I study historic Christian revivals, and it always amazes me how people would tarry in prayer meetings for hours—sometimes all night. One witness from the great Welsh revival in 1904 told how for a brief season, his father would daily get up at 5 a.m., work in the coal mines, come home for supper, wash up and take his family to the revival meetings which sometimes lasted until 3 a.m. Such was their dedication to the cause.
The man who is credited with having sparked the Welsh revival—young Evan Roberts—spent about a year before the revival having daily seven-hour prayer sessions. The renowned 19th-century evangelist Charles Finney would get up in the wee hours of the morning to pray approximately four hours before facing the public.
Even when I was newly converted back in the early 1980’s, it was nothing to have hour-long altar services. There were some Sunday and Wednesday nights when a remnant of us would still be there praying after midnight. I recall occasional all-night prayer meetings—as recently as a decade ago.
Today many churches do well to get people to pray five minutes at the altar. There is such a time constraint to get to the restaurant before the lines form or to the ball field or gym in time for the Sunday afternoon game. (Guilty here!)
And Wednesday night prayer meetings? These are quickly becoming a relic of my childhood when I sat in the basement of First Baptist Church with the adults as they made their prayer requests. Wednesday nights used to be kept free for churchgoing, but no more. Churches are finding it hard to compete these days with sports practices and games.
I read an interesting article lately which proposed that the reason people don’t pray as long at church altars any more is due to their television viewing habits. And no, I don’t mean because they have to rush home to watch TV, although that is often the case.
One well-known evangelist had noticed several years ago that many of his church members tended to stop praying at about the 13-minute mark. He realized that this was the average length of a TV segment before a commercial came on. Research proved that our brains have likely been trained by TV commercials to need a break every 13 minutes—time to go to the bathroom, grab a snack, stand up and stretch.
Now the average altar prayer time before people start moving around is only about five minutes. Recent research has shown that modern cell phone usage has rewired our brains to need breaks or stimulation even more frequently than the old 13-minute commercial break. Since the average smartphone user checks his/her phone at least once every five minutes, the brain is now trained to expect a break that frequently.
Who knew that when I was watching cartoons back in the Stone Age, all those commercial breaks were reprogramming my brain patterns?!
These days—with the exception of March Madness, post-season baseball and Sunday afternoon football—I don’t watch TV. There are probably a lot of entertaining commercials that I am missing, but I’m good with that. (Super Bowl commercials are the exception; I will take my potty breaks during the actual football game rather than miss the amazing commercials!)
So now will my non-TV-watching brain retain the memory of the commercial breaks or will it revert to the unprogrammed state (pardon the TV pun) of my birth? My guess is that I spent too many years with a TV habit for this timing thing to be erased.
I mean really—think about how commercial jingles are forever branded on your brain. Even when you don’t realize you still remember the little song for “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun,” you actually DO! And I’ll bet some of you still sing, “The meatball spaghetti you can eat with a spoon…..uh oh—spaghettios!”
The other day, as my daughter was opening a can of ravioli, an operatic “Raaa-vi-O-LI!” suddenly burst forth from my mouth almost unconsciously. My family laughed at me, but I insisted I wasn’t making it up. I had this strong recollection of a boy ringing a bell in an old church (or a school maybe) and kids running home to eat their ravioli.
Anybody else remember that commercial? I have searched relentlessly to find it on YouTube, but no dice. However, I did unearth another old Chef Boyardee commercial from the old paths of my childhood that I had completely forgotten.
Now my hubster gets a kick out of me fixing lunch while singing at the top of my lungs, “We’re having Beef-a-RO-ni! Beef and mac-a-RO-ni!”—even though we’re having tuna salad. Good grief—we’ve probably never had a can of Beefaroni in this house, but bless Pat, that commercial jingle is ingrained in my brain!
Somehow I have digressed from prayer to pasta, but there are some relevant points to be made. What we constantly feed our brains matters because our brains obviously hang on to nearly everything, whether we realize it or not. And we are very much a product of our environment—with our technology-saturated brains being rewired from the patterns of our ancestors’ brains.
In a sense, we are subconsciously controlled by media in ways we know not. Makes me wonder how the brains of the younger generation will be rewired after decades of video games, social media and computer usage. And with some of the commercials they see today, what is being imprinted on their brains? Thoughts of erectile dysfunction or medicines with about 2,342 listed side effects or half-dressed women provocatively savoring Hardee’s Thickburgers?
Yikes! Gimme the old Indian with a tear running down his face any day…..or Mr. Whipple squeezing the Charmin…..or my bologna that has a first name…..or that kid offering Mean Joe Greene a Coke.
Or more prayer meetings. Maybe that’s the answer.
Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at email@example.com. Her blog is at http://timesofrefreshingontheoldpaths.wordpress.com.