Devotions on The Struggles of Prayer
Men ought always to pray, and not to faint. (Luke 18:1)
I once read about a man’s visit to a remote monastery. The monks living at the monastery had devoted their lives to prayer. During his visit, the man asked one of the monks, “I suppose you’ve had some real struggles over the years with the devil in prayer?” To the man’s dismay, the monk surprisingly answered, “No, not really, but I’ve had some real struggles with God.”
Prayer is often a struggle in our Christian lives. I personally struggle with prayer from time to time. I know what it is to pray with a spirit of prayer and to pray until I’ve prayed through. I also know what it’s like to cough up some verbiage, spit it out and feel it all blow back in my face. There are times when I know my prayer has soared into the third heaven and made its way into the throne room of the universe, and other times when I know that my prayer hasn’t gotten above the ceiling.
I’ve prayed at times with God-given burdens and Spirit-inspired passion. I’ve cried out for others with a fervency inexplicable apart from the white-hot flames of the Holy Spirit burning in my heart. Still, more than I ever care to admit, I’ve prayed a many a prayer reminiscent of the words of Shakespeare: “Words without thoughts to Heaven never go.”
I fondly recall some of the old saints in my old home church praying, “And God remember all of those for whom duty binds us to pray.” Of course, this was their way of making sure that all of those who had slipped their minds didn’t fall through the cracks of their intercession. Another way of safeguarding others from falling through the safety net of our prayers is the popular “Tiny Tim” approach—“God bless everyone.” Yet, no matter what prayer gimmick we employ, prayers void of earnestness leave us with feelings of inadequacy in our intercession for others.
In all honesty, I seldom find myself praying for others as I would want them to pray for me. If the roles were reversed and you were in need and others were on their knees, would you be uplifted or downhearted by others praying for you the same way you pray for them? As painful as it is for me to admit, I’d be ashamed for some people to know the scant supplication I’ve tossed up to heaven on their behalf. If I were in their shoes and they were in mine, I would certainly hope for more from their prayers than what they’ve gotten from mine.
Many is the time that I’ve tried to pray; the optimal word here being “tried.” I tried, but never pulled it off. In my personal experience, prayer has proven to be the greatest thrill and blessing of my Christian life. On the other hand, nothing has been more discouraging and frustrating than those times when I’ve set out to pray but came up short of any real heartfelt supplication.
The champion of all prayer warriors, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, He who “ever lives to make intercession” (Hebrews 7:25), taught us “always to pray, and not to faint.” Therefore, regardless of whether we are being carried along by the river of the Spirit in our prayer lives or find ourselves crying out to God from a dry riverbed, we must never cease to pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Regardless of whether we find our intercession for others satisfactory or miserably insufficient, we must always make mention of them in our prayers to God (Ephesians 6:18). And regardless of whether prayer is presently wafting us into God’s presence or proving to be more of a wrestling match with God, we must keep on praying and never give up, never give out, and never give in.
“I may no longer depend on pleasant impulses to bring me before the Lord. I must rather respond to principles I know to be right, whether I feel them to be enjoyable or not.” (Jim Elliot)
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. (Genesis 32:24)
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
Have you ever wrestled with God in prayer? Jacob did. As a result of Jacob’s tussling with the Almighty, he prevailed in prayer and received power with God (Genesis 32:28).
A little boy once put a couple of cocoons on the dinning room table. The next day, when he awoke to go to school, he noticed something inside one of the cocoons struggling to get out. Very carefully he took his little penknife and slit the cocoon. Once he did, a beautiful butterfly emerged. However, the butterfly remained on the table. When the lad nudged it off the edge, the butterfly immediately fell to the floor. When he threw it in the air, it again fell helplessly to the floor. The butterfly could not fly.
The next morning, the boy noticed something inside the other cocoon struggling to get out. This time, he left it to struggle and breakout on its own. When he arrived home from school that afternoon, a beautiful butterfly was flying around in his house. The boy learned that there was something about the struggle that enabled butterflies to fly.
There is something about our struggles in prayer that enable us to prevail in prayer and receive power with God. Perhaps, God simply refuses to entrust the power of prayer with those who fail to prove their seriousness about it by prevailing with Him in it. At any rate, our Christian lives will never take to the air until we’ve learned to prevail with God in prayer.
Far from being discouraged or disheartened by our struggles in prayer, you and I should realize that our struggles in prayer are necessary for the development of our spiritual wings. Thus, the next time you find yourself struggling in prayer, remember that this is how God enables us to soar (Isaiah 40:31).
“Be like the bird that, passing on her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she hath wings.” (Victor Hugo)
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. (Genesis 32:24)
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. (Hebrews 12:15-16)
Jacob wrestled with God until daybreak. Truly, it is during the nights of our lives that we find ourselves wrestling with God. The nights of our lives are more than mere times of tragedy and trial. They are times when we, like Jacob, find ourselves “left alone.” Times when the still, small voice of the Spirit is silent in our lives. Times when the wind of the Spirit is deathly still. Times when the heavens are brass; when God appears to be turning a deaf ear to our desperate pleas.
