later, I'll jump to the phone again. If he does it again and again all day I will continually answer; I just can't help myself, I love that kid so much, I will keep jumping. Our Father is even better, even when He does not say anything; He still is jumping to connect with us.