‘Lengthy’. That sounds like a negative word, right? Unless, perhaps, I’m referring to a holiday in balmy Malaga, by a pool-side, reading Robert Harris, eating paella, sipping San Miguel. But, I did say yesterday that I would look at how it applies to Jesus and prayer.
We don’t like to wait. None of us do. Or, if we have to, only for very short times that seem reasonable to us. When it comes to the things we want, we ‘want them now’. Obviously, this is both a Universal human condition, (our inherent desire for instant gratification), but also a peculiar product of the tick-tock, treadmill, consumerist age in which we live. It gets all over us like a materialist mist – we can observe it clearly for what it is when we’re far away out of its reach, but, within it, we’re oblivious to the effect of its density. And it’s getting worse, generation by generation.
Come on! Let’s get real. We all like Jesus, even truly love Jesus, (to varying degrees), and yet, by the way we live, we go on demonstrating our greater, whole-hearted love for other things. ‘Things’ – not even authentically close contenders to the ‘surpassing greatness’ (Eph.1:19) of His power and presence: Coffee; Pizza; The Great British Bake Off; Match of the Day; Our mates at University; Our boss’s appraisal. The list could, and probably should, go on. But I’d be here all day. Suffice to say, the gifts of the Powerful Giver have charmed our fickle hearts.
If this wasn’t true, (and we convince ourselves that it’s not) – that we don’t love all these other things more than Jesus – wouldn’t we all pray for hours? Not because we were all in full-time ministry and had all the (paid) time in the world to be ‘professional pray-ers’; but because we would simply relate prayer with pleasure and pleasure to our natural inclination to want more of it and to ‘do it’ more often. If we loved God as we should, wholeheartedly, we would become ‘time rich’ (by forsaking other things) and intentionally pursue a more urgent audience with our Father in heaven, in a similar way that we do with the dinner table. Imagine if we found it harder to wait for the time to pray than we did the time to stop praying. (See: Isaiah 55:6).
For example, aren’t overweight people, (apart from medical conditions), people who like food more than others and prefer the comfort of inactivity more than the pain of exercise? They eat beyond what is recommended and move less than what is, and therefore display the results of that for all to see – in the advertisement of their adiposity. That’s not to say that others don’t like food, they just don’t like it as much. A lean, healthy person’s body advertises that they prefer moderation of nutrition and sufficient exercise to the natural inclination of our natures to do neither.
What are you saying, Franks? That there is a correlation between the extent of our experienced pleasure in something and how much time we then do it and, arguably, experience addiction to it. If we loved prayer more, because we really valued God above the good gifts He gives, we would choose differently, prioritise differently, think differently, feel differently, build church differently and, therefore, give a different value to the thing we call ‘prayer’ – time with Him – our ‘First Love’ and all the other language we adopt to convey His chief eminence in our lives as His lovers. In short, we would be addicted to prayer.
When we think of Jesus we should think of Matthew 6:9-13, absolutely, but there are more subtle clues as to what Jesus’ prayer life looked like. Luke 5: 16, Luke 6: 12 are two critical points that indicate how Jesus prayed, not just what He prayed. Lengthy – of considerable or unusual length – remains a word that we kind of roll our eyes at. It suggests a sense of having to do something for longer than you’d like. It carries a negative vibe. But Luke records that Jesus often went into a place of lengthy prayer (Luke 5:16).
In the context of Luke chapter 6 where Luke jots this down in more detail (6:12), Jesus is about to choose His twelve disciples, so He pulls an ‘all-nighter’ with the Father. What was He praying about all night? Each of the twelve? A few of them He was unsure of? Something entirely unrelated? We don’t know, but we do know that Jesus was unapologetically on earth to do the will of Abba Daddy Pappa God. John makes this blatantly clear: John 5: 19; John 5:30; John 6:38; John 8:28; John 12: 49 – and so Jesus gives an unusual amount of time to prayer.
Perhaps Luke was a light sleeper which would explain that he knew that Jesus was up all night praying. He would have been accustomed to lengthy periods of study and even surgery, but, more important than any medical record, Luke notes that Jesus’ prayer life was not just five verses, reduced to something akin to scientific formulae, but a radical (remember, length = unusual length) lifestyle of praying for prolonged periods of time.
Jesus’ prayer was lengthy. Jesus was addicted.
Prayer: Father, I long to love you as I should, with all of who You have made me to be. Please birth in me a new level of spiritual discipline that would unlock in me a passion for pleasurable time spent with You in addicted prayer. Amen.