While most Christians sing in complete sympathy with hymnodist William Cooper when he wrote, “Lord, it is my chief complaint that my love is weak and faint,” they have often felt the same line would be an apt description of their prayer life. Their complaint is not only about their weakness as far as praying in faith is concerned, or their faintness when it comes to consistency in prayer. But the common lament of many Christians is that they find it hard just to get to the place of prayer. Why is that? When you think about the privilege of prayer; the spiritual power that can be obtained through prayer; the many promises that God has given to encourage prayer; and the numerous times in Scripture when you find the Lord pleading with His people to pray, why do we often find it so difficult to go and pray?
From what Paul writes in Ephesians 6, the greatest adversary of any Christian’s prayer life is Satan. The apostle urges us to put on the whole armor of God in order that we “might be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” His great concluding statement on this whole section of the Christian’s warfare with the devil is telling: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (v. 18). Perhaps in no other area of their walk with God do Christians encounter more of the devil’s wiles than in the area of prayer. Since prayer brings you into fellowship with God, and fellowship with God translates into spiritual power to resist and overcome the devil, Satan is constantly trying to make the prayer life of every Christian non- existent.
Albert Barnes, a nineteenth-century Presbyterian minister in America made this insightful comment on verse 18:
“No matter how complete the armor; no matter how skilled we may be in the science of war; no matter how courageous we may be, we may be certain that without prayer we shall be defeated. God alone can give the victory; and when the Christian soldier goes forth armed completely for the spiritual conflict, if he looks to God by prayer, he may be sure of a triumph.”
Surely that was the sentiment of Cowper when he wrote in another of his hymns,
“Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
Prayer makes the Christian’s armor bright;
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.”
So, what is the devil’s method of attack to bring that about? He has basically three approaches: 1) prevent you from praying, 2) interrupt you while you are praying, or 3) defeat the prayers he couldn’t prevent or interrupt.
“You don’t feel well. You should wait until you feel better before you pray.”
One of his oft-used tactics to keep us from praying is that of some physical issue. He comes to us with this idea: “You need to wait until you feel better before you pray.” But the interesting thing is that, in spite of not feeling well, you seem to be able to take care of your worldly affairs. Christians will get up and go to work with a headache and will do so even though they had a sleepless night. But the headache and the tiredness seem to be legitimate reasons not to pray. William Gurnall, a seventeenth-century Anglican minister, asked this searching question to those who listen to this suggestion from the devil: “Art thou well enough to go into thy shop, and not to pray in thy closet? Canst thou waddle so far as to the market, and not pray at home?” Surely the LORD deserves your company more than the world, even when you may not feel well!
Not only will Satan make use of bodily weakness or sickness to keep you from praying, but he will also use the deadness of your own heart as an argument not to pray. You lack the desire to pray. Your heart feels cold, full of spiritual apathy, and empty of any real interest in prayer. So, the devil suggests that you should pray when you are in a better frame of heart. But think carefully about that twisted and deceptive logic: “By neglecting prayer now you will be better prepared to pray later.” Really? You become better at prayer by not praying? That is like saying that the best way to deal with a lack of desire to work (i.e., laziness) is by being idle.
The fact of the matter is that when you feel that your heart is not in a fit frame to pray, that’s the very time when you need most to pray! If you don’t, one of two things will happen. First, you will eventually see and feel your sin and come back to the Lord in shame and sorrow for neglecting prayer. But it’s far better to pray now even with a backwardness for prayer than to pray under those conditions. The other possibility is that you will find that the neglect of prayer becomes easier and easier. You’ll then reach a state where you feel that having any kind of a real prayer life is hopeless.
“You don’t have time to pray.”
One of Satan’s most successful tactics to prevent the believer from praying is “You don’t have time.” How many prayers never get uttered because we listen to the devil’s suggestion that we need to prayer later because there is something more pressing right now. In his book, Freedom from the Tyranny of the Urgent, Charles Hummel writes:
“Our greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important ones. …We live in constant tension between the urgent and the important. The problem is that many important tasks need not be done today, or even this week. Additional hours for prayer and Bible study, a visit to an elderly friend, reading an important book: these activities can usually wait a while longer. But often urgent, though less important tasks, call for immediate response and gobble up our time. Endless demands pressure every waking hour. …Their appeal seems irresistible, and they devour our energy. But in the light of eternity their momentary prominence fades. With a sense of loss we recall the important tasks that have been shunted aside. We realize that we have become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent.”
The greatest tyrant of the urgent, when it comes to this all-important matter of prayer, is the devil. He loves to fill our hands with urgent things — even with “good” things — as long as they keep us from the one thing that is needful. If you are too busy to pray, then the reality is that you are too engaged in the world’s business.
A vital part of overcoming Satan’s tactics to keep us from the throne of grace is making sure that our times of prayer will not be interfered with by the time we must spend in the world. As Gurnall put it so incisively,
“We could not easily [lack] time to pray in, if our hearts would but persuade our heads to devise and study how our other affairs might be disposed of without prejudice to our devotions.”
The thing that our heart and head must be persuaded of is the priority of prayer. Yes, there are times and events that take place that lawfully prevent the believer from getting alone with God. But we must be very careful that we don’t label something as a “necessary duty” when, in actuality, it is just an excuse for not praying. Martin Lloyd Jones said: “The ultimate test of the Christian life is the amount of time we give to prayer. Prayer…should be the ultimate expression of the Christian life.”
Prayer is about enjoying a living relationship with a living Christ who wants our continual fellowship. That is the very thing the devil wants to steal from us and so he strives to keep us from prayer. It is here that we must believe and plead the truth of Christ: “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” God’s promise still holds true: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”