The nights of our lives are not just times when tragedy befalls us or troubles and trials come our way. Instead, they are times when God can’t be found in the midst of tragedy, trouble or trial. It is when our world is collapsing around us and God is neither speaking nor revealing Himself to us. It’s when we feel abandoned by the Almighty and begin to wonder if Christ’s promise is true—“I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you” (John 14:18 NIV).
It is during these times when we feel spiritually orphaned that it is imperative for us to hold on to God. Like Jacob, we must refuse to let go of God until the day is once again breaking in our lives; that is, until God answers our prayers and blesses us (Genesis 32:26). If we let go of God during the nights of our lives, we will fail the grace of God, which will result in us getting angry at God, defiling others with our accusations against God and abandoning the things of God (Hebrews 12:15-16).
Make no mistake about it; we will either emerge from the nights of our lives like Jacob, a “prince” with God (Genesis 32:28), or like his brother Esau, a “profane person” who has turned their back on God (Hebrews 12:16). The difference in how we emerge from the nights of our lives will be determined by whether we turn to God and hold on to Him or turn away from God and let go of Him. If we hold on and prevail with God in prayer, we will emerge from the nights of our lives more powerful with God. If we let go and fail the grace of God, we will emerge from the nights of our lives profane like Esau, who was so embittered toward God that he swapped his birthright for beans.
“Christianity is a religion for losers.” (Ted Turner, a man who once considered becoming a Christian missionary, but who let go of God and turned away from Him when his sister died of lupus)
Even in the womb, Jacob struggled with his brother; when he became a man, he even fought with God. Yes, he wrestled with the angel and won. He wept and pleaded for a blessing from him. There at Bethel he met God face to face, and God spoke to him. (Hosea 12:3-4 New Living Translation)
Jacob wrestled all of his life. To begin with, he wrestled with his brother Esau. At birth, the two wrestled over which would be the firstborn. Afterward, they wrestled over their father Isaac’s blessing. Jacob also wrestled with his father-in-law Laban. The two wrestled over Laban’s daughters and later Jacob’s wages.
Jacob even wrestled with God. In his flight from Esau, Jacob tried to strike a bargain with God at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-22). He offered God a tithe of his material possessions in exchange for God’s blessing. After being reconciled with Esau, Jacob returned to Bethel, which means “the house of God.” This time, Jacob wasn’t merely passing through, but settling down. This time, he wasn’t trying to haggle with God, but offering God all that he had with no strings attached (Genesis 35:1-15).
Though he wrestled with God and others all of his life, Jacob never threw in the towel. He never gave up. Consequently, he eventually prevailed. One thing for sure, if Jacob had quit, he would have never prevailed. Likewise, you must refuse to quit if you hope to prevail. Let us be ever mindful of the admonition of the Apostle Paul, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9).
There is no easy way to get power with God. The only way is to prevail with Him. God simply refuses to trust His power with anyone unwilling to wrestle with Him for a lifetime. To be any less serious about the power of God will result in us never know anything of it.
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and its turns,
As everyone of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won, had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow,
You may succeed with another blow.
Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor’s cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit,
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. (Genesis 32:24-28)
Jacob wrestled with God until God changed him. Not only did God change his name from Jacob to Israel, which means “prince with God” or “power with God,” but God also changed Jacob’s walk, by wrenching his hip.
A popular expression in Christian circles is: “Prayer changes things.” The truth, however, is that God changes things. Granted, He may do it through prayer, but it is still His power and not our prayers that are truly transformative. When it comes to God changing things through our prayers, the main thing He changes is ourselves. Nothing makes a bigger difference in our Christian walk than time spent in our prayer closets.
According to Genesis 32:31-32, Jacob limped away from his prevailing with God in prayer. He never walked the same again. In addition, his descendants, the people of Israel, never again ate the sinew of the hip. Notice, along with changing him for good, Jacob’s prevailing with God in prayer also resulted in God changing others for good.
Nothing is used by God to make a bigger difference in our lives and the lives of others than prevailing prayer. Consequently, the absence of change in our lives and churches is traceable to the lack of prevailing prayer in our prayer closets and prayer meetings. Until we get serious about prayer, we need not expect things to change.
“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God; it changes me.” (C. S. Lewis)
And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank. (Genesis 32:29-32)
More important than being miraculously transformed by God, becoming a “prince” with God or receiving the blessing of God, is our coming to know God. This is the pinnacle of prevailing prayer and its premier prize.
Jacob wrestled with God until he knew God. He did not need God to identify Himself by giving His name, because Jacob knew with whom he had wrestled. He named the place where he prevailed with God in prayer “Penial,” which means “the face of God.” Jacob met God face to face in the place of prevailing prayer!
It is in the place of prevailing prayer that you and I will meet God face to face. Although we come to know God in the instant of our conversion (John 17:3), we become intimate with God through a lifetime of communion. Faith in Christ is all that is required for an acquaintance with Him, but a lifetime at His feet is demanded of all who would become intimate with Him (Luke 10:38-42).
