Long, Wandering Prayer

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Psalms 55 | June 11 - Sunday Evening,

Sunday Evening,
June 11
Long, Wandering Prayer | Psalms 55
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Our Father in heaven, as we have just sung, now we want to take everything to You in prayer, and for these moments ahead our specific request is that You would teach us and instruct us from Your Word, and as we think on prayer, many of us having heard Bible studies and sermons and lessons on prayer many, many times, we pray not only that You would work on our wills, that we might choose to pray, or feel that we need to pray, but you would so work in our hearts that we want to pray. What a privilege that You would listen to us, our heavenly Father. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Follow along as I read from our text this evening, Psalm 55. I’m going to read the text then we’ll have a bit of an introduction and we’ll come back to it and explain what in the world this text has to do with the title for this evening’s message, “Long Wandering Prayer.”

Psalm 55.

“To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David.”

So normally when you read the Bible and it has the heading like it does there in Psalm 55 and it says in black print, “cast your burden on the Lord,” that’s what an editor adds to help orient you. But with some of these psalms, when they have in all uppercase letters there, that’s actually part of the original text. So you should read that, that’s an inspired part of the text, and here it tells us that this is a psalm, a song of David.

“Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
Attend to me, and answer me;
I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
because of the noise of the enemy,
because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
and in anger they bear a grudge against me.

My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.”

Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues;
for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they go around it
on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
ruin is in its midst; oppression and fraud
do not depart from its marketplace.

For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together;
within God’s house we walked in the throng.
Let death steal over them;
let them go down to Sheol alive;
for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart.

But I call to God,
and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and He hears my voice.
He redeems my soul in safety
from the battle that I wage,
for many are arrayed against me.
God will give ear and humble them,
He who is enthroned from of old,
because they do not change
and do not fear God.

My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;
he violated his covenant.
His speech was smooth as butter,
yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
yet they were drawn swords.

Cast your burden on the Lord,
and He will sustain you;
He will never permit
the righteous to be moved.

But you, O God, will cast them down
into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery
shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in You.”

Let me put the application for this sermon at the very front. My goal in this message is a point of action, this series for these four weeks, entitled “Do Not Waste Your Summer.” So here’s the application. I want to urge you, encourage you, can’t lay this particular application down as the 11th commandment, but I urge you as an application from this text we’ll come to, that sometime this summer you set aside at least two hours, and it would be better if you could do about half a day, but let’s just say at least two hours to experience the joy and the freedom of long, wandering prayer. That’s for everyone here. If you’re old enough to pray, and if you’re old enough to hear me you’re old enough to pray, try to set aside two hours.

You can do this if your 85, you can do this if you’re 8. Try to set aside two hours sometime this summer to experience the joy and the freedom of long wandering prayer.

So I hope that by the end of this message you will not only be willing to make a decision toward that end, that means very practically putting something down in your phone, on your calendar, sometime this summer, set aside at least two, three or four would be better, at least two hours, not only a decision to do it, but more importantly a desire. Not just an action of the will, you’d feel like, “Okay, Pastor said we should try to do it, I’ll try to do it,” you would have a desire. This sounds good and I want to do it.

The title for the sermon comes from this book that I read over 20 years ago called Long Wandering Prayer, there’s the title, An Invitation to Walk with God by David Hansen. David Hansen has been a pastor in Montana and Ohio. He’s a little bit outside of our normal Reformed complementarian tradition, but he’s written a number of good books on pastoral ministry and this is one of my very favorite books on prayer. I’ll be referencing parts of the book throughout this sermon. In this book he starts with the text that I just read, Psalm 55, which we’ll come to in just a moment.

But let me try to explain what I mean by this phrase “long wandering prayer.” You may say, well, I have half of that equation down already. I have a lot of short wandering prayers. What I mean is prayer that is longer than usual, which I think for most everyone two hours is going to be longer than usual, and less concerned by discipline and form.

You can think of prayer as being with or without form. Sometimes what’s hard with prayer for all of us is we get into a rut and we do the same things and we need helps, and some of those helps come in the way of forms and some of them come in the way of greater freedom. We need both.

What do I mean? What do I mean by a form? What I mean by a form is the discipline and the structure of prayer. We should not think that passionate, desperate prayer only is spontaneous prayer. Sometimes we equate that if I didn’t plan for it, if I haven’t worked at it, if it’s very casual, informal, spontaneous, then that is the most authentic form of prayer.

