The Tyranny of the Immediate
If we are too busy to pray, maybe we are just too busy. In today’s world, most people worth their salt are busy doing good and necessary things. But good is always the worst enemy of best. Accomplishing primary tasks instead of dwelling on secondary ones is a matter of setting our priorities right. Jesus set the example as he withdrew from the crowds to pray and commune with his heavenly Father. “But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray (Luke 5:15-16 NASB). Surely, preaching and healing the sick were good and necessary pursuits, but Jesus despite the clamor of the crowds often forsook them for a higher priority – prayer.
For many years I taught school. At one school I organized a small prayer group among believers on our staff. Attendance was often sporadic. The main reason that people gave for not attending was “something came up and I couldn’t make it.” They were not making excuses; everything from desperate students to disgruntled parents would come their way. The enemy of our souls will provide seemly unavoidable distractions which if not resisted will enslave us to the tyranny of the immediate. The truth of the matter is that we will never have time to pray unless we consciously and tenaciously make time for it.
Let me tell you about a time I had to tenaciously resist good to accomplish the best in relation to prayer.
God’s Priority Or Mine
I hung up the phone and thought to myself, I’ve got a problem. I worked as a missionary with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) for seventeen years, part of that time in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. On one occasion I was asked to help organize a week of prayer and fasting at our training center. At that time I was coordinating a recruiting tour in seventy cities across the US and Canada. I took care of all the logistics. My supervisor, Dave, who worked at another facility on the island called me. He said, “Ken we have a golden opportunity, but we need to get out a mailing this week. Drop everything.” I hung up the phone and I realized that if I continue with the prayer emphasis, in addition to the mailing, it will be virtually impossible to get it all done. I felt this strong pressure to back out of my commitment to pray. As I pondered and talked to the Lord about my dilemma, deep inside I felt Him saying, Trust me. I said, Ok, Lord!
I put my nose to the grindstone, taking part of the day to pray and working as diligently as possible on the mailing with whatever time was left. The harder I worked the further behind I got with respect to my deadline. Monday led into Tuesday and the urge to cut short my prayer time just intensified. I envisioned myself having to contact Dave and advise him that I would not be able to complete the mailing in a timely fashion. At this point, the most important question I had to answer was: What was my greatest priority?
Prayer was the answer, nonetheless, it was becoming harder and harder to maintain.
About midweek I received a call from Dave. He said, “Good news, Ken.” And it was indeed good news. Last Days Ministries, the organization founded by Keith Green, the late Christian artist, contacted us and volunteered to take over all the logistics of promoting the tour. All I had to do was pack up our contacts and provide them with our tour schedule and they would do the rest. Praise God, my life had been spared.
I learned two lessons from this exercise in spiritual calisthenics. First, if we take care of God’s priorities, He will take care of ours. Second, prayer in the long term is always time efficient. Time, or the lack of it, is the main hindrance to consistent prayer. If I had capitulated to the immediate demand, I would only have accomplished my task(the tour). By holding to God’s preeminent concern, and prayer, I fulfilled both His priorities along with mine. The words that have echoed over and over again in the church have been, I can’t afford the time to pray. The truth is; we can’t afford not to pray.
Prayer: Fundamental Or Supplemental?
Alistair Begg, the Senior Pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, once said that our efforts in prayer are meager because we view it as “supplemental and not fundamental.” Is it something we add to our own ideas and efforts to make them work more effectively? Or is it the fundamental starting point from which all authentic spiritual works originate?
In conclusion, there is a small but indispensable part of the Body of Christ who have resisted the tyranny of the immediate to persist in the place of prayer. They are people of prayer, faithful servants who have chosen to make prayer fundamental and not supplemental. I leave with you with a slight twist on the words of Winston Churchill; “Never have so few, done so much, for so many.”
Ken Barnes is the author of “The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places” YWAM Publishing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org