The fact that so many view prayer as a means for securing God’s favors rather than as a means for seeking God’s face, explains the absence of shining faces in the world today. In Moses’ day, only he had a shining face, since he alone knew God “face to face” (Exodus 34:29-35; Deuteronomy 34:10). Unfortunately, there is still a serious shortage of shining faces in the world today, due to our unwillingness to draw near enough to God to prevail with Him in prayer and exude His glory to the world.
“The whole meaning of prayer is that we may know God.” (Oswald Chambers)
In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a thing was revealed unto Daniel, whose name was called Belteshazzar; and the thing was true, but the time appointed was long: and he understood the thing, and had understanding of the vision. In those days I Daniel was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled. And in the four and twentieth day of the first month, as I was by the side of the great river, which is Hiddekel; Then I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz: His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude. And I Daniel alone saw the vision: for the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. Yet heard I the voice of his words: and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground. And, behold, an hand touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands. And he said unto me, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent. And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling. Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia. Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days. (Daniel 10:1-14)
There are many reasons for our struggles in prayer, one of the chief ones being the spiritual struggle. The tenth chapter of Daniel provides us with one of Scripture’s rare glimpses into the spiritual realm. Here, we learn that the prayer of the prophet spawned spiritual warfare in the heavenly sphere.
After three weeks of exhaustive prayer, that left Daniel emotionally and physically spent, an angel appeared with an answer to the prophet’s petition. The angel explained, however, that he was dispatched from Heaven the moment Daniel began to pray, but had been withstood for “twenty-one days” by “the prince of the kingdom Persia.” This antagonist of heavenly emissaries was no human entity, but one of the demonic “forces of evil” that inhabits “heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Thanks to the intervention of Michael, the archangel of God (Jude 9), the dispatched angel was finally able to break through to Daniel with the answer to his prayer. Despite this fact, the angel’s return trip promised to be no less difficult, since the “prince of Persia” had now been joined by “the prince of Grecia” (Daniel 10:20-21). So infuriated were the demonic forces over Daniel’s answered prayer that heaven’s emissary was facing double trouble once his mission was accomplished.
This most insightful passage of Scripture shows us how spiritual warfare breaks out in the spiritual realm every time we pray. When we drop to our knees and bow our heads, all hell breaks lose against us. Prayer is spiritual warfare. It is therefore, in its ultimate extent, not to be taken up by the fainthearted, but only to be engaged in by the bravest of souls.
Make no mistake about it; one thing the devil definitely doesn’t want you to do is to pray. Every time you attempt to, he’ll do everything he can to keep you from it. He’ll stoop to anything and stop at nothing. Is there any wonder then that prayer often proves to be such a spiritual struggle in our Christian lives?
“The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.” (Samuel Chadwick)
And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:40-41)
Another reason for our struggles in prayer is the physical struggle. Do you find yourself getting sleepy whenever you go to pray? I know people who use prayer as a cure for insomnia. They insist that it is better than Sominex and Nytol. Whenever they can’t sleep, they go to praying and the next thing they know they’re fast asleep.
During His agony in Gethsemane, Christ’s asked His disciples to “watch and pray” with Him. Afterward, He went deeper into the garden and prayed up a bloody sweat. When He returned to His disciples—Peter, James and John—He found them sleeping rather than praying.
After rebuking His disciples for falling asleep and failing to pray, our Lord admitted that “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” In other words, Christ’s disciples were more than willing in their spirits to do what He had asked them to do, namely, “watch and pray” with Him. It was their “flesh,” however, that was “weak” and uncooperative. Although the disciples’ willing spirits were more than ready to watch and pray with Christ, their fatigued fallen bodies kept rocking them to sleep.
Our reborn spirits are always ready and willing to do what our Lord wants us to do, but our fallen bodies are weak and uncooperative. This struggle between the physical and spiritual is probably never more easily detected nor more evidently pronounced than in our prayer closets. Here, we often find our heavy hearts overridden by heavy eyes. Though we spiritually desire to rise up in fervent prayer, we discover ourselves nodding off due to physical fatigue.
“And talking of sleepiness, I entirely agree with you that no one in his senses, if he has any power of ordering his own day, would reserve his chief prayers for bedtime—obviously the worst possible hour for any action which needs concentration. My own plan, when hard-pressed, is to seize any time and place, however unsuitable, in preference to the last waking moment. On a day of traveling—with, perhaps, some ghastly meeting at the end of it—I’d rather pray sitting in a crowded train than put it off till midnight when one reaches a hotel bedroom with aching head and dry throat and one’s mind partly in a stupor and partly in a whirl.” (C. S. Lewis in Letters to Malcom)
I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25)
There is no better illustration in all of Scripture of the conflict between our spirits and flesh than the Apostle Paul’s divinely inspired words in Romans 7:21-25. Here, we are clearly shown how the physical can pose quite a problem when it comes to the spiritual discipline of prayer.
