In 1997, I attended a pastors’ conference in Southern California. One of the main speakers had recently experienced a breakthrough in his own prayer life, which included prayer journaling (the practice of writing out your prayers) and was attempting to inspire his audience—made up mostly of pastors, myself included, more interested in growing their churches than they were in growing their souls—to commit themselves to prayer. I’d heard it all before. He said nothing new. But for some reason it was different this time. Well actually, I know why this time was different.
While listening to the speaker wrap up his message it was as if I saw a hand in front of me motioning for me to come. In my mind I knew this was the Holy Spirit beckoning me to try again. So I said yes. Even though I’d experienced failure after failure, I said yes. I made a commitment to pray (more specifically, to prayer journal) each and every day beginning the next Monday.
The conference ended. I went back to my hotel, and the next day I drove home in time for Sunday morning.
That Sunday was pretty much like any other Sunday. This time, however, after my sermon and before dismissing the crowd, I knew there was something I had to say.
“Before you go, I need to tell you something.”
I didn’t mean it to sound ominous, but an uncomfortable hush came over the room. The poor people—they probably thought I was going to tell them I was leaving or that I’d fallen into some horrible sin.
“A few days ago at a conference I made a commitment. I committed to pray every day from here on out. I wanted you to know. I want you to hold me accountable. Have a nice week. You are dismissed.”
For a couple of seconds there was silence, and then people got up to leave.
Immediately I thought to myself, “You idiot! Why did you tell them? You didn’t have to tell them. You could have kept this to yourself, but you told them. Now they’re going to check up on you. You know you’re gonna fail. And then you’ll have to tell them. That was really stupid, Dave.”
Monday came. I did it, day one of prayer journaling. Tuesday came, day two. By the time Sunday rolled around I had kept to my commitment for a whole week! Before and after the service people came up to me to ask how I was doing.
“This is day seven.”
“Great, Dave, great; you keep that up.”
The next Sunday, “So pastor, how’s that prayer thing going?”
“This is day fourteen.”
“This is day twenty one.”
“This is day twenty eight.”
Slowly, the inquiries about my spiritual progress began to taper off. People eventually quit asking but I didn’t quit counting.
I still can’t believe it but I went 1,463 days in a row before skipping a day! But I didn’t skip it because I turned my alarm clock off and went back to sleep. I chose to skip it, or, to be more honest, I needed to skip it. Dare I be so bold as to suggest that God told me to skip it?
You see, toward the end of my 1,463-day run, I began to notice some things in me I didn’t like. I could recognize a bit of obsession with my growing number. I could tell some pride had entered my heart.
“I’m on day 1,053. How awesome am I?”
I never said that, but I thought it.
I knew that the only way to break the pride in my accomplishment was to skip a day. I knew I had to do it. I felt God was asking me to do it.
It took me a few days to give in, but hey, what do you expect? After all, I’d made it past four years! More than four years of continuous daily prayer! That was something to be proud of which, of course, was the problem. So there was no day 1,464.
I’ve skipped many days since then but not too many, at least not too many in a row. My norm is still daily quiet times with God but I’m no longer counting, no longer obsessing, and I’m not aware of any pride connected to my spiritual routines.
Every once in a while I’ll remember that conference in 1997, the speaker, the following Sunday at church, and the weeks of people asking me, “Hey, Dave, what day are you on?” Mostly I remember the vision of that hand beckoning me to come.
Prayer Journal, September 21, 1997, Day One:
“Lord, today I begin. I don’t know how long this will last. You, O Lord, know my fears. I am painfully aware of my weaknesses. Hear me and give me grace to seek You. Let this be the first day of a new life of prayer and intimacy with You.”
Can you see that hand beckoning to you? Can you feel the Father tugging at your heart, asking you to come and begin, or begin again? Don’t let fear of failure hold you back. I’m not asking you to make the same commitment I made at that conference so many years ago, but I am asking you this:
Are you willing to settle for a relationship with the Father that is “a mile wide and an inch deep,” or do you want to experience God beyond the shallows? Can you see that hand? Say yes to it. Begin.
The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.