It’s a fair bet that most Christians would see prayer as a vital component of our relationship with God. We can bring our worries and troubles to our Father, we can ask for anything in Jesus’ name, we can be confident in our approach to God because of the blood of our saviour—these are all things we affirm and love.
This is good. Because each aspect of prayer to the Father is the gospel of grace in miniature. I have done nothing to earn the ear of the creator of the universe; quite the opposite, in fact. The relationship I now enjoy in prayer with my Lord is entirely his gracious gift.
So how is it that we can be so often and so easily deceived about and diverted from prayer? Well, for a start, we’re sinful creatures. And often lazy. Distractible. Not yet transformed into glory. Very often more interested in shiny things (or glowing screens) than the invisible, immortal God.
Taking advantage of our less-than-perfect features is the Deceiver—his title is a giveaway; he is very good at concocting lies. A very quick look at a couple of passages in the Bible will be sufficient for us to see Satan’s methods: Genesis 3 and Luke 4. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say; recognizing how the enemy works can give us insight into how to resist temptation when it comes.
In the garden of Eden, Satan starts out by appealing to a distortion of the truth, grounding his lies in something that is easy to believe if we’re not thinking straight. With Eve he works with the situation at hand: the fruit of the tree looks good to eat (Gen 3:6). He opens with a misquote they can both agree is wide of the mark: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:1). Eve over-corrects: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’” (Gen 3:2-3). This is the chink in the armour—not being entirely sure of God’s word. Pouncing on this, here comes the flat out lie: “You will not surely die” (Gen 3:4), and a suggestion that makes the lie attractive: “You will be like God” (Gen 3:5).
When he meets Jesus in the desert, Satan once again appeals to the situation: knowing Jesus is hungry, he tempts him to use his power to turn stones into bread (Luke 4:3). Answered this time with complete confidence in God’s word, the devil then moves to two subtle distortions of truth. Firstly, he offers Jesus the chance to share his authority (Luke 4:6-7)—but whatever authority the devil can claim over this world will not last forever, and most certainly pales in comparison to the authority Jesus has this side of his resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15:20-28). Secondly, he appeals to the Scriptures themselves and tempts Jesus to put them to the test (Luke 4:9-11).
Clearly the two situations are different. In the abundance of Eden humanity wants more and falls; in the barrenness of the desert the ultimate human knows what he already has and resists. But notice how Satan approaches. Flat-out contradictions of truth would (hopefully) be easy enough to spot, but that’s not always the way that lies about prayer come to us. Often they’re distortions, with elements of truth twisted out of shape so that they appear to be something worth believing. They are, in fact, paths away from God. The devil doesn’t masquerade as an angel of light because he likes the look—it’s a means to the end of deceiving and blinding people to the glory of God.
So let’s look at some of the lies you and I might be tempted to believe about prayer.