2-3 The Struggle Of Prayer
Appreciating that prayer is so much " in the spirit" , we can better grasp why prayer is portrayed as a struggle. Moab would pray in the time of his judgment; " but he shall not prevail" (Is. 16:12), as if the prayer process was a struggle. Jacob, by contrast, struggled with the Angel in prayer and prevailed (Hos. 12:2-4). The Romans were to strive together with Paul in prayer (Rom. 15:30); the Lord's prayers in Gethsemane were a resisting / struggling unto the point of sweating blood (Heb. 12:2). " I would that ye knew what great conflict I have [RV ‘how greatly I strive / struggle’] for you...that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding" is parallel to " We do not cease to pray for you... that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" (Col. 2:1 cp. 1:9,10). Paul's conflict / struggle for them was his prayer for them. Epaphras likewise was “always striving for you in his prayers” (Col. 4:12 RV). Our groanings, our struggling in prayer, is transferred to God by the Lord Jesus groaning also, but with groanings far deeper and more fervently powerful than ours (Rom. 8:22,23 cp. 26). Our prayers are to give the Father no " rest" (Is. 62:7), no cessation from violent warfare (Strong). The widow by her continual coming in prayer 'wearied ' the judge into responding; Strong defines this Greek word as meaning 'to beat and black and blue' (RVmg. gives " bruise" ). It's a strange way of putting it, but this is another reminder of the intense struggle of prayer. Jacob's wrestling with the Angel was really a clinging on to him, pleading with tears for the blessing of forgiveness; and in this he was our example (Hos. 12:4-6). Lk. 21:36 RV speaks of the believer 'prevailing' with God in prayer. The 'struggles' of Moses in prayer are an example of this; through the desperation and spiritual culture of his pleading, he brought about a change even in God's stated purpose.
The struggle of prayer is reflected in another word associated with it- ‘groaning’. The Lord Himself prayed with strong groanings and tears, and He even now makes intercession for our prayers with groanings which are inexpressible within the limitations of descriptive words. 2 Cor. 5:4 says that we groan, being burdened (RVmg.), for the day when “mortality might be swallowed up of life”. This is the language of a burdened Israel in Egypt, groaning for deliverance. Our ‘groaning’ in this mortal flesh (2 Cor. 5:2) is therefore not to be read as a justification for groaning and complaining about our humanity; but rather intense prayer for the second coming.
And so I have to ask: When was the last time you arose from your knees, or perceived the answer to your prayer, and knew that like Jacob or Moses, you had struggled and prevailed with God Almighty? How much of our praying is merely repeating phrases and cliches...? I don't write this to engender guilt nor to manipulate you. But what shall we do? I am part of what I condemn...for I too see that I slip into the same old phrases and themes in prayer, under the tyranny of the tired mediocrity of a man who has been saying essentially the same prayers to God all his life. Do you not sense with me the severity of the problem? J.I. Packer piercingly commented: " I believe that prayer is the measure of the man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face" (My Path of Prayer, p. 56). To this I agree. And Scripture does too, in that often the person is put by a kind of metonomy for his or her prayers. Consider Prov. 15:29: “The Lord is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous”. Here, ‘“the wicked” people’ is put for ‘the prayers of the wicked people’. The person, the life lived, the essential personality, is parallel with our prayer to God.
So what are we to do? Much praying, or praying as it ought to be done, isn't achieved because we don't plan to pray. Yes, get up just 10 minutes earlier each day to pray. Set the alarm clock earlier. Have regular prayer times. When Paul wrote of praying " night and day" , it could be that he refers to his twice daily prayer times. For he was hardly praying 24 hours / 24. Write out your prayers. Just recognize, honestly, that you are likely to wander in prayer. How many times do our prayers go something like this: " I come into Your presence Father through Jesus to thank you for [now, where did I leave the house keys...?] all the things You gave me today, for health, for [oh yeah, they're in my jacket pocket]...for...for...for...Your word and the hope of the Kingdom [hey, isn't Ivan coming round for tea tomorrow? Yakes, I forgot!] and please help me to share the message with [must go buy some tea and biscuits tomorrow]...with... more people...umm..." . One simple way around this is to pray out loud. And yes, I know it's a bit weird, and OK once or twice but not always...but I suspect to a man and to a woman, we are deeply worried [or ought to be] by our lack of focus in prayer.
James, as he often does, foresees how in practice we may reason that fervent prayer isn't possible, because…we are angry, low, tired, don't feel like it. So we tell ourselves. But James cuts across all this: " Elijah was a man subject to like passions [RVmg " nature" ] as we" - and yet he prayed earnestly (James 5:17). We can't excuse our lack of prayer by blaming it on the " passions" of our natures. Men like Elijah had the same nature as we do, prone to the same depression and mediocrity, and yet they prayed fervently.