Friday, October 24, 2008

That's How Long it Takes

Jesus went out to a mountainside . . . and spent the night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12).

North Carolinians know barbeque. When I went to Texas to go to seminary I became aware of a long standing feud surrounding this delicacy. In Texas and Oklahoma barbeque is beef, also known as brisket. North Carolinians scoff at such. In North Carolina barbeque is pork laced with just the right amount of vinegar.

The congregation I served in North Carolina didn’t simply know barbeque – they knew how to make barbeque. In fact, making barbeque was an annual congregational event that ranked right up there with Christmas and Easter. Always on an October Friday, we made enough to feed the town of Apex, North Carolina from lunch time to dinner time. Preparing the barbeque started on a Thursday afternoon and lasted all night until it was served the next day.

This entire endeavor was very new to me when I went to North Carolina. My immediate question was, “Why would anyone stay up all night long cooking barbeque?” I learned two simple answers to the question.

Answer 1: Because that’s how long it takes.

Answer 2: The pleasure of the company.

To say that Jesus prayed is to speak a half-truth. Jesus did not simply pray, he prayed long. We have biblical examples of the shorter prayers of Jesus: he prayed briefly before raising Lazarus from the dead, he spoke a blessing before feeding the five thousand, he uttered anguished sentence prayers from the cross, and the model prayer Jesus gave us is concise. Jesus cautioned us against babbling on and on, using too many words (Matt. 6:7).

But Jesus also prayed in a protracted way. Jesus began his ministry with forty days of solitude in the desert. We know he was tempted there, but he was no passive presence in the wilderness. His fasting was certainly coupled with long lingering prayer. Luke tells us that before selecting the twelve who would be his closest followers, Jesus spent the night in prayer. In Gethsemane Jesus prayed long enough for the disciples to get sleepy and nod off – and then he went on and kept praying.

Say “prayer time” and most of us think of the 15 minutes or half-hour we set aside for prayer before turning our attention to more urgent matters. We’re even proud if we manage that much time for prayer. “Prayer time” is sometimes a segment of a worship service, alongside singing time and teaching time. Prayer time might be the first few minutes of a meeting. What we commonly think of as “prayer time” is a tightly fenced piece of our day.

But all of us deal with things that cannot be prayed for in 15 minutes. In fact, the things that matter to us most will not be dealt with in our “prayer time.” Praying for healing, praying for a marriage, praying for a wayward child, praying for the right job or any job for that matter – these require long prayer: Prayer through the night; prayer over the months and years.

That’s just how long it takes. Good barbeque can’t be made in a microwave. Our lives can’t always be prayed in 15 minutes. And what keeps us at it? The pleasure of God’s company, the assurance of being heard, the confidence of God’s love and his will for our good.

What parts of your life need long prayer today?

Too often, O Lord, we pray on the run. We sit down to pray, all the while distracted. We offer shot-gun sentences and then wonder why prayer doesn’t seem to work. Teach us how to linger with you in prayer – for hours or months or years. Help us to live every day in ongoing fellowship with you, trusting that you are always at work for our good and the glory of your name. Amen.

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