Making Prayer A Priority

Last week, I was listening to the radio and heard something that I thought was interesting. One of the hosts was talking about something that she wanted to start doing but said she didn’t have the time to do it right now. The other host began to question if she wanted to do it or not saying that, “If it was truly important to her, she would take the time to do it, even at the expense of cutting something else out of her schedule.” I think they were talking about getting a spray tan if I remember right. But that’s beside the point!

It got me thinking about the priorities in my life and what’s important to me. I spent the majority of that morning at work thinking about this.

There is a finite amount of time in a day. We only have 24 hours a day to accomplish everything we want. The average person sleeps 8 hours a night which means we’re down to16 hours. If you go to school or have a job, that’s typically another 8-9 hours a day dedicated to that. So, we’re only left with 7-8 hours left to get everything else done.

Do you know what I learned? We need to prioritize our time as best we can.

I stumbled across this recent study that was taken earlier this year. It was an attempt to identify and define what is most important to people. I want to share the top 10 most important things to Americans.

The list goes, in this order:

  1. Health
  2. Family
  3. Friends
  4. Purpose – goals and targets to achieve
  5. Freedom – to do what you want, when you want
  6. Peace – a balance of life (work, family, relaxing, etc)
  7. Self-Development – learn and grow
  8. Love – receiving and giving from/to someone
  9. Living Essentials (Food, Water, Sleep, Oxygen)
  10. Faith

#10 was interesting to me. This is how the study defined it: When times are hard you often ask for the help of a higher power to act as a guide for your life. Faith is important as it is regarded as an expression of hope for something better and greater than yourself.

That’s a fairly broad and surface-level understanding of faith, but I was surprised to see it on the list. Perhaps we can take that and begin to see the longing this world has for God, even though they may not know it yet… but I’ll save that for another time!

I spent the next hour or so really thinking about my priorities and the difference, if any, to this list. For some reason, the one thing I focused on was prayer and my prayer life. I’d like to think that my faith and my prayer life would be a higher priority to me. I think it is, but if I’m honest, how much higher is it on my list than the average position of 10 like the study found.

It’s one thing to say that prayer is going to be higher in our priorities. But, actually adjusting our lifestyles to reflect the desired priority list is much tougher.

I can’t lie, it’s hard. Sometimes I’ll be getting ready to go to sleep after a long day and realize as I lay down that I hadn’t prayed all day. Whether it was because of the projects, meetings, school stuff, or temper tantrums from my kids, my priorities were not focused on asking God for help.

The good thing, there was another day and a great example to learn from in the Bible. That example is Jesus. He thought prayer was important. He saw prayer as a priority. This is what we see in scripture:

In Matthew 14:23, right after Jesus had preached to a group of people, we see that Jesus “went up into the hills by himself to pray” all night.

In Matthew 19:13-15, which is the story of the Children with Jesus, we read that Jesus wanted to pray for the kids and their families even though he was surrounded by others wanting to hear him teach. Jesus saw the importance of prayer.

In Mark 1:35, before Jesus went to preach all day, he woke up before the sun rose, and prayed by himself.

Luke 5:16, again we read that Jesus withdrew into the wilderness for prayer.

In Luke 6:12, After healing on the sabbath day, he went to a mountain to pray all night long.

In John 17:9, Jesus shared about the importance of praying for one another.

Over and over again in the accounts of Jesus’ life, we read that he got up early, stayed up late, and sometimes stayed out all night praying. He stopped what he was doing to pray for someone and he constantly encouraged the importance of prayer.

Jesus placed a very high priority on prayer.

Turn with me to Matthew 6 if you could. I’d like to go through this passage because it gives us a very clear “how to pray” that can be beneficial for us to know.

Starting in verse 5, Jesus begins to teach about how we should pray.

5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.

Jesus warns against those who purposely position themselves to impress others with their prayers. These people Jesus was calling hypocrites were only motivated to pray to achieve a certain status among the other people.

