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Prayer times as wineskins

 A group of us have committed to take at least an hour to pray. And one of our group wrote to say, “It’s been a challenge for me as well to not see this as a legalistic practice. I’m trying to spend more time in worship.”    I wrote back, “I think you are wh…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
 A group of us have committed to take at least an hour to pray. And
one of our group wrote to say, “It’s been a challenge for me as well to
not see this as a legalistic practice. I’m trying to spend more time in
I wrote back, “I think you are where we all want
to get. We come to grace through structure. The law shows us our need
for grace. A set time and place for church produces an atmosphere of
worship. Even the decision to open our mouths and pray is a form of
structure – a decision made to fill the silence instead of letting it go

Jesus talks about structure using the metaphor of a wineskin – an inanimate container to hold something of great spiritual value. Everything organic and growing in life needs a wineskin. Paintings
need canvas and a frame. Prayer needs a time and place if it is to be as
intimate as God wants it. Jesus went to a place of prayer often and he
spent long stretches in prayer. The trouble comes when we begin to
elevate the structure of a wineskin to a place where it gets in the way of
the thing it contains.

We take the focused time with God because we’re looking for depth and authenticity in our relationship. Is an hour with God enough or too much? Who knows? While Jesus admonished his disciples for not being able to stay awake and pray an hour with him, that was just one instance. Very often it was no doubt more.

Spending an hour in prayer and structuring it into five minute segments is a
kind of a wineskin. Having that as a way of jogging my mind into action may be helpful, but it doesn’t hold the “wine” of my prayer time adequately. I
spill over into all sorts of random thoughts and journaling. But God
knows that the desire of my heart is intimacy and he meets me in that
place. Some people will thrive on a more structured wineskin, but if
they stick with it long enough, yes, it will become legalism.

Praying through the day is not enough. As a husband, I know that Karen
needs dedicated, focused time with me. She may not ask for it, but when I
purpose to give it to her, it delights her. But our time together can grow stale if I follow a certain structure long enough. Dinner and a movie may work for a month or two, but then become a rote practice. Continue it long enough and it can become drudgery.
And our time with God is similar. We may need the structure of an alarm clock and a list of subjects to pray through initially, but at some point we need to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into new places.

South Korean pastors typically spend three hours a day in prayer and
don’t need a structured approach. Don’t let the objective of intimacy
with the Father be limited by structure, but don’t make the mistake of
not carving out the extended periods of time he wants with you.

Comments (11)

  • I love this Seth. God is not interested in anything but our hearts. I know He loves that you are making Him more approachable by your comments.

    I have this theory about prayer. If we believe, and I do, that God is present with us when we share requests or make our list He does not need to be reminded about the list or told again word for word what we shared or wrote down. Instead, when I pray a list I try to hear what His heart is for that topic and pray what He directs. When in a group I encourage those praying to thank Him for what He will do and to pray as positively as possible within the framework of what we know His Word agrees with.

    I think that worship is prayer. I think that journal writing is prayer. I think that on my face crying is prayer. Anytime that I’m communicating with Him that is prayer.

    There is legalism in anything that elevates itself to importance over Him. Even good things can become idols if they keep you from His will for your life.

    I wrote here recently about AVODAH. This is another pitch for that concept from Hebrew. Anything your hand finds to do – that you should do as unto the Lord. When that is your goal what you offer is elevated by Him from toil/work – service to WORSHIP. Your heart can give time, money, study, dish washing, preaching, or your daily job. All these things are offerings worthy to be elevated given the condition of your heart.

    Seth is right, there is no substitute for time in His presence. However, all that we do can be a praise to Him if we make everything an offering/sacrifice that leads to the goal of drawing us into a closer relationship with Him.

  • I too, have decided to try the one hour prayer experiment–yesterday was day one. Amazing start, seeing as God allowed me & some of my wr team to pray for Prague on the steps on the Natural History Museum! I appreciated the encouragement I gained from this blog. Thank you!

  • I, too, started the hour hour prayer (yesterday was day 2). I can’t lie and say that i thought the same thing about the structure. I’ve only been following the Lord for a year and and some change so I have to read the description under each heading every time before I actually start the five minutes. Praying the scripture is the hardest one for me just because I’m not sure if I should continue to read what passage I’m reading in the Bible or what that is even suppose to look like. The first day I was a little antsy about the 5 minutes too. I was worried about it being legalistic but I know that I need discipline and the I desire to constantly seek the Lord.

  • I’m one of the people who took up this challenge.

    So far the prayer experiment has been going well. I’ve been trying the kneeling posture during prayer instead of laying in bed. It has helped me to concentrate and focus on God. I’ve been allowing myself to sit in silence to give Him space to speak, and I’ve been hearing Him fairly well. I’ve always heard Him before, but this one feels less like a drive by- where it’s like I’m running past Him as He yells something at me – and more like a normal conversation.

    Before, when I would pray to God, I would have that moment where I heard a flicker of His voice, like it was a sentence scrunched into the space of a word. Enough to know He spoke but too quick to understand each word. I would ask Him what He said. In the past, I would wait some seconds or minutes, not hear Him again right away, and then finish up the prayer. Twice now in the past few days, I’ve waited much longer. When I didn’t hear Him, I would start monologing, then slow down, asking Him to reveal any sins of mine, and just speaking from my heart about whatever was on my heart. Then He would speak again, except it was much clearer, which I was pretty sure was what He said earlier. The second time it happened, over the weekend, He actually answered me with some words that Jesus said in scripture. Very awesome.

    It’s funny, last week, before I read about the prayer experiment, I learned truly why and how important prayer is, and what it does in the life and community of a believer. So it’s like God had to renew my mind about it, and He then give me the opportunity to exercise it. I feel genuinely connected to Him after our quiet times together. I want to incorporate more of these focused times throughout the day.

  • This blog is brilliant – and straight from the heart of God.

    My prayer time lasted THREE HOURS this morning – it looked nothing like it ever has before. It ebbed and flowed very organically as I didn’t chastise myself for letting my mind wander. Instead, God made it into a dialog with Him. It was wonderful and very, very refreshing. It felt like healing balm on the fear I’ve been experiencing. It was as if He allowed me to go into my fear – face it – talk about it – and He responded to it by just being there.

    Thanks for challenging us to deeper prayer!

  • I’ve never made the connection in the way you do about the wineskin being the structure. I thought he was talking generally about relgion, a one shot metaphor, but you’re right, the image works so well to describe the structure of our intimacy with God. When you need something new in your intimacy with God, you need to ask him to find you a new wineskin to hold it.

  • I had been asking God to explain the wineskins in Matthew. Answered prayer. Aligns with what i’m learning about structure and allowing Holy Spirit to move.
    Thanks Seth.

  • While the truth of God is timeless the application of those truths is monogrammed to the uniqueness of every individual. This prompted some good thinking Seth. Thank you.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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