Hardly a day goes by for the average individual without at least some emphasis upon health needs. Exercise, vitamins, and healthy food help develop and maintain good physical condition. Certainly such personal choices should be commended. How much more commendable it is when God’s people develop and maintain spiritual disciplines. For “bodily exercise” profits “little: but godliness is profitable unto all things” (1 Tim. 4:8). With such a clear promise, a believer cannot go wrong by developing “spiritual muscles,” particularly in his prayer life.
Developing prayer muscles requires substantial time.
People live life at an aggressive pace. Meetings, church activities, shopping trips, ballgames, music concerts, home projects, and more fill the days of God’s people. For most believers, there is little spare time. Too often Christians convince themselves that they are so busy they “do not have time to pray.” Even those in ministry find their responsibilities so overwhelming at times that they do not feel they can afford the “luxury” of spending substantial time in prayer with the Lord.
Such was the case of a lady missionary who decided to develop some spiritual prayer muscles after reading an account of John Hyde’s prayer life. She writes:
Most of the year has been a battle to keep to my resolution. I have always lived so active a life, accustomed to steady work all the day long, and my new life called for much of the best part of the day to be spent in prayer and Bible study. Can you not imagine what it was, and what it is sometimes now? To hear others going around hard at work while I stay quietly in my room, as it were inactive. Many a time I have longed to be out in active work among the people in the rush of life, but God would not let me go. His hand held me with as real a grip as any human hand and I knew that I could not go. Only the other day I felt this again and God seemed to say to me, “What fruit had ye in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” Yes, I knew I was ashamed of the years of almost prayerless missionary life. Every department of the work now is in a more prosperous condition than I have ever known it to be. The stress and the strain have gone out of my life. The joy of feeling that my life is evenly balanced, the life of communion on the one hand and the life of work on the other, brings constant rest and peace. I could not go back to the old life, and God grant that it may always be impossible (Francis McGaw, Praying Hyde, pp. 58–59).
It was the great missionary Adoniram Judson who said:
Arrange thy affairs, if possible, so that thou canst leisurely devote two or three hours every day not merely to devotional exercises but to the very act of secret prayer and communion with God. Endeavor seven times a day to withdraw from business and company to lift up thy soul to God in private retirement. Begin the day by rising after midnight and devoting some time amid the silence and darkness of the night to this sacred work. Let the hour of opening dawn find thee at the same work. Let the hours of nine, twelve, three, six, and nine at night witness the same. Be resolute in this cause. Make all practicable sacrifices to maintain it. Consider that thy time is short, and that business and company must not be allowed to rob thee of thy God (E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer, pp. 51–52).
C. H. Spurgeon echoed Judson’s sentiment when he observed:
In driving piles, a machine is used by which a huge weight is lifted up and then made to fall upon the head of the pile. Of course the higher the weight is lifted the more powerful is the blow which it gives when it descends. Now, if we wish to impact our age and society with ponderous blows, we must see to it that we are uplifted as near to God as possible. All our power will depend upon the elevation of our spirits. Prayer, meditation, devotion, communion, are like a windlass to wind us up aloft. It is not lost time, which we spend in such sacred exercises, for we are thus accumulating force, so that when we come down to our actual labor for God, we shall descend with an energy unknown to those to whom communion is unknown (The Quotable Spurgeon, p. 173).
Developing prayer muscles creates complete dependence.
In a day when men grope for answers to the dilemmas of a complex world, the Lord desires for His people to find comfort and wisdom in Him alone. John 15:5 reads, “I am the vine, and ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” So God is looking for people who develop some prayer muscles that acknowledge and rely upon Him for daily strength and provision.
E. M. Bounds wrote, “What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men who the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men—men of prayer” (E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer, p. 7).
What believer has not heard of George Mueller’s dependence upon the Lord? But do you know why Mueller founded his orphanage in England?
Now if I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith, obtained, without asking any individual, the means for establishing and carrying on an orphan house, there would be something which, with the Lord’s blessings, might be instrumental in strengthening the faith of the children of God, besides being a testimony to the consciences of the unconverted of the reality of the things of God. This, then, was the primary reason for establishing the orphan house. . . . The first and primary object of the work was . . . that God might be magnified by the fact that the orphans under my care are provided with all they need only by prayer and faith, without any one being asked by me or my fellow laborers, whereby it may be seen that God is FAITHFUL STILL, AND HEARS PRAYER STILL (Arthur T. Pierson, George Muller of Bristol, p. 398).
