first (adj): preceding all others in time, order, or importance
thing (noun): something produced by physical or intellectual effort
“The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know.”
1 Timothy 2:1
The reader-board catches my attention every time I drive by the cute little church on my way home. Each week, the new quote on the board either makes me think, or smile, or both. Recently, the brightly-lit letters on the board posed this question:
“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”
There are all kinds of wonderings about prayer. Studies done. Books written. Opinions and formulas and personal experiences shared. Most of us have faithfully recited repetitive prayers, bowed our heads and listened solemnly to someone else pray, or silently whispered a simple “please” or “thank you” or “help”.
Some of us feel comfortable praying in a group, and some of us do not. I have many good (and a few not-so-good) experiences of praying with others, and I’ve felt that special connection. Most of the time, though, I love to pray curled up by myself with a journal and a devotional. My own few minutes of sacred, special time with Jesus.
But this question on the reader board stayed with me, making me search more deeply than usual for my answer.
Is prayer what directs me?
Is prayer the main thing that I count on to take me through the starts and stops, the hills and dips and unexpected turns of my day, my life? Do I pray before I make decisions, start conversations, jump into my to-do lists? Do I pray for the people I am worrying about, working with, taking care of?
If prayer is my steering wheel, I’d better be holding on to it–to Jesus–when I step on the gas.
Or do I need to admit that prayer is my spare tire?
Do I only bring to God my emergencies? Do I try to keep going as long as I can with not-enough? Do I pray just when I’m feeling damaged or running dangerously low? Is prayer a last resort for me, an only-when-I-really-think-I-need-it kind of thing?
I hope not.
God is so faithful.
Of course, we can count on the security and unending welcome that comes with belonging to him. But if we only communicate with him in the desperate times, we miss out on so much just trying to bump along on our own.
So maybe Paul’s encouragement to Timothy can help us remember what is always important to do first. Let’s move prayer out of the trunk and put it in the front seat where we can easily grasp it. Let’s get comfortable having conversations with Jesus about everything, everyone, anytime, and in every way we know how.
“Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know.”
Let’s make that our first thing.
Invite him in: you don’t have to be good at prayer to talk to God. You don’t have to follow a formula or say certain words or be in a certain place. God is all around you, and he knows your heart. Just open the door to him and let the conversation flow. As you get to know him better, it will become more and more natural to pray often, pray easily, and pray first.