Prayer: The Escape from Temptation

Last week was one of the most confronting weeks I have experienced with God in a long time. It was a time of consecration, isolation, and true adoration (pardon my rhyming) of the One who formed life from dust. Prayer was my focus, which was great for me since my prayer life needed refreshing. I have been thinking about our greatest deterrents to prayer and the difficulties we face when approaching prayer. One particular idea stood out to me. I believe one of the most difficult times to pray is when we are battling temptation. (Click to tweet!)

When I was younger I had a dream that I have never been able to forget. In the dream it is dark, so void of light that I can feel the darkness threatening to suffocate me. Suddenly I see a tiny glimmer of light in the far distance. Naturally, I am drawn to the Light and I began to walk toward it. As I mesmerized by this Light, it begins to grow bigger and shine brighter until it is blazing in the horizon. As the light grows, I notice people on either side of this path who represented temptation. They were people who I wanted to associate myself with who were doing things that I wanted to do. They represented all the things that appealed to my flesh. As I walked past them, many of them tried to coerce me to indulge with them, but I was determined to get to the Light. It wasn’t until I reached a certain temptation that I didn’t want to resist that I turned away from the Light. I gave the temptation my undivided attention and indulged in sin. After I sinned, I turned frantically about in search of the Light…but it had vanished.

Jesus handled temptation much differently from the way we usually do. (Click to tweet!) Let’s study how He wrestled with temptation.

And Jesus came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Luke 22:39-45, ESV

Jesus knew His purpose

In the text, we know that Jesus is preparing to die. He knows that His time has come and He knows what lies waiting for Him at Calvary. He also knows that He exists for one purpose, which is to reconcile God and man once and for all. Before Jesus goes into this battle, He has it in the forefront of His mind that He is not there for Himself. He is not there to gratify Himself. He is not there to do His own will because He has a higher will to accomplish.

Jesus negotiated with God

 Jesus knew that before the world began that He would lay down His life for the souls of man. After the plan was set, the environment perfect, Jesus has finally reached the moment in history where He faces the precipice of His sacrifice. Now He has a choice to make: Am I really going to go through with this? Is there any other way?  Jesus’ prayer is saying, “I know this is the day we’ve been planning for, but is there a Plan B? Is there another trick You want to pull out of Your hat, Father?” His flesh was kicking and screaming out, “If there is any other way for me, then I want to do it! If there is any other way for me not to do what God is calling me to do, then I will.” (Click to tweet!)

Jesus’ humility provided strength

But Jesus remembers that His life’s purpose is to be for God and not for Himself. Jesus then prays, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” He sets aside His personal agenda and submits Himself to God. Then something incredible happens. An angel comes to strengthen Jesus. It wasn’t until after Jesus submitted His own will to God’s will that He received angelic strength. He was vulnerable with God and admitted the weakness of His flesh. When Jesus submitted His will He was in the perfect posture to receive grace and strength to withstand temptation. (Click to tweet!)

Jesus prayed more earnestly

After the angel poured strength into Him, one might assume that the struggle was over. Not so, for the Bible says that Jesus was in agony. Then, He began to pray more earnestly. This is not our usual response to temptation. When the temptation intensifies we tend to collapse from the pressure and tell God, “Nope, I can’t do it. Lord, forgive me in advance.” (Click to tweet!)

Many of us shy away from praying about the things that tempt us because we are ashamed of them. Our greatest temptations are alluring to our flesh and, if gratified, reveals a portion of our brokenness. Our temptations show us what we want, crave, feel entitled to–it is something we might go to extreme lengths to get. It is the guilt of that rush we feel in the middle of temptation that causes us to hang our head in shame and avoid prayer. The adrenaline we experience from the mere tempting thought makes us feel that we have already failed God, so we may as well trudge on into sin. Temptation is not a sin. When we are offered a sinful thought, desire, or opportunity, we can reject it. It is only after the acceptance of that temptation that it becomes sin. This simple truth can free us to boldly approach the throne of grace in the heat of temptation.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1:14-15, ESV

James tells us that temptations lure us away (remember the dream I had), and desire conceives sin. Yet, we know that the temptation itself is not sin, but when it conceives it becomes sin to us. How, then, do we stop the conception of sin?

