November 1, 2004
 Faith in the
Fast Lane

 The Uncanny Benefits
of Prayer
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Richard Halverson was one of the busiest pastors I've ever met, but one of the most available. When I asked him to speak to a class at my college, he readily agreed. But on the day when he was scheduled to visit, I discovered that his availability had an interesting limit.

We had agreed to drive together to the class. But on my way to the church to meet him, my decrepit Corvair began to overheat. By the time I arrived, its condition was serious. Fortunately I was fifteen minutes early for our 9:30 a.m. appointment. I spied Dr. Halverson sitting in his car reading, so I pulled alongside. By now the whining from my engine rivaled an air-raid siren.

To my astonishment, he did not even look up. He must be asleep, I thought. But then he turned a page in the book resting on his steering wheel--which I now could see was a Bible--then turned a page again. By now our vehicles were engulfed by a cloud of smoke that would have made Moses jealous. But he never showed the slightest distraction. Finally, at precisely 9:30, he prayed, shut the Bible and climbed out of his car. The smoke had now cleared and my engine had quieted.

After greeting me, he suggested, to my relief, that we go in his car. During the half-hour drive to the college, we talked about many things. But he never once suggested that he had noticed any unusual noises or sights during his devotional time. And I never mentioned that I had seen anything unusual either.

Good Timing

One reason the event is so memorable is that it occurred on my first spiritual anniversary. On that date just one year before, I had committed my life to Christ, largely because of Dr. Halverson's radio preaching. I am one of numerous people who have been touched by his ministry. But that morning, God gave me a priceless insight into why he was so remarkably effective for Christ. Beyond any gifts for ministry was the fact that he made it a priority in his strenuous schedule to spend personal time with the Lord, regardless of what needed to be cleared away for this to happen. His attention to the Lord had become so fined-tuned that even the racket from my car did not distract him.

It might seem that he was indifferent--so bent on following his religious routine that nothing else mattered. But he was one of the most people-centered Christian leaders I've known. As pastor of a huge church, president of World Vision, and Chaplain of the United States Senate, he gave himself relentlessly to others. But the wellspring of his life was a commitment to Christ that surpassed even his commitment to people.

His life mirrors a principle that I once heard Gordon MacDonald express in an unforgettable sermon. While reflecting on the life of John the Baptist, he noted that John had a lot going against him; his social mannerisms were bizarre, for instance. Yet he spent great periods of time quietly before the Lord. This reminds us, MacDonald said, that God doesn't need a member of Congress, a dignitary or a corporation president to do his work. He will use anyone who is merely willing to take the time to listen.

After nearly forty years of walking with Christ, I confess that making time to be still before him still takes effort. It isn't that praying, Scripture study and being quiet in Christ's presence is hard work per se. Once I'm doing these things I enjoy them, and almost daily the Lord proves their benefit to me. What makes it hard is that I have to take my hands off of other things I could be doing at the time. For a workaholic, this is always a challenge.

Gaining Perspective

Several years after moving back to Washington to begin Nehemiah Ministries, Evie and I felt the need for a new home. Our family was growing, and office space for my ministry--which was operating out of our home--wasn't adequate. Yet it was 1981; the real estate market was at its worst point in decades and interest rates were outlandish. We couldn't afford to move, and the prospects of selling our present home were nil.

For several months I spent much time studying the market and reading real estate brochures, but only became increasingly discouraged. Finally it dawned on me that I hadn't spent any serious time praying about the matter. I set aside two hours to pray and seek the Lord's direction, even though it seemed an intrusion into my "busy" schedule. I decided to take a leisurely drive in the country as I prayed, a practice I've often found helpful.

As I meandered around the rural highways of upper Montgomery County, I came upon a street I had never noticed before, even though I thought I knew every nook and cranny of this region where I've spent most of my life. On that street was a house for sale--a home that immediately seemed right for our needs! But it would surely be too expensive. Within a week the owner accepted a contract from us; the price was considerably below market value. Within another week our townhouse sold, in spite of the fact that identical homes in our community had been on the market for months without selling.

The lesson is not that my prayers bent God's mind and constrained him to do something he wouldn't otherwise have wanted to do. This was not the "health and wealth gospel" at work. What happened during those several hours, I believe, was that God was able to command my attention and show me a way to solve an "impossible" problem. He could just as well have given me grace to accept things as they were. In fact that has happened far more frequently than the more dramatic sort of answer that came on this occasion.

But whatever his solution, I find again and again that it takes time being still before him to be able to understand it.

Whether you are a student, a homemaker or someone involved in a career, I urge you not to think of time devoted to being alone with Christ as time taken away from the demands of your work. View it, rather, as time invested with One who is able to give you peace and wisdom to carry out your work effectively.

But remember that Satan will do everything possible to make you regard it as an intrusion on your schedule. If that tactic doesn't work, then he will bring into your time with Christ interruptions that seem to demand immediate attention. Keep in mind that usually the problems can wait a few minutes while you put first things first.

And when you do, you may just find that the smoke clears away by itself.

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This article is excerpted with small changes from chapter 7 of Blaine's The Optimism Factor: Outrageous Faith Against the Odds (Downers Grove Ill.: InterVarsity press, 1994).

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