According to Paul, his “inward man”; that is, his reborn spirit, delighted “in the law of God.” His reborn spirit, just like yours and mine, wanted to do what God wanted him to. Paul’s problem, however, was that his “flesh”; that is, his fallen body with its fallen senses and understanding, was waging war against his spirit and “bringing [him] into captivity to the law of sin.” As a result of this struggle, Paul found himself not doing the “good” his reborn spirit desired to do, but the “evil” his flesh kept dragging him into. His fallen body’s seeming upper hand over his reborn spirit was so grievous to the great Apostle that he cried out, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
In Paul’s day, the corpse of a murderer’s victim was often strapped to the murderer’s back. As the corpse decayed and rotted the murderer became diseased and died. This most cruel means of execution was what Paul alluded to when he asked, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Paul saw his flesh, in particularly his fallen body, as something he was strapped with in this fallen world. To him, the corruptible body to which he was tied in this corruptible world not only subjected him to disease and death, but was also detrimental to his spiritual life, constantly hindering and hampering him from living in the Spirit. Is there any wonder then that Paul concluded the seventh chapter of Romans by thanking God that someday he would be delivered from “the body of this death through Jesus Christ our Lord”?
Until that glorious day comes when we shall exchange these fallen bodies, which are mortal and corruptible, for glorified bodies, which will be immortal and incorruptible, we are to exercise and strengthen our spiritual senses, while disciplining and denying our physical ones. This way, our spirits will not fall victim to the tyranny of the flesh and our flesh will have minimal mastery over our spirits.
“If we find the Spirit weak and the flesh strong, we are to disable it by fasting and watchfulness in prayer…we are to implore the aid and assistance of God’s Spirit, whereby we maybe strengthened and enabled to subdue and mortify the lusts of the flesh, which rebel and fight against our souls…But if instead of mortifying and taming the flesh and the lusts thereof, we pamper them like epicures with all voluptuous delights; we shall but strengthen our enemies to cut our own throats…this servant, which we should use as a slave, [will] at length [become] a tyrannous lord and master which will bind us hand and foot in the fetters of sin…What folly therefore is it to nourish and arm our enemy to our own destruction?”
And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed. (Luke 22:41)
The Bible often speaks of different postures in prayer. For instance, our Lord knelt in Gethsemane, as well as fell with His face to the ground (Matthew 26:39). Abraham’s servant bowed down his head in prayer (Genesis 24:26). And the Publican stood, while beating upon his breast and refusing to look up to heaven (Luke 18:13). In light of such diversity, there is no Scriptural grounds upon which to prescribe a particular posture for prayer.
Due to physical infirmities and maladies, many saints find it difficult, if not impossible, to assume certain postures in prayer. For instance, those with bad backs may be unable to kneel. In addition, any posture assumed over a lengthy period may eventually become uncomfortable enough physically to distract us spiritually. Thus, we should guard against such physical distractions as far as possible and never presume that certain postures make our prayers more or less potent.
Far more than the posture of our bodies, prayer is an attitude of our hearts. This alone explains the possibility of obeying the biblical admonitions to pray “always” and “without ceasing” (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Obviously, we can’t spend the rest of our lives kneeling, with heads bowed and hands clasped. We can, however, spend every second of the rest of our days in a prayerful attitude of heart; that is, we can constantly live the rest of our lives in total reliance upon Christ rather than ourselves, others, or other things.
It is this awareness of our utter spiritual poverty and impotence apart from Christ that spawns true prayer. It is our sincere belief in Jesus’ words, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Only those completely convinced of the truthfulness of these words will constantly “abide in” (depend upon) Christ, and only those who live in such constant reliance upon Christ can “ask what [they] will” and have their prayers answered (John 15:5-7).
HOW TO PRAY
The proper way for a man to pray,
Said Deacon Lenuel Keys,
And the only proper attitude
Is down upon your knees.
No, I should say the way to pray,
Said Reverend Doctor Wise,
Is standing straight with outstretched arms
And rapturous upturned eyes.
Oh, no, no, no, said Elmer Slow,
Such posture is too proud.
A man should pray with eyes fast-closed
And head contritely bowed.
It seems to me his hands should be
Devoutly clasped in front,
With both thumbs pointing toward the ground,
Said Reverend Doctor Blunt.
Well, I pray while resting every day,
Said Mr. Henry Pack.
So I should think you say your prayers
While lying on your back.
Last year I fell in Murphy’s well,
Head first, said Cyrus Brown,
With both my heels a-stickin’ up
And my head a-pointin’ down.
And I made a prayer right then and there,
The best prayer I ever said.
The prayin’est prayer I ever prayed
Was standing on my head.
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
Along with our spiritual and physical struggles in prayer, there are also the mental and emotional struggles. In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, the Apostle Paul points out that the mind is the spiritual battlefield. The “imaginations” to be “cast down,” “the [true] knowledge of God,” which is concealed by lofty arguments and popular opinion, and our “thoughts,” which need to be brought “into captivity…to the obedience of Christ,” all have to do with our minds. We lose in spiritual warfare every time we lose the battle of the mind.
Whoever gets the attention of our minds gains the ascendancy in our lives. Our diligence against worldly and demonic distractions is therefore imperative to the concentration and contemplation our prayer lives require. In our daily devotions, our minds will be frequently deluged by the devil with distracting thoughts, none of which should be allowed by us to redirect our focus away from Christ.
