When Praying Gets Hard

“Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and NOT LOSE HEART…” ~ Luke 18:1

“For I want you to know what a great CONFLICT I have for you…” ~ Colossians 2:1

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always LABORING fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” ~ Colossians 4:12

“…who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement CRIES AND TEARS…” ~ Hebrews 5:7

Prayer is not the last resort of the weak-minded, it is the inner refuge of indefatigable men and women who know how to wait before their infinitely wise and mighty God.

The great struggle in prayer is not between God and you, as if you were straining to wrest some meager token from a stingy deity. Because of His unreserved love for you, your Father knows what you need before the thought is framed in your mind or any word leaves your lips.

No. Your battle is not with God.

But the moment you set out to go to God in prayer, all hell breaks loose. Distractions will come. Interruptions. Discouraging thoughts. Powerful emotions that posture as the truth but act as blinders to it. Instead of finding rest you seem to incur greater distress in your soul. Your path to Him lies submerged beneath a swirling eddy of anxiety. Your praying seems useless beneath the smothering effects of your circumstances.

And all the while, He is still there, He hears you, and He loves you.

It bears repeating: your battle is not with God.

Your battle lies in shutting out the mad noise of the outer world…

  • slipping into the secret place and sacred space of your inner world…
  • to lay down your worries and weights and terrors at His feet…
  • to move over and surrender the controls…
  • to let go of your fiercely-held “maps” to your happiness…
  • to enter the sanctuary of His Presence…
  • to simply be with Him…
  • and to discover He has been seeking you for this relationship all along!

The noise of battle ends in the loving Presence of the all-sufficient King and the infinitely satisfying Savior… Jesus!

Insight: Arthur Wallis on a Tender Heart

The Bible speaks often and profoundly of the human heart as the real “you.”

  • My heart pursues what I truly love, and is indifferent to the things that I don’t care about (Matthew 6:21).
  • My heart is susceptible to external influences — good and bad — and must be guarded (Proverbs 4:23).
  • My heart can be consumed with one thing, or it can be partitioned by affections for many things (Psalm 86:11, Mark 12:30).
  • My heart can be pure, or it can be morally unclean, clouding my perception of truth (Psalm 51:10).
  • My heart can erupt in joy, or it can be be shattered by sorrow (1 Peter 1:8, Psalm 147:3).
  • My heart is that immaterial part of me that exercises belief or unbelief (Romans 10:9-10).

And most significantly, my heart can be hard or tender towards God (2 Chronicles 24:37). Comparing the human heart to a field that must be prepared before there can be a harvest, the prophet Hosea writes,

…break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD… Hosea 10:12

Is my heart like a long-neglected field, hardened against the quiet winds of God’s Spirit blowing across my soul?

In his 1956 book In the Day of Thy Power, Arthur Wallis (1922 – 1988) penned a classic reflection on genuine spiritual revival. In the following quote, he explains the vital role of a tender heart in apprehending (or missing) who God is and what He is doing around me.


“Here then is the first great condition of revival, that brokenness of heart that is sensitive to the least touch of the Spirit, and that has only to know the will of God to do it. One may cross fallow ground and not see where the feet have trod – no impression has been made. But when the plough and the harrow have done their work, and the soil is soft and friable, then the print of the foot is clearly seen. When our hearts are sensitive, responsive, and impressionable to the movements of God across our lives, we may be sure that the fallow ground is broken.”


Source: Wallis, Arthur. In the Day of Thy Power. London: Christian Literature Crusade, 1956.

Insight: John Newton on Seeking God

Every Christian is on a journey to know God more fully (John 17:3)… but rarely does anyone explain that the path is not an easy one nor is it well-populated. It can be strange and disorienting, especially as you look around and it seems no one else is travelling with you, or that no one else has passed this way before (not true, but it can feel that way).

