By LESLIE LUDY
Corrie ten Boom wrote, “Don’t pray when you feel like it. Rather, have an appointment with the Lord, and keep it!” I have found this principle 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 God and honor it, no matter what my body or emotions might say, my soul is greatly benefited. In my current stage of life, the best time for me to pray and be with God 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 wrote,
“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.”
Scripture puts a high value on waking up early, even before dawn, and giving the first-fruits of our day to God in prayer, worship, and seeking His face:
“You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You” (Ps. 63:1).
“Awake, my glory! Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn” (Ps. 57:8).
“[The virtuous woman] also rises while it is yet night…” (Prov. 31:15).
Jesus Himself set for us a clear example of rising early to seek the Father’s face: “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (Mk. 1:35).
There is something so right about rising early to seek God in prayer. Though prayer is powerful no matter when we do it, there is something extra powerful about early morning prayer. It is the ultimate way to “deny self” (Matt. 16:24) from the very beginning of our day; to silence our excuses and yield to the Spirit of God. It’s an opportunity to declare with our lives, not just our lips, that Jesus truly is our most important priority. It gives the Spirit of God, rather than our fleshly whims, the first say.
John Bunyan wrote, “He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.” I have found this to be absolutely true in my own life. Whenever I allow myself to oversleep and miss my time in God’s presence, the entire day feels “off.” But when I discipline my flesh and make my early morning prayer a non-negotiable, I walk in the sweet presence of my King for the rest of my day. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). When I apply this command to my prayer life by seeking Him in my first act of the day, I find that every other area of my life comes into proper alignment.
Whenever possible, I get up early to consecrate the “first fruits” of my day to God by spending time in His Word and in prayer. But there have been seasons when it was not possible for me to get up before my children (for instance, times when I have been up all night for multiple weeks with a newborn, or struggling with a physical issue that impacted my sleep). In those circumstances, 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.
If it is truly not possible for you to build prayer into your early mornings, then designate another time during the day when you can be relatively sure you won’t be interrupted. The key to a disciplined prayer life is regularity, consistency, and commitment!
Evenings are another great time to build in times for regular prayer, though it’s not often what most of us are in the mood for at the end of a long day. When I get my kids into bed and the house is finally calm, I typically feel like unwinding with a good book or browsing the Internet to find ideas and inspiration for various household projects. But I’ve learned that right after getting the kids settled for the night is a wonderful time for my husband and I to pray together. As a couple, we’re able to cast our cares upon Jesus and wrestle in prayer for important needs in our family or ministry. This not only builds deeper unity and spiritual like-mindedness between the two of us, but it also strengthens our individual relationships with Christ and makes Him the priority of our evenings. It’s not that we never spend time at night reading, talking, or browsing around online, but whenever we are purposeful to make prayer our most important nighttime activity, both our marriage and our spiritual lives are greatly blessed.
A lot of women ask me how to structure their prayer times. It’s one thing to set aside an “appointment with the Lord,” but then what? How do we really connect with the King of the Universe in a significant way? There is no magic formula for prayer and seeking God, and every prayer time will probably be a little different. But a good rule of thumb is this – make it all about Him, instead of all about you. Meditate on His goodness, faithfulness, and majesty. Praise Him for all He has done in your life. Thank Him for His astounding work of redemption in your soul. Dwell upon His amazing promises and reckon them as fact, no matter what your feelings or past experience might say. Worship songs, Scripture, and Christ-centered books or sermons can all assist you in doing this.
Of course, it’s not wrong to tell God about your fears, hopes, dreams, and feelings. In fact, the Bible tells us to “cast our cares upon Him” (1 Pe. 5:7) and to “present our requests to God” (Phil. 4:6). But far too many of us spend the majority of our prayer and quiet times meditating upon how we feel rather than upon who God is. When we behold the beauty of our King, our own thoughts, feelings, and worries will fade into the background. As we delight in Him, He grants us the desires of our heart. As we turn our eyes to Him and away from ourselves, He “fills us all in all” (Eph. 1:23).
I love to keep a prayer journal because it allows me to record the faithfulness of God in my life. Whenever I am walking through a season where my faith is being tested, it is so uplifting to read back over my journal throughout the past years or months and see clearly how many times God has come through for me.
Spend some time thinking through what tools could assist you in having more effective prayer and quiet times. Can you set aside an area of the house that is quiet and free from distractions? Can you download some uplifting worship music or audio Scripture to listen to while you pray and meditate on Him? Word of Promise is one of my favorite audio Bibles because it is professionally dramatized and is enhanced with beautiful music. Starting out a prayer time by playing a few of the Psalms from Word of Promise has proven a wonderful tool to help usher me into the presence of God.
Ask God to show you the practical things you can do to not only guard your daily appointment with Him, but also to make that time as powerful and Christ-centered as possible.