The greatest benefit of being a Christian is knowing that you will go to Heaven when you die. There are many other benefits as well, such as having God’s Word, His guidance, His promise to supply your needs, the joy of beginning relationships with faithful, eternal friends.
But chief among these other benefits is the privilege of prayer. Prayer is what gives us access to the Most High God who can do anything. This access means that you can talk to God about anything. One of the great promises is this: “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:6). One definition of prayer is asking God to act. “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2).
But are there consequences of not praying? Yes.
A blatant example of not praying was when the Gibeonites deceived Joshua. The Gibeonites were in fear that they would soon be vanquished by the Israelites like other nations that had been conquered. And they would have been. But Joshua believed that these people were sincere and gave them indemnity from being destroyed by swearing an oath to them. But then comes that most ominous verse: they “did not ask counsel from the Lord” (Joshua 9:14).
How could Joshua have been so careless? Possibly because there was such a great sense of the guidance and approval of the Lord that it did not cross Joshua’s mind to pray about it. Except for the debacle at Ai, the Israelites had enjoyed one victory after another in the Promised Land. Joshua was now on a roll. He was confident and had every reason to be. But not asking for God’s counsel was costly. This goes to show how those of us deeply involved in the work of the Lord might unwittingly take His presence and approval for granted.
WHAT PRAYER WILL DO FOR YOU
Many years ago I had lunch with Richard Wurmbrand (1909-2001), author of “Tortured for Christ.” He immediately said to me: “Young man, spend more time talking to God about men than talking to men about God.” I have sought to do this ever since.
Children spell love T-I-M-E. What if God spells our love for Him T-I-M-E?
The chief benefit of prayer is getting to know God’s ways. How do you get to know anybody’s ways? By spending time with them. God lamented of ancient Israel, “They have not known my ways” (Hebrews 3:10). God wants us to know His ways. Knowing God’s ways includes discovering what pleases Him and what displeases Him. It comes from developing intimacy with Him. The consequence of prayerlessness is that we become hard, cold and, almost certainly, defensive and unteachable.
How much do you pray? Martin Luther (1483-1546) prayed two hours a day. John Wesley (1703-1791) prayed two hours a day. According to one poll, the average church leader in Britain and America prays four minutes a day. And we wonder why the church is powerless!
Not praying, then, is to forfeit a close relationship with God. He confides in those who fear Him (see Psalm 25:14). There is no greater privilege than this—having a close friendship with God.
“Oh what peace we often forfeit,
Oh what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.”
—Joseph M. Scriven (1819-1886)
WHAT PRAYER DOES FOR OTHERS
God has chosen prayer as a means to move Him to act. He could step in of course without our turning to Him. But strange as it may seem, sometimes God does nothing except in answer to prayer.
When the early church was threatened by the Sanhedrin, the disciples prayed. “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
When Peter was imprisoned the people prayed: “Earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5). He was immediately delivered (see Acts 12:6-11).
This year marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The last time Britain prayed as a nation was on the occasion of D-Day, and God stepped in miraculously and ensured the victory of World War II. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Hebrides Revival beginning in Scotland (1949-52). Prayer preceded this phenomenon, particularly the prayer of two women in their 80s who wouldn’t give up their praying.
It is sobering to contemplate what would have happened had not the church, the nation and two women prayed as they did.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE STOP PRAYING
When we stop praying, unbelief often sets in. We tend to stop praying because we think God is not going to answer us. However, until God says an undoubted no, we should not give up.
Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed for a son. But at some point Zechariah may well have given up on that prayer, assuming it was not in God’s will. Unexpectedly, the angel Gabriel announced to Zechariah, “Your prayer has been heard” (Luke 1:13). Sadly, Zechariah didn’t believe the angel. And as a result, Gabriel had to say, “You will be silent [or dumb as the KJV says] and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time” (Luke 1:20).
Behind this amazing story is what we learn from John: Any prayer prayed in the will of God will be answered: “If we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14). But the shape that answered prayer takes is determined by our readiness at the moment God answers. Zechariah was heard, but he doubted, even in a face-to-face encounter with an angel. I believe it is likely he had stopped praying, at least in any semblance of belief, and the result was that he was not allowed to enjoy answered prayer as he might have.
When we get to Heaven, do not be surprised if we learn these two things: (1) the consequences of not praying, and, (2) what happened when we gave up praying too soon. Praying is never wasted time.
What is more, there will be no praying in Heaven. Worship? Yes. Asking God to act? No. This is expressed in one of the verses from the hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer”:
“Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
May I thy consolation share,
Till, from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height,
I view my home and take my flight:
This robe of flesh I’ll drop and rise
To seize the everlasting prize;
And shout, while passing through the air,
‘Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer!’”
—William Walford (1772-1850)
R.T. Kendall is an author, speaker and theologian. He served as pastor at Westminster Chapel in London from 1977 to 2002.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version.