John Newton (1725-1807), best known as the author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace,’ in another hymn describes the way our Father draws us near and refines our faith into the finest spiritual “steel”…


I ask’d the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answer’d prayer;
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favour’d hour
At once He’d answer my request,
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seem’d
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried,
“Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith:”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me.”

~ John Newton (1725-1807)


Source: Winchell, James M., ed. An Arrangement of the Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of the Rev. Isaac Watts. Boston: James Loring, and Lincoln & Edmands, 1832.

Wenceslas, Stephen, Boxing Day, and Gift Returns

What do a Czech duke from the 10th century, the first Christian martyr, a British public holiday, and a crazy rush to return unwanted gifts to the store… have in common?

They all happen on the day after Christmas!

  • Known for his unusual charitable lifestyle as a wealthy man, “Good King” Wenceslas went outside on an unbearably cold day to bless a poor man on December 26… at least that’s what the Christmas carol reports!
  • Stephen was the first Christ-follower to lose his life for preaching the gospel of salvation. Celebrated in many countries and church traditions with a variety of customs, the feast of St. Stephen falls on December 26.
  • Boxing Day in the United Kingdom is a public holiday with roots in the 17th century. Servants and tradesmen required to work on Christmas for nobility were given the day off on December 26, often with a “Christmas box” of cash and small gifts.
  • And then December 26 is that day when America heads to the stores (or the Post Office) to return or exchange gifts… unwanted or duplicated Christmas gifts! With thousands headed out to stand in long lines, the retail success of the day hinges on how early the store opens and how deeply the after-Christmas sales slash prices.

Four streams of tradition flowing on one day, together drawing attention to the capacity of the human heart to give and to receive… to sacrifice or to be self-absorbed. What makes the difference?

Or better, WHO makes the difference?

That man or woman who hears about Jesus, then meets Jesus, and then follows Jesus by faith… that one has a different heart… a heart that beats in union with His heart.

December 26 is no ordinary day… but it should be. There’s nothing wrong with returning a gift. But as you make contact with others today, thank God you have a gift to return… and gifts still to give.

  • The gift of a smile.
  • The gift of a kind word.
  • The gift of a patient manner.
  • The gift of encouragement to a harried worker, who has to serve you today.

It may be the day after Christmas, but His birth was not the end of His mission. It was just the beginning. He not only came to inhabit our world.

He came to inhabit you.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. . . If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” ~ Galatians 5:22-23, 25

Insight: A.W. Tozer and the “Prayer of a Minor Prophet”

A. W. Tozer
1897-1963

Aiden Wilson Tozer was 23 years old when he was called to pastor a new church in Clarksburg, West Virginia. On August 18, 1920 at a campground a few miles outside Cleveland, Ohio, leaders of the Christian and Missionary Alliance scheduled an ordination service. After the formal ceremony and laying on of hands, Tozer was deeply moved by the grave implications of his calling to be a preacher. He slipped away from the crowd and found a quiet place to be alone with God. It was a divine encounter that marked him for the remainder of his life. He never forgot the essence of what he prayed that evening. Years later as the new editor for the Alliance Weekly, Tozer published his prayer in an article “For Pastors Only: Prayer of a Minor Prophet” (May 6, 1950). What follows is a slightly edited and updated version of that prayer.


“Lord, I have heard Your voice and was afraid. You have called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour. You are about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. O Lord, my Lord, You have stooped to honor me to be Your servant. No man takes this honor upon himself save he that is called of God. You have ordained me Your messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing. They have rejected You, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.”

“My God, I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work. The responsibility is not mine, but Yours. You have said, “I knew You – I ordained You – I sanctified You,” and You have also said, “You shall go to all that I shall send You, and whatsoever I command You, You shall speak.” Who am I to argue with You or to call into question Your sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Yours. So be it, Lord. Your will, not mine, be done.”

“Well do I know, God of the prophets and the apostles, that as long as I honor You, You will honor me. Help me therefore to take this solemn vow to honor You in all my future life and labors, whether by gain or by loss, by life or by death, and then to keep that vow unbroken while I live.”

