The Believer at Prayer
Chapter 4 The Difficulties of Prayer
I trust that the result of our meditations together have intensified our desire to know more, by experience, of prayer unto God. If only our hearts have been longing to know more about prayer, then, to a large extent, the objective before us has been secured. We now know that we have within our grasp illimitable opportunities and possibilities. We now know that the issues of weakness are not between the world and the Church, but between God's people and God. If we lack power it is because we lack prayer! We are by redemption, invincible! God's people in the region of intercession may be sovereign rulers, and even controllers in a world that knows us not. To envisage such a possibility, and to know that it is a vital fact of the Word of God, should energise us all to a deep concern about the experience and the practice of prayer.
Yet when this has been realised, and our hearts are responsive, we all have to acknowledge that in our own practical experience of prayer, we are confronted with many and peculiar difficulties. I want, as far as I am able, to speak about the difficulties of prayer, and to deal with them on the plane that is experimental.
I want to speak about the difficulties of prayer in three ways. First, we shall speak of the difficulties of approaching prayer; then of the difficulties when we are actually at prayer; and finally, of the difficulties after we have prayed.
It may be that you find your difficulty in the first of these, in the approach to prayer. What a glorious revelation it is that you and I can take the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ upon our lips! We may go into a room, or we may be walking down the street, and we can be in living fellowship with the Creator of the universe, the Redeemer of the Body of Christ. Then when we have emphasised that fact to our hearts, is it not a strange thing that so many of us find the approach to prayer such a burden? Suppose we laid it down, that an hour a day in prayer was an absolute condition of Church membership, would not many feel that to be an intolerable burden? Yet, if one of the privileges of membership were that you could always have lunch with the Queen whenever you liked, how numerous would be the applications! Such is the strange fact that we all have to acknowledge and which we must examine and understand. I have taken Christ as my Saviour; I am a son of God by redemption; I know that God's Holy Spirit is indwelling me. One of His great activities is prayer. Consequently I have within me the Holy Spirit praying, and He is urging me to prayer. Then I am beset by Satan and the powers of darkness. He can withstand the plans and operations of the Christian Church, and all man-made devices. They are nothing to him. Satan can withstand everything except the believing prayer of God's people.
Consequently here I am a child of God, through whom the Holy Spirit is working to bring me to prayer. If there is one supreme activity that Satan knows he must stem and destroy, it is the activity of prayer. So that this approach to prayer is not quite so simple as it seems. It is made under a dual pressure from within and without. That burden which you feel, that pressure against going to prayer, is from Satan. The power, which constrains you to pray, is from the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, by your responsiveness and your faith, you have been giving an opportunity to the Holy Spirit,and the Holy Spirit has been intensifying the desire in you to get victory in prayer. Now if you are in that position, and if you have felt the burden of prayer, then you must see that spiritual fact of which I have spoken, and you must deal with it. It is the initial stage of the, believer's conflict.
Let me recognise first of all from the Word of God, that prayer must be my great exercise as a child of God. No matter how poor my prayer has been before, I must go to God, and ask to be accepted as a man, as a woman of prayer. I feel how weak I have been in the past.
That does not matter now. The point now is this. Let me go to God, and say, " If there is one burning desire in my heart it is that I may be a person of prayer." And when you have offered yourself thus to God believe that you have been most definitely and certainly accepted. Having settled that point let me realise this, that Satan cannot touch my new nature in Christ.
Therefore all lack of desire for prayer comes from the old nature. It is the evidence that my old nature has not yet been brought to the Cross. Our Lord went to the Cross and died and from the moment that He died and rose again He entered into the life of everlasting intercession. That was part of the joy that was set before Him. When I myself have been identified with Christ in death, I have not only seen that Christ died for me, and was my substitute, but that when He died to the world, I died to the world; and by faith, I am dead to the world in Christ. (Galatians 6-14). Then my old nature will be brought to the Cross, and as it is brought to the Cross, there will be less ground for Satan to work upon.
