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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
 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 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
unchallenged.
 

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.

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