The old adage says, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Jonathan Edwards evidently believed something similar regarding prayer. For instance, one feature of the 18th century’s First Great Awakening was Edwards’ call to “extraordinary prayer.” By extraordinary prayer, he meant, among other things, frequent, passionate, faithful, and unified prayer with other believers in order to experience revival.
Simply defined, extraordinary prayer goes beyond ordinary prayer. Have you ever personally prayed in a way that could be described as “extraordinary”? If you spent a day in prayer, for example, it would be an extraordinary commitment. Would you like to try it?
Does anyone really spend entire days in prayer? The Scripture is filled with examples. Moses spent 40 days in prayer and fasting on two separate occasions (Deut. 9:9-18). Daniel spent 21 days in prayer and fasting (Dan. 10:12-13). Ezra led an entire community to fast and pray for three days (Ezra 8:15-31). Nehemiah spent multiple, consecutive days in prayer (Neh. 1:4). Jesus spent 40 days in prayer and fasting (Matt. 4:1-2). He also spent whole nights in prayer (Luke 6:12).
Since the number of Americans who pray at least once a week has fallen from 83 percent in 2010 to 69 percent today, the person who chooses to spend an entire day in prayer will always appear to be an outlier. If you spend a day in prayer, our culture will probably misunderstand your spiritual “extremism;” but you’ll be in the company of biblical heroes, prophets, and the Son of God.
How to pray for a day
Spending a day in prayer requires both spiritual devotion and practical preparation. For instance, your family and others close to you will need to know you will be unavailable during your day of prayer. In fact, the day needs to be written on your calendar for numerous reasons, primarily to avoid distractions.
Choose your place. Anywhere you have privacy is fine, but you might prefer an inspiring location in nature. If natural surroundings aren’t an option, a church prayer room, a quiet home or a hotel will work. Give yourself the privilege of solitude.
Disconnect the phone. Ignore your iPad, laptop, television and other unwanted interferences. Your entire focus should be on God and your devotion to Him.
Choose your materials ahead of time. You will want your Bible (avoid the temptation of an electronic version—this is a time to go old-school). Take a notebook to capture thoughts and impressions as the Spirit speaks to you.
Do you have a prayer list of concerns you want to spread before the Lord? If you’re a pastor or church leader, how about praying through the church directory or membership roll? If you teach a small group, your class roll will take some time to pray over. If you like hymns, take a hymnal.
Listening in prayer
You don’t always have to talk in prayer. Use the time to cultivate the art of hearing God. Take the advice of the Psalmist who said, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…” (Psalm 37:7). Have the faith to pray, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long” (Psalm 25:4-5). Remember, Jesus said, “My sheep will hear my voice…” (John 10:27). A day of prayer that doesn’t include a fresh word from the Lord to your soul may seem like “a swing and a miss”. Listen deeply, therefore, as you read and meditate on the Word of God. Take your time reading Scripture to encounter God’s voice for your current needs and for the development of your inner life. Surrender to the silent discipline of waiting upon the still, small voice. Trust the promise of Psalm 25:14, “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.”
Praying with others
Nothing prohibits you from praying with others during your day of prayer. If anyone in your group doesn’t understand that every minute of your day is a precious escape from the ordinary and, therefore, not intended for conversation with others, avoid them. You will rarely spend entire days in prayer. Choose carefully who might join you, if for only a portion of your day. Do not waste time with trivial talk. Spend all your time in prayer and spiritual devotion.
Time in prayer
How long should you pray? For your day of prayer, you should deliberately spend no less than three hours in intentional prayer, but six to seven hours in prayer is better. Plan your day by the hour. Include significant time for worship and singing to the Lord. Give an early hour to intercession for your family, your friends, and co-workers. Spend more time than usual in soul-bearing, blunt confession of sin and repentance. Come back at a later time to intercede for the lost. Pour your heart out in uninterrupted prayer for the needs, concerns and pressures in your own life. Leave nothing in your life un-prayed for. Quickly write things down as insights occur to you. Pray through entire chapters of Scripture. The time will speed by as you “seek those things which are above.”
Why we pray
Why should anyone spend a day in prayer? Aren’t there more pressing needs in ministry? Moses spent days in prayer. Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel spent days in prayer. Weren’t there other pressing matters in their days too? Of course, there was, but prayer is an end in itself because in prayer you’re spending time in the presence of God.
Prayer is oxygen for ministry. Prayer is fuel for serving God. Your highest priority is loving God with every part of your life—and in prayer, you can. So, spending a day in prayer is not abandoning ministry. Spending a day in prayer is ministry. In fact, it’s extraordinary!