The Apostle Paul tells us that no matter our circumstances, if we love the Lord, the Lord will bring good out of them. (Romans 8:28) The truth of this has been proved over and over in my life. As the U.S. reaches the 500,000 mark in COVID deaths, as horrible as this is, along with the isolation and, for many, the economic stress, I can say once again the Lord has proved faithful in his promise. A number of good things have occurred in my life during the past year, the greatest of which is a vast improvement in my prayer life.
I would say that over the entirety of my Christian life, prayer has always been my weakest spiritual discipline. A telling example of this was back many years ago when the ministry I directed had a weekly 7 AM prayer gathering in the student union. It was before it had gained any momentum, and there were some weeks when no one showed up. Some mature person and one devoted to prayer would have just prayed alone. Not me. I took it as an opportunity to go have breakfast and read the newspaper. I’m still embarrassed when I think about that. I’ve come a long way since that time, but in the past two years the Lord has been doing a work I never imagined.
It began back in the summer of 2019 when the Lord laid on my heart to go up to campus once a week and make myself available to pray for anyone who asked. He also gave me the idea of “free prayer” as a way to advertise it. So, in mid-August of that year, I headed to campus with my “FREE PRAYER” sign and sat in the middle of campus. I was a little nervous, because this was way out of my comfort zone, but I knew it was the Lord’s will, so that served as the incentive I needed. Most students completely ignored me over that year, but there were some that smiled, some that thanked me for being out there and “acting like a real Christian, not like those preachers,” one that even bought me a hot cup of coffee on a particularly cold day, and others who stopped and asked for prayer. Before the end of that fall semester, this was my favorite thing to do during the week. I could see how the Lord had taken a weakness and used it to strengthen and encourage others. It also enhanced my personal prayer times in the mornings because I kept a journal of each person who stopped by and would pray for them throughout the week.
When this all came to an end last March with the shutdown of the university, there was a void in my morning prayer life. It occurred to me that I could spend that time praying for others, and the Lord brought to mind the alumni of my current ministry. So regularly during the week, I go down my spreadsheet of alumni and pray for them individually.
The pandemic has also led to my wife and I spending some of most evenings reading the Scriptures together and praying for needs of which we are aware—of people we know and people we don’t. It has just added another layer to my prayer life.
We are told by Luke in Acts 2:42 that the believers were devoted to, among other things, prayer. And if you read Paul’s letters, there is almost a continual theme of him praying for others and others praying for him. In our busy lives, we can often say or emoji that we will pray for others, but I know from experience it is much easier to say we’re going to pray than actually devoting ourselves to praying. This is what has changed for me significantly in the past two years. I am spending a lot more time devoted to prayer. I still lag way behind my wife because she sets such a high bar, but I am progressing.
What I have begun to appreciate more about prayer, and this is nothing new, is that its effect is not dependent on being in close proximity or knowing every detail about a person’s life or situation. Prayer allows me to minister to them from afar, with or without their knowledge, or even their consent. I pray for people who likely do not want my prayers, given where they are currently at in life. Unlike conversation, however, there is no resistance or awkwardness.
I can also pray for people and situations over which I have no control to influence. My wife and I regularly pray regarding the pandemic, refugees in the Middle East, persecution of believers, and, most recently, the suffering of people in Texas. We also pray for the missionaries we support who are in far-off nations. Prayer has the ability to transcend physical distance and bridge gaps in knowledge of what is really happening. God knows.
In Acts 10, we meet Cornelius, whom Luke tells us is a God-fearing man who is generous with his prayers and his money. When an angel of the Lord appeared, he said to Cornelius, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” (Acts 10:4) Thus, our prayers are not only for the people on earth, but are an offering to God himself!
Like is tempting in so many areas of the Christian life, it is easy for prayer to be just one more obligation that we fulfill. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Cornelius or the early Church did. They were devoted to praying, and rather than being a burden or obligation, it was a joy. While I don’t think I have reached their level, this pandemic has led me to get closer than I have ever been. For that, I am grateful.
© Jim Musser 2021 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.