Don Follis: Finding extended times of prayer
For the past 32 years Pastor John Piippo from Redeemer Fellowship Church in Monroe, Mich., (near Detroit) has prayed on Tuesday — for five or six hours.
In Piippo's view, the main job of the pastor is to abide in Christ. To stay connected to the vine, taking the image Jesus used in John chapter 15, Piippo contends pastors need to develop an extended prayer life.
This take lots of time and practice. Thus, Piippo has several places along Lake Eerie in Southeast Michigan where he normally spends his Tuesday's praying. Here's how it works: No phone calls. No sermon preparation. No texting. No staff meetings. For several hours, Piippo goes to a quiet place Tuesday after Tuesday after Tuesday year after year after year, stepping into his extended time of prayer, solitude and spiritual reading. Having done this more than 1,500 times, Piippo has discovered several core elements that drive him to stay with his decades-long Tuesday practice.
"God exists. God is real. There is a God. I believe in God," Piippo says. This is first. If we don't bring this to our prayers, it is merely an illusion. Thus, Piippo spends Tuesday "keeping company with the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, personal agent who created and sustains all things. This is no small appointment I have!"
For Piippo, God also is a personal being who desires relationship. The Christian idea of God as a Trinity makes sense of God as essentially relational. "Everlastingly the Father has been loving the Son, the son the Spirit, the Spirit the Father, and round and round in the Big Dance. To pray is to accept God's invitation to the Big Dance."
All who pray must believe that God made them. "For what?" asks Pastor Piippo. "For relationship with Him. God, who is a relational being in essence, desires relationship. He made me for such a thing as this. When I pray I am living in the heart of God's desire for me."
If God made me, then God knows me. And if he knows me, He loves me. Put those two together, Piippo says, and you'll begin singing "Amazing Grace" accompanied by tears of gratitude and joy.
God has desires too, and Piippo says God wants us to love and know Him in return. If we love God, we begin "talking with God about what God and I are doing together. To pray is to enter into a loving-knowing relationship with God."
When Piippo talks with God in prayer he often begins by asking God a question — "God, is everything all right between you and me?" This is the moment where he might say to God, "Search me, O God."
What happens next? "Then I listen. If God shows me something that's breaking relationship with Him, I will confess this to Him. It then becomes God's delight to forgive me. God loves doing this because God is love, and God desires to heal anything that breaks relationship."
Now don't be surprised if this part of the relationship costs you something. Piippo says, "God's grace is amazing but it's not cheap. It will cost me something to be in relationship with God. This should not surprise me, since it will cost me something to be in real relationship with anyone. Love is sacrifice. There are no exceptions to this."
While in prayer Pastor Piippo both talks and listens to God. "I express my love to God, and my concerns. I don't hesitate to ask for my own self if my request is kingdom-advancing. This is called petitionary prayer. I meet some people who feel odd about asking for their own self. That feeling is not a feeling from God. I also pray for others. This is called intercessory prayer."
But there's a lot of listening, too. "When God speaks to me, I write it down. I keep a spiritual journal, which is a record of the voice and activity of God to me. I will remember the things God speaks to me. God's history with me is more precious than things and accomplishments."
All who approach God should take seriously, "This is the day the Lord has made."
Thus, today could be a day of breakthrough for any of us. That day of breakthrough could include "God telling you his plans and purposes for you, which have to do with His Kingdom and His righteousness."
As much as he has learned, Piippo is clear that there is no formula to all this because prayer is a relationship with God. "And there's way more to prayer-as-relationship than these things."
Pastor Piippo (johnpiippo.com) is a prolific blogger with nearly 3,500 posts and more than 500,000 visitors. About 2,000 posts are about prayer.
This summer I have joined scores of people along with Pastor Piippo to pray. We are committed to praying 30 to 60 minutes a day five days a week. Piippo calls this Prayer Summer. Each day through his blog he encourages his students with thoughtful musings about prayer.
Don Follis has pastored in Champaign-Urbana for 34 years. He directs retreats and coaches leaders via pastortopastorinitiatives.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter at @donfollis.