Sometimes prayer flows like a river. We float along on its current and let the Lord lead us where He wills. However, that’s not always the way it is. In fact, it might not even be how things go the majority of the time. Often, our prayer life is more like a battleground. I’m not even talking about actively going against the gates of hell and prevailing against them, as Matthew 16:18 puts it. I’m talking about just the battle to keep praying!
A few months ago, I went through an extended season where my prayer life seemed like a disaster. It was hard to focus, hard to keep a heavenly perspective, hard to get past a swirl of thoughts. Hard, hard, hard! I even struggled to continue praying in tongues at length, which is not at all normal for me. At times, I asked myself, “What did I just do for the last hour or two? My intent has been to pray, but I feel like I have accomplished little.”
In the midst of being concerned about this, the Lord spoke encouragingly to me: “Persevere, My child. Just persevere.” It is in the persevering that we take ground, even when we don’t think we are getting anywhere.
Prayer is not always as perfect as we could wish. The enemy distracts us in various ways. Our own soul distracts us. Sometimes, even good and noble thoughts or causes distract us.
We know what we’re supposed to do: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). But it gets exhausting when we have to do it a couple of dozen (or more) times in any given prayer session, just so we can carry on a coherent, consistent communication with the Lord!
When we run into a battle such as this, we don’t need to get down on ourselves for being weak in prayer. God encourages us to keep pressing on in spite of the struggle. Even when our prayer efforts are imperfect, puny, and even downright messy, all He asks is that we get up and do it again … and again … and again, until we get through the season of distraction. As we do that, we really do continue to make progress, even though we can’t always see it.
The process of persevering through embattlement against our thoughts is something God allows, so that we become stronger. Psalm 18:34 says it this way: “He teaches my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by my arms.” Perseverance through the warfare of distractions is a tool God uses to make seasoned warriors of us.
If you are struggling to stay at prayer in a focused way, I encourage you to keep at it. You are not a prayer dud. It’s just another form of spiritual warfare. In persevering, you will be doing what the Lord said in Ephesians 6:13 — “Having done all, stand.”