How often does the phone or doorbell ring the moment you start to pray? How often do your kids or grandkids start acting up the instant you cry out, “Abba, Father”? How often do you step into your prayer closet only to have your mind flooded with thoughts about all of the things that you need to be doing? Is all of this simply coincidental? Or is it possible, at least some of the time, that something sinister and diabolical is abreast?
Don’t kid yourself; the devil often tries to distract you in prayer with outer things and inner thoughts. Phones, doorbells, kids and grandkids are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of the outer distractions at the devil’s disposal. And when it comes to prayer-distracting inner thoughts, the devil is literally limited only by the limit of your own imagination. How diligent, then, must we be in the disciplining of our minds and emotions, lest we be distracted in prayer, our foremost spiritual discipline?
“I have so much to do today that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.” (Martin Luther)
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:10)
I once heard prayer described as “sitting down on the inside.” How desperately we need to sit down on the inside in today’s helter-skelter world. We live in a fast-paced world of continual motion. There’s no lane left but the fast one, and all who try slowing down in it get run over by it. If you’re not wired, wireless, Facebooked, YouTubed and Twittering, you’re left behind in a cloud of dust by today’s high-tech world.
It seems like everyone goes around today plugged into global communications, tuned in to twenty-four hour cable news, holding a cell phone, iPod, or BlackBerry in their hand, and with an iPad on their lap and a BlueTooth in their ear. With all of this continual clatter and incessant information over everything from international affairs to the most infinitesimal details of our lives, how is God suppose to get a word in edgewise? And how are we to steal away a second of silence for prayer and meditation in the midst of today’s round the clock clamor?
Just as static on a telephone line can prevent us from communicating with others over the telephone, static on the prayer line can keep us from communicating with God in prayer. Therefore, all static must be spiritually tuned out if we are to hear God clearly in our prayer closets. We simply can’t tune in to God with a bunch of background noise buzzing in our ears. The devil knows this, and this is why he always tries to mess up our spiritual reception with worldly interference.
Too many Christians today are plagued with spiritual “Tinnitus”—a continual ringing in their ear. This nonstop roar of today’s pell-mell world prevents them from communing with God in prayer. Being bedeviled by today’s high tech world, they’re distracted from God morning, noon, and night. As a result, they have little spiritual reception and are hardly ever tuned in to a heavenly frequency. Prayer is definitely a struggle for them, due to all the beeping and bleeping in their ear.
“To tune in to God, we must tune out the blaring sounds of our busy lives. Only then will we be able to clearly hear the Spirit whispering divine truths to our hearts. And it is when we, like Elijah, hear the Spirit’s still, small voice, that we’ll finally cover our faces and come to know that He is God (1 Kings 19:11-13 ).”
Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:14-18)
When it comes to struggling in prayer mentally and emotionally, it is not just outer things and inner thoughts that the devil uses to distract us. It is also other voices. The devil tries to drown out the still, small voice of the Spirit with a variety of higher volumed voices. There is his shouted threats and strong, yet subtle, temptations. There is the booming voice of public opinion and the reverberating demands of political correctness. And there is also the screaming voices of our five senses and the resounding voice of our own reason.
Every time these other voices catch our attention and capture our allegiance, we become more and more deafened and desensitized to the voice of God. Eventually, we’ll be spiritually ruined by these other voices, becoming more and more ungodly as their influence over our lives spreads like a spiritual canker. In the end, we may even be used by the devil to overthrow the faith of others; instead of used by God to lead others to faith in Christ.
To avoid becoming a Hymenaeus or Philetus, we need to keep ourselves in the Word of God and stay away from the words of men. By “studying to show ourselves approved unto God, workmen that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth,” we will keep our spiritual senses sharpened and ourselves super sensitive to the still, small voice of the Spirit. As a result, the voice of Jesus will be to us like a “trumphet” or the “sound of many waters”; that is, it will drown out all of the other voices in our lives (Revelation 1:10, 15).
Most Christians today have too much traffic on their line. Their prayer line, which should be a hotline to Heaven, is more like a party line, with numerous voices vying for their attention. To truly commune with God in prayer we must zero in on God’s Word and zone out the words of all other clamoring voices.
THE ROYAL TELEPHONE (Fredrick M. Lehman)
Telephone to glory, O what joy divine!
I can feel the current moving on the line,
Built by God the Father for His loved and own,
We may talk to Jesus thru this royal telephone.
Fail to get the answer, Satan’s crossed your wire,
By some strong delusion, or some base desire;
Take away obstructions, God is on the throne,
And you’ll get your answer thru this royal telephone.
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
Familiarity can both dull or sharpen the senses. Someone who lives next to an airport or railroad can get so accustomed to the sound of planes and trains as to become oblivious to it. On the other hand, the FBI trains its agents to spot counterfeit currency by familiarizing themselves with the genuine. By becoming so familiar with the genuine, the counterfeit becomes easily detectable.
As Christians, we should strive to desensitize ourselves to the familiar sounds of a spiritually distracting world. At the same time, we should so familiarize ourselves with the Word of truth that we’re able to easily detect error wherever it is found. Of course, all of this requires a continual sharpening of our spiritual senses on the “whetstone” of God’s Word.
