Twenty-nine years ago, I made a weak-kneed commitment to spend twenty minutes in prayer every morning. At the time, I was carnally-minded, weak in my faith and immature in the Christian life. I had very little resolve in me to fight for a prayer life.
Twenty minutes. It seemed paltry in comparison to the sixteen waking hours I had at my disposal each day and yet every tick of the clock served as a painful reminder of how tedious it felt. I somehow stuck with it, and by the end of that first week, it had become noticeably easier. Little did I realize that within a couple of months it would be such an integral part of my daily existence that I couldn’t imagine life without it.
Within three months of that fledgling commitment, I walked away from a fifteen-year addiction to sexual sin. Within fifteen months, I began the world’s first ministry to sexual addicts. Within two years, I was spending at least an hour in prayer and an hour in the Word of God every morning.
When I scan the past twenty-nine years of my life, I can only marvel at all the enormous blessings God has lavished upon me because of this small sacrifice I make for Him every morning.
David said, “Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). What could be a greater way to “delight yourself in the Lord” than to spend time with Him? The fact of the matter is that our heavenly Father greatly enjoys doing things for His obedient children that will make them happy. What father doesn’t take enormous pleasure in doing something kind for his children? Of course, he wouldn’t be a good parent if he spoiled his child with unwarranted gifts.
I know exactly what David meant when he said the Lord “satisfies your years with good things” (Psalm 103:5). It is true that I have fought countless battles, faced many painful disappointments and experienced my share of suffering. Yet, when I review the past twenty-nine years, the Lord’s kindnesses to me dwarf those hardships.
It should go without saying that believers spend time in prayer because it is part of being a responsible Christian. However, in this article I want to encourage your commitment to prayer by sharing some of the many benefits I have enjoyed over the years because of my walk with the Lord. I will confine my expressions of gratitude to two basic areas of life.
If you will prove faithful in your prayer life, God will reward you with outward blessings. The Lord knows “the desires of your heart.” We are all different and He alone knows what would truly be enjoyable and meaningful to each of us. One way of many the Lord has blessed me has been to allow me to experience the adventure of overseas travel. Prior to my life with God, the only foray I had made out of the country as an adult was a miserable trip down into Mexico where everything went wrong. That “vacation” is a picture of life for disobedient and prayerless Christians who attempt to bless themselves.
However, once I began to pray the Lord instituted a systematic program in my life of proving His kindness to me. Consider some of the ways He has used overseas travel as a source of blessing to me since I began praying. I have spent ten weeks in Israel, toured Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps and visited the ruins of New Testament cities throughout Greece and Turkey. I have trekked in the Peruvian Andes, slogged through a Bolivian rainforest, swum in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of El Salvador and caught a marlin off the coast of Mexico. I have slept in a Bedouin tent in the Negev, hiked in David’s old haunts in the Judean wilderness and explored the caves of Cappadocia. I have strolled through Amsterdam, climbed the Acropolis of Athens, traversed Jerusalem, seen the sights of London, experienced the Coliseum and catacombs of Rome, dined in Munich and spent New Year’s Eve in Zurich. I have ministered in Bahrain, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, El Salvador, England, Germany, Guatemala, Holland, Jordan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Romania and Uruguay. I have preached in a host of prisons including San Quentin, Soledad and Huntsville.
I can honestly say that I didn’t make any of those trips happen—the Lord orchestrated every one of them. If it seems as though I am boasting, I am! But my boast is entirely in the Lord for this is a small but demonstrable picture of how He blesses those who delight in Him!
If you will prove faithful in your prayer life, God will also reward you with inward blessings. Outward pleasures such as traveling are a colorful way to illustrate how the Lord extends kindness to those who delight in Him, but far more important and meaningful are the inward blessings He bestows. For instance, how much would I have enjoyed those trips if I were miserable inside? Or take it beyond the travel example. How much would it mean to Kathy and me to live in a nice home in the woods if it were filled with strife? How gratifying would it be for me to minister if I was still carnally-minded and full of lust? What would my life have to show for itself if I hadn’t been praying for souls all these years?
The inward joy I experience is admittedly nebulous. I don’t walk around grinning all the time because I am so exuberant inside—although there are certainly times that I am! But on my worst day I have more inward joy than the best day of an unbeliever. I say that because their happy experiences are empty and short-lived. Actually, one of the best places to find cheerful people is in a bar where you will find them engaged in the kind of boisterous activity that often produces uproarious laughter. Yet, the following day finds these same people miserable and empty.
Prayerless Christians may not face the same consequences as partiers do, but they do miss out on the greatest blessings the Christian life has to offer. Only a praying believer can know what it feels like to experience God’s smile. Only a couple who prays can really experience deep fellowship and a meaningful relationship. There is simply no way to describe the inward fullness that comes with a life of prayer.
After all, it is in one’s prayer closet that a person will often experience the life-giving presence of God. It is there that the Lord instructs His child and leads him in the way to go. It is there that the Word of God opens up to the hungry believer. It is there that the Christian learns the joy of gratitude and true worship. And, of course, it is there that one’s supplications are answered.
I admit that developing a prayer life requires determination. Leonard Ravenhill stated it correctly when he wrote, “Prayer is taxing. Prayer is exacting. Prayer means enduring. Prayer means denying self, a daily dying by choice.” C.S. Lewis added, “Prayer is irksome. An excuse to omit it is never unwelcome. We are reluctant to begin. We are delighted to finish.” Yet for all their forthright admissions regarding the cost involved, both of those men remained faithful in their devotional times throughout their long lives.
Yes, staying faithful in prayer requires dedication and sacrifice, but when you think about it, what is the alternative? A prayerless and fruitless life? No sincere believer would consider that as an option.