What dependence upon the Lord!
Developing prayer muscles produces results.
When God’s people discipline themselves to spend time with the Lord, resting completely upon Him for strength, the Lord begins to work. Dr. Rod Bell, in his recent autobiography, describes the results of a ministry that seeks the face of God in prayer. He relates the beginnings of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, in the area that was called “Bootleg Corner,” the opposition he initially faced (death threats, spiritual struggles, concerns for his family), and the prayer meetings he and other preacher boys had seeking the power of God for that ministry. Then he tells of the blessings.
One such blessing was the conversion of a bootlegger named Bill Hughes. In one service, Bill Hughes stood and gave a testimony, not for the Lord but for the Devil. To counter, a brother named Hal Williams stood to give a testimony for the Lord. Shortly thereafter, Bill “turned and, with tears streaming down his face, ran out the door.” Pastor Bell “told one of the men, ‘Take the service; I’m going after him.’ I ran after him to his home . . . and there he sat with a bottle in his hand. His head was in his hands, and he was weeping.” That night, Pastor Bell led Bill Hughes to the Lord. Bill later became one of the best soul winners in his church. The salvation of Bill and many others from “Bootleg Corner” took place because God’s people developed prayer muscles (Rod Bell Sr. The Mantle of the Mountain Man, pp. 84–85).
John R. Rice relayed numerous incidents in which God answered the prayers of His people. He tells the story of a day back in the early 1930s when God provided the finances needed for a daily radio broadcast: “One day, as was our custom, Mrs. Rice, one of the secretaries, and I agreed to pray for $30.00 to come that day. We expressly named $30.00 in our prayer and agreed in asking God for it. The morning mail came about 9:00 o’clock and contained among many letter offerings totaling $13.50 for the radio broadcast.” The noon and afternoon mail arrived, but included no additional support.
I went into a study and began to dictate a Bible lesson. Later, a secretary came to the door and said, “Brother Rice, Mrs. W ____ wants to see you.” I invited her to bring the lady in, and she came to thank me for the blessings received from the radio broadcast. As she talked a bit about the blessings she had received through my Bible teaching, she opened her purse and handed me a $1.00 bill. She said, “I have never forgot how my heart was thrilled the first time I heard you at the Epworth League meeting explain the Scriptures. Now to think the joy I have in hearing you on the radio every day!” Tears came in her eyes and she said to me, “Give me that dollar back!” She handed me a $5.00 bill instead. “My neighbor has been listening to you, a Catholic woman,” she said. “She had seemed so hard to reach and so far from God, but now I am beginning to believe that she may get saved. It is wonderful what the broadcast is doing for people who hear.” Then suddenly she said, “Here give me the $5.00 bill, and I will give you ten instead!” … As she told how her husband had been blessed by the broadcast, she said, “I believe Frank would want me to give you everything I have in my purse except just carfare to get home!” With tears in her eyes and with trembling lips she handed me back the $5.00 and the $1.00, and then in her coin purse she found coins totaling fifty cents and handed them to me. With happy steps she left the office and went away. I turned again to the Bible study lesson I was dictating. But in the back of my mind things began to add up—$13.50 plus $10.00 plus $5.00 plus $1.00 plus 50 cents— exactly $30.00! My heart ran over with joy. Thirty dollars that day was better than $50.00, because it was exactly what we had asked for (John R. Rice, Prayer: Asking and Receiving, pp. 76–77).
Dean C. J. Vaughn once said, “If I wished to humble anyone, I should question him about his prayers. I know nothing to compare with this topic for its sorrowful selfconfessions” (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, p. 75). Vaughn’s comments express to modern believers their need to discipline themselves in prayer. With churches struggling and believers grappling to keep their spiritual chins above water, the need is critical for God’s people to begin to take seriously the important subject of developing spiritual prayer muscles.
Dr. David Pennington is the Senior Pastor of Burge Terrace Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)