And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So you men could not keep watch with me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
Right before what may have been the most intense spiritual battle in history, Jesus, while preparing His disciples for the dark road ahead, recommended just one weapon to them: prayer. Not Scripture, memorization of verses, listening to a sermon, reading a book, or even talking with an accountability partner; prayer alone was all they needed.
The disciples didn’t follow His counsel, and we know what happened. When the soldiers showed up, most of them bolted. Peter failed miserably. John was the only one of the twelve who was with Jesus to the end at the cross.
In years past, when temptations would hit, especially with lust, I would often be one and done when it came to prayer. The waves of lust would roll over me, I’d offer one half-hearted prayer, the battle would get hot, and I’d give in.
I didn’t know anything about prayer.
Many battles with lust aren’t over in a minute. Some can last for hours. Today I believe I can overcome any temptation with prayer alone, but I must be willing to go the distance. This means I must keep praying until the other side backs down, whether it’s the enemy or my flesh.
Some quests take years to fulfill. After I started on the path to recovery in 1991, my journey to lasting freedom took eight years. If we want to be an overcomer we have to persevere for the long term, no matter how many times we stumble or messy the process is.
I’ve experienced the same with other sins. I’ve had to pray and press through for years for God to do a deep work in my heart with pride, anger, bitterness, and fear. I hated the sin and could see what it was doing to me and my relationships, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t fix it. The Lord taught me that I had to keep seeking Him for a breakthrough, even if the process took years. Eventually, in each of these areas, after years of going at it, God changed my heart. That’s not to say that I still don’t wrestle with those issues occasionally, but they no longer have the hold they used to.
In our culture of Now, it’s easy to adopt the expectation that if we pray we should see results in the near future. While that happens occasionally, some situations will demand that we must dig in for the long haul.
So what is it about prayer that makes it so powerful?
1. There have been many times in prayer when I sense connection with God; that the Holy Spirit is working and speaking to me. Even if I don’t receive new revelation or guidance, His Presence is often enough because I know God is revealing that He’s with me. This alone is a faith booster.
2. While God may not provide an answer as to how a situation will be resolved, He can bring the next step to my mind. Obedience can then open new doors.
3. If I’m freaking out over something, in prayer God often breathes the idea to calm down and listen into my soul, and reminds me that I’m too wrapped around the wrong things. He realigns my perspective and thought processes to His, and brings me to a place I needed to visit: the Sanctuary of His Peace. He reminds me that He’s God and I don’t need to drill myself into a worry hole, and He’s always brought me through every situation in my life. All my emotional gyrations are just going to compound the problem.
5. During a fierce battle of temptation, in prayer He will often show me what I need to do to overcome. During one battle He told me to praise Him. While I didn’t know how praising Him would give me victory, I did it, and not long after the battle broke. Sometimes there is no answer, which means I just need to keep praying.
Don’t worry about having the right words. There are moments when all I can say is “God help me.” Many times I’ll start by saying, “God, I have no idea what to say right now, but I know I need You.” Or, “God I’m so messed up right now… I really screwed up today. Please speak to me.”
I have a hunch that God responds better to gut-level transparency than quoting verses to Him or (trying to) hide our heart. I think He would rather we focus on listening to and knowing Him, rather than reading off “our list.” or throwing out “thees and thous” like we’re trying to impress someone with a load of religious sewage.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
While there are many things that can hinder me from praying, I find the worst is being so busy it makes me stupid. It’s easy to get spun around on chasing the urgent, when much of what we think must be done immediately can wait a little. After a dash of discernment, a re-examination of my priorities, and a request of wisdom from God, I am reminded that fitting prayer into my schedule isn’t as hard as I’ve made it out to be, and I need it.
What do you believe about prayer? Is it merely something that good Christians do (barf), or is it one of the most powerful ways to connect with the Creator of the Universe there is? What you belief is critical; if you believe prayer is a powerless religious exercise, you will flounder in your walk with God. If you believe that prayer is connection with the most powerful being in the universe along with all of His grace, love, and mercy, and that He hears you and wants to help you, your faith will grow and so will your love for God. Your situation may not change, but you will.
No matter where you are today, or what you’re struggling with, keep going, and don’t stop praying.