Here is step four and five, out of six, on how to have an extended prayer time, consisting of some do’s and don’ts.
4. Consider doing the following things to aid you in prayer.
I have already, in previous blogs, given you a few ideas on what to do in your extended prayer time. Here are a few more:
Fast. Fasting is an excellent way (the Biblical way) to keep one humble and in a serious mood for prayer. If you don’t care to do a full fast (no food, only water) then I suggest bringing along just a few pieces of food, like apples and carrots, and some bottled water. Remember, your mission is to pray and to seek God, not to satisfy your physical desires. If you think fasting, either a full fast or a partial fast, will help to keep you on track with God then by all means plan to do it.
Read large portions of the Bible. Bible reading is a good way to keep your mind plugged into God and open to what His Spirit may want to communicate to you. Plan to read large portions of God’s Word while you are on your prayer retreat. Read a whole book of the Bible in one sitting if you can. Also, take some time to think about what the reading means and what God is saying to you. And you may want to read certain passages over and over. The idea is to saturate your mind with the Word so that you are thinking God’s thoughts.
Memorize and review verses. This is an excellent way to lock God’s Word into your mind. Bible reading will help to saturate your mind with truth, but when you memorize key verses of truth and review them, you are locking that truth into your mind so that you won’t forget it.
I don’t suggest making it your goal, during this special time of prayer, to memorize huge amounts of verses, like whole chapters, so that you are always busy trying to remember verses. This may not be the right time to do that. Verse memory, I think, should be done regularly, on a daily basis. The idea here is to commit any verse to memory that God has especially laid on your heart.
I think it is especially beneficial in an extended prayer time to take along and review verses that you have already memorized. When I go for walks I usually bring along a stack of verse cards. They help me in prayer to keep my mind focused on God. If you have a few favorite verses that you have memorized (or even if you haven’t completely memorized them), it would be good to write them down on 3 by 5 cards and take them with you. Use them, as I have, to keep your mind focused on God. But more then that, God will speak to you through those verses. He will guide you and instruct you by them. I like Psalms 32:8. It says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.”
Pray from your heart. When you pray, always try to pray from your heart. Tell God how you feel about things. You should try to keep a clear mind, focused on the Word and what is true, but you should also engage your emotions. Tell God about your fears and doubts, also about the good feelings that you have toward Him and others.
Your emotions are an important part of your being. It is part of your soul—which also holds your mind and will. When you pray from your heart—and you should also, at the same time, be praying from your mind and will—you are engaging your soul, or your whole being, in prayer. It is what we could call soul to soul communication with God. I would say that it is the only kind of real prayer, and therefore the kind of prayer that is effective and that brings healing.
Never lock up your heart, never deny what you feel, thinking that it isn’t important. God cares about your feelings and He wants to listen to you and heal you. When you open your heart to Him and share what you are feeling you are giving yourself—your whole being—a chance to be healed by Him.
Pray over lists of people and over issues of concern. If you have taken a whole day off or a few days off for this prayer time, you will have an abundance of time on your hands. Take advantage of the time by praying for things that you didn’t have time to pray for before.
As you begin your prayer time, remember to wait on God first to prepare your heart. Then, as you pray, sometime during the course of your prayers, you may feel God’s Spirit moving you to pray in a wider circle—to pray for many people and many things. He has enlarged your heart and you feel a great compassion for people—like Jesus felt for the thousands of people that followed Him around. This is the time to pull out your list—the list that you have been making of people that have come to your mind and issues that have concerned you. Begin to pray over that list. As you are praying, no doubt the Spirit will bring more people and more things to mind to add to your list.
You may think the idea of praying over a list is boring and pure drudgery. But if you give yourself to it and pray from your heart, God will bless you and honor your labor of love. And think of this: just as Jesus miraculously fed the multitude, by praying over lists you are also feeding many people. As many as are on your list that you pray for, that’s how many you have the privilege of feeding—not with bread and fish, but with manna from heaven.
Consider not doing these things.
Here, in my opinion, are five things you should not do during your prayer time.
Constant snacking. Your special prayer time is for praying and for feeding your soul, not for feeding your stomach. If you are serious about prayer leave the snacks and junk food at home. If you have not planned to fast, bring only a few pieces of healthy food. Large amounts of food and snacks will be a great distraction to prayer. Prayer is most effective and powerful when the desires of the body are constrained.
Entertainment. If you are serious about getting some quality prayer time, leave the thoughts of entertaining yourself behind. If you are praying indoors make sure there is not a TV, radio, or computer in the room. If there is, remove them. They will be a distraction and a temptation. Also, don’t plan to play games or even read your favorite novel. And leave any transistor radio or iPod at home. When you go for walks listen to the sounds of nature and to the Spirit. During this special prayer time, see if you can concentrate only on God and on His Word. Give Him your full, undivided attention.
Cell phones. Some of us just can’t part with our cell phone. Some of us are practically non-stop text-ers and e-mailers. All that must stop for a while. Now is your time to communicate only with God.
Duties. This will not be my downfall. But some of you are addicted to your house work and duties. You are neat freaks! Stop all that! Now is your time to rest and pray. If you are so addicted to work, work at prayer!
Lounging. Though prayer is a time of rest a peace, don’t fall into the trap of sleeping the time away. Always be alert and keep your mind sharp and active. Short periods of planned sleep are okay, but I would say that the majority of the time should be spent at the hard work of constant prayer and purposeful study and meditation.