Stay tuned for the answer in Part II of Prayer: The Escape from Temptation.

Join the discussion! What are your thoughts on this topic? What are other reasons why we don’t pray when we’re tempted?

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The Prayer I Almost Regretted

It was at a point of brokenness, heartbreak, and frustration with myself and painful situations that I prayed the scariest prayer to ever leave my lips.

Lord, if he isn’t the man I will marry, then don’t bring him into my life.

Sounds harmless, right? Wrong. I wasn’t mindful that I serve a jealous God who loves me more than my mind can comprehend. I wasn’t thinking about God as my Father who would do absolutely anything to protect my heart from intruders and invaders. I believe He was eager to answer this prayer because in about two years not a single man has tried to win my heart.

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Photo Credit: Glenda Ortero (glendali), royalty-free

I didn’t know that the answer to the prayer would mean:

– lonely weekends void of dates (Scandal re-runs and Words with Friends, anyone?)

– battling insecurities and self-doubting thoughts of inadequacy (Am I good enough?)

– nearly no male companionship (Hey, boys, remember me?)

– struggling with jealousy (I want to be happy for her, but when will I get my chance?)

I don’t think I realized what I was asking for when I made such a serious request. As time had gone by (and still no one on my doorstep with flowers), I had progressively retracted my trust in God and foolishly whined and complained to Him. How silly am I! Who would point their finger at God and complain about the very thing they prayed for?

How dare you answer my prayer, God? You knew I didn’t mean it.

The amazing faithfulness of God blows my mind because He answered a prayer that hurt my pride and heightened my weaknesses, but He’s doing it for my good. Had I not had these moments of solitude, I would never be in the place of learning and valuing dependence on Him. I am remembering and embracing the fact that I need to be single.  It’s in my total singleness that God is perfecting me, shaping me, refining me, and making me whole. Is it for a husband? No. It’s for Him! And if a lifelong partner happens for me in the future, then he will get the benefit of all God is working in me right this moment.

So, the bitterness, jealousy and insecurities are vanishing into thin air by the grace of God. My grievances have been turned into thanksgiving. I am thankful that God was eager to answer my heart’s prayer (this process is torture to my flesh, but my heart is ever grateful) because He knows what it cannot handle. I am thankful that even when my heart ached from loneliness, I was protected from heart aches from unhealthy relationships. I am thankful that when no one is calling my phone or asking me out, I have a God who longs to spend every waking moment with me. He is diligent and steadfast in His love. All the love I need to be whole flows from Him.

It was the scariest request I have ever prayed, but  now I am bursting with joy and hope. I am loved. I am never forgotten. I am protected. I am kept.  I have a God who goes to war for my heart with more strength and intentionality than a girl could hope for in ten thousand warriors. And He is holding my life and my future in His hands.

Leave a comment & join the discussion! What is the scariest thing you have asked God? Was the answer what you expected?

Take It Off

I have been waiting for this moment for countless days. Every other monotonous task and chore I’ve performed has been a sullen prelude to the time when I would sit down and give written form to my sundry pensées. I’ve been juggling my thoughts inside of my head like a standard circus act for some time now, and when I finally get into a comfortable rhythm, more thoughts are thrown into the mix, thwarting my concentration and focus. I’ve done an amiss job of keeping these spheres of thought going in a smooth rotation, and I can sense that I’m about to drop some of them this very instant.  

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Those who know me are familiar with my extreme ardor for literature. There are days when there’s nothing I’d rather do than cuddle under a blanket with some Starbucks and a lengthy novel. American literature is my favorite because our history is so rich and pregnant with endless narratives. Literature has the unique ability to bring form and life to the grandest of historical events and the most mundane moments. It holds the power to shake a nation with the horror of slavery like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. It brings holy fear, conviction and revival like Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It fuels hope and inspiration like the Ain’t I A Woman and I Have a Dream speeches. Literature takes snapshots of history and molds them into tangible works of art that we can learn from and carry with us forever. I was confronted and comforted by a parable written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in the Dark Romanticism era, The Minister’s Black Veil.



