If you find prayer easy, you might be doing it wrong.
I started reading The Screwtape Letters. Yes, I know. I’m late to the game. Get over it.
I haven’t gotten very far, but I can tell I’m going to enjoy it. In the third letter, Screwtape offers some advice to the demon Wormwood on the matter of prayer. I had read this chapter the night before, but as I sat on my couch doing my morning devotions I came to the part where I “pray for others”, and I remembered it perfectly.
Listen the advice that Screwtape has for keeping Christians from having effective prayers:
It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always very ‘spiritual’, that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism. Two advantages will follow. In the first place, his attention will be kept on what he regards as her sins, by which, with a little guidance from you, he can be induced to mean any of her actions which are inconvenient or irritating to himself. Thus you can keep rubbing the wounds of the day a little sorer even while he is on his knees; the operation is not at all difficult and you will find it very entertaining. In the second place, since his ideas about her will be very crude and often erroneous, he will, in some degree, be praying for an imaginary person, and it will be your task to make that imaginary person daily less and less like the real mother—the sharp tongued old lady at the breakfast table. In time, you may get the cleavage so wide that no thought or feeling from his prayers for the imagined mother will ever flow over into his treatment of the real one.
I have often considered prayer difficult, but I always thought it was difficult because it was boring. It’s difficulty lay in my undisciplined mind and body. It was difficult because I didn’t take the time to pray. If I could take the time to pray, then saying my prayers would be easy.
In the last year, I have taken time for prayer, and have found that taking the time is in fact the easy part. Saying words directed towards God is pretty easy too. Rattling off names from a list of prayer concerns isn’t too difficult either. But that doesn’t mean prayer is easy.
Prayer is difficult because it’s hard to pray for real people, who have real shortcomings. Maybe a pastor shouldn’t admit this, but it’s true. It’s easier to pray for a name, or an imaginary person, than for a real one.
Loving people isn’t easy, and that doesn’t change just because they are miles away and all you are doing is lifting them up in prayer. If you know someone well, it can be very hard to ask for things you don’t think they deserve. It can be difficult to pray with all your heart that good things come their way, because deep down inside, you want them to learn their lesson. Maybe I’m the only person who wrestles with this. Or maybe I’m the only one who’s willing to admit that praying for a real person, instead of an imaginary one, is rather exhausting.
Do you accidently judge people while praying for them? Do you hold back your prayers because you’re not sure they are ready for the good stuff? Or do you find yourself praying for an imaginary version of a person, instead of who they really are? Do you, like me, find it hard to pray with sincere love for people you find annoying, in trouble, or wrong?
Don’t fall for the tricks of the enemy. Pray with sincere love, for real people who have real problems. The enemy accuses. God forgives. Which would you rather be directing your prayers?