Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. [Colossians 4:2 (NLT)]
In his classic satire The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gives the reader a series of letters from a senior devil, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, advising the novice demon on ways to secure the damnation of his “patient,” an ordinary young man. Warning that the demons are defeated whenever man directs his gaze toward God, Screwtape encourages his nephew to keep the patient (a new Christian) from praying. If prayer can’t be prevented, he advises getting the fellow into a “devotional mood… since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practiced by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s [God’s] service.” Screwtape reassures Wormwood that “lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time.” It won’t be difficult to redirect the patient’s attention, he tells his nephew, since humans aren’t really as desirous of “the real nakedness of the soul in prayer” as they suppose.
We know that Jesus prayed frequently and fervently. Luke, who was a physician, tells us Jesus prayed so hard in Gethsemane that He sweat blood. This rare condition, called hematohidrosis, was reported by both Aristotle and Theophrastus more than 300 years before Christ. Under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress, the tiny blood vessels surrounding the sweat glands can constrict and then dilate to the point of rupture; blood then flows into the sweat glands and a person can literally sweat blood. That night in Gethsemane, as Jesus agonized in the garden, there was nothing superficial or lazy about His prayer.
After reading Screwtape’s counsel to his nephew, I thought about my morning devotional time. By 5:30 AM, I am in a comfy chair, sipping a latte, and surrounded by iPad, Bibles, books, notebook and pen. During the next 90 minutes or so, I read assorted devotions and Bible commentaries, get through a few chapters in the Bible and whatever book I’m studying in small group, journal, and pray. Unfortunately, with prayer being last, it often is least and, while sincere, it can be rather generic and hurried. Screwtape’s devilish words helped me see how easy it is to mistake my “devotional mood” for prayer. Thinking about God, even spending time in His word, is no substitute for talking with the Big Guy Himself! I don’t think God expects us to pray so passionately that we sweat blood; nevertheless, I do think He expects us to bare our souls in His presence.
Establishing and reinforcing our connection with God, prayer is far more than study and reflection or telling God what it is we want. It is a concentrated, purposeful and deliberate time of worship, praise, thanksgiving, self-examination, confession, repentance, acceptance, intercession, and petition. Rather than being in a “devotional mood,” prayer is attending to God and His voice with undivided attention and submitting to His will with an undivided heart.
Satan dreads nothing but prayer. His one concern is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray. [Samuel Chadwick]