This story is centered around a young, gentle, and well-liked minister named Mr. Hooper in 18th century New England. One day Hooper ambles into his church donning a black, crepe veil over his face which obstructs everything save his chin and mouth. His parishioners are incredibly frightened down to their core at the spectacle. They tremble as he makes his way from the back of the church, down the aisle, and takes his place behind the pulpit to deliver his sermon. Hours, days, weeks, months go by and the black veil remains intact. No mortal eyes have connected with Hooper’s for longer than anyone can remember. Finally, his wife (the only one who isn’t afraid of him) begs for Hooper to remove his veil for her even if but for a moment. He refuses and she abandons him; she cannot bear to be married to a man who she can look at but cannot see, who she can know but never understand.

As I became engrossed with this story, I, too, was desperately curious about the purpose of Hooper’s veil. Never once was it removed, even when the children who once admired him ran from him in sheer horror. Surprisingly more people are saved than ever before because they liken their sinful state with the man behind the black veil. Still, most are ghastly afraid.

At the end of the narrative, Hooper is on his deathbed when he’s asked to remove his veil once and for all as he tiptoes into death. His response caused my heart to race.

“Why do you tremble at me alone?” cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. “Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil? What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crape so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!”

Hooper’s observation knocked me in my chest with blunt force. As my teacher’s edition curriculum so perfectly notes, this story’s theme is about the unwillingness and inability to reveal our true nature. Hooper compares three relationships: friend to friend, lover to lover, and man to God. Revealing our true selves requires vulnerability and trust. The point of the matter is that most of us walk around with our own black veils intact. Basically Hooper is saying that people shouldn’t shudder when they see his veil because we are hidden behind our own veils–our unwillingness and inability to be vulnerable.

The last couple of weeks have been unusually difficult. My faith, prayers, joy, peace, and zeal for God were low while my insecurities, weaknesses, struggles, and fears were heightened beyond my own control. At least I didn’t think I had any control over them anymore. I found myself going through the “Christian girl” motions: hosting Bible studies, serving at church, attending prayer meetings, interceding for others. The truth is my heart wasn’t in any of those things, but I didn’t want to admit it to anyone else or to myself. As much as I wanted to share the tempest in my heart with my small group, my closest friends, and my parents, I just couldn’t bear to remove my veil. I didn’t want to hear the typical, “Just pray about it,” “God loves you,” “There’s grace for you,” answers. I know all of those things, but there is something else that needed to be challenged and shaken in my prideful, double-minded heart. I needed to do more than talk to God about how I felt. Prayer is what you make it. It is possible to pray and remain the same because it’s not our prayers that impressive God; it is our faith that pleases Him most. The veil in the Holy of Holies was torn so I could freely enter because Jesus came to earth, bled and died, and resurrected, yet I have carried my own veil of unwillingness to expose my greatest fears, weaknesses and sins to Him. This black veil began to turn my heart to ice and it was becoming easier to tolerate distance from the One who first loved me.

Thankfully, I had a friend who, like Hooper’s wife, demanded the black veil be torn away. My refusal wasn’t indignant, but flippantly disguised with the familiar phrase we all use when we don’t want to be bothered or pitied: “I’m okay, really.” I expected him to be like the others–tell me he would pray and then move on about his day. That’s what Hooper’s wife did to him. When he refused to remove the veil, her frustration at his declension drove her to abandon him. My friend didn’t leave me to rot like Hooper’s wife. No, he was persistent even when I tried to assure him I didn’t need anyone touching my veil. “I refuse to leave you alone,” he said. “I don’t want to push you to tell me, but I will push with you to overcome. You [are] priority tonight.”

Whoa.

He didn’t know it then but he used a God-given key to unlock a well of hope in me. It wasn’t so much what he said with his mouth, but the overwhelming sense of love and protection that reverberated from his action. He cared…and I was reminded of Jesus who never leaves me even when I wander away from Him.