That’s not always the case. In fact, often it takes the hard work and the discipline of crafting a prayer that lends its great pathos.

Here’s what I mean. Keep your finger here in Psalm 55; we’re coming back to that. But turn to Lamentations, after Isaiah, Jeremiah is the book Lamentations, which is written about the fall, the lament, the fall of Jerusalem, and it is a passionate, desperate prayer.

If you’ve turned there, Lamentations 1 begins, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people. How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave.”

This is a lament. Jerusalem has been destroyed, the people have been taken to Babylon. It’s gut-wrenching.

Later in chapter 1, he says, “I weep; my eyes overflow with tears.” Or in chapter 2, “My eyes fail from weeping, I’m in torment.” Or in chapter 5, “Remember us, O Lord, what has happened to us. Look and see our disgrace.”

So in chapter 5 we see quite explicitly that this is a prayer, “Remember us, O Lord, I’m speaking, I’m praying.”

Now the reason why I point to Lamentations is Lamentations is an entire book that is an emotional, affectionate, pity-full prayer. But it was composed with the most careful detail and attention to preparation and form.

So some of you may have a footnote, but not all of the Bibles include this footnote, so you might not realize it, but Lamentations every chapter, except for chapter 5, is an acrostic. So if you look in your Bible you see there are 22 verses in chapter 1. There’s 22 verses in chapter 2, and then chapter 3 has 66 verses but really it’s 22 triplets, so it’s 22 times 3. Why? Because there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. So if you could look at this in Hebrew, you would see verse 1 begins with alef, then bet, then gimel, then dalet. It goes through all 22 letters. Just like if we were doing in English, A, B. C, D. So the author is taking great care to compose this prayer and make an acrostic. Chapter 1’s an acrostic, chapter 2 same acrostic. Chapter 3, every three verses go alef, alef, alef, bet, bet, bet, gimel, gimel, gimel, and follow the letters that way, which is why there’s 22 times 3. Then chapter 4 is an acrostic and I’m not sure why chapter 5 is not. But four of the five chapters follow this very deliberate pattern, which you could see if you were a Hebrew reader, that’s it’s very obviously following the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

So here is this most passionate of books, with a desperate prayer, and we see detailed planning and structure. So we should not think that spontaneous prayer is the only kind of passionate prayer. No, oftentimes prayer requires planning, hard work, organization, you may even write out your prayers. So we need help. It often takes this kind of consistency, this planning, this preparation. If we are to grow as Christians and grow in prayer, we have to develop some of these disciplines.

So many of you may use prayer cards or you use lists of things that you pray for every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on. It means so much to me. It’s one of the nicest things anyone can say to me, and many of you have said it to me, “Pastor, I pray for you and your family every day,” or “I pray for you every week” or on certain day of the month. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

We have those lists of prayers. We need the discipline of corporate prayer when we come together. Use good resources. The absolute best resource to help you pray outside of the Bible, you know what it is? It’s your hymnal. Use a hymnal. Many of you use the Valley of Vision, The Collection of Puritan Prayers, or the new book, Be Thou My Vision, or maybe you use The Book of Common Prayer or The Creeds and Confessions or other devotional books.

Pray Scripture. You’ve heard me say before, if you get stuck, pray Scripture, and this is not original to me, I think I heard it from Ben Patterson years ago, another great writer on prayer. He said there’s three R’s you can do when you pray Scripture. You can take any passage of Scripture and you can do these three things – you can rejoice, repent, and request.

So if you’re coming to prayer tomorrow and you don’t know what to do, you can read something, probably the Psalms are a good place to start, and you can read a few verses and think what is here where I can rejoice in what God is doing and has promised? Where do I need to repent of where I’ve fallen short? And how do I need to request?

If we had time, we could look at Jonah’s prayer, when he’s in the belly of the great fish, and show how Jonah is praying from the Psalms. In the moment of his greatest need, Jonah is praying Scripture because he’s hidden the Word in his heart.

So we need the habit of regular, disciplined, usually it’s going to be somewhat brief, daily prayer.

So that’s one kind of prayer which we all ought to cultivate – consistent, forms, disciplined, relatively brief.

This sermon, however, is about another kind of prayer. That is setting aside time for long, wandering prayer. At least two hours where your thoughts mosey and meander in the presence of God. Daily we need the discipline of praying with forms, all of those helps, then at times we need the opportunity set aside to pray with freedom.

So come back to Psalm 55. What does Psalm 55 have to do with long, wandering prayer?

