"Time = Commitment"
In his classic book, Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders wrote, "Mastering the art of prayer, like anything else, takes time. The time we give it will be the true measure of its importance to us. We always find the time for important things." [i]
Sanders' conclusion is clear. Time, not words, ideals, or good intentions is the real evidence of our commitment to something. This is true in all other matters of relationship. Our commitment to caring for our family is measured ultimately in time. Our desire to have a good marriage is ultimately linked to time. Our commitment to developing a vital relationship with God is measured in time.
Clearly, this idea is relevant to our personal life and urges us to allocate significant time to our pursuit of Christ in prayer. However, in this devotion, I want to think of the priority of prayer in the life of the church with specific application to our corporate gatherings. How important is prayer in the life of the church? Perhaps this is most accurately answered by evaluating the amount of time actually given to prayer when we gather.
The Average Sunday Gathering
Think of the Sunday services you attend. Typically, time allocations look something like this:
- Teaching – 45%
- Singing – 30%
- Announcements – 10%
- Prayer – 10%*
* These prayer components are usually seen in the brief opening prayer, closing prayer, prayer for the offering, and perhaps a snippet of prayer interspersed in the singing.
The Average Leadership Conference
Recently I attended a national pastors’ conference where the sessions looked something like this:
- Teaching (Preaching & Seminars) – 80%
- Singing – 15%
- Announcements - 3%
- Prayer – 2%
I found it odd that in a gathering designed to encourage church leaders, show them models of ministry, and equip them for effective leadership – so little time was given to the vital engagement of praying together.
The Average Church Week
If you look at the average calendar of activities at a church you might find a pattern like this:
- Bible studies – 30%
- Social activities – 40%
- Singing/worship – 20%
- Prayer gatherings (or prayer time within other existing gatherings) – 10%
The Average Small Group
When we gather in homes for mid-week connection, it can often look like this:
- Social time – 15%
- Bible Study/Discussion – 60%
- Sharing about personal needs – 15%
- Prayer – 10%
The Average Leadership Team Meeting
When the leaders gather, the allocation of time can vary. However, overall you might find a pattern very much like this:
- Planning/discussion/problem solving – 80%
- Biblical study – 15%
- Prayer time – 5%
As I consult with churches about their prayer culture, one of the key points of evaluation is the amount of time actually given to prayer in the leadership gatherings. Beyond this, we often evaluate the time spent “praying about things” (requests, etc.) vs. time spent “seeking the Lord” (a worship-based approach). This factor is a core determiner for a growing prayer culture in a church.
Early Church Pattern
We cannot know for certain, but it is helpful to evaluate the pattern of the early church in terms of their time given to prayer.
We do know that before the church was launched, the disciples gathered for 10 days for united prayer in the upper room leading up to Pentecost. We do know that prayer was one of the four vital components that defined the daily pattern of the gathered church. Acts 2:42 explains, "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." Perhaps this was a 25% allocation of time to prayer.
When the early church faced persecution they did not gather to plan their defense or spend hours strategizing an appeal to the government. Rather, the Bible says, “they raised their voice to God with one accord” (Acts 4:24), which represents an instinctive allocation of precious time at a strategic moment.
Refusing to become absorbed in designing an enhanced program to feed the widows, the Apostles directed the church to find seven wise, spiritual, and respected men to handle that task. The leaders declared their vital time allocation in these words: "But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4). Perhaps you could argue that this was a 50% allocation of time to the priority of praying together.
In Acts 12:5, Peter was put in jail, "but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church." It seems clear that this is an allocation of many hours to the priority of collective prayer.
Acts 13:2 describes the vital time allocation of the church leaders in Antioch where it says, "they ministered to the Lord and fasted." It is clear they spent hours and even days in this focus as they waited on the Holy Spirit for clear direction.
The Power of Time Invested
Sanders is right. The real value we place on something will be seen in the actual time we give to it. I am not suggesting some legalistic discipline of watching the clock in order to be sure we are proving how disciplined we are to focus on prayer. Rather, this raises the deeper issue of our heartfelt delight in seeking God, evidenced in our desire to give Him time. This is not a matter of the clock, but a matter of the heart.
When we give substantive time to prayer, things change. We behold His glory and are transformed into the image of Christ. We discover a deep and authentic unity. We are in a place to know the clear direction of the Holy Spirit. We experience supernatural enablement to accomplish the mission of the Gospel. The fruit of our ministry effort is produced by the Holy Spirit, not human talent or cleverness. The outcome of our ministry rises to God’s glory as it is all done in God’s power, by God’s direction.
Does your church, leadership conference, small group, or staff team desire any of these powerful benefits? Then give more of your heart-felt, worship-based time and attention to seeking God’s face. He will be honored, you will be blessed, and His mission will be advanced in His power, for His glory.
[i] J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership. Chicago: Moody Press. 2007. P.
Copyright © 2012 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.