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The Ten-Second Prayer Principle
Tom never thought of himself as a prayer warrior. In fact, he never thought about himself as being much of anything except a regular guy who loved his family, his church, and his country.
He had a decent job: he was a middle manager at a local telecommunications company. He had a nice family: loving wife and three relatively well-adjusted and happy kids. He had fun with his family on vacation a couple of times each year. He was actively involved at church too. He taught a Sunday-school class, usually working through a book of the Bible in five, ten, or more weeks. He studied his Bible, although sometimes he knew he relied too much on the curriculum notes the church gave him.
He was faithful in all those areas.
But Tom had picked up a unique concept about prayer early in his Christian life. He liked it because it gave him a way to pray without getting bogged down in minutiae or struggling to keep his mind from wandering when he tried to pray for longer periods. He had heard it called "praying without ceasing" and "the ten-second prayer," but the fact that it was short and quick made it easy for him to utter many prayers in the course of a day.
The thought of praying for ten seconds was appealing to him. It was manageable. It broke things down into bite-size chunks that kept him active in the prayer arena. Ten-second prayers were the only way he could do it. After all, his knees had given out when he played high-school football, and kneeling caused him tremendous pain. He didn't think God was too stuck on that particular posture for praying, since the Bible so rarely specified that anyone prayed on his knees.
Getting up earlier in the morning was out of the question for Tom too. If he didn't get his eight hours of sleep, he felt worthless all day. He rarely managed to turn in before eleven at night, so to awaken earlier than seven would be tough. He knew having a quiet time was important, but he'd found ways to get it done other than rising early. He simply chose not to let others' championing the early morning hours bother him. He knew God had made everyone unique, and if he had a different way of doing things, if it kept him growing in his love for God, what did it matter if he didn't do it the way some people said it should be done?
Let me take you through part of Tom's day to show you how the ten-second prayer principle works.
When the alarm clock shocked him from sleep at 7 a.m., Tom eased his aching limbs over the edge of the bed and sat for a moment, rubbing his temples. "Thanks for a good night's sleep, Lord," he murmured, and then staggered toward the bathroom.
Ten-second prayer number one.
As he stood before the bathroom mirror, he turned on the water and splashed some on his face. It was still cold, so he shivered and said, "Ah, that feels good, Lord. Thanks for cold water and the refreshment it gives me."
Ten-second prayer number two.
He reached into the shower and turned on the water, catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He knew he was no prize, but he smiled, pulled in his tummy, and said, "One of these days I'm going to get a perfect body, right, Lord? So I've got something to look forward to, don't I. Help me keep up with the exercises, OK? Sometimes it isn't easy to get it done."
Ten-second prayer number three.
He stepped into the shower and let the water cascade over him comfortingly, its warmth radiating deep into his muscles, soothing his aches, washing away the morning's fog. "That feels great, Lord. Thanks for the hot water and that the water heater is holding up. Please help it to hold out through the year: I just don't have the money to replace it or make a major repair...unless you want to send me a windfall."
Ten-second prayer number four.
As Tom showered, he prayed for other situations that came to his mind, racking up prayers five, six, and seven.
Tom opened the bathroom door to let the moisture escape and came face to face with his wife, Darla, heading to the kitchen for the day's first cup of coffee. He smiled affectionately at her and prayed silently, "Thank you, Lord, for that woman, who looks beautiful even first thing in the morning. Please give us many years together."
Ten-second prayer number eight.
"What're you so happy about?" Darla asked.
"I was just telling God how thankful I am to have such a beautiful wife." "Amen," she said before moving on with a step Tom thought was a little bit lighter.
Tom turned back to the sink to brush his teeth. As he squeezed the speckled paste onto his toothbrush, he remembered his father-in-law's complaint about how much his false teeth were hurting him. As he brushed, Tom prayed in his mind, "Help Dad not to have such problems with his teeth, Lord. Whatever it takes. And if he needs to buy new dentures, help him find the money he'll need. If I can help out, let me know."
Ten-second prayer number nine.
Finally his mind turned to his job. What a wreck that was. He didn't like where he worked, who he worked for, or how things had turned out. Great promises had been made at the start, but none had been kept. He stared at his tired-looking eyes in the mirror, then murmured, "God, please guide me. I don't know what to do about my job. I'm unhappy, and I need a change, but I'm scared. Lead me. I've got bills to pay."
That was all he said. He told himself that God knew what was in his heart, so no long explanation was necessary. But then something else occurred to him and he added, "But Lord, as long as I'm there, help me to do a good job. That's all I ask."
Don't you get the feeling that Tom enjoyed his prayer life? No dullness, no repeating the same old stuff: He constantly tilled new ground. Everything that came his way turned into an opportunity for prayer. That's the essence of prayer that never ends. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Paul seemed to be advocating such a prayer life when he said, "Pray without ceasing."