What I want you to notice in this Psalm at the very beginning, verse 1, it is a prayer, “Give ear to my prayer, O God.” It starts how we think prayers should sound. “O God,” so he’s addressing God, and then there are some imperative verbs, “hide not yourself, attend to me, I’m restless, people are against me.” So there’s an address to God, you’re listening, I’m making requests, I’m asking you of things, I’m telling you about things, God, I’m praying. That’s what we think of as prayer and, of course, it usually is.

But then notice what happens in verse 2 as we continue. The prayer quickly becomes an expression of David’s inner turmoil. So he says I’m restless in my complaint because of the noise of my enemy. Verse 4, my heart is in aguish, fear and trembling. I wish I had wings and I could fly away. I would hurry to find a shelter. So he’s now giving voice to the inner dialogue in his heart.

If you’ve ever thought I’m talking to myself, I’m listening to myself, well, that’s what the psalmist is doing.

Then verse 9, he moves back to imperatives – destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues, day and night they go about. Then to statements, that is indicatives. He says the wicked are like this, here’s what they’re doing.

Then in verse 12, now the prayer gets really strange, unless, unless we understand that perhaps there’s more freedom in prayer than we sometimes realize. Remember verse 1, it’s a prayer – Give ear to my prayer, O God. So it’s a prayer. But look at what he does in verse 12. Now he’s talking to an enemy who as far as we can tell is not right in front of him – “For it is not an enemy who taunts me, then I could bear it. It is not an adversary, I could hide from him. But it’s you, a man, my equal, my companion. We used to take sweet counsel together.”

So he’s praying, but he’s no longer addressing God directly. He’s speaking to a man who’s probably not there but is there is in his thoughts, and it’s somewhere we can tell in the life of David from the psalms around it, 54 and 56, on the run from Saul, perhaps Saul, you have proven to be, I thought we were close, I thought we were friends, you have proven, and now you’re out and you’re my enemy, out to kill me.

Verse 15 he goes back to asking for the death of his enemies. That may sound troubling to us, but the point for our purposes tonight is simply to note that he doesn’t dwell there. Sometimes in prayer it’s not what you say until you get to the very end. You have to work through some things before you get to the right conclusions.

Verse 16 through 19, David’s heart now focuses on God. But notice he’s speaking not in the second person, “O Lord, You are this and that,” but he’s speaking in the third person now, “Lord, save me, the Lord ransoms me, the Lord will hear me.”

Then he goes back to verse 20 and 21 and now he talks about his traitorous friend again, but this time it’s not directly but it’s in the third person, “He was a companion, his speech was smooth as butter, his words were soft, he tricked me, he’s a backstabber.”

And then 22 and 23, he concludes his prayer by talking to himself and offering himself advice. He’s telling himself what to do, “Cast your burden on the Lord. He will sustain you. He will not permit the righteous to be moved.” Then he lands back to the second person, like we would think a prayer was supposed to sound, “You, O God, cast them down into the pits. I will trust in You.”

Here’s the point. There is freedom, great freedom, in this prayer. Yes, when Jesus taught His disciples to pray, there is a certain way and certain kinds of petitions, but that’s not to hem us in that those are the only words we can use. But generally, praying to Father, making petitions, asking for things.

But here we see a different kind of prayer. A broader definition of prayer. In fact, in its broadest definition, we might think of prayer like this: Prayer is a form of thinking in the presence of God according to the Word of God by the Spirit of God through the Son of God. Prayer is a form of thinking in the presence of God according to the Word of God by the Spirit of God through the Son of God.

Now the important part of that definition for us this evening is that first part, that prayer here in Psalm 55 is a kind of thinking our thoughts in the presence of God.

So sometimes in prayer you talk to God, you talk about God, you talk to yourself, you talk to someone who’s not there and then you come back and you talk to God. It’s a kind of running inner dialogue given up to God. It is not always a neat, tidy, sermonic address. It’s messy. It’s meandering.

Now it’s not the same as the sort of headlines you see in the supermarket checkout in one of those magazines about wakefulness or mindfulness or contemplation or self-talk, because this isn’t mere self-talk. This is looking to God. It is. It’s looking and lifting upward and it’s letting our prayers be hemmed in by the Word of God, dependent upon the Spirit of God, offered up according to the person and the work of the Son of God.

But it’s wandering.

