Overcoming Opposition In Prayer
A number of people tell me how difficult sometimes it is to pray and that confirms my own experience. Indeed, the universal admission is that whenever people give themselves to prayer they never find it easy. Stagnation in prayer may be encountered through lack of information, smallness of outlook, absence of vision, self-centeredness in petition, even slavishness to method; and, of course, "walking after the flesh."
But, apart from all these, there are some striking passages of Scripture which make it abundantly clear that in the unseen world there is a daily and tense battle for supremacy (Dan. 10:12-21). That is a foremost reason why prayer may be difficult. The devil opposes it.
Read most carefully these sentences and weigh every word: "Laboring fervently for you in prayers" (Col. 4:12). "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Eph. 6:18). "Strive together with me in your prayers" (Rom. 15:30). "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (Jas. 5:16). "Continue in prayer, and watch" (Col. 4:2). "Pray, and not… faint" (Luke 18:1). "Watch unto prayer" (1 Pet. 4:7). "He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears…" (Heb. 5:7).
Notice the words: Laboring fervently, supplicating, persevering, watching, striving, strong crying and tears. These are expressions wedded to work and war. They indicate a situation of dire necessity. They suggest deep urgency, sustained effort, undaunted courage and a persistence and faith that is supreme.
Why? Because the man of prayer operates in a world where every inch of ground has to be taken in the teeth of hell. Make no mistake about it, the devil knows when a man is really praying effectually, and he does his best to stop him. In some parts of the Scripture the language employed is of a distinctly military character and unmistakably descriptive of the existence of a tense battle for dominion.
What else can be meant by such words as "put on the whole armor of God… stand against the wiles of the devil…we wrestle …withstand…"? Again, "Take the sword of the Spirit…praying always…" (Eph. 6:11-18). "Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh…The weapons of our warfare are... mighty through God…" (2 Cor. 10:3-4). Here is the word war, plain and simple, and let us take it in that the foe is so obstinate that he will only do what he is compelled to. He is so powerful that none but God-endued men can overcome him, and even then only on the basis that he was conquered by Christ at Calvary.
Are You Watchful in Prayer?
Prayer is, of course, one of the most effective ways of administering the victory of Calvary, and it is placed first in the two things to which the apostles gave themselves (Acts 6:4). So it will be hindered and assailed from all quarters. Who has not gone apart to pray and found their mind go a perfect blank, or flooded with unholy and distracting thoughts if, on the other hand, they have not fallen asleep? Again it is surprising what a lot of things you remember you have to do when you decide to get away to pray.
Do you ever associate these things with the existence of the power of evil? Do you realize they can interfere? I always associate the devil with that sluggish, helpless night the disciples spent near our Lord on the eve of Calvary, when reprovingly He said, "Couldest not thou watch one hour? Watch ye and pray…" (Mark 14:38). I think the devil must have swooned them off to sleep when they should have been vigilant and at the Lord’s disposal. The incident at least shows the advantage of fellowship in watching and prayer.
Here and there we find souls so eager to pray they wear themselves out in battle, and allow the devil to press them beyond the measure of the Spirit, as their physical collapse indicates, but with most of us there is a grave shortage. If we understand the wide range of administrative power that prayer offers we should pursue it to its limits and press the battle to the gates.
Let us remember that talking and writing about prayer is not praying. The devil does not care how much we discuss and applaud the subject, so long as we do not pray. A book on how to pray is good; but, the best and only way to learn is to do it.
Place yourself at God’s disposal in prayer. Study as much to pray as to preach. Be ready to co-operate with God for the deliverance of some of the captive souls in the church and see what happens. You will no longer wonder if there are forces to contend with other than flesh and blood. You will know, and knowing you will understand that unless these satanic powers are reckoned with, you are not going to get through.
Satan Hinders Praying
People who have discovered the value of prayer know they will be assailed from every quarter and in every quarter, and they know it to be worthwhile to guard their power to pray more than anything else. How easy it is to lose the spirit of prayer. The Holy Spirit of God is so easily checked and grieved that sometimes, without knowing it, our ability to pray has gone. We may not know it until we kneel to pray, or are faced with some situation demanding immediate dealing with God; but then leakage soon reveals itself.
The thing to remember is that the devil is probably more concerned with the hindering of prayer than anything else. Therefore, he schemes to get us to take ever so little a step "out of the Spirit." A long look, a feeling of resentment, a hasty word – some apparently trifling thing can rob us of our power to pray and our ability to believe.
Real power in prayer to deal effectually with situations as they arise is rather rare, and the reason is that the devil robs souls of the keen edge of their inner life without their knowing it. How much and how long he can do this some of us know to our sorrow, but once our eyes have been really opened to it, we should watch most carefully and see that we are not drawn out of the current of the Spirit.