If the child of God is going on with the Lord, God will keep on giving him evidence that his pride is still active. God speaks to you like a doctor. He says, " I see in that symptom an evidence that the old self has not yet been brought to the Cross; and because I want you to know spiritual health, I have to bring you to the place where pride must be brought low." God wants that. Pride makes it very hard for you to come to God in prayer. I need not say that the unforgiving spirit will also destroy completely a life of prayer. No man can ever come, or want to come actually into the presence of God who has got an unforgiving spirit. "Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there remember that thy brother hath ought against thee. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
No one can get right with God who is not right with his fellows. It is impossible. Titanic as the conflict may be, we must be always possessing and showing a spirit of forgiveness. It will be very hard to approach God if we are harbouring within our hearts a spirit that refuses utterly to forgive. I need not say that it is equally true that the sense of sin within makes it difficult to pray. "If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me," said the psalmist. You will notice that I have not stressed lack of time as a difficulty. I never knew anybody who said he really had no time for his food. They may have a quick lunch, but they get one! We will not speak of lack of time, for when we have the desire to pray we shall make the time!
Let us now consider the activity of praying. Many people do encourage the desire for prayer. You may, perhaps, have selected the occasion for prayer, shutting yourself in with God, and yet be intensely disappointed at the results. Let me point out where the disappointments may arise. True prayer is the exercise, not of your body, nor even of your soul. True prayer is the exercise of your spirit that was brought to life by the action of the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 2-1) " They that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth."
Now it may be that your spirit has had very little exercise; and it all depends on how much exercise it has had as to what it can do. For instance, I have got some sermons to prepare for Sunday; I can assure you it is quite a big enough job for me. If someone said to me, "Instead of preparing those sermons, go and dig a trench in the road, and exercise your body," that would be a problem for me. I do not say that I have exercised my brain unduly, but I can say that I have used my mental faculties more than my physical faculties. Therefore when I am confronted with something that I have not done before, such as taking up a pickaxe and digging a trench in the road, I shall be very easily exhausted. And if my spirit has never been exercised, then I am going to find my labour intensely difficult. You cannot pray as a spiritual giant unless your spirit has been trained for it.
A man cannot step into a motorcar and drive it without previous training. A person cannot sit down and play a Beethoven symphony without ever having played the piano before. It is all because we do not realise that the natural power must be trained. The first time after you have given yourself up to God to be a person of prayer, you are just like a child going to that teacher for his first lesson in music. It may be that you have been greatly discouraged because you have not realised that you cannot be a giant in prayer as was Paul; that you cannot pray like those of whom you read who through the whole day or night hold on to God in prayer. Don't you attempt to do that the first time. If you did it would be just as foolish as it would be for me to attempt to do the work of a navvy tomorrow for eight hours. You are just beginning this life of prayer, therefore begin simply. Make it a real thing while you are praying, be sure that you are in living fellowship wish God, but do it simply, humbly and believingly. Remember your spirit has got to be trained.
It may be that preoccupation is your difficulty. How difficult it is for us to leave the world outside! Whenever you make time for prayer it is wonderful how Satan will seek to distract your attention just as you are going to prayer. There will be something that will engross your thoughts, demanding your attention. Such preoccupation requires a very careful course to cure.
First of all, you want to educate yourself quietly to actual contact with God before it begins to trouble you. If you do find, when you go to prayer, that something outside is forcing itself upon your thoughts-John Jones who owes you money; or somebody to whom you owe money-and if you cannot get those thoughts out of your mind,-there is only one thing to do. You must go to God. You must begin to praise Him for Jesus Christ your Saviour. You must praise Him for victory over sin, and for victory over Satan. As you centre your thoughts on Jesus Christ, and praise Him for what He is, the power of Satan working through your mind will be broken. It is not done easily. Do not attempt yourself to try and banish these thoughts from your mind, if you do you will probably succeed in fixing them there more firmly.
Or, it may be, that your experience is just the other way round, you suffer from mind wandering. You pray for thirty seconds and you find your mind has switched off. That is, of course, a Satanic operation. It does not mean that you are a wicked person. It means that Satan is operating upon the mind; and there is no more flexible part of your being upon which Satan can operate than the mind. We all think that we are very safe just there, but we are not. The mind of the unbeliever is blinded by the god of this world (11 Cor. 4-4) while the believer has by faith to take the helmet of salvation to protect the mind. If you suffer from this mind wandering, remember that it is due to the operation of Satan. You must therefore confess it as a sin for that is what it is. There must be faith in the blood for deliverance and cleansing, and you must hold on to that position of ultimate victory over mind wandering.
