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Here are a few ideas on how to talk to God for an extended time. Just realize that they’re suggestions, not laws. They’ll be helpful, especially for the “first-timer,” in removing some of the fear and confusion that often keeps us from making the attempt to enter into a substantial conversation with God. Once you’ve done this a few times you won’t need these step-by-step instructions. You’ll discover what works for you and what doesn’t.
The primary purpose of conversing with God isn’t to gain information but to connect our hearts and minds with the living God! A second purpose is to show our desire to know and do His will for our life. To express that we really intend to be obedient, even if we don’t know how good we’re going to be at it. Prayer is more about giving to Him than getting from Him. It’s helpful to keep these goals in mind when a prayer time seems to fall short of expectations. Also, the impact of the time alone with God is often not seen for days or weeks after so a sense of what God wants may not be immediately obvious. Be patient. Be content. The specific knowledge of His plans and will for your life are a secondary goal; relationship is the first priority. He’ll see to it that you know what to do (often just before it’s needed!) so if you’ve asked, trust Him for that. Fasting leading up to and during the extended time of prayer can intensify the expression of one’s intention to know Him deeply and follow Him fully.
1. Location – If you can, select a secluded place where the possibility of interruptions can be minimized if not completely removed. You may want freedom to express emotions to God or to use differing postures for the sake of expression, as well as to keep from falling asleep. The farther away from the noisy and pressing demand of life the better. Though seemingly insignificant, this may be one of the most important steps to a meaningful and rewarding prayer time. Put the effort into this step and you’ll be glad you did. The less there is to frustrate and distract the better, especially for the inexperienced.
2. Time – I recommend one to two hours, especially the first time this is attempted, but if that stresses you feel free to begin with just 30 minutes and work up from there. The size of the chunk of time will depend on your personal schedule, the magnitude of the issue(s) for prayer, past experience(s) with extended times of prayer, and your level of desperation and desire to hear from God. As you grow this skill and as the issues for prayer are more complex or life changing, the length of time or number of chunks you set aside will grow. A half or whole night in prayer may become necessary or even relished as your relationship with Christ grows and your dependence upon hearing from Him before acting increases. Also, if possible, choose a time of day or day of the week when you are not already exhausted. Choose a high productivity time and not just some left over space that you’ll go into with low expectations and low personal, physical and emotional resources.
3. Preparation – In the days prior to your extended time, you’ll want to continually choose to submit to God’s authority/leadership/lordship over your life. Tell Him that you’re ready to hear what He has to say. Pray in preparation for prayer. Seek His protection, especially for the block of time you’ve selected. Confession of anything already known to be sin along with, at the very least, a willingness to make restitution and fully change/stop sinning (repent) is necessary for proper preparation for this time with God. If He has already shown you something that you need to do, it’s unlikely that He’ll give you further direction until you’ve been obedient. Reject unbelief, for instance that He won’t notice your time with Him, and choose mentally to trust Him even if you don’t feel the level of assurance that you would like to feel. Consider James 1:5-8. Again, it’s vitally important that you deal with or be willing to deal with any “hold-out” areas that He reveals to you. To holdout is to say to God that you’ll do anything He asks, except that one thing. That’s double-mindedness, “I’ll do anything you say… but I won’t do ANYTHING you say.”
4. Tools – Take your Bible. Take any literature that gets you started thinking and talking to God, or that helps you see the truth. Take something to write with/on and a willingness to hear whatever God desires, whatever He needs you to hear.
5. Beginning – Don’t try to jump right into the question at hand. Begin with praises/statements that state your dependence on and trust in God as your only help. Until you can focus on praise and the expression of your heart’s desire for His help and your complete dependence upon Him, don’t move on.
You need time to let your mind slow down and “de-clutter.” Once you’ve been able to enter into praise, and gratitude, take time to focus and state to God, and all (“spirits”) that may be listening, your purpose and intention of hearing from Him and obeying completely whatever the implication. You must be determined to follow through completely, as the Spirit guides you, with all that is shown.
6. Distractions – Make a place to write down thoughts that come up to distract you from the constructive, purposeful, directed and specific thoughts that you’re trying to focus on for the purpose of hearing from God. All the things that you have to do, all the other real or unreal problems in life that need to be dealt with, etc. If a certain issue that’s not on the agenda keeps forcing its way into your conscious mind, you may need to deal with it in prayer before you can go on. Just don’t let all the clamoring in your mind keep you from meaningful and productive thought. Here again, the location that you choose may have a lot to do with how distracted you become. The less you give the enemy to work with the better, especially until you have done this a few times and become more proficient at it.
7. Petitions – This may or may not be the bulk of your prayer time. You may never get beyond the initial praise and worship and gratitude. This isn’t only appropriate but it may even be the whole reason God called you into the extended time to begin with. After such a time of heart-felt communion with God, the issue(s) that troubled so intensely either solve themselves, or they seem amazingly clear even though not directly dealt with in that prayer time.
Of first importance is to be careful not to clutter your agenda with too many requests/questions. Keep the plan simple, maybe even one issue at a time. If the first attempt to pray for an extended time ends up being too confusing or frustrating, the desire to try it again will be obviously hindered. An agenda that is too full will prevent prolonged consideration on any one point. With a long list, the disciple does most of the talking and God is given little time to respond or guide our prayer.
Ask God to show you everything He knows you need to deal with concerning the topic of your prayer. Whether it’s your past, some area of personal self-examination, the need to gain understanding or direction or whatever. God knows what you need to know to make the right choice. The process of hearing from God, while difficult to explain, should become common-place for the true disciple. God speaks to us much more often than we realize.
When addressing the issue of concern, talk through the options, your personal feelings, current direction, the possible ramifications of each choice, etc. Talk them through with God as if you were having a discussion with a friend. As you do, the leading of the Spirit often comes as ideas, options, solutions, or approaches that you’ve not thought of before then. Sometimes the help will be nothing more than a peace concerning some direction that may or may not have been considered until then. Maybe both or some other communication from the Spirit will come for example, through the Word.
Write down your impressions, thoughts, feelings, arguments, and complications, anything that becomes part of the decision and anything that puzzles you as to why it came to your mind. These things are often useful at a later time. Record any Scripture that gave direction or any conclusions, restitution, or actions determined necessary for follow through.
9. Follow-up – Before you conclude your time of prayer be sure to thank God for showing up even if you’re not sure He did. Determine to spend some additional time to complete the process or to consider how to go about any corrections or changes He asked for. Be prepared for opposition from the enemy, he doesn’t appreciate it when we purpose in our hearts to follow Christ, but even more so when we actually take steps to make it happen!