"Then Jesus told his disciples that they should always pray and not give up." – Luke 18:1. One of the last classes I attended at St. Thomas University in Miami for the Master of Pastoral Ministry degree was a course on spirituality taught by Sister Helen Rosenthal.
In that course, in addition to the other offerings of literature and practices, we were exposed to the prayer lives of practitioners from many of the major religions of the world.
A Buddhist came and humbly shared his daily regimen of reciting the name of his God several times a day. A Muslim enthusiastically recited one of his five daily prayers in Arabic to impress us with the routine of his day. A Rabbi taught us how to recite the Shema in Hebrew. Others from various faith traditions shared their insights and practices regarding prayer.
But the one person who made the most profound impact on me in that Fall 1989 course was Father (Abbott) John who, dressed in traditional drab clothing, spoke to us about the monastic life of his order. He explained that the monks in his community were trained to wake up every morning at 5 to pray individually and then gather as priests and monks collectively after the first prayer for a second prayer at 6.
Those prayers, as he explained to us, were just two of many prayers that would be offered daily to the Lord, with the last one being made before each monk retired for the evening, in silence, not to be interrupted by anything, until the next morning when the cycle would begin afresh.
“Sir, how often is this practice observed?” I asked.
His reply was, “Sir, we do this every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and we will continue until we die.”
I was humbled and sobered by that explanation and his expression and I committed that day that I would try to do the same: Pray every morning at 5 for the rest of my life.
I was not aware of anyone who arose that early to pray. I remembered when I was a child my mother praying every morning around 7, aloud, slowly and rhythmically, making strange noises in her bedroom, noises of sliding her hands together, sometimes clapping softly, sobbing passionately.
I knew my father prayed daily but that he had to leave for work to “open the store” at Sears, Roebuck & Co. But 5 a.m. seemed to be a little early to do anything, especially pray.
I figured the best way to get this new routine started was to ask someone to join in and we would be accountable to each other. So I called my friend Bishop Billy Baskin of New Way Fellowship in Miami Gardens and asked him to join me in prayer at 5 a.m. We started and continued for quite a while.
Later, I invited my friend Apostle Carlos Malone of the Bethel Church in South Miami-Dade County to be my prayer partner every morning at 5 and we prayed fervently, continually, for a long time.
Then I started praying alone at 5 a.m. and continued until April 2009, when Sweet Home Baptist Church in Richmond Heights, which I was pastoring, accepted my invitation to pray together as a congregation every morning at 5:30, which they have continued until this day.
Because we are encouraged in scripture to always pray, I try to spend as much time praying as I do reading, more time praying than eating, as much praying as watching TV, exercising or anything else.
I do not consider myself more spiritual than anyone else. I just know that I’m better equipped personally to manage the time, talents and temple the Lord has allowed me to have when I spend more time in prayer.
With all of life’s challenges, changes and choices, with all of today’s distractions, disruptions and disturbances and in thanksgiving for all of God’s blessings to us, we should “always be praying.”
*Walter T. Richardson is pastor-emeritus of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in South Miami-Dade County and chairman of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board. He may be contacted at wtrichardson@Bellsouth.net. Website: WTRMinistries.com