I've been watching the Olympics lately and seeing all sorts of sports that I usually do not see. Some of them I am familiar with, such as volleyball and badminton, though I am not used to seeing them played on this level. Others are new - team handball, for example. In seeing so many different sports, I have noticed that most of the team sports allow someone (a coach or a captain) to call a certain number of time outs to stop the action.
The time out can be a great tool and it gets used for a lot of purposes. The other team is on a run - call a time out to try to break the momentum. Your team is looking tired - call a time out to try to get a little bit of rest. It is a key time in the game and you need a big play - call a time out to strategize. Your team is confused by what the other team is doing, or doesn't know how to react - call a time out to focus.
We can use prayer for all of those purposes in our lives: when it just seems like everything is overwhelming us and we are being beaten down; when we are tired and run-down; when we really need to be at our peak; or when we just don't know what to do. There are lots of examples of Jesus calling for a time out: Matthew 14:13 ("When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place."); Matthew 14:23 ("After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray."); Mark 6:31-32 ("Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.' So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place."); Mark 7:24 ("Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it . . . ."); etc.
Unlike sports, we can never run out of time outs to call - we just have to remember to use them. So, when you find yourself in one of those situations, take the time to call a time out. Slip away for a few minutes, close your door, sit by the water, take a walk, put the kids in front of the television to distract them, run by the church - do whatever it is that works for you. Time spent in prayer is the time out in life to break the momentum, refresh, receive guidance, and refocus.