Those Christians who are willing to hone themselves spiritually become spiritually mature. They are also far less likely to spiritually shortchange themselves by swapping God’s genuine truths for this world’s poor imitations. On the other hand, those Christians who are unskilful in their handling of the Scriptures are mere babes in Christ. Consequently, they are too immature for a solid spiritual diet, not to mention too immature to discern for themselves between “good and evil.”
“It is tragic that there are people who have been members of the church and saved for years, and they are still going around saying, ‘Goo, goo.’ They have nothing to contribute but little baby talk. All they want is to be burped periodically.” (J. Vernon McGee)
I sleep, but my heart is awakened; it is the voice of my beloved! (Song of Solomon 5:2)
In all likelihood, your spouse, more than anyone else in the world, is the person most likely to recognize you by the sound of your voice. Being the person most intimate with you, your spouse can easily discern your voice from the voice of others. It is their close communion with you that sharpens their senses to such a keen awareness of you.
As Christians, we need to enter into close communion with Christ in prayer. By becoming intimate with Christ in our prayer closets, we will sharpen our spiritual senses and enable ourselves to easily detect the voice of the Master from a multitude of others. With our spiritual senses fine-tuned by our fellowship with Christ, the least little whisper of the Spirit will make us keenly aware of the presence of the Savior.
It is no coincidence that Christ chose the marriage relationship, the most intimate of human relationships, to illustrate His relationship with us. It is intimacy with us that Christ seeks. Furthermore, it is a deepening intimacy with Him that should be our daily pursuit. As marital intimacy reaches its sublime heights in the privacy of the bedroom—where we become one with our spouse—spiritual intimacy reaches its sublime heights in the privacy of our prayer closets—where we become one with our Savior.
“We are at this moment as close to God as we really choose to be. True, there are times when we would like to know a deeper intimacy, but when it comes to the point, we are not prepared to pay the price involved.” (J. Oswald Sanders)
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-11)
Of all of our struggles in prayer, the greatest by far is the volitional struggle. More than the spiritual, physical, mental or emotional struggles of prayer, it is the volitional struggle that is most often lost in the Christian’s prayer closet. It is not our inability to overcome the devil, fatigue, infirmity, or worldly interference that is most responsible for our fruitless and frustrating prayer lives. Instead, it is our inability to overcome ourselves. As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
In the model prayer, the Master Teacher taught us to pray, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Contrary to popular opinion, prayer is not an attempt by us to bring God over to our side; instead, it is all about us going over to God’s side. Too many Christians today view prayer as our attempt to talk God into doing what we want. However, Jesus taught us that the purpose of prayer is the fulfillment of God’s will, not ours.
Our attempts to turn God into a universal bellhop ready to do our bidding at our every beck and call is more than a gross misunderstanding of the nature of prayer; it is blasphemous! To reduce the divine to such profane proportions is a most serious offense against the Almighty.
Rather than viewing prayer as a vehicle for our manipulation of God, we should view it as an opportunity to partner with Christ in the carrying out of His plans and purposes in this world. It is only by possessing such a high and lofty view of prayer that we can hope to have fruitful prayer lives.
“Don’t pray that God’s on our side, pray that we’re on His side.” (Abraham Lincoln)
You have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts. (James 1:2-3)
Obviously, a prayer not prayed can’t be answered. This explains James’ words, “You have not, because you ask not.” How much self-induced spiritual poverty is attributable to the sin of prayerlessness? What voids exist in spiritual lives because of vacant prayer closets? I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that when Christ shines the light of eternity back over our earthly lives the thing that will prove most grievous to us is the fact that we prayed so little.
While prayers not prayed can’t be answered, many a prayed prayer goes unanswered. The problem here is not that we don’t ask, but that we “ask amiss.” According to James, we ask amiss when we pray for our own pleasure. Such selfish prayers are unpleasing to God, not to mention unanswerable by Him, except on those rare occasions when He decides to teach us a lesson by giving us what we ask for (1 Samuel 8:1-22).
I’m continuously amazed at Christians who get upset with God every time He answers a selfish prayer with a resounding “No!” Rather than griping and grumbling over God’s refusal to give us everything we want, we ought to be grateful that God refuses to do so, lest we be swallowed up by our own selfishness.
The tale is told in ancient mythology about a magic vest. Whoever donned the vest got everything they wished for. The catch, however, was found in the tightening of the vest with each granted request. Ultimately, everyone who donned it was choked to death by it. Gratefully, God refuses to answer selfish prayers and serve as our magic vest, lest He be a party to us straggling ourselves to death with our own selfish “lusts.”
“Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” (Garth Brooks)
Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. (Mark 11:24)
Many read these words of the Savior and conclude that they can get whatever they want from God as long as they can convince themselves that God will give it to them. Such a misinterpretation of the Master’s words would be laughable, if it were not so tragic. The truth is; such foolishness has shipwrecked the faith of many Christians and kept others from coming to the Christian faith at all.
The Bible teaches us that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). Faith doesn’t come from clinching our fists and gritting our teeth and convincing ourselves that God is going to do whatever we ask Him to do. This is pure presumption, not faith. Whereas faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4), presumption is the shortest path I know to sure and certain spiritual defeat.