The interference with praying will also be the common experience of those who are placed together in the Lord’s work. Hence it is not at all an uncommon thing to find that missionaries and other workers often fail to meet for prayer through some trifling thing. Pray and determine that the enemy shall be exposed in this matter, and that those who need to pray together will want to be able to. Many a work of God seems to lack vitality for want of this fellowship in prayer, and while it is certain that God can work through the prayers of even one soul, yet there must be significance in two agreeing (Matt. 18:19).
Many a man has had to wait for his wife to join him in prayer before God did certain things. And vice versa, the wife has had to wait for the husband. It is not always so, but one has often noticed things change for the better when a situation has been tackled by two or more who were formerly praying alone.
No kind of effective praying is left unopposed and thousands could testify that all sorts of unwelcome things are constantly happening to make real prayer impossible. It simply is that the devil ceaselessly conspires to "slay" the spirit and atmosphere of prayer, and until this is recognized and he is resisted, many problems in relation to praying will remain unsolved.
A godly man said this to me: "We live in the country, and have family prayer every day, but try as I will to guard that time you would be surprised what a task it is to keep it free. Something is always happening to prevent us praying, to shorten the prayer time, or make it difficult to pray when we get down to it."
I replied that I was not surprised, but that probably it was the work of the devil.
"It is something," he rejoined, "and I expect that’s it; for, if I had not experienced it, I would scarcely have believed it."
That experience could be confirmed by a multitude, but the degree of interference would largely be regulated by how they affect the devil’s kingdom.
Prayer Is Foundational
It must not be supposed, however, that I attribute every difficulty in prayer to the devil. There is a man’s evil nature to contend with. We can be lazy and sluggish, or indifferent and independent, thinking that we can do this or that whether we pray or not. We can come under the dictum of the world and believe that "God helps those who help themselves." That is not true. God helps those who trust Him and in the long run nothing else will succeed. Further, we can make prayer supplemental instead of foundational. A very big mistake. All these and much else are capable of acting like a backwash to the praying soul.
Prayer is, of course, an attitude as much as an act; and if that be remembered, no perplexity will arise when there is a genuine absence of words as we wait before God. We must not allow the devil to whip us because we cannot find language with which to unburden ourselves. A groan of the Spirit in us (Rom. 8:26) may accomplish more than a volume of words.
But the "groanings which cannot be uttered" must not be confused with the dumbness that can come through the devil dampening our fires. Some people never do anything else but groan; but when the prayer time is over, they seem to have a wonderful faculty of speech. In most cases I believe it is simply that the devil hinders them. This paralysis of expression can be broken through.
Satan Is a Defeated Foe
The more God’s people reckon with the devil in their praying the more they will taste of the liberty of the Spirit in dealing with the issues of life. The Christian life does not reach the stage of manhood until that is done. But very many believers are limp and flabby, weak and fearful, childish and immature, simply through failing to use the life and energy that is stored up for them in Christ. No one likes to feel that this is true of himself; but, beloved, if it be true of anyone of us, is it not better to face it?
God can do no more than He has done. At the cross He judged the devil and overthrew him and his hosts (John 12:31; Col. 2:15), but it is through us that that victory has to be enforced. We are the links on earth.
Keep it in mind, therefore, that the devil is always engineering to stop the prayer stream. All sorts of excuses will be invented to account for what he is doing under cover. But ask God to make you quick to detect if you are being robbed of your privileges in Christ.
The Devil Hates Prayer
Read Daniel 10 with Ephesians 6, and you should never again wonder why you do not have an easy time at prayer, or why answers are sometimes delayed. Reckon on God, but also reckon with the devil and then by vigilance and perseverance see to it that you are not hindered in pursuing a ministry, a work, a battle – the scope and issues of which cannot be measured. The devil hates prayer and hinders it, challenges prayer and chokes it. Prayer alone vitalizes work.
"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world" (1 Pet. 5:8-9).
To resist the devil is but a healthy operation of the divine life. For just as the white blood corpuscles of the human frame "police" our veins to apprehend and slay disease germs, so the spiritual life needs the energy of the strength of the might of Christ to garrison it from the deadly inroads of the world, the flesh and the devil.
Face the devil, resist him and he shall flee from you. If someone else had urged you, you might have hesitated, but since it is God who speaks, you have naught to fear. He in whom you stand, by His grace, is impregnable. Do as you are bidden, your triumph is guaranteed, because He who holds the world in the hollow of His hand is before you, behind you, above you, beneath you – and best of all – in you. "Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
From Whom Resist by F. J. Perryman. Abridged edition. Osterhus Publishing House.