The Interceders Encourager No. 59 - Understanding and Overcoming Obstacles to Prayer
(with acknowledgments to Richard Owen Roberts, F.J. Perryman, Ralph Carmicheal and W.C. Moore).
We know that most Christians do not pray for revival at all, and of those who do, only a smaller number pray consistently. This is tragic in view of the fact that there is little else, besides praying, that people can do to bring revival. Prayer is the single most important task God has assigned to human beings in their earthly pilgrimage.
Prayer is so vital to the human walk that Jesus Himself devoted extended periods (as much as forty days and nights at one time) to it. The Scriptures abound with commands, encouragements, and invitations to pray as well as with illustrations of prayer.
The Need of Fervency and Consistency
The very heart of the biblical teaching on prayer is fervency and consistency. Half-hearted praying doesn't even produce half-hearted results. It is worse than nothing. In fact, it is an affront against a gracious God. God Himself is earnest. He deals earnestly with people and requires people to deal earnestly with Him. All prayer, if it is to be effective, cannot be occasional or insipid. Energy and enthusiasm must be poured into this God-appointed work. Failure to do so is a huge hindrance to revival.
The Hindrance of Faithlessness
God hears the prayer of faith. No prayer prevails that comes from the faithless heart. Jesus said, "Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and cast into the sea'; and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass; it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will." (Mark 11:22-24).
Which is harder, for God to move an entire mountain from its place on land and cast it into the sea or for God to revive His work? Neither! God has no difficulty with either one. We are the ones with the difficulties. We find it almost impossible to truly believe that God will do remarkable things for us. In consequence, much of our praying achieves nothing. The prayer of faith is linked with the knowledge of the will of God. If you do not believe that revival is God's will, and that He will send it in answer to prayer, all you can do is to pray with the feeble hope that God will be merciful enough to revive His people again, but your prayers will lack the confidence necessary for success.
But you may say, I do believe that God will send revival but I find it difficult to continue praying. You are not alone. The universal admission is that whenever
people give themselves to prayer they never find it easy. The main reason for this is that the devil opposes it.
If you look at the verses that speak of praying for others and praying for great things, you will find they liken prayer to work and overcoming difficulties. Read these sentences and weigh every word:"Labouring fervently for you in prayers" (Col. 4:12)."Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, staying awake and watchful, persevering in prayer for all the saints" (Eph. 6:18)."Strive together with me in your prayers" (Rom. 15:30). "Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it." (Col. 4:2). "Men always ought to pray and not give up"(Luke 18:1). "The strong petitions of a righteous man are effective"(Jas. 5:16), (the dominant idea is energetic supplication)."Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, was heard because of His holy fear".(Heb. 5:7).
Notice the words: labouring fervently, supplicating, persevering, watching, striving, earnestly, vigilant, not give up, strong petitions, loud cries 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 is this? 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 armour 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 are living in physical bodies, we do not wage war physically. For the weapons of our warfare are not physical, but powerful through God for pulling down strongholds," (2 Cor. 10:3-4). Here is the word war, plain and simple, and let us take it in that our enemy is so obstinate that he will only do what he is compelled to. He is so powerful that no one but God endued pray-ers 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? We should always associate the devil with that sluggish, helpless night the disciples spent near our Lord on the eve of Calvary, when reprovingly He said,"Could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray…"(Mark 14:38). Either they allowed their own bodies to take charge of the situation, or the devil caused them to sleep when they should have been vigilant and at the Lord's disposal. How we need to watch and pray.
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 get down on our knees and 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. Be ready to co-operate with God for the deliverance of some of the captive souls in the world around you, 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 just a little a step "out of the Spirit." A long look, a feeling of resentment, a hasty word, and 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 because of some trifling matter. In such cases, determine that the enemy will be exposed in this matter, and that those who need to pray together will humble themselves at the foot of the cross. 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, we are told that there is more power in two agreeing (Matt. 18:19).
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, "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." That is not surprising, for the devil is continually trying to destroy family altars.
Prayer Is Foundational
However, every difficulty in prayer cannot be blamed on the devil. There is every one'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 is gracious to all, but He helps those who trust Him, and we will know that if we make prayer supplemental instead of foundational. 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 do little else but groan in prayer, but when the prayer time is over, they seem to have a wonderful facility in speech. In most cases it is the devil that is hindering them, but this paralysis of expression can be broken.
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 and available through the Holy Spirit. No one likes to feel that this is true of himself; but if it is true of anyone of us, it is better to face it.
God can make no more provision than He has already 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 people praying and enforcing that victory. All sorts of excuses will be invented to account for what he is doing under cover. So 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; praying down the power of the Spirit. The devil hates real prayer and does all he can to hinder it, challenge it and choke it.
"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, firm in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are required by your brothers 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 in our human bodies "police" our veins to apprehend and slay disease germs, so the spiritual life needs the energy of the strength of the might of Christ through the Spirit to defend it and protect it from the deadly inroads of the world, the flesh and the devil.
Face the devil, resist him and he will flee from you. If someone else had urged you to do this, you might have hesitated, but since it is God who speaks, you have nothing 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 who is in you, than he who is in the world"(1 John 4:4).
However, we are here, not just to understand the tactics of the devil, nor just to resist him, but also to tackle him, to advance against him and to win victories over him. Bonhoeffer wrote, "We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself."