Someone recently told me that the "without ceasing" part of that verse was used in other contexts to refer to a medical condition that kept coming back. Perhaps even Paul himself had such a condition, though we don't know for sure. The application, though, is clear: Keep coming back to those previous prayers. Don't give up on them. Repeat, revise, reform. But never give up until it's clear that God says, "No," or you realize the Spirit leading you in another direction. Another person told me that "without ceasing" was a concept similar to a hacking cough. Ever had one of them? You cough. Stop. Then cough again. And again. And again.
Now, I don't want to give you a hacking cough. I just want to convey the idea of something that's ongoing -- that persists no matter what we happen to be doing. Prayer without ceasing simply means we never sign off with God. We come back to the thoughts, needs, concerns, and situations in our lives, at home, and in our world time after time. Every few minutes or so, we might think of something that needs to be prayed about. So we send a brief "heavenly telegram" to God.
Tom had a flourishing prayer life and a close relationship with God despite the fact that he didn't start the day with thirty or forty minutes in his "prayer closet." He talked to God naturally, without premeditation or planning, taking cues from life -- from whatever was happening around him at any given moment -- as prompts for prayer.
Most of his prayers were less than ten seconds each. Yet the nine prayers he uttered just in the process of getting up and showering added up to...well, who cares how much time? What's the point in crunching numbers? It was fun. Fulfilling. Relational. Real. Easy. And it wasn't time consuming. These prayers came up in the course of the morning as naturally as thinking about his day, setting some goals, and planning his activities.
Most of all, Tom's prayers covered a lot of ground. Not the same old stuff. Not the typical prayers we all tend to repeat. He prayed about many different things, and in many different postures -- on the bed, in the shower, at the sink, pulling on his shirt. He was praying without ceasing.
How can you do this throughout your day? How can you begin to create a lifestyle of prayer that permeates everything you do?
Such a lifestyle springs from a mentality that says, "Prayer is important. Praying for others -- even people and things I don't know personally -- changes the world. Therefore, I will pray as much as I can every day."
Praying without ceasing occurs in the context of the natural unfolding of our day. We don't have to go to a special place, kneel, and rigidly follow some prayer formula or cutesy acrostic. No, we can pray naturally and effortlessly: like breathing. The moment we become aware of something -- a blessing, a need, an opportunity -- we immediately mention it to God: in our minds, out loud, or in any way we want. And God will hear us. His promise is, "All things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you" (Mark 11:24).
God clearly beckons us to pray as often as we think to do so. He promises to answer, even those ten-second prayers we soon after forget. God doesn't forget.
Years ago I taught a large Sunday school class in a local church. One Sunday a couple, Tony and Carole, arrived bubbling over with questions about my lesson, about the reality of God, and about how God works in our lives. I answered, and as I did, I prayed, "Lord, these people are real. Help me minister to them."
That was it. Another Sunday Tony and Carole invited me to lunch, where we engaged in deeper and more difficult questions, but I didn't think about my prayer again until much later. That's when Carole told me, "I love the way you teach. You're the most realistic, honest Christian I've ever met."
It was the start of a friendship with both of them that has lasted many years. I think it all began because of one moment of prayer I'd quickly forgotten. Fortunately, God hadn't. In fact, over the next two years, God led me into a deeper and more extensive friendship with this couple, and they helped me through a harrowing episode of my life with understanding that came directly from their own similar experience.
Here's another example of the Ten-Second Prayer Principle at work. We have a hamster. My wife and I can't seem to get it through our three-year-old daughter Elizabeth's head that letting Fluffy out of her cage is dangerous. Why? Because we have two cats and two dogs, each of them hungry for hamster flesh.
One day Fluffy got out because nobody noticed when Elizabeth left the door open. Fluffy disappeared without a trace. The moment we discovered her absence, I prayed, "Lord, bring Fluffy out into the open so we can catch her, please -- and before the cats or dogs get her."
Every day when I got up in the morning, before we left the house, when we returned, and when I turned out the lights before bed, I looked for Fluffy. She had to be getting hungry, so I repeated, "Lord, whenever you're ready, just fling her out here."
Then one night we walked into the house, and there was Fluffy, in the middle of the family room. Covered with saliva. The dog hovered over her and clearly had gotten her into her mouth but decided she wasn't quite as tasty as she looked. I grabbed her and put her back into her cage. That was it. But I also sent a mental note to God: "Thanks, Lord. You did good."
That's just one of many types of prayers I see answered all the time in our household. Wouldn't it be exciting to see real, regular, and powerful answers to your prayers? Nearly every day? On all kinds of levels?
And won't it be amazing to get to heaven and find out that all those things you prayed about in passing came to pass? God will have answered every one, even those you forgot.
If that possibility excites you, read on. I want to show you much more.
The Ten-Second Prayer Principle © 2007 by Mark Littleton