Sometimes your best prayers will involve taking a long walk and wrestling and searching and thinking in God’s presence. Maybe go out with a few thoughts. Some of my best times of prayer in my life have been, there was a path in particular left would drive over from Lansing to Grand Rapids. I’d walk on the Kent Trails, that’s a shout out there to Tom Groelsma, and I’d actually park really close to his church. You could go 5 miles down, 5 miles back, and I’d have a list in my pocket of things that I hadn’t gotten around to really having the mental space to think about.

I didn’t have an agenda other than how long is going to take me to walk 5 miles down and walk 5 miles back and think through and lift up this running inner dialogue in my head up to God. Some of the most fruitful times of prayer in my life have been like that, mulling over some issue, struggling with some problem, dreaming some dream or vision and hopefully doing it vertically unto the Lord, asking for His help, for His wisdom, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, and there are few things that show our humility like long seasons of prayer. It takes a lot of humility to take time out of your schedule, when you could be quote/unquote “doing things.”

I have a bad habit of saying at the end of some days, “I didn’t get anything done,” which means, what usually do I mean, “I didn’t get anything?” Things getting done are e-mails were written, the oil change in the car, I don’t actually do it, but I mean taking it to people who do it. Those sort of, taking care of things around the house. Most of us think that’s getting things done. It takes a lot of humility, a lot of faith, to say I’m not getting anything done, so-called, but I’m having a long season of prayer.

Let me give you some advice on what this might look like and then why this matters.

So first. How to pray like this, how to have this kind of long, wandering prayer.

One. You likely need to be alone.

Now in this book, David Hansen points out that we call it quiet time, but it’s really alone time that we need. When we pray to God, it should actually sometimes be quite noisy. We’re wrestling, we’re doing all sorts of work. And alone doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be in solitary confinement. He points out it’s not the lack of people or noise that matters, but it’s the lack of bother. If you’re sitting down and there’s two people next to you talking, that’s very hard to concentrate and pray. But if you’re in, say, a coffee shop with 50 people talking, more noise, more people, less bother.

So you need to be alone, or at least you need to be unbothered. You need to find some mental space where you can be by yourself.

Second. You need to pay attention to the limitations of your body.

God does not expect us to pray as disembodied spirits. Here’s the facts. You cannot pray more than your body will let you pray. Sometimes if you’re in a season of great pain or trial and sometimes, and this often happens and you feel like I’m laid up, I’m in the hospital, I’m getting treatment, this should be the time where I could, or I’m up late at night with a nursing infant, this should be the time where I’m just bathing the whole world in prayer. It often is just the opposite, because your body won’t let you. Your body is doing all sorts of other things. You have the limitations and confinements of your own body.

Some of us do not pray long because we try to pray in ways that are body-depriving and mind-numbingly inactive. So one of the best things you can do is stand up, go on a walk. Yes, you may have a short attention span. I love how Hansen describes it in the book, “a short attention span doesn’t mean you can’t pray for a long time, it means you will have to re-focus more frequently.” So just set aside, just forget about the guilt that you feel when you tried to pray and you said I’m going to do the two hours of prayer, then you got four minutes into the thing and you’re already thinking about your fantasy football draft. Shame on you. Just, all right, I drifted, that’s what happens because I’m a human being, and re-focus more frequently.

I understand why we teach our kids to pray – fold your hands and close your eyes. The reason why we do that, okay, kids, just letting you in on the adult world right here, it’s because you can’t be trusted with your hands when we pray. You poke people and you look at things.

But of course there’s nothing in the Bible that says that’s the only way to pray. There’s many ways. Scripture shows people praying on their knees, on their faces, with their hands lifted up, all sorts of postures. So there’s freedom in the posture that you use.

At least for me, it was a breakthrough years ago when I realized, ha, I can pray when walking. Now you’ve got to be careful that you don’t just think of this, oh great, I was already, I can just kill two birds with one stone and I can get all of my exercise and all of my driving in and all of my prayer. No, I do think you need to set this aside for what it is, but I will fall asleep quickly, as many of you will, and I have found that I am not a horse and I cannot fall asleep standing up, so when I walk, it helps. There’s all sorts of studies that show, they do the mind maps and show everything happening and the way you start to think more. When I talk on the phone I always get up and I start pacing around. I take some respite, some comfort to know Jonathan Edwards, George Mueller, great prayer warriors, would do the same thing and they would walk and they would pace when they pray.

Yes, if you walk you may get distracted. But you’ll also notice things. You’ll be reminded of new things. One of the great things if you walk through a neighborhood you can be reminded to pray for your neighbors. If you want to pray for your church, walk around the church. Pray for a city, walk through the city. Pray for your family, walk through the kitchen and pray for what happens there. Walk through the bedrooms and pray for the kids that are there, or the grandkids that are going to come home. Go outside, move around.

