TEENAGERS HAVE A WAY OF SURPRISING YOU WITH THEIR QUESTIONS. John’s penetrating question certainly surprised me. “Pastor, how long do you pray?” he asked.
“I mean, how many hours each day do you spend with God?”
As I pondered my answer a number of thoughts flooded into my mind. Would John judge my spirituality by the amount of time I prayed each day? If I prayed three hours a day, was I somehow more righteous in his mind than if I prayed 15 minutes a day? With that logic, if I really wanted to be superrighteous, should I retreat from society altogether and spend all my waking moments in prayer? Another real possibility was that John would judge his own relationship with God by my response. Would he feel guilty because he might not spend the same time with God that I did?
My young friend was really asking a much deeper question: “How can I know God? How can I experience His presence and power in my life? How can I have a meaningful relationship with Him?”
The Bible presents a God who longs to know us more than we long to know Him. His heart yearns for a relationship with His lost children. In David’s heartfelt prayer in Psalm 139 he cries out in amazed delight, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you” (verses 17, 18). When we kneel in His presence, we are kneeling before the all-knowing God of the universe who longs to enjoy the fellowship of our presence.
Ellen White put it this way: “Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him” (Steps to Christ, p. 93).
There are two things especially significant about this statement. First, prayer is not necessarily about time—it’s about a relationship with a friend: friends spend time together. Consistency in our prayer lives is critically important. It is difficult to maintain a close relationship with a friend you rarely spend time with. Jesus’ life was bathed in prayer (see Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). He spent time with His Father. Through prayer we enter the very presence of God. Through prayer He gives us glimpses of His love, concern, grace, wisdom, and power.
Second, one of the big challenges in prayer is that our minds tend to wander. It is difficult to maintain a conversation with someone whom we cannot see and who does not verbally respond. But conversations with friends go both ways. They speak, we listen; we speak, they listen.
Here is a meaningful way I have attempted to overcome this “communication gap” in prayer. Some of my most significant times with God have been in the quietness of my study, when I’ve knelt with my Bible open and poured out my heart to Him. The psalms have been a particular inspiration. After praying for a few moments, I’ll read a psalm and let God speak to me through His Word. The Bible becomes the subject matter of my prayers. Praying aloud with my Bible open has focused my mind on God during my times of devotion. Reading a passage of Scripture, meditating on it, and praying over it has transformed my devotional life from a passive obligation to an active adventure with God.
Pastor, how long do you pray? My prayer life is not measured in minutes or hours; it is determined by my relationship with God. The goal of my devotional life is to enter the presence of God daily. Each day I want to know that I have fellowship with Jesus. On some days I spend a longer time with God than others. The critical question is not How long have you spent praying today? It is Have you met God today?
Mark A. Finley is editor-at-large of the Adventist Review. This article was published December 9, 2010.