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Prayer Is Hard Work
May 31, 2012
Today we begin reading a new Christian classic together—David McIntyre’s The Hidden Life of Prayer. If you would like to read along with us, consult this post where you’ll find instructions on downloading the free audio book or the $0.99 Kindle book and find some places where you can purchase the printed book.
As is my habit, I will begin with a couple of brief thoughts on this week’s reading (chapter 1) and then keep comments open so anyone else who has read along can tell us what value or questions or concerns or applications they found.
The Hidden Life of Prayer is a book of short chapters, which I believe is ideal for our purposes. The short chapters mean we can read them early in the week and then work on application. I doubt there is any area of the Christian life which requires as much practice as prayer; neither is there any area of the Christian life in which we are prone to give up so easily.
I found several challenges and encouragements in the first chapter and the foremost was this: prayer is hard work. There is something so liberating about that. I find prayer a difficult, difficult task. Not only are there always hundreds of other things competing for my time and attention—things that either keep me from even attempting to pray or things that attempt to distract me while I pray—but even the act of communicating with God can be very difficult. It is often hard to believe that prayer matters or that my prayers matter. Many days it feels like they must be rising no higher than the ceiling. Other days it feels like I have nothing to say to God and there is nothing God would want to hear from me.
To all of this McIntyre says, “Prayer is hard work.”
Prayer is the most sublime energy of which the spirit of man is capable. It is in one aspect glory and blessedness; in another, it is toil and travail, battle and agony. Uplifted hands grow tremulous long before the field is won; straining sinews and panting breath proclaim the exhaustion of the “heavenly footman.” The weight that falls upon an aching heart fills the brow with anguish, even when the midnight air is chill.
Here is the encouragement: Prayer is not just hard work for me, but for everyone. Satan is opposed to prayer, the flesh is opposed to prayer, so of course it is difficult. It requires effort, it requires growing skill, it requires growing competence, it requires increasing faith.
Dr. Andrew Bonar used to say that, as the King of Syria commanded his captains to fight neither with small nor great, but only with the King of Israel, so the prince of the power of the air seems to bend all the force of his attack against the spirit of prayer. If he should prove victorious there, he has won the day. Sometimes we are conscious of a satanic impulse directed immediately against the life of prayer in our souls; sometimes we are led into “dry” and wilderness-experiences, and the face of God grows dark above us; sometimes, when we strive most earnestly to bring every thought and imagination under obedience to Christ, we seem to be given over to disorder and unrest; sometimes the inbred slothfulness of our nature lends itself to the evil one as an instrument by which he may turn our minds back from the exercise of prayer.
The challenge and encouragement to me is to persevere. Prayer is difficult, but I cannot give up, I cannot allow the challenge to overwhelm and overcome me. I need to press on, knowing that prayer is difficult because there is an enemy who makes it difficult. When he can keep me from prayer, he has won a victory.
For next Thursday please read (or listen to) chapter two.
The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose.