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08 May 2014

“Time with the one who loves us the most”

Our recent research on discipleship found that only a third of evangelicals are setting aside a substantial period each day to pray. But this does not mean that two-thirds are not praying; 50 per cent say they either try to find at least a few minutes each day, or just pray when the chance or need arises.

"Prayer is the life-line of the loving communication between ourselves and our heavenly father", says Jonathan Oloyede, council member and director of the National Day of Prayer. But in reality many of us admit we often don't pray regularly, with more than 40 per cent saying they find it difficult to find time on a regular disciplined basis to pray and read the Bible.

So how do we avoid viewing prayer as a burden and constantly feeling guilty for not praying 'enough'? As one person commented in our survey: "I know I should read the Bible and pray every day but sometimes it gets crowded out and I feel very guilty. It is a secret feeling of shame and I imagine that everybody else is much more faithful than me."Jonathan believes that when we are in a strong relationship with God our perspective on prayer changes, so rather than seeing it as a burdensome task it becomes something natural and even exciting. "The Church has put prayer on a wrong pedestal of commandments, of things you need to do, rather than seeing it as the relational access we have with God," he adds.

Rather than worrying about praying 'enough', he suggests we try to rediscover the love God has for us, and the love we have for God. We should do this in the way that comes naturally to us, perhaps through nature, in art, in resting, while jogging, in silence or while listening to worship music. Like a close friend or partner, as we get to know God more we'll find we naturally want to chat with him and hear his opinions on the issues we're facing.

The reality is many of us are very busy. Martha is the biblical follower of Jesus that the highest number of evangelicals in the survey identified with. Recognising our busy lifestyles, Jonathan reflects: "In the same way we plan quality time for the people we love, we need to carve out time with the one who loves us the most – God. If we struggle with this we need to look at our diary and schedule in time with God, or cut down on time spent on things such as TV." 

The discipleship research indicates that increasing numbers of Christians are using their time on rush-hour buses or trains to connect with God, with a third regularly reading the Bible on their mobile devices. Six in ten also said praying on the move helps strengthen their prayer life, so if you find yourself on a train, twiddling your thumbs during lunch, or bored in a shopping queue, consider using that time to connect with God.

Almost two-thirds of those we surveyed admitted they are easily distracted when spending time with God, relating to Martha's story in Luke 10. Matthew 6:6 reads "when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father".

Jonathan suggests that "closing the door" may mean switching off the things that distract us, such as our phone or TVs. Fasting from these things, as well as food, is a way we can remove things that take our attention.

Jonathan travels across the country and beyond, encouraging Christians and churches to unite in prayer. Commenting on what we could learn from the prayer lives of Christians from South Korea and many African countries, he said: "Their passion for prayer is something we can catch, as well as the way they train their children to pray, getting the whole family involved. They also have an understanding of the spiritual world in prayer, as well as the ministry of the Holy Spirit."

Jonathan suggests some ways churches can encourage the prayer life of their church:

  • Take the opportunity to pray when most of the church is gathered togetherTeach on the importance of prayer
  • Encourage testimonies from people who have developed their prayer lives
  • Encourage home groups to pray together;
  • Have times of corporate prayer and fasting
  • Host 24-7 prayer events or a week of prayer
  • Encourage people to set their phone alarms every day and pause to pray the Lord's Prayer at noon.

Read: Our latest research report, Time for discipleship?

Watch and share our short videos of Christian leaders reflecting on the discipleship findings, perfect to spark discussion: www.eauk.org/discipleship