We often talk about the time we “spend” in prayer. A number of years ago, one of our pastors said that he liked to look at prayer as an investment, rather than as something we spend our time doing. I think maybe he was onto something. Spending tends to bear more of the idea of a giving-out action which depletes us, while the connotation of investment is more positive: we are putting something in, which will be stored up and will bring a multiplied harvest.
So, how is prayer an investment? In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus talks about how to accumulate treasure in heaven:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and where thieves neither break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
We usually apply this Scripture to how we use our finances, and rightfully so; the correlating Scripture in Luke 12:42-34 specifically addresses what we do with our money. But a broader principle in these verses is to make whatever we give, including our time, count for eternity. Time invested in prayer is of eternal value, which should not be underestimated.
It goes with the territory of prayer that we do not always see immediate answers. Sometimes we put a lot of effort into intercession without seeming to see a commensurate amount of results in the short-term scheme. We are not always sure exactly how to intercede, so the prayer process can include some floundering to find the way, along with overcoming our own naturalistic thinking in order to come to a place of believing that God will act. It often takes time to come up into God’s higher perspective, so that we can pray rightly. In addition, we experience unseen opposition in the spirit realm, which requires persistent effort to overcome. All of this can be exhausting and daunting to our faith. We may wonder if it is really worth the effort.
However, the Lord sees our intercessory labor differently than we do. We are laying up treasures in heaven which can never be lost — for those for whom we pray, and as rewards for ourselves, too. Our prayer effort is never wasted, even when we do not receive the full answers we had hoped for or expected. (Let’s be honest: no matter how good we are at hearing the Lord and praying out His will, none of us has a 100% prayer answer track record.)
The Lord knows that our faith is not always perfect, and that our understanding has limitations. Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 13:9, 11, 12: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. … When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child …. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
The Lord delights in and even rewards imperfect prayers, as long as they come from sincere, trusting hearts. Psalm 103:13, 14 tells us, “Like a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”
I would like to leave you with a quote which encourages me when the praying is long and the answers are not forthcoming in the way, or as soon as, I would like. Wesley Duewel, one of my heroes, comments in his book, Touch the World Through Prayer,
Prayers prayed in the Spirit never die until they accomplish God’s intended purpose. His answer may not be what we expected, or when we expected it, but God often provides much more abundantly than we could think or ask. He interprets our intent and either answers or stores up our prayers. Sincere prayers are never lost. Energy, time, love, and longing can be endowments that will never be wasted or go unrewarded.
So keep praying — even when you don’t yet see the fruit. Some fruit will become visible here on earth, and some will only be visible from eternity’s perspective. In either case, your intercessions matter. Entrust them to the Lord, and do not grow weary in your well-doing of prayer. They are investments which will come back to you.