04 Wrestling in prayer, Part 1

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41)

Most of us cannot quite understand how prayer can involve difficulty and anguish. Why should praying entail so much suffering? Why should our prayer life be a constantly flowing source of anguish? If we will reflect but for a moment, however, we shall see that it really cannot be otherwise. If prayer is, as we have seen, the central function of the new life of faith, the very heartbeat of our life in God, it is obvious that our prayer life must become the target against which Satan directs his best and most numerous darts. He understands better than we do what prayer means to ourselves and to others. That is why his chief attack is directed against our prayer life. If he can in one way or other weaken it, his prospects of stealing our life in God without our even noticing it are of the very best.

This is not only the most painless way of stealing from our spiritual life; it is also the quickest way, the way which creates the least sensation. Satan desires above all to provide himself with servants who think they are God’s children and who are looked upon as children of God by others. For this reason Satan mobilizes everything that he can commandeer in order to hinder our prayer. He has an excellent confederate in out own hearts: our old Adam. Our carnal nature is, according to our bitter experience, enmity against God (Romans 8:7); and our old nature realizes that it can expect nothing but mortification (death) every timer we really approach God in prayer.

It is important for us to bear this clearly in mind. In the first place we shall be able, by so doing, to account for something which we formerly could not understand, namely the aversion to prayer which we feel more or less strongly from time to time. Our disinclination to pray should not make us anxious or bewildered. It should merely strengthen the old truth that “the flesh lusteth against the spirit“. We shall have our carnal natures with us as long as we live here below, and we must endure the discomfort that that entails. We should deal with the unwillingness of our flesh in this respect in the same way as we deal with all the other sinful desires of our flesh. We should take it to God and lay it all before Him, and the blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse us from this sin as it does from all other sin.

Thus our carnal nature aligns itself against prayer, day in and day out, and the man or woman of prayer who is not mindful of this cannot avoid becoming a victim of the stealthy tempter. As long as we think we shall “get” time to pray we still do not know a great deal about our own carnal natures. That our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12) we see plainly when we begin to take notice of the outward hindrances which are placed in the way of our prayers from day to day. When those hours of the day  come, in which we should be having our prayer-sessions with God, it often appears as though everything has entered int a conspiracy to prevent it, human beings, animals, and, above else, the telephone. It is not difficult to see that there is a veiled hand in the plot. Woe to the Christian who is unacquainted with these foes!

The first and the decisive battle in connection with prayer is the conflict which arises when we are to make arrangements to be alone with God every day. If the battle is lost for any length of time at this point, the enemy has already won the first round. But even though we do gain the victory at the threshold of out Quiet Time, our prayer-struggle is by no means over. Our enemies will pursue us deliberately into our Quiet Time, and here our carnal natures and Satan will take up the battle anew, though from a somewhat different angle. Now every effort will be concentrated upon making our prayer session as short as possible, or upon distracting us so completely that we are not even now able to be alone with God.

Why should we have definite seasons of prayer? Is not this a remnant of salvation by good works? Is there not something about this which smacks of medieval religion? Is it not because people desire to merit something before God by praying many times? Is it not because people think that they can acquire greater merits the more often they present themselves before the All-Highest, pay Him their respects, and bring Him their commendation?

Of course it can be done in that way. And many, no doubt, do look upon prayer as a service which they render to the Lord, because they think that to do so is in accordance with His desires in the matter. But let us nail this one thing down: We do not need definite seasons of prayer for God’s sake. He does not need them. On the contrary, it is we who need them.

We are on the whole disposed to emphasize activity in prayer to much. From the time we begin until we have finished, we are busily engaged in speaking with God, and we feel almost as though there is something wrong or something lacking in our prayer if we do not talk continuously to God. There is activity in prayer, of course, and it includes speaking with God. But not that alone. In the quiet and holy hour of prayer we should also be still and permit our souls to be examined by the Physician of our souls. We should submit to scrutiny under the holy and penetrating light of God and be thoroughly examined, spiritually X-rayed so to speak, in order to ascertain just where our trouble lies.

Remember the words in Psalm 139:23-24: 

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

To sum up this Part 1 of Wrestling in prayer, we have come so far in our discussion about prayer that we could, no doubt, conclude that that even though the battle are fought on different fronts, one main thought cuts through: All wrestling in prayer must bring us into harmony with the Spirit of prayer. Or, as we have already seen, all our difficulties in prayer arise from the simple fact that we are not in harmony with the Spirit of prayer. Our prayer is too often a wrestling with the Spirit of prayer. From this it is easy to understand why our prayer life becomes burdensome and strenuous, also why we achieve no results, why our prayers are one continuous wrestling with the Spirit of prayer, leave our whole prayer life to wither and die.

The real purpose of our wrestling in prayer is, therefore, to render us so impotent and helpless, not only in connection with our physical and spiritual needs, but, above all, our inability to pray, that our prayer really becomes a prayer for the Spirit of prayer. No matter what we pray for, whether it be temporal or spiritual things, little things or great things, gifts for ourselves or for others, our prayers should really resolve themselves into a quiet waiting for the Lord in order to hear what it is that the Spirit desires to have us pray for at that particular time.


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