“It is time, O God, for You to work, for the enemy has entered into Your pastures and the sheep are torn and scattered. And false shepherds abound who deny the danger and laugh at the perils which surround Your flock. The sheep are deceived by these hirelings and follow them with touching loyalty while the wolf closes in to kill and destroy. I beseech You, give me sharp eyes to detect the presence of the enemy; give me understanding to see and courage to report what I see faithfully. Make my voice so like Your own that even the sick sheep will recognize it and follow You.”

“Lord Jesus, I come to You for spiritual preparation. Lay Your hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should become a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, of professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering. Help me to remember that I am a prophet – not a promoter, not a religious manager, but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Your terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”

“I accept hard work and small rewards in this life. I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that could make life easier. If others seek the smoother path I shall try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falls out to Your servants, I should have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Your kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever I receive in such manner that will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. And if, in Your permissive providence, honor should come to me from Your church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Your mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.”

“And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to You; let them be many or few, as You will. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Your servant to do Your will, and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven.”

“Though I am chosen of You and honored by a high and holy calling, let me never forget that I am but a man of dust and ashes, a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. I pray You, therefore, my Lord and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others. Fill me with Your power by the Holy Spirit, and I will go in Your strength and tell of Your righteousness, even Yours only. I will spread abroad the message of redeeming love while my normal powers endure.”

“Then, dear Lord, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me above, and make me to be numbered with Your saints in glory everlasting. Amen.”


Source for the unedited text: Lyle W. Dorsett, A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A.W. Tozer (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008), 66-67.

Glimpsing Revival: Wales, November 1904

For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” ~Isaiah 57:15

The Welsh Revival of 1904-1906 was part of a global movement of God making Himself known to His people early in the 20th century. Evan Roberts had been praying since he was 13 that revival would come to his native Wales, and by early 1904, Roberts was spending most nights in prayer alone with the Father. On October 31 in Loughor, he spoke to his hometown church to a crowd of 17 people… within weeks he was speaking to thousands, and within the next 10 months, over 100,000 new Christians were swept into the churches of Wales.

Was God manifesting His Presence to His people? In Isaiah 57:15, God reveals that He inhabits eternity, where time ceases to exist. In the article excerpt below, a secular newspaper reporter with the London Times describes the environment of one those first meetings in November 1904.


While he is still speaking the people give vent to their feelings in a hymn of thanksgiving repeated as before again and again. Thus the hours creep on. It is long past midnight. Now here, now there someone rises to make his confession and lay bare his record before the people or falls upon his knees where he is and in loud and fervent tones prays for forgiveness. Still unwearied, the people sing. Hymns seem the only adequate channel for expressing their joy and thankfulness. It sounds incredible, but this succession of prayer, of address, of confession, of singing, went on from 7 o’clock at night until 3 o’clock in the morning. “Succession” was not always an adequate description, because several times during the night, when the excitement was at its highest, the outbursts were not successive, but literally simultaneous. These cross-currents were confusing, and once or twice one felt as if the whole scene were a dream or a nightmare. Most amazing of all was the endurance of the men and women. There they were, through all those long hours, eager and earnest to the last, as if wrestling for life with an unseen power. At 3 o’clock the “hooter” sounded from distant colliery. Whether this or mere physical exhaustion brought them back from the world of timelessness, I could not tell. Soberly and reverently they went out into the morning air, eager as themselves. Many of the colliers [coal miners], I know, had “only time for a wash and breakfast” and were at the colliery to join the morning “shift.”


Source: “The Welsh Revival (by a Welsh Correspondent).” The London Times (London), January 3, 1905.

He Guides the Heart

Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ. ~ 2 Thessalonians 3:5

a prayer that He will guide my heart
to two destinations…

1. the love of God &

2. the patience of Christ

personal experiences with Him
that become
observable qualities in me

only through knowing Him
can I make Him known

guide my heart, Lord!