A spiritual battle rages for our souls and the souls of all mankind. The struggle is "not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places"Eph. 6:12). The devil disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), but he is full of deceit, evil and darkness (1 John 2:13; Acts 26:18). He is a murderer, a liar, the father of lies, and there is no truth in him (John 8:44). He deceives the world and blinds the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not know the Gospel of Christ (Rev. 12:9; 2 Cor. 4:4). He distorts the Word of God and tries to snatch the Word of God out of people's hearts (Matt. 4:6-7; 13:19).
He is the accuser of God's people and he seeks to afflict and destroy them (Rev. 12:10-11; Job 2:4-7). He tempts them, opposes them, schemes against them, and tries to deceive them, ensnare them, oppress them and gain a foothold in their lives (Lk.22:31-32; Acts 5:3; 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:3; Eph. 4:27; 6:11, 16; 1 Thes. 3:5; 2:18; 1 Tim. 3:6-7; 4:1; 2 Tim. 2:26).
Christ's Power over the Devil
All around us we can see evidence of the devil's activity and impact in people's lives. Many are living in fear, unbelief, anxiety, confusion, oppression, darkness, deception, sin and condemnation. The good news is that through Christ the power of the devil can be broken! "…The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). God anointed His Son Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power so that He could do good and heal all who were oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38).
No matter what hold the devil may have in your life or the life of others, that hold can be broken because of who Christ is and what He has already done and what He is able to do! The devil was no match, is no match, and will never be any match for Jesus. "Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
Consider the encounters in Scripture between Jesus and the devil and the demonic realm. In every case, Jesus wins decisively. He overcomes the strongest of the devil's temptations (Matt. 4:1-11; Heb. 4:15). He sets people free of the most severe forms of demonic possession and oppression, (for example, Mark 5:1-20). He exercises complete control over evil and authorizes others to overcome all the power of the enemy (Luke 4:36; 9:1; 10:17-19). He is fully aware of the devil's schemes and rebukes him accordingly (Matt. 16:23). He intercedes to protect His followers from the devil's attempts to ruin their faith (Luke 22:31-32; cf. Heb. 7:25). And through His death on the cross, Jesus crushes and disarms the devil, triumphing over principalities and powers, and rendering powerless the one who had the power of death, (Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14).
The fires of hell are burning their evil, cruel way into the hearts of our children and into the lives of our fondest friends. Our faint resistance, our mild disapproval, our lukewarm manners will never undo the works of the devil.
But we must undo them! We are Christ's ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20), His representatives on this earth. All us as believers, are the only hands, feet, mouthpieces Jesus has on the earth today! We must do His will, His works, in His name, in His stead, for Him!
"The reason the Son of God was revealed, was that He might destroy the works of the devil"(1 John 3:8). You and I must be a part of that work. Jesus says,"As My Father has sent Me, even so I send you" (John 20:21). He also declared,"Truly, truly, I say to you, He who believes in Me, will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do; because I go to the Father" (John 14:12). This is a challenge to us all. As the sin around us is so great, and the devil is winning so many victories, the need for these words to be fulfilled is greater than ever.
This world is being bruised, ransacked, ravaged, polluted, destroyed and tormented by Satan and his emissaries. We need to throw away our kid gloves, and pitch in and undo the devil's works in Jesus' mighty name!
Jesus knows all about this. He understands the devil and all his wiles, yet He has stated that He will build His church; and nothing will stop it, for He has said "I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not stand against it."
So often people have misunderstood this verse, thinking it is referring to the Church being protected and preserved, no matter what hell throws at it. But Jesus was saying exactly the opposite. Gates cannot attack or overwhelm anyone, in fact they cannot do anything. They are just there to guard and stop entrance. So Jesus was saying that even the gates of hell will not be able to stop the advance and progress of the Church. If the Church operates according to His instructions, it will go forward, prosper and grow, and not even the gates of hell will obstruct its progress. Those gates will be broken down as the Church advances and He builds it.
There is a battle to be won, an enemy to be defeated, and gates to be broken down. But we cannot do it by ourselves. The battle is far too big. The enemy is far too strong. Only Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, has the power to defeat the devil. We therefore need to claim that promise of the Lord saying He will build the Church, so that we see the souls held by the devil rescued and our enemies defeated.
The way to do this, as the Early Church has shown us, is by the devil being confronted through anointed preaching of the whole truth about God, His holiness, His righteousness, His hatred of sin, His amazing mercy for sinners in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God; through believing earnest prayer, claiming all the promises of God; and through signs, wonders and miracles as demonstrations of the one true God. But before that, just as in the Early Church, the Holy Spirit has to be poured out in convicting and reviving power.
Revival and awakening are nothing less than defeating the enemy, and the Lord "taking the field," as Duncan Campbell said; just as, in the Old Testament, God caused the enemies of His people to be defeated."Whatever things were written in former days were written for our instruction,(Rom. 15:4). So whatever God did physically then, He can do spiritually now, and the devil can be defeated, as he always has been in every time of revival and awakening.
As we use the heavenly weapons, the obedience, the faith, the humble, intense, persistent and desperate prayer, we will succeed. Let us take the offensive and show the Lord and the world that we mean business, that we intend to see the works of the devil destroyed.
"When the devil sees a man or woman who really believes in prayer, who knows how to pray, and who really does pray, and, above all, when he sees a whole church on its face before God in prayer, "he trembles" as much as he ever did, for he knows that his day in that church or community is at an end." (R.A. Torrey)