Keeping Prayer in its Rightful Place
By LESLIE LUDY
“I’m a mom of little kids — I don’t have time for prayer!” I’ve heard this statement many times among Christian mothers. Even though Scripture is clear about the position and priority that prayer should have in a believer’s life, as young mothers we often believe we are exempt from such a mandate. I mean, surely God understands that it’s just not practical! How can we possibly make prayer the highest priority of our lives when we are mothering little ones who need us day and night? As the old saying goes, “a man works from the rising to the setting of the sun, but a woman’s work is never done!” We never get a “break” from mothering. As mothers, we must be available to our children twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. So how can we possibly make room for prayer with such a demanding call upon our lives?
I certainly won’t pretend that having small children makes prayer any easier. There have been many seasons where I attempted to “coast” spiritually, to simply whisper a few hurried prayers as I’m getting dressed in the morning or driving my kids to their activities. When I feel frazzled, frenzied, or exhausted, usually prayer is the very last thing that seems realistic. I start thinking, “Surely God understands how hard I’ve been working, how tired I am, and how impractical it is to fit a lengthy prayer session into my day! He won’t mind if I just say a few hurried statements to Him here and there, whenever I can fit it in!” Yet, I have learned firsthand that this is dangerous reasoning. Not because spending a certain amount of time in prayer somehow makes me more righteous or spiritual, but because time God’s presence is what gives me the fuel I need to live out the calling He has placed upon my life. As a mom of six once said to me, “I’m too busy NOT to pray!”
Jesus spoke of this principle to His disciples in Matthew 6:33 when He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” When we put Him in His rightful place, as the highest priority of our lives, everything else we need falls into place. In other words, all of the strength, energy, peace, creativity, and grace I need to be the set-apart mother He has called me to be is available to me when I seek Him first.
I often think of the story of Mary and Martha when I’m struggling to keep prayer in its rightful place. It seemed completely impractical for Martha to stop bustling around the kitchen and sit as Jesus’ feet, as Mary was doing. She must have been thinking, “Surely Jesus understands how much work I need to get done, and how many responsibilities I have on my plate right now! Surely He knows I can’t just drop everything to spend time with Him!” And yet, Jesus told Martha, “You are worried about many things, but only one thing is needed.” What was that “one thing”? To sit at His feet. To bask in His presence, build relationship with Him, and listen to His word.
Martha’s serving and hospitality was not the problem. The problem was that she was attempting to do these things in her own strength, without making time with Jesus her highest priority. And as a result Martha was worried, frazzled, and “encumbered with much serving.” What a perfect description of so many young moms today! Serving our families and meeting our children’s’ needs is not the problem. But attempting to do this without the undergirding strength that comes through prayer and time in Christ’s presence quickly leads to burn-out and stress, just as it did for Martha. And the more burned-out and stressed we become, the more we try to convince ourselves that we are simply too exhausted and frenzied to fit prayer into our lives.
Long and short, prayer is the fuel that makes set-apart motherhood work. Not just the act of prayer, but the process of connecting in a personal way with the King of all kings — the act of casting our cares upon Him and gaining the grace we need for the set apart life He has called us to live. Christ-centered mothering is Christ-enabled mothering. In other words, it’s impossible in our own strength! Time with our King, pouring out our heart to Him, meditating on His truth, and worshiping Him is what fills us, refuels us, and equips us for this calling like nothing else can. So I heartily agree with that mom of six … we are too busy NOT to pray!
How is this accomplished practically? Here are some steps that have greatly helped me guard prayer as a priority in my life, even with four little ones underfoot!
1. Have an Appointment with the Lord – and Keep It!
This was a brilliant piece of advice that I read in one of Corrie ten Boom’s books many years ago. She said, “Don’t pray when you feel like it. Rather, have an appointment with the Lord, and keep it!” I have found this to be extremely helpful in making prayer my highest priority. Very often, prayer is not what I “feel” like doing. But when I set a regular appointment with the King of all kings and honor that appointment no matter what my body or emotions might say, my soul is greatly benefited. Currently, the best time for me to spend time in prayer is early in the morning, before my children wake up. I know, I know, you may be groaning just reading that statement. Getting up early is not easy for me, especially when I’ve been awakened by kids several times in the middle of the night! But, as Elisabeth Elliot said, in her book, Discipline – The Glad Surrender:
“The best time for most people is early morning — not because most of us love jumping out of bed, but because it is the only time of day when we can be fairly sure of not being interrupted and because it is best to commune with God before you commune with people. Your attitude toward them will then arise out of your life in Him. Offering to God the first hour of the day is a token of consecration of all of our time.”