Faith only comes when God speaks directly and personally to our hearts, revealing to us His will. Once we are convinced by Him of His will, we can pray accordingly with perfect confidence that our prayers will be answered (1 John 5:14-15). It is knowing with certainty the revealed will of God and praying with confidence that it be fulfilled that results in our prayers being unfailingly answered.
Granted, some will protest at this point that the verse under consideration says that we can ask whatever we desire. Yet, the Bible, which is always the best commentary on itself, teaches us elsewhere that God will not even hear our prayers if we pray with iniquity in our heart; that is, for something contrary to His will (Psalm 66:18). If we are right with God and properly prepared to kneel before Him, then, His will, not ours, will be our heart’s desire.
Remember, the Psalmist promised us that God would give us the desires of our heart if we would delight ourselves in Him (Psalm 37:4). All who delight themselves in the Lord will desire His will to be done over their own. It is those to whom the revealed will of God is the soul’s delight who can believe and receive whatever they ask for in prayer.
“Men presume when they are resolved to abide in their sins…It cannot be that God should be wheedled…or prevailed upon by lips of dissimulation. He knows them that trust in him and that sincerely come to him by Christ.” (John Bunyan)
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. (James 1:6-7)
Faith is one of prayer’s scriptural prerequisites. Without it, we need not expect answers to our prayers. Jesus taught His disciples that “faith in God” was imperative to prayer and a prerequisite to getting our prayers answered (Mark 11:22-24). Thus, there is no way to overestimate the importance of faith in our prayer lives.
It is not normally our failure to understand the importance of faith in prayer that results in our prayer lives becoming fruitless and frustrating. Instead, it is our misunderstanding of faith itself. Too many modern-day Christians have been convinced that faith is a self-induced surety of God’s performance of our will. Yet, such a definition of faith is far more suitable to a proper understanding of faithlessness.
To insist upon God doing our will rather than His own is to have faith in ourselves rather than faith in God. It is to say that we know best, that our way is better than God’s and our plans superior to His. Although praying for our will to be done is an extreme expression of confidence in ourselves, it is, at the same time, a clear illustration of our lack of confidence in Christ. It is a reversal of roles; Christ serving us by fulfilling our will rather than us serving Him by fulfilling His will.
The Apostle Paul taught that God’s will for our lives is “good, acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2). It cannot be improved upon. The best thing that can ever happen to us is for God’s will to be perfectly fulfilled in our lives, even when His will is contrary to ours.
Despite the popular teachings of the modern-day Faith Movement, faith is not proven by us getting everything we ask for in prayer. Instead, faith is proven by our continual confidence in God even when our prayers go unanswered. It is not self-serving, but unshakable. It is an unwavering belief in the fact that God knows best, even when we don’t understand how His plans and purposes are presently unfolding for our own good and the good of others.
THE WILL OF GOD (Frederick William Faber)
I worship thee, sweet will of God!
And all thy ways adore;
To every day I live, I seem
To love thee more and more.
Thou wert the end, the blessed rule
Of our Saviour’s toils and tears;
Thou wert the passion of his heart
Those three and thirty years.
And he hath breath’d into my soul
A special love of thee,
A love to lose my will in his,
And by that loss be free.
I love to see thee bring to nought
The plans of wily men;
When simple hearts outwit the wise,
Oh, thou art loveliest then.
The headstrong world it presses hard
Upon the church full oft,
And then how easily thou turn’st
The hard ways into soft.
I love to kiss each print where thou
Hast set thine unseen feet;
I cannot fear thee, blessed will!
Thine empire is so sweet.
When obstacles and trials seem
Like prison walls to be,
I do the little I can do,
And leave the rest to thee.
I know not what it is to doubt,
My heart is ever gay;
I run no risk, for, come what will,
Thou always hast thy way.
I have no cares, O blessed will!
For all my cares are thine:
I live in triumph, Lord! for thou
Hast made thy triumphs mine.
And when it seems no chance or change
From grief can set me free,
Hope finds its strength in helplessness,
And gayly waits on thee.
Man’s weakness, waiting upon God,
Its end can never miss,
For men on earth no work can do
More angel-like than this.
Ride on, ride on, triumphantly,
Thou glorious will, ride on!
Faith’s pilgrim sons behind thee take
The road that thou hast gone.
He always wins who sides with God,
To him no chance is lost;
God’s will is sweetest to him, when
It triumphs at his cost.
Ill that He blesses is our good,
And unblessed good is ill;
And all is right that seems most wrong,
If it be His sweet will.
And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:39-44)
Here, on this holy ground where our Savior knelt in Gethsemane, the key to prevailing prayer is found. It is the submission of our will to God’s will, even at the cost of our own sweat and blood. Due to such an extreme high price, few are willing to kneel with Christ in this place of prevailing prayer.
Most of us avoid this sacred place like the plague. After all, those who kneel within it do so under the shadow of the cross. We understand that this place marks the end of ourselves, since it serves as the preparatory place for the cross, fashioning us for it. To kneel here is to surrender to the inevitable shouldering of the cross down the Via Dolorosa.
