Prayer – The Spiritual Battleground

I don’t know about you, but prayer can seem to be such a battle some days. Over this lockdown period, I have had more time. More time you might think to come to God in prayer, to really engage with Him and seek His face. Yet I’ve found that it has been tough, a struggle even to begin to pray in a meaningful way.

In the Bible, we see the disciples struggling to stay awake to pray for Jesus and for themselves at the darkest time of His life. Jesus and His disciples had gone to the garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:36 – 46) where Jesus would soon be betrayed by Judas and led away by soldiers to be falsely accused and condemned to death on the cross. He knew what was coming and pleaded with His heavenly Father to take this dark path away from Him, yet ultimately He would do His Father’s will (v39, 42). Peter, James and John were with Jesus and He told them just how bad He was feeling (v37). If ever He needed His earthly friends it was now! However, as He prayed in deep anguish of soul, the disciples fell asleep! This happened not just once, but three times altogether (v40, 43 & 45). Then it was too late; His hour had come (v45, 46).

When I was younger I used to read passages like this in a judgmental way; how could the disciples give in like that? Now I can’t think like that because I realise more my own weakness. When I have time on my hands, what am I more likely to do? Pray or scroll through various things on my phone? Pray or play silly games on my phone? I’m afraid that more often than not it’s doing the silly, trivial things that takes precedence over the spiritual.

No doubt the disciples at this stage were exhausted and their tiredness was overwhelming. Mostly I don’t even have that excuse! Other times I begin to pray and then my mind wanders onto other things – have I got such-and-such out of the freezer for tea? Oh, I need to put on a dark wash. It’s quite embarrassing, but all these things happen on a regular basis.

Of course, the enemy of our souls doesn’t want to see us in prayer. He knows that prayer is powerful and that the God we come to is all-powerful, yet interested in the affairs of our lives. He would have us distracted by many things, amused by the trivial instead of focused on the eternal. I feel disappointed in myself for not using this time more productively. I think it is harder to decide to sit down and pray than keeping going once I have started.

There is encouragement in God’s word for those times when we come to Him and just don’t know what to say.

“..the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

“For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in times of need.” Hebrews 4:15, 16

We can come to Him knowing that He knows everything there is to know about us, all our motives, fears and longings. He knows the sin in our hearts, the things we’d rather push to one side. We come humbly knowing what it cost for us to be made right with Him, yet deeply thankful that He was willing to pay that price for sinners such as ourselves. We come knowing that our battle is not “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). He Himself will give us the words to say and enable us to keep going. Let’s put down our phones, switch off the TV, go to a quiet place and speak to Him in prayer. We’ll be glad that we did!


Ruth’s Resolve

Some time ago, I wrote a blog post about Naomi and her journey from bitterness to blessing. Today I want to consider Ruth and her trusting obedience which saw her leaving behind everything she had ever known to embrace God and His people, and in the process becoming part of the genealogy of Christ Himself.

Ruth was a Moabite lady married to one of Naomi’s sons, and she was left widowed and without any children. Her mother-in-law had moved to Moab with her husband Elimelech and two sons Mahlon and Chilion when there was a famine in Bethlehem, Judah. Elimelech and his two sons sadly died over the ten years that they lived there. On hearing that there was now food in Judah, Naomi sought to return to her people, and initially both of her daughters-in-law wanted to go with her. Both Ruth and Orpah at first insisted that they would go with Naomi back to Judah, but Naomi was just as insistent that they return to their own families and homes. She tells them three times to go back, and after much persuasion Orpah did do just that. There were tears and kisses before Orpah went on her way.

Ruth, however, “clung” to Naomi and simply would not return to her home of Moab. Her proclamation to Naomi is heart-felt and certain:

"Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there I will be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me."

Ruth 1:16,17 

Can you imagine what that must have been like for Ruth? To leave everything that was familiar to her, including her own family, to go with Naomi to an uncertain future? What faith she must have had to make such a proclamation!

The Moabites and Israelites were sworn enemies, and God had forbidden the people of Moab from having any part in Israel because of past failures.

“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever…” Deuteronomy 23:3

“You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all your days forever.” Deut 23:6

Perhaps we could question the wisdom of Elimelech’s decision to move his family to Moab in the first place. It would mean mixing with the enemies of God and being exposed to their false religion and idol worship. However, it seems that Naomi had had a positive influence on her daughters-in-law so much so that both at least initially considered going to Judah with her. It would have been a frightening thing for them to go into enemy territory, particularly as young women.

Nowadays, the relationship between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law can be quite tense. Some might feel that it would take a lot for them to leave everything behind and go to a new country with their mother-in-law! However, there was clearly a warm and loving relationship between these ladies and Naomi had been able to pass on something of her own faith to them.

Ruth clearly understood that the Israelites had something that the Moabites did not, and she wanted that for herself. By going to Judah with Naomi she was rejecting the idols she had grown up with and choosing Yahweh. Verse 18 tells us that Naomi saw how “determined” Ruth was to go with her and stopped trying to put her off.

How determined are you and I to follow after Christ? What are we willing to leave behind in order to be numbered with His people? It’s very challenging to think upon Ruth’s declaration here; would I have been willing to do that? In our society today, are there certain things we ought to be leaving behind in order to have a close relationship with the Lord? What things occupy our hearts and minds in a way that only God should?

Jesus told His disciples that following Him would cost them everything. Are we willing to suffer that cost for the prize of knowing Him and receiving His gift of eternal life?

“..he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds His life will lose it, and he who loses His life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 10:38 – 39