So pay attention to your body. You don’t pray as disembodied souls.

Here’s a third suggestion. You may need to try a new place, but don’t think that a new place is the answer.

Yes, it’s true. A trip to the beach which some of you will take, or a trip to the mountains may help, but what really matters there is not even the vacation destination, but probably the fact that you have a break from your routine. We should not think that prayer would be easier if we lived somewhere else or if we were in some other era, or it would be easier if we were in some other country.

Here’s what Hansen says in the book, I like this. He says, “Hazy, spiritualistic, emotional encounters in the natural world can in a sinister way furnish us with fraudulent experiences that mimic God’s approval. I’ve never met a man or a woman led to Christ by a trout stream, but I’ve known many fishers who interpreted the positive experiences of trout fishing as a message from God that they didn’t need Christ or institutional religion. They found God alone on the trout stream and that is enough, they thought, but canyons don’t remind us of the 10 commandments and an ancient cedar springing from the banks of a gently flowing stream doesn’t remind us of the cross. Without the teaching of the church, we cannot hear the Lord in nature.”

He goes on: “Every one of us wants to believe that if we lived in a better place we would be better people. We tell ourselves if we lived in an environment of natural beauty, we would be better at prayer. But this is a denial of our sin. It is worthless guilt to think we are too lazy to pray, but it is a costly error to think that if we lived in the wilderness we would pray more. You may find a retreat to a beautiful, quiet place to be a real benefit to prayer. It’s true.” But this is so wise. He says, “But if you moved there, the advantage would wear off. If you can’t pray long where you live now, moving won’t help you. People who live in rural areas are not more fervent in prayer, more persistent in prayer, or deeper in prayer than people who live in busier, less attractive places.” He says, “Spiritual groupies swarm to the retreat of the moment, hankering for a mystic jolt while the garden variety sinner beats his breast in the holy of holies two blocks from his house.”

So, yes, find a path, do it at the beach, all of that may be a help. But don’t think that that’s the answer, that you can only pray if you’re in some quiet place of pristine beauty.

Those are a few thoughts on the how. Let me close with a few thoughts on the why.

Why ought we to set aside times for long, wandering prayer? Why am I encouraging you to set aside at least two hours this summer?

A few reasons.

One. We need long prayers for big problems. In fact, you may find in your prayer that you had issues that you needed to talk to God about that you didn’t even know were there.

So I find daily times to pray and pray for my kids and pray for the church and pray for different things on my list. But it’s almost like what we’ve seen with the Day of Atonement and sort of the year’s gunk and sin all gets there and you need time. It’s like the scene with the dragon scales in The Chronicles of Narnia and it takes some time and some pain to peel those off. That’s not going to happen without some long prayers, really wrestle through long prayers for your kids, for your spouse, perhaps a job move or perhaps some sin issue in your life or some fear or doubt or some blessing that you’re clinging to. Long prayer for big problems.

Second. We need the space to think the thoughts we didn’t know were there.

You have to be alone with yourself and with God. Now I’m not a Luddite. I’m not anti-technology, we have it in our home and I have a phone and lots of other gizmos and gadgets and I’m on Twitter and podcasts and all the stuff. But one of the dangers with all of that is you and I forget that we have a soul. You need time where there’s no music in your ear, where you have the chance for your thoughts to wander and you’re surprised by where your thoughts end up. You may have to wrestle through some thoughts that you didn’t even know were there because you’ve not given yourself any opportunity to really think and stretch and spiritually breathe.

Related to that, here’s a third reason why. We need enough time to land on the right prayers.

You see, long, wandering prayer is an opportunity to talk through some of your bad ideas. Talk through some of your ungodly emotions. Say some of the things you want to say but after half a day of prayer, you’ll know you shouldn’t say them.

It’s like the old adage, you get an e-mail that just steams you. Some people say wait 5 minutes. Maybe 5 days. At least wait overnight. There are all sorts of e-mails that I thought about sending and just wait ’til the next day, and you think it’s not such a big deal.

How many things, errant things, that you have said that have been hurtful, that have been unwise, could have been avoided? Not just by the space of time but if you had given yourself opportunity to get out some, to land in some of the bad places in your prayer that God can lead you to a better place? Maybe several hours in ugly prayer keeps us from saying or doing ugly things to other people.

