All these words refer to how something is done. I am a Methodist. My Christian denomination was started by an Anglican priest in the 18th Century who emphasized mechanics and techniques of prayer. He did this so much that other students at his college called his student prayer group “Methodists”. It was not a complimentary term.
One of the things he was obsessed with was his dedication to early morning prayer. Not only did he worry about getting up early, he also obsessed about the time he spent in prayer.
I was told one time “Jesus got up early to pray and you should be doing it too.” Martin Luther was well-known as a person who got up early to pray and when he knew he would have a hard day, he was known to get up even earlier. Monastic church tradition has always encouraged early morning prayer. The day begins at 3:00 A.M. with communal prayer. Obviously there is church history that encourages early morning prayer.
This news may invigorate you. You may be thinking “I need to start doing this!” This news may also discourage you. You don’t function well in the early morning hours. You cherish your sleep. You don’t think you can roll out of bed early.
Are there advantages to early morning prayer? Of course there are. I am a morning person. I like to get my cup of coffee and as the caffeine begins to do its work on my brain, I am more focused. I can concentrate on prayer because other concerns of the day have not become important. Appointments are later, jobs are later, phone calls are later. Not much is going on early in the morning. I am not a person who has to eat early in the morning. It takes a while for me to develop some hunger. Some people may need to keep their blood sugar levels up early in the morning. The fact that coffee is all I need helps me to concentrate.
I like to get my day started right. Having my early morning talk with God is an excellent way to begin my day. I may have peace, strength and wisdom that I would not normally have due to my time of prayer.
But now let’s talk about the needs of others. I began this post with a reference to John Wesley. The more you read about his life, the more you realize he was dedicated to his faith in God. Some would indeed describe his early efforts at spiritual discipline as “obsessed.” In my experience with “dedicated” people, their lives can be very inspiring or their lives can be very discouraging.
I have been around many, many people who just can’t muster the strength to match the discipline of others. In fact, the “dedicated” person can cause some to just give up and become totally undisciplined.
I don’t think people who are trying to pray need to measure their own level of effort with the effort of others. Just because some like the early morning hours to pray, does not mean that the early morn is your ideal prayer time. God does not “come on the air” at 5:00 in the morning. He is available all day long. There is no set time for prayer. Furthermore, you don’t have to pray for an hour. You need to feel you can pray for as long as is necessary. A fervent five minute prayer is better than no prayer at all.
Our world is so focused on others. We feel good or bad according to how we stack up against others. Is our home acceptable? Is our car acceptable? Is our clothing stylish? It all seems to hinge on how we compare to others.
With prayer, it is a process where you need to find what works for you. Somehow, we need to individualize prayer to the point that we can get people praying where they are. As prayer begins, the time may change, the length of prayer may change, and the words used may change. You may go from five minutes in the car on the way to work to a greater level of dedication. If you don’t, that’s ok too.
In Psalms 42: 1-2 the Bible says “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Some prayer may indeed lead to more prayer. Your desire for prayer may grow over time. As W. Bingham Hunter says “Those who taste find that the Lord is good” [Hunter, 74]. His recommendation is “look for the most helpful time of day, find out what will help you get focused and do it”