Who needs God? As Oprah preaches, “You can do it.”3 Prayer, why, that’s a last resort, maybe. It’s the back-up parachute, an emergency measure when all else fails. In effect, we think, prayer is for weaklings; it’s for failures; it’s for those not strong enough to stand up courageously to the challenges of life. “I can do it. So who needs God?” We don’t say that exactly—not if we are churchgoers in good standing, but that is how we live—”in the flesh”—trusting in our own strength and our own power, bolstered by our own self-sufficient pride.
I say we are deluded, because, in fact, we are not self-created, and we are not self-sufficient. We think we hold our destinies in our own hands, that we are the masters of our fates, the captains of our souls. But it’s a lie! We don’t know what a day will bring.
Not long ago, a very close pastoral friend of mine was encouraged by his wife to get a checkup, and they discovered a tumor in his brain. His life was turned upside down in an instant. I asked, “Jim, we preach about this sort of thing all the time. How does it feel to experience it?” I am glad to say he is facing this with great courage and faith. But we just never know—so much of life really is outside our control. The very act of praying recognizes that. It says, I can’t do it; I don’t control my fate.
In that sense, prayer is an act of personal humiliation. When we pray, we acknowledge our weakness, our lowliness. We acknowledge that we have needs that we cannot meet ourselves. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me seemed insufficient for the day.”
That’s what it takes—a humility that recognizes our need. And our flesh rebels against such a confession. But listen to what Jesus says:
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5–8 NIV)
The Devil Who Deceives
The world distracts; the flesh deludes; and the devil, he deceives. I like the quote again from Samuel Chadwick: “The one concern of the devil is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies or work or Christian activities. He laughs at our toil, mocks our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”
So we should not be surprised, then, that one of the devil’s chief aims is to hinder our prayers. He does this in all sorts of ways, all related to his primary weapon of deception, since, as Jesus tells us, he is a liar from the beginning, and when he speaks lies, he is speaking his native language. He deceives us, and two forms of deception stick out in my mind.
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