Every second counts in the NFL Super Bowl and NFL playoff games. Every second. Teams think they have the game won, the sideline celebration starts to bubble up. Under face masks, smiles crease sweaty faces, but in the final seconds of the game, the tide turns. Everything changes. Victory streaks to the other sideline. Every second counts, and victory and defeat can travel the length of a game in a flashing second.
We started the prayers series with a story from a minister who was sick and confined to his bed. Out of sheer boredom he began to pray through the directory of his church. He said to God, “You know it’s been wonderful, these prolonged times we’ve spent together [praying for all these people]. It’s too bad I don’t have time to do this when I’m well.”
God’s answer came swift and blunt: “You have just as much time when you’re well as when you’re sick. It’s the same twenty four hours in either case.”
Every second counts. Every prayer counts. But both are so easy to take for granted.
New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady and Coach Belichick are experts in time management. They know every second counts. Together, the two are like the monster in a horror movie who just won’t die, the threat that won’t go away, the seemingly un-killable foe who reaches out and grabs you from the dead. Give Brady and Belichick 12 seconds on the clock, they will make you pay. The pair have almost 40 come-from-behind victories.
Some say it was fear of Brady and Belichick’s clock management that cost the Seahawk’s Super Bowl 49. “Second-and-1 on the 1-yard line. Marshawn Lynch was waiting in the backfield, poised to do what he was put on this Earth to do: Get a touchdown — this touchdown.” But the clock. Those 26 pesky seconds still remaining. If the Seahawks scored too soon, they’d be giving Brady and Belichick too much time. “We were conscious of how much time was on the clock, and we wanted to use it all,” said Seahawk’s Coach Pete Carroll. “We were going to run the ball in to win the game, but not on that play,” he said. The Seahawks were sure they were going to score regardless, so they were willing to waste a play on a pass. If they scored, fine. But if they didn’t, at least they’d run a few seconds off the clock. The rest of course is history. Every second counts.
Hey, but there is good news if you are a Philadelphia Eagles fan! Tom Brady and Coach Belichick have made clock management mistakes in the past, and they could do so again. And, not only does Eagles’ quarterback Nick Foles have the brains of head coach Doug Pederson to back him up, he also has the support of injured quarterback Carson Wentz, who is still strong in spirit.
Concerning those invaluable Super Bowl seconds, nine time technicians will be on hand at the Super Bowl, nine people whose sole task is to make sure the digital timekeeping system is functioning properly and there are no clock errors. Because every second counts.
What if we lived our lives with such a focus on clock management? Would we make different use of our precious time? Would we be more likely to make every second count? To spend more time in prayer?
Jesus lived before the invention of clocks and watches, though the understanding of the hour as a unit of time was common. Ancient Egypt developed the 24-hour clock. Their day was based upon careful astronomical observations and employed shadow clocks similar to the modern garden sundial. Originally, the length of these proto-hours varied from season to season due to differing lengths of daylight. Beginning in the 15th century BCE, the Egyptians designed water clocks for more precise timekeeping, precise being a relative term. Water clocks were large stone bowls with a small hole near the bottom that allowed water to drip at a constant rate. Hourglasses were the next big leap in timekeeping, but the timing of their invention is disputed and their widespread usage limited until the 4th century.
During Jesus’ time, the Roman forum kept what we might call a block schedule. They tolled divisions of the day in three-hour increments – at 6:00 AM, 9:00 AM or what they called the third hour, and noon or the sixth hour, and so on. The Gospel of Mark tells us Jesus died sometime around the ninth hour, meaning the ninth hour from the 6:00 AM start of the day or 3:00 PM.
Jews adopted this division of the day into three-hour increments for their daily prayers, and early Christians continued the practice. We see glimpses of this in the New Testament’s Book of Acts: Peter and John are on their way to observe the 3:00 PM afternoon prayers when they come upon a man on the steps of the temple and heal him. All the action in Acts Chapter 10 is propelled by this prayer time. Cornelius is praying his 3:00 PM prayers when an angel visits and tells him to go find Peter. The next day Peter is on the rooftop praying his noontime prayers when he receives a vision about clean and unclean foods, and, lo and behold, Cornelius’s servants show up.
Fast forward several hundred years, and Christians still kept basically the same prayer schedule. Church bells were introduced into Christian churches around AD 400, and churches rang their bells at least three times a day 6:00 AM, noon, and 6:00 PM. The tolling of the bells reminded people to pray.
Also in the fifth century, Christians established prayer monasteries where dedicated monks and nuns organized shifts to insure continual prayer always be offered up to God. In various formats around the world, this continues to this day.
All of this praying was done on the basis of approximate time, not precise and accurate timekeeping. Personal and portable timekeeping devices sprung on the scene in the 15th century thanks to the invention of the main spring. They were heavy, too heavy to be worn on the wrist, and they only had an hour hand.
Advances in mechanical clock design were made and by the mid-16th century the first clocks displaying minutes began to appear, followed closely after by clocks displaying seconds near the end of the 16th century. “The invention came not a second too soon,” said one 16th-century track coach!
For the next 400 years, precise timekeeping was on the basis of springs and pendulums until the invention of the quartz clock in the 20th century. In the 1980s, with the advent of solid state digital electronics, quartz clocks could be made compact and inexpensive. Since then, quartz timekeepers have become the world’s most widely used timekeeping technology, used in most clocks, watches, computers, and other appliances that keep time.
Today we take time for granted. Using the stopwatch mode, our cell phones can keep track of time down to a hundred of a second. We can set alarms to remind us of important events, times, or prompt us to action. But busyness and comfort conspire against the ease with which we tell time in the modern world. In one sense we take the seconds for granted, in another we obsess over them and complain, “This is taking forever to download!” We seem so concerned with not wasting a second, that we don’t pause and apply our precious seconds to any one task for very long, including prayer. Our average attention spans have shrunk by 50% over the last decade. (https://brandongaille.com/average-attention-span-statistics-and-trends/)
Where was I? Oh, yeah. Talking about shrinking attention spans.
Earlier generations with their archaic tolling of the bells seemed better able to apply themselves to prayer.
George Muller cared for over 10,000 orphans in his life. He began each day with several hours of prayer, imploring God to meet the practical needs of his orphanage. The children under his care received such a quality education, his critics accused him of raising the poor above their natural station in life.
Bishop Lancelot Andrews oversaw the translation of the King James Bible and allotted five hours per day to prayer.
Eighteenth-century English minister Charles Simeon rose at 4:00AM to begin is his four-hour prayer regimen.
Nuns in an order known as the “Sleepless Ones” still pray in shifts through every hour of every day and night.
Martin Luther devoted two to three hours daily to prayer.
Susannah Wesley gave birth to 19 children, including four sets of twins. Sorrow seemed to surround her, and nine of her children died as infants. She’d sit in a rocking chair, apron over her head, and pray for her remaining children as only a parent who has lost a child can do. She never preached a sermon or published a book or founded a church, but she earned herself the title the Mother of Methodism for her prayers. Among her brood were John and Charles Wesley, who did go on to preach sermons and write books; Charles wrote over 6000 hymns and launched the Methodist denomination.
What do modern Christians think about prayer? When asked if prayer is important, they answer, “Oh Yes!” How often do you pray? Everyday! Approximately how long? “Five minutes. Well, maybe three.”
Honestly, the only fatal mistake to make in prayer is to stop praying and not begin again. Every second counts, and every prayer counts. Just as it’s wise advice to not give the football to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick with any seconds left on the clock, it’s not wise for us to start or end our day without investing at least a few seconds in prayer. Every second counts.
So, don’t just stand there. Pray something!