FirstLife Blog

Day 31: The Gift of Praying Long

Posted by Brent McDougal on

(7 minute read)

“I lay prostrate before the Lord those forty days and forty nights because the Lord had said he would destroy you. I prayed to the Lord and said, “'Sovereign Lord, do not destroy your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed by your great power and brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand' (Deuteronomy 9:25-26, NIV).” 

I have run one marathon in my life.

One.

My friend David said we should sign up together. C’mon, it’ll be fun, he said. The longest I had run before was thirteen miles — a half-marathon. I agreed and started to train. 

Two weeks before the race, David backed out due to an injury. At that point, I had already trained for a twenty-mile run. I wanted to finish what I (we) had started. 

Three days before the race, the forecast called for light rain and a cool temperature. 

Three hours before the start time, it was freezing cold and raining cats and dogs with no sign of stopping.

I approached the starting line, already drenched and thinking about four hours of exercise ahead. The gun went off, and the race began. 

At mile seventeen, my legs started to cramp and continued throughout the race. At mile twenty-two, I felt like I was going to be sick. 

But I kept going. 

One thing that kept me going was my friend David. Even though he was injured, he brought his bike and met me at various moments on the course. Keep going, he said. You’re looking good, he said, good formKeep moving. 

I was so glad to finish. 

It’s been said that when it comes to prayer, men and women are too slow to start and too quick to finish. 

There are some things in life, however, that require not quick, sprinting prayers — but long, persevering prayers.

The praying home of a prodigal son or daughter is like that. The work environment you endure for the sake of your children while it sucks your will to live is like that. The salvation of a family member may be like that. The waiting for God to bless you with a child can be like that. 

Romans 4:18 says that Abraham kept going in the journey of faith “hoping against hope.” 

Moses prayed for forty days and forty nights on his face. The occasion was the audacious sin of the Hebrew people. While Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, the Hebrews down in the valley lost their faith in the Living God, melted down their gold, and fashioned a golden calf to bow down to for deliverance. God was hot with anger, but something miraculous happened. 

“...the Lord listened to me…(Deuteronomy 9:9, ESV).” God relented when Moses prayed. 

The people continued to rebel. Moses prayed again for forty days and forty nights. He said, “God, they’re your people. They’re your heritage. You brought them out of Egypt with your great power and your outstretched arm.”

God relented again.

Amazing, right? 

Do you believe that if you pray with faith and that if you seek the Lord with all of your heart, that God not only hears but that God’s heart can be turned?

It may be that God intended all along to forgive the Hebrews. But surely God was pleased with Moses as he sought God’s face on behalf of the people. 

In 1838, George Müller and his fellow workers were excessively impoverished. They saw God provide for them day by day, but often provision came at the very last minute and only for bare necessities. 

“The funds are exhausted. The laborers, who had a little money, have given as long as they had any left,” Müller reported. “Now observe how the Lord helped us.”

“A lady from the neighborhood of London, who brought a parcel of money from her daughter, arrived four or five days ago in Bristol and took lodging next door to the boys’ orphanage. This afternoon, she kindly brought me the money herself, amounting to three pounds, four shillings, and six pennies. We had been reduced so low as to be at the point of selling those things that could be spared, but this morning, I had asked the Lord, if it might be, to prevent the necessity of our doing so. That the money had been so near the orphanages for several days without being given is a plain proof that it was from the beginning in the heart of God to help us.”

“But because He delights in the prayers of His children, He had allowed us to pray so long. He also permitted our faith to be tried in order to make the answer so much the sweeter….I burst out into loud praises and thanks the first moment I was alone, after I had received the money.”

Now that’s faith. Müller basically said, It was a gift that we got to pray that long. 

Sometimes, God wants us to pray long. 

Long prayers demonstrate trust. Long prayers reveal commitment. Long prayers embody faith even if the thing asked for is a long time coming or never given at all. 

I hope that over the course of my life, I can learn to pray longer and longer prayers. I hope I can daily spend more and more time in God’s presence. I hope my faith will grow such that my biggest prayers, offered over months or years, or decades, will only increase my dependence and belief that God is able to do what God says God will do.

For what do you hope?

Honestly, that one marathon was a miserable experience. I haven’t run another since. Maybe one day. I do know this: the training was worth it. Little by little, week by week, I became a stronger runner. I tested what I thought I could do and overcame those expectations. The limitations weren’t in my body, but my brain.

So it is with the life of prayer.

I have had people tell me, “Brent, I’m just not a person of prayer. I get easily distracted. I can’t pray more than a few minutes.” Others have said that prayer just wasn’t something that they felt comfortable with. They rarely entered into the presence of God. 

Prayer is the lifeline of the Christian. There’s no power without prayer. There’s no discipleship without prayer. There’s no real worship without prayer. There’s no victory without prayer. 

If you don’t believe in the centrality of prayer, then no amount of teaching that I or anyone could give you will do any good. Teaching only works where there’s good soil, where there is life. If you’re a spiritual couch potato, none of this will make much sense. 

But if you’re open — if you say yes to the journey — if there is at least a little of Jesus’ life flowing through your veins — God is calling you to run an amazing race. 

Here are a few places where you can start to train for that adventure.

First, whatever your morning routine in prayer, start to increase it little by little. Some of the world’s greatest athletes follow the 1% principle. They try to get a little better by just 1% each day. Add a few minutes to your prayers. Think of it like compound interest. Think of what your prayer life could become in a month or six months. 

Second, set a day aside for extended prayer. Take a day in the woods. Go alone if you feel safe, or take a friend, but ask for silence throughout the day. See if you could pray for a full hour, three hours, or even six or eight hours. 

Third, commit to an extended period of prayer like Moses. Fast for forty days from something and seek to deepen your prayer life. 

Don’t choose all three of those. Pick one. Pursue it with passion.

Soon you’ll be reaching milestones you thought were insurmountable. Soon you’ll be praying with more power. 

You'll be praying long.

Prayer Principle #31: Little steps can lead to longer prayers. 

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