Then you must help a little bit. You women folk who are so frequently shopping usually have a list of those things that you want to buy and then you tick them off as they are purchased. If I were to say to you, Why do you keep that list? You would probably say, I do not want to go down to the shops and then find I have forgotten things I needed. The fact is you fortify your mind with those notes. Therefore, if you suffer from mind wandering, be very careful to plan your praying. Write down the things about which you are going to deal with God. If you are particularly afflicted in that way, it may be desirable for you to pray audibly. I think audible prayer is very often best. Write down what you want to pray for, and then pray audibly; until trusting in the power of the living Lord, mind wandering is absolutely broken.
Everyone knows that if you want to get a good vocabulary you must learn to write; and if you want to learn to speak you must learn to write. If you want to be perfectly free with God in prayer you may need to write down your desires and praise. There is no particular virtue in having your eyes closed all the time. Make up your mind that you are not going to be turned away from those things, which you want to talk over with God. If I come to God prepared like that He will listen to me, and my mind will be protected from wandering thoughts.
Again, it may be that your trouble is that you are indefinite. That is a great weakness in prayer. We need to be definite. You hear people praying for the forgiveness of their sins, in a general way; you hear them praying for the missionaries abroad. God is very definite. " Your heavenly Father knoweth the things that ye have need of," said Jesus. We need cleansing, but it is no good saying to God, " If there is anything in my life that is hindering Thy blessing, please remove it." God never gives a local anaesthetic like that. Is there anything wrong in your life? Do you know of anything wrong? If you do not know of anything wrong, then you will be able to say to God, "Oh God, as between Thee and me, my heart is at rest." But if there is something wrong, deal with it in the presence of God. Say very definitely: " Lord that was wrong; it was a sin, and I ask for Thy forgiveness in the Name of Jesus Christ. Grant that the blood may cover it. In the same way we seek for God's blessing. It is a good thing to ask the Lord to bless our Church; but let us specify the blessing that we seek. If there are people upon our hearts for whom we should pray, let us pray for their conversion. If we pray for revival, let us ask God to demonstrate it.
Finally, a word concerning the difficulties after we have prayed. One is that God does not seem to answer our prayers as quickly as we would like and we get very impatient. Suppose a man breaks his leg, and is taken to hospital. After the leg has been set, the doctor comes and says, " My dear fellow it has been a very bad break; but it is also a very good mend."The patient listens, and takes courage. However he does not jump out of bed, and begin to try to walk. He understands that he has got to lie there until the bone is knit together. Sometimes when you ask God to do something you have no idea what is involved in the doing of it.
It may be that we have got to be fitted for the answer. It may be that God has to deal with tremendous powers of opposition that we know nothing about. But if God has given to us the seal of His promise, whatever the delay may be the answer will come, though it may not be in the way that we expected. Trust God. His ways are best.When you have the desire to pray, and when you are with God, then God who puts that desire into your heart will assuredly bring the blessing to you. He will make real to you the things of faith. Therefore if your prayers seem to be unanswered, let that throw you back upon God, and not away from Him.
Finally, when I experienced these difficulties in regard to prayer let me have this assurance, that God Who has led me to prayer may be leading me also to action. You have been praying that God will send the unconverted to the services next Sunday. God may say, I want to send them, but I want to use you. Are you willing to be used? As you pray that sinners may be saved, will you come with your Bible in your pocket, with texts prepared? If you are sitting next to one who is unconverted, will you open the Word of God to them? That is what God is wanting. God says, " What do I hear from these people? They want me to save sinners, but how many of them are ready to be used? " You have to say, " Oh God, this is my difficulty." Well confess the sin of fear and neglect and turn from it. Trust God. God has a marvellous blessing awaiting you in your heart, and home, and in the Church. Do not let us be deterred by difficulties. Christ went to the Cross and died that He might give up His life to intercession. Will you say, " I am going to be a person of prayer. I want to be an intercessor; I want to be a person whose spirit is separated unto God; and I claim the mighty things that God is able to give? " God never refuses such a one and the blessing of your intercession will stretch to the ends of the earth, and through time into eternity.
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