Desperate to attain perfect sinlessness, I began studying everything Ellen White wrote about prayer.

I uncovered some fascinating statements:

“The Majesty of heaven, while engaged in His earthly ministry, prayed much to His Father. He was frequently bowed all night in prayer. . . . All night, while His followers were sleeping, was their divine teacher praying. The dew and frost of night fell upon His head bowed in prayer. His example is left for His followers” (Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church, vol. 2, p. 508).

So Christ’s example in all-night prayer is for us to follow, Ellen White says. I also read this from volume four of  Testimonies to the Church:

“When the cities were hushed in midnight slumber, when every man had gone to his own house, Christ, our example, would repair to the Mount of Olives, and there, amid the overshadowing trees, would spend the entire night in prayer” (Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 528).

Once again we see that Christ prayed all night as our example. Next, also in the Testimonies, I read this:

“He came to give a correct example of a gospel minister. . . . After teaching throughout the entire day, He frequently devoted the night to prayer.” (Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 373).

“What is God trying to tell me?” I wondered. “Am I supposed to be praying all night? Is this the secret of attaining perfection?”

“But you can’t pray all night!” common sense protested. “You need sleep.”

I had been taught that “common sense” was the same as “human reasoning”—putting my own thoughts above those of God through His prophet. So I pushed aside my brain in trying to know God’s will. I came across this statement in my further reading of the Testimonies: “Fervent and effectual prayer is always in place, and will never weary. Such prayer interests and refreshes all who have a love for devotion” (Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 70).

“So that’s it!” I concluded. “If my prayer is fervent enough, it will never weary me but refresh me instead. I’ve finally found the secret to perfection! Fervent, effectual prayer refreshing me all night long instead of sleep.”

Suddenly everything seemed to fit together in my quest for sinlessness. God has two ways to refresh us: sleep for the world and immature Christians, and resting in Christ through prayer for those serious about attaining perfection. What a beautiful plan! How wasteful for Christians to spend one third of their lives in bed! No wonder nobody’s perfect yet. We pray enough to have some victory but not total victory. Someday God’s going to have a group of people perfectly victorious over all sin, empowered by the Spirit through praying all night—every night! And rather than being weary, they will be more refreshed than anyone else.

Once again human nature warned: “But it’s impossible to live without sleep!” Then the text came to mind: “All things are possible to him that believeth.”

Well, that did it. My decision was made. I determined that through Christ’s power I would live the rest of my life without voluntary sleep. None whatsoever. All things were possible through faith.

That night after returning from my Bible studies, it was time to launch my new prayer life. I wrapped a blanket around my shoulders and ventured outside, flashlight in hand. The chill November air pierced my shivering frame as I toiled up the mountain. Arriving at my place of prayer, I knelt on the freezing ground and poured out my heart to God amid the sound of the wind moaning through the trees. Not far away a bobcat screamed—or was it a mountain lion?

I prayed on. The frost forming on the ground glistened in the moonlight as I agonized before Almighty Yahweh.

Why was I praying outdoors? Because Ellen White said that Jesus prayed outdoors despite the dew and the frost, and I was just following His example. By faith, of course. Everything I did was by “faith.”

About midnight my frostbitten mind couldn’t think of anything else to pray about. Rising stiffly from my knees, I stretched my numb frame then stumbled down the hill and back inside the house to study the books of Ellen White and my Bible. After an hour or so of reading, I warmed up enough to start nodding off to sleep. Catching myself just in time, I hurried down to the cellar to take a cold shower. Nothing in the world would rob me of this vital season of spiritual refreshing. Finally, about three that morning I did doze off, to be awakened a couple of hours later by my buzzing alarm clock.

Night after night I maintained my lonely vigil. It was like a self inflicted Siberian exile. Some freezing nights my resolve sagged and I returned to the house early, telling the Lord I would study the rest of the night—only to slip off to sleep about midnight. I can hardly describe the guilt I felt upon awakening after “wasting” five hours of sleep. I condemned myself for betraying my Lord, missing out on essential fellowship with Him.

Often I did manage to pray and study the whole night through. Yawning triumphantly, I would set my books aside, rub my weary eyes and join the rest of the institution for morning worship. Somehow I mustered strength to face a full day of hard labor.

I kept a careful record of my sleepless hours to measure my spiritual growth. To this day I have my notebook with those records.

People at the institution tried to help me. They showed me counsels written to students about getting proper sleep.

“That’s advice for young people who haven’t attained full maturity as Christians,” I replied.

Then they pointed to Ellen White’s eight natural remedies, one of which is rest. “You’ve just strengthened my case,” I said. “Notice that the servant of the Lord did not use the term ‘sleep.’ She said ‘rest.’ I’m being refreshed all night just as you are, except that you’re sleeping and I’m resting in Christ.”

“You’re unbalanced,” they told me. “That’s unheard of, praying all night.”

I responded that the final generation must attain a spiritual experience that nobody else ever has, so we had better get used to praying as nobody else ever has.

There was a perverse logic in my spiritual madness. For every argument they had, I had an answer. They couldn’t think of anything further to say, so I seized the offensive. “Look, I didn’t come up with this idea myself. It’s from the Lord! Read these quotations,” I urged. “Again and again the servant of the Lord says in the Testimonies that Christ prayed all night and His example in doing so is for us to follow.*  Don’t you believe them?”

They had no answer, so I pressed on.

“You can water down the Testimonies if you want to, but I’m not going to compromise inspired counsel to suit human weakness. All things are possible through faith!”

“You’re losing your mind,” they warned.

“No, I’m not losing my mind. I’m finding my Lord in a deeper way.”

Then I quickly found a quotation from the Desire of Ages about Christ’s brothers charging Him with losing His sanity because He prayed so long and worked so hard. “Jesus did exactly what I’m doing,” I chided them. “And like Christ’s brothers, you’re trying to stop me!”

What else could they say?

I charged the leaders at that institution with compromising their own convictions. They often criticized church members who didn’t take inspired counsel literally—yet they themselves were ignoring these clear statements about Christ’s example for us in sleepless prayer.

In all my fanaticism I was simply taking the principles they believed to their logical conclusion. They often expressed guilt about not praying enough. Well, I was praying enough. They confessed that they weren’t studying the inspired counsels enough. I was studying enough. All I was doing was what they seemed to feel guilty about not doing.

Nevertheless, they called me a legalist.

“No!” I protested. “I’m only doing this to deepen my relationship with Jesus.”

Yet of course what I was doing was legalism: Christ-centered legalism.

*In addition to the Ellen White quotations already noted, I discovered Testimonies, vol 1, p. 86; Signs of the Times, July 24, 1893; Signs of the Times, January 26, 1882, along with similar statements about the importance and benefit of earnest prayer.

(This is the fourth post of a five-part series of Martin Weber’s testimony, “My Tortured Conscience,” in which he describes his misguided quest for revival and reformation, which led him to quit his studies as a theology student and join an independent group of Adventists seeking sinless perfection. To read the first post, click here.)