For the first time in a long time I was vulnerable with my friend and expressed to him what had been eating me alive. He comforted me and I realized, “This feels good! It’s nice to come from behind this veil.” So, day-by-day, I am removing these layers (because it doesn’t come off in one big swoop) of protection and choosing to show myself–the whole me, the broken me, the ugly pieces of me–to a God who loved me before I ever made a single mistake.

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It is so freeing to be vulnerable with someone–whether family member, friend, lover, or God–and feel wholly loved, accepted, and cherished despite the myriad of weaknesses that mar my life. This week I am challenging myself to take off my black veil for Jesus and allow Him to touch my brokenness. He’s a Healer. There’s nothing He cannot solve within my desert soul. If you are struggling with vulnerability, I exhort you to be free! It’s never easy to be open and naked and exposed to the opinions of man or the holiness of God, but amazing transformation is available when you decide to take it off.


What about you? If the black veil represents an unwillingness to be vulnerable, what are the things that keep your veil intact?

Prayer: The Place of Encounter

What if the secret to connecting our humdrum, mundane lives to the supernatural pleasantries of God was as simple as saying a prayer? What if the breath of ZOË life could be summoned by prayer? What if prayer is the avenue through which our earthly lives and God’s heavenly kingdom collide?

Could it be this simple?

Prayer is one of the most essential rites in Christianity. Everyone knows Christians pray, or at least we should. But praying is a struggle for many people because we are disconnected from the God we’re praying to. Samuel Bentley and Micah Wood, co-authors of Simple Devotion, observe, “Everyone assumes that everyone prays, but hardly anyone really does… We talk a lot about prayer, but we do very little actual praying.” My pastor, Louie Giglio, adds, “We’re not praying as much as we should be, and we’re not praying the way we ought to.” We know prayer is vital, yet we shy away from the prayer closet because it feels mundane, boring, and inactive compared to other spiritual activities. How, then, do we begin to enter into an intentional prayer life?

Prayer is more than a religious ritual that we cross off our daily spiritual agendas. Prayer is about connecting with God. Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer, says in his study How to Develop a Strong Prayer Life, “Prayer was never meant to be duty-based or merely results-oriented. Rather, it is the place of encounter with God where our spirit is energized as we grow to love Him more.” Our prayer lives would be so radically altered if we were consciously aware that each time we breathe a word to the Lord we are facilitating an environment for encounter with Holy Spirit. We must remind ourselves that our prayers don’t fall on deaf ears, but be mindful that we are engaging with the Sovereign God of all.

Why should we pray? There are many reasons why we should venture into an intentional prayer relationship with the Lord, but I want to focus on the one I consider most valuable.

“Prayer is not a list, it’s not an activity…it’s connectivity.” – Louie Giglio

Prayer is about connecting with God on a personal level. It is more than speaking words into an empty room. It is more than the designated five minutes at the beginning and end of a church service. It is more than the 30-second recitation before every meal. Prayer is an invitation for God’s spirit to intertwine with our own. Bickle calls prayer a place of encounter. Our prayer closets should be burning with a holy flame as a result of consistent, intentional, focused time on communing with God.

My pastor likened intentional prayer to a romantic relationship. We don’t find it bizarre if our loved one texts or calls us once a day to check on us. Neither do we think it strange if they communicate with us several times a day. How many of us ladies love to receive “Just thinking about you” phone calls? How many guys smile when they receive an “I appreciate you” text message? It makes us feel desired, loved, and treasured. More than that, we communicate with our loved one as a way to stay connected with them. Our intentional communication reminds them, “You still mean everything to me.” Likewise, we should be intentional about cultivating connection between our heart and the Father’s heart.

Frequent, intentional, focused prayer is the breeding ground for intimacy with the Lord. Whisper sweet-nothings to Him. Worship Him with your words of passionate love. Prayer is a conversation; He will respond. Let your prayer closet become a chamber of unabashed, unquenchable, fiery adoration. It will surprise you how soon you’ll become addicted to His presence.

Question: What are other ways you maintain intimacy with God?