To join the Savior in this sacred place requires a love for God that eclipses all other affections. It requires the opposite of the illicit pursuit of the present-day masses—the supposed cure-all of self-love. The requirement for entry into Gethsemane is acquiescence to one’s own demise out of a supreme devotion to the one who initially knelt here on our behalf. Without such self-denying devotion to Christ, we will never be able to join Him here in prayer.
It is soldiers who have died in battle that are remembered by their country for making the supreme sacrifice. They are commemorated as heros. The true heros of the faith are also those who have made the supreme sacrifice; that is, the living sacrifice of themselves to God (Romans 12:1). However, it is not on a battlefield that they die, but in a garden, where they finally succumb to the divine will. It is in this garden, not on the battlefields of the world, that the greatest of all struggles takes place.
THERE IS NO GAIN BUT BY A LOSS (Arthur S. Booth-Clibborn)
There is no gain but by a loss;
You cannot save but by a cross.
The corn of wheat, to multiply,
Must fall into the ground and die.
O should a soul alone remain
When it a hundredfold can gain?
Our souls are held by all they hold;
Slaves still are slaves in chains of gold;
To whatsoever we may cling,
We make it a soul-chaining thing.
Whether it be a life or land,
And dear as our right eye or hand.
Wherever you ripe fields behold,
Waving to God their sheaves of gold,
Be sure some corn of wheat has died,
Some soul has there been crucified;
Someone has wrestled, wept and prayed,
And fought hell’s legions undismayed.
Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him. (Hebrews 5:7-9)
During His earthly sojourn, Christ “learned obedience” in the Garden of Gethsemane. Gethsemane marked the only occasion in His whole earthly life when His will conflicted with the will of the Father. Up until then, Christ could say, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). In Gethsemane, however, He prayed in His humanity, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
It was essential for Christ to learn obedience as man’s sin substitute and perfect example (1 Peter 2:21). Only by doing so could He become our propitiation on the cross of Calvary and provide us with the perfect example to emulate. His submission to the will of the Father made our salvation possible. It resulted not only in His death on the cross, but also in His resurrection from the dead. The latter (His resurrection) being impossible without the former (His crucifixion) and the former (Calvary) being impossible without Gethsemane.
There is no way to bypass Gethsemane or Golgotha as followers of Christ. Remember, Jesus said, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:36). He also taught that His true followers—His “brothers and sisters”—are those “who do the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 12:50). There is simply no way to follow Christ without a cross, nor is there any way to take up the cross without first kneeling down before God in submission of our will to His.
In today’s crossless “Christianity,” men bow in prayer to plead to God for their ease and comfort. They serve God at their convenience and without cost to themselves. Rather than dying to themselves that they might come alive to God, they believe Christ died and rose again so that He might ever-live in their service. Yet, the Bible plainly teaches that Christ is “the author of eternal salvation” only for those who “obey Him.”
It is only those like Christ, who are willing to take up the cross, deny themselves, and do the will of God, who will be saved by Christ (Matthew 7:21)! Remember, Jesus warned us that “whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).
HAST THOU NO SCAR? (Amy Carmichael)
Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendent star
Hast thou no scar?
Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers, spent,
Leaned me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that encompassed me, I swooned;
Hast thou no wound?
No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the master shall the servant be
And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole: can he have followed far
Who has no wound nor scar?
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Galatians 6:14)
Although we have turned it into a pretty picture, a piece of jewelry, and a steeple topper, the cross is and always has been a symbol of death. Crucifixion is the cruelest means of execution ever dreamed up in the demented mind of a depraved world.
The torn and bloodied figure of Christ on the cross was anything but pretty to see. Scripture suggests that the Savior was so brutalized and bloodied that He scarce resembled a human being when he hung on the tree. Far from wanting a snapshot to hang on your wall or carry in your wallet, you, like the rest of the crowd on that dark, dark day, would have turned your head away from that horrifying scene.
While we know the cross today as a historical event, few know it as a dynamic spiritual principle. It is this ignorance on our part that explains today’s flesh on parade. Everywhere we turn today we see ourselves and what we can do. Seldom do we get a glimpse of Him and of what He can do, which alone “is marvelous in our eyes” (Matthew 21:42).
The reason for this present-day scarcity of divine manifestations is found in our failure to take up the cross. Christ can’t live His resurrected life in and through us until we’re crucified and out of His way. Till then, the resurrected Christ will continue to be hidden from the world’s view by an uncrucified Christiandom.
It is not just the atoning work of Christ on the cross that we need, but also the cross of Christ worked into our Christian lives. Nowhere is this more important than in our prayer lives. All true prayer is prayed under the shadow of the cross. It is prayed by those willing to die to their own will so that they might live to fulfill God’s will.
It is this struggle in our prayer lives that is most difficult to win. To win it, we, like our Lord, may sweat blood as we contemplate the cross and stumble beneath it as we bear its heavy load (Luke 22:44; John 19:17; Mark 15:21). Still, bear it we must, if we hope to have powerful prayer lives. There is no easy way to Calvary, but no other way to eternal life and prevailing prayer!
WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS (Isaac Watts)
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.