There have been seasons when it was not possible for me to get up before my children for a time of prayer (times when I have been up all night for multiple weeks with a newborn, or struggling with a physical issue that greatly impacted my sleep). In those seasons, I have had to come up with creative solutions to make time for prayer. Sometimes, I’ve had a helper come to the house first thing in the morning and take over with the kids while I got a shower and had a quiet time. Other times, Eric has stepped in to manage the morning routine and supervise the kids so that I can get that much-needed time in prayer and in the Word. Once my kids got past the infant/toddler stage, I found that having a regular time each morning for them to sit and quietly read books or watch an edifying video provided an opportunity for me to spend time alone with God.
Whether you get up before your children or simply designate another time during the day when you can be relatively sure you won’t be interrupted, the key is regularity, consistency, and commitment!
2. Remove Time Wasters and Distractions
Many of us look at our daily schedules and can’t see any available time for prayer and seeking God. Yet often, our lives are filled with subtle distractions and time-wasters that take up far more of our free time than we realize. Often, when we simply cut these things out (or reduce the time we spend on them) we can free up large portions of time that can be re-directed toward prayer, journaling, and Bible study. For instance, how many hours each day are we spending on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest? Social media in itself is not wrong, but when we spend more time socializing or browsing online than we do in the presence of our King, it quickly gets into an unhealthy place in our lives. The same is true for movies, television, and other forms of entertainment. Most media has very little, if any, eternal value, yet many of us frequently devote hours upon hours of our week to this pastime, leaving very little room left over for prayer. Not to mention the fact that when we fill our minds with the messages and images of pop-culture, we are not meditating upon Truth. This habit can weaken our spiritual life and dampen our intimacy with Christ.
Once I finally became willing to step away from the “leisure” activities that I’d been so addicted to (i.e. vegging in front of movies several times a week) I found that I suddenly had a lot of free time to devote to prayer!
If you are struggling to find enough time for prayer and time with God, I encourage you to prayerfully consider cutting back or eliminating trivial things that may be eating up large portions of your time — such as social media or pop-culture entertainment. Exchanging leisure-time activities for prayer can be a difficult sacrifice to make at first, but remember which one is more important in light of eternity!
3. Get Back Up on the Horse
All of us go through “unusual” seasons in which regular, consistent prayer just doesn’t happen. It may be the birth of a child, a difficult pregnancy, a hospital stay, a family crisis, etc, when every spare moment of our time and energy is simply given to “survival mode.” Last year, Eric and I walked through a season like this. For several weeks, we were in the midst of a very intense crisis involving several people that we were close to. And while we did pray during that season, it was just short bursts of crying out to God whenever we could steal away for a few minutes.
I knew that God was giving us grace for what we were walking through, and that He was sustaining us supernaturally even though it wasn’t possible for us to spend hours wrestling in prayer each day. But as soon as things calmed down and life returned to a relatively normal pace, I knew it was time to build regular, consistent prayer back into our lives. Whenever we have walked through a “crisis” or unusual season, the temptation is to continue letting prayer slide because it feels like a big effort to get back into a healthy prayer routine after being “out of the groove” for a while. But the best principle I have learned when coming out of an unusual season is “get back up on the horse.”
When life seems to buck me off my normal prayer routine, I have learned not to shrug my shoulders and accept it, but to rise up on the strength of God and get straight back in the saddle, as soon as I possibly can. And instead of feeling like I somehow have to play “spiritual catch up” when I haven’t spent much time in prayer for a while, I rest in the comforting fact that I can simply pick up right where I left off. No matter what I have walked through, my God is unchanging and He is always ready and waiting for me to cast my cares upon Him!