Jesus’ answer to this is by saying,

6 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

His encouragement to us is to pray in a private setting, away from people, to keep the motivation of the prayer pure. That way we can avoid being lumped in with the hypocrites from verse 5.

More than physically locking oneself in a room, Jesus’ encouragement is to remove yourself from the rest of the world and the distractions that can take your focus away from talking with God.

It’s important not to read too much in this passage. Jesus isn’t telling us that public prayer is wrong, rather he’s reminding us that the reason we pray is to have communication with God. It’s not for public adoration. Acts 2:42 is a clear reminder of how we, as the church, should be praying for each other every time we gather.

The point is not WHERE we pray, but WHY we pray. We should not pray to be seen by people, but to be heard by God.

Let’s continue, Verse 7.

7 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. 8 Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!

This was another trick of those hypocrites. To make themselves seem more special and more holy they would begin to repeating themselves to extend their prayers. They would say something once and then say it again with slightly different words with the hopes of elevating themselves above all the others who were praying.

Jesus is telling us in verse 7 to get to the point There’s no need to beat around the bush because God already knows what we are going to say before we say.

In the next set of verses, Jesus gives the disciples a model to follow in prayer. The same story in the book of Luke was initiated by a disciple asking Jesus to teach them how to pray.

The Lord’s Prayer wasn’t intended to repeated word for word. Remember, we want to avoid babble and senseless repetition. Jesus was simply trying to establish a pattern to follow as we pray.

This prayer can be broken into three different parts: Praise, Priorities, and Petitions.

In verse 9. Jesus says, “Pray like this”

9 Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.

This is the praise part. Let’s focus on the “kept holy” phrase. In the original Greek, this is the word for “to sanctify” or “to set apart.” God’s name is to remain separate from all other names because it is special. There is a special purpose and reason to use this name. It’s a name to be worshiped.

“God, you great and loving and powerful and no one or nothing is like you.”

10 May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

After the worship of God, we should pray for what matters, the priorities. These are not our priorities, but God’s priorities. We should pray for the advancement of God’s cause, which is the spreading of the Gospel. Before we pray for what we need and want, we pray for what God wants first.

“God, more than anything, we want your will and your plan to happen on this earth. Use us as you wish to further the Gospel and love your people.”

Next comes the petitions. What do we need to follow and obey God in our daily lives?

11 Give us today the food we need, 12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. 13 And don’t let us yield to temptation but rescue us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

“God, we are incapable of surviving on our own. Please help us. Please bless us with what we need for today. Please forgive us when we lack confidence in you. When we lack trust and faith in you. Keep those thoughts of not needing you away from us. We know they are not from you, but from the one who wishes to deceive us. Today, we push forward knowing you are with us and we continue steadfast knowing that every step brings us closer to spending eternity with you in glory. Amen.”

There it is. Jesus lays it out for us. He gives us a template on how we should pray: Praise, Priorities, Petitions.

This gets me excited. As Christians, we should want to follow the example of Jesus in every way we can. Jesus placed a very high priority in his life on prayer and I believe we should, too.

What’s even greater, Jesus gives us an easy-to-follow model to use in our prayer life.

Praise, Priorities, Petitions.

I want to challenge you to do today. Begin to increase the priority of prayer in your day to day life. I think the hardest part is going to be able to remember to start praying more often.

Try setting a timer on your phone. Pick a time you know that you’ll be able to pray for a few minutes. Don’t commit to praying for 3 hours at a time right off the bat. Start with 1 to 2 minutes at a time once a day. That would be great! Work it into your morning routine as you’re getting ready for the day.

I have an app on my phone, it’s called Echo Prayer. You can set up reminders and notifications of specific things you want to pray for. I’ve had this app for 2-3 years now. It’s really helpful.

Make a prayer book. I’ve got a small binder with specific prayers for my wife and kids, for my job, my church family, and several other things. This has been extra helpful for me to stay on track with my prayer time.

Find something that works for you. Find something that you can use to start reprioritizing what’s important to you.

Let’s pray.

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