Fourth. We need faith to attend to the good portion that Jesus offers us in prayer.

Hansen says this book is about praying for hours when life is good enough with 20 million things to do. That’s when long prayer requires the greatest sacrifice. It does take faith to go out and really believe that this is a good portion, and God has something good for you. That’s why I said at the beginning, my prayer here is not that you just leave and say “I gotta do this” because that’s going to wear out by tomorrow afternoon, but that you would say “I want to have this communion with God in prayer.”

He includes in this book a number of prayer testimonies, and I just want to read a few paragraphs from this one. I won’t read all of it, but I think many of you will resonate with this, especially the moms here.

She says, so this is quoting from someone, “When my children were young, I often found it hard to concentrate in prayer. It was better for me to get outdoors for one of my prayer walks, yet so hard to get away from the house. There were so many demands. I never felt good about leaving so much undone. There was always more laundry to do, more bills to be paid, more calls to be made, another meal to prepare, any number of things to be done. My heart wanted to be with God, but I couldn’t break away from my responsibilities.”

She says later, “I carried so much guilt,” this is a lot of you in this room, “I carried so much guilt thinking I was the only one that had trouble finding those special quiet times. I thought I was the most undisciplined person for not having all my life in order all the time. During those years I didn’t work outside the home. With all those hours, why couldn’t I find the time to pray? Why didn’t I have those precious moments of peace? And when I did, I spent most of the time confessing how awful I was for not having more of those times.”

She says a paragraph later, “My dear husband.” Let me pause here, dear husbands, let this be true of you, of me. She says, “My dear husband was more than willing to stay with the children.” [sound effect] Okay, let that one land on you, men. “My dear husband was more than willing to stay with the children, the barrier was within me. I had to take the urging of the Lord and the offer from my husband and go with it, but I had to walk out the door, away from those I loved, to be with the One I loved. Eventually I learned to get out the door and my life with God and my life with my family has never been the same.”

She goes on with this testimony for four or five pages. Let me just read at the end. “For many years I struggled,” she says, “and still daily have to decide with the issue of time with God. Just as everyone does. We all have to face the fact that it will not just happen when there is enough time. These times must be strategic planned for just as time with my husband must be planned for, time with my children, time with my friends need to be planned for, so time with the Lord needs to be planned for, because they are so important. Occasionally,” she says, “this has meant letting things go undone. Many times it will mean letting good things go undone, to choose the good portion to be with the Lord.”

Then finally, why? Why this long, wandering prayer?

Simply because we need and we want to spend time with God.

It’s true. The Bible doesn’t give us any kind of exact formula, even the habits that we have in the evangelical church, which do serve us well, but the habits of daily quiet time in the morning or perhaps in the evening, or praying before meals or praying at bedtime. These are good habits, good rituals, but you’d be hard-pressed, you’d find examples in the Psalms, you’d find examples in Jesus, but you’d be hard-pressed to say the Bible gives you as a command you must absolutely read through your Bible every year, have a quiet time.

So it’s true. We don’t want to be legalistic. But let’s talk about the heart. Don’t you wish you had more time to spend with a spouse? Some of you have lost a spouse and you would give almost anything to just have a few moments back with them. Don’t you want to spend time with your kids? I won’t ask the question, kids, if you want to spend more time with your parents, but with your grandkids? With your friends? Surely, surely we want to spend some more time with God, to talk to the God of the universe, talk to the One who made us, the One who loves us, the One who knows you better than you know yourself, the One who has answers to problems that you didn’t even know you had, to talk to God our Father through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ and the power of the Spirit who comes alongside and groans, with groans too deep for words.

So ask, seek, knock. God loves to hear from you, and He will do more than we can ask or imagine. So don’t waste your summer. Don’t waste time feeling all of the guilt of I should have been praying more and now I’m not praying very well. Just pray. Just go out on a long, wandering walk and pray. Make time for the freedom and joy of long prayer, to think your meandering thoughts in the presence of God and see what God will do to bless you.

As Gandalf famously said to Frodo, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, give to us not only the will but the heart to spend time with You in prayer. Would You make us as a congregation a great praying people. Oh, we believe that we are in many ways by Your grace, but so much more. Who knows what blessings You mean to unleash upon us, for our church, for our families, perhaps for our nation, for those who are lost that will come only on the other side of prayer. So give to us the opportunity this summer that we may find in Jesus that great friend, that great friend for sinners, when we come to Him in prayer. In His name we ask all these things. Amen.