The young man across the table from me was dead serious. “Tell me about your prayer life”, he asked me. “I want to know how you pray”.
Sam was a pastor’s son from a part of Africa that had seen much turmoil and suffering. He had come to Canada seeking opportunity. He was a young man with an excellent spirit – committed to excellence on the job and in his relationship with the Lord.
I had met Sam at church, and had discovered that we worked in the same building. I offered to have coffee with him thinking that I might be able to encourage him spiritually. I soon realized that although I had years of experience and had learned some valuable lessons, none of this made up for my young friend’s zeal and passion for a consistent, fruitful walk with God. He wanted to learn from a faithful model. He thought I was that model.
As I listened to my own response to Sam, it began to dawn on me that my prayer life at this point in time was in some respects not the best model to emulate. Oh, I still prayed. In fact, I prayed much of the time. I was in almost constant dialogue with God. This part, of course, was good. I also read the Bible several times each week. But I no longer followed a structured, consistent approach to Bible reading or prayer, and my prayer life was often lacking in depth, passion and focus as a result. My malaise went deeper than this, though. I didn’t have what Mike Bickle describes as a “bright spirit”, at least not consistently. I thought I loved God, but looking back, I see now that I needed to rediscover what loving God really meant.
As I described my spiritual condition to Sam, I offered a half-hearted explanation about having moved from legalism to freedom. It sounded lame even to me, and I hope he saw through it. Sam’s question had exposed my heart, and I didn’t really like what I saw.
Anyone who has been happily married for twenty years or more will tell you that a good marriage takes effort. If you really want to have a relationship of true intimacy (tenderness, faithfulness, trust), you won’t just fall into it. Yes, you can “fall in love” with the man or woman of your dreams, but that’s mostly about attraction and desire. The attractional aspect of love is not a bad thing, in fact it’s a gift of God and an important part of any marriage, but it can be quite self-focussed, and it won’t carry you through the days when you feel miserable and everything is difficult. To truly love that man or woman will require a lifetime of costly choices. It’s no different in our relationship with God. If anything, the stakes are even higher, the choices more costly. You can get into Jesus’ Kingdom for free, but if you want to be great in his Kingdom, it will cost you your life.
To be brutally honest, the Christianity that is common in our culture sets the bar very low when it comes to the effort required to cultivate a fruitful relationship with God. When you live in an environment that is mostly cold, dark and hard, your perception gets dulled until you think that this is normal. So, maybe I do have a more vital prayer life than many people around me. I don’t know, I can’t measure that. What I do know is that compared to Jesus, my prayer life has a long way to go. But the last couple of months, Marion and I have been sensing a call from God to go deeper with him, and having reapplied myself to a more diligent pursuit of God, I am already discovering the rewards. The Word of God is more alive to me, I can hear His voice in my spirit more easily, my heart is becoming softer, I am more thankful, more peaceful and more content – and I want more.
One of the ways I have been responding to this call is by following a Mike Bickle teaching series on the Sermon on the Mount. When you are being taught on prayer by someone who has been spending hours a day in prayer and the Word for over thirty years, you get challenged to go deeper. Mike’s teaching is not complicated. In fact, it’s remarkably simple, straightforward and uncluttered. It is also very honest and comes from a place of deep humility. That’s why I find it hard to argue with. Mike has not been talking down to me. He has been appealing to my heart, and my desire for God has been stirred up.
Jesus said that the first priority of our lives is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. He also said that if our eyes are clearly in focus, our whole body will be full of light. I want my life to be bright with the light of God. When I stand before God on that Day, I want to give an account of wholeheartedness, not halfheartedness; single-mindedness, not double-mindedness. The One who gave his life for me is worthy of nothing less.
The world will soon be treated to the spectacle of the Olympics. World-class athletes have given years to the pursuit of an extremely high level of fitness and athletic skill. It’s a notable pursuit, one we can’t help but admire. Physical fitness does have some value, which is why I ride my bike several times a week. But that’s not the goal of my life. I have devoted my life to running a different race, one whose outcome has eternal value. I want to pursue the prize of knowing the Maker of the Universe. It is amazing to me that the One who hung the stars in place would be interested in having a relationship with someone as small as me. But since he says he loves me, and has invited me to be his friend through Jesus Christ, the only thing I can say is “Yes” – with my whole life – again, and again, and yet again.