Have you ever wondered why prayer is so hard? Consider what we’re talking about here: You are invited by the eternal God, Creator of the universe, to an intimate one-on-one meeting. At this meeting you not only will be able to talk to Him about your life, you will also be allowed to share with Him your needs, burdens, doubts, and concerns, and He will listen to you! You’d think this is the kind of thing Christians would line up for! So why don’t we?
Hebrews 11.6 gives us a clue: He who comes to God must believe that He is. When we ‘come to God’ in prayer we must believe He exists – as the late Francis Schaeffer put it, that He is there! Hebrews 11.1 tells us that faith (believing) is “the conviction of things not seen” (v1). We can’t see God the way we see each other – physically – so we must believe He is there.
Even when our faith is weak, when we come to Him in prayer, the results are out of this world. Looking for relief from stress? Go to God in prayer. Need wisdom for a tough decision? Ask Him for it. Facing a major trial in life? Give it to the Lord in prayer. Have a loved one who is caught in Satan’s trap? Lift them up in prayer. Feeling lonely and down? Draw near to the Lord. The hymn What A Friend We Have in Jesus reminds us:
What a friend we have in Jesus; All our sins and griefs to bear;
What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer.
Oh what peace we often forfeit, Oh what needless pain we bear;
All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.
Of course, anything this good, this positive, and this powerful, isn’t going to be easy. The enemy is going to attack us at every turn. Satan was once intimate with God, then was cast from heaven for rebellion; he knows nothing can impede us spiritually if we connect with our heavenly Father in prayer. So what does he do? He gets us to ‘pray’ to someone – or something – else.
In his book Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis captures Satan’s scheme well. An experienced demon named Screwtape writes to his young nephew Wormwood about what to do when his “patient” (the Christian he is trying to defeat) starts to pray:
If you look into your patient’s mind when he is praying…the object to which he is attending… is a composite object containing many quite ridiculous ingredients. There will be images derived from pictures of the Enemy as He appeared during the discreditable episode known as the Incarnation… I have known cases where what the patient called his “God” was actually located – up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling, or inside his own head, or in a crucifix on the wall. But whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it – to the thing he has made, not to the Person who has made him.
Some years ago a local church invited people from the community to a session entitled “How to Pray Without Talking to God.” The ad for the meeting stated, “The good news here is that you can pray without believing in God and that you can have a rich and fulfilling spiritual practice without adhering to a set of creeds or dogmas.” The speaker encouraged people “to look within, rather than outside themselves for a God in the sky, for the spark of the divine that is at the core of their being.”
Suppose I invited you over for dinner without food? Or to sing a song without notes or lyrics? Or to dance without any movement? Or enjoy a view of nothing? Or to read a book without words? These are all illustrations of the absurd. So too is the idea of praying without believing in God! Satan wants us to look within ourselves for a “god” we need, generating a good feeling of self-assurance. But when we’re falling, and reach up for a Divine hand, none will be there.