When Praying Doesn’t Work . . .

Have you ever prayed hard for something, only to feel as though your prayers go unheard? Have you ever prayed for freedom from a temptation or struggle and felt as though you were getting nowhere?

I personally have, and recently I realized (after listening to a fantastic podcast-sermon) that prayer, while it is an incredibly amazing gift that we can use to come before the God and maker of the universe, is also only one tool that we have for enacting life-change. Prayer is able to help us grow spiritually, as almost nothing else can—except for maybe one other thing.

There is a method/gift/tool that the Bible gives us to use when battling temptation, and surprising to me was that it isn’t prayer, and when Jesus faced temptation, this is the method He used. In my mind, if it is a good method for Jesus our Savior to use, it should be the method I use too—especially since my daily goal is to be like Jesus.

Jesus’ method for fighting off temptation is memorizing and quoting scripture—while also understanding what each passage means.

Let’s take a look at Matthew 4:1-11 (this event is also in Luke 4:1-15).

The first temptation that the devil presented to Jesus was to turn stones into bread to satisfy His physical hunger. There is a lie embedded in this temptation that says that this life, you have a right to meet your own personal needs—regardless of what God says.

How does Jesus counter this temptation? He quotes a scripture that directly refutes it: “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” People have more needs than just their physical needs and God’s will is more important than my own will.

The second temptation (according to Matthew) is the devil taking Jesus up to the highest point in the temple. The devil quotes from Psalms a scripture promising that God will keep Jesus safe from harm if He jumps. There are several lies here. The first one I will point out is that God’s protection has limits—not because He doesn’t love you, but because actions have consequences. Jumping off a building results in you depending on the law of gravity to keep you safe—when the law of gravity is designed to keep you close to earth (so you don’t float off into space where there is no oxygen). The law of gravity is good, however our choices can turn gravity from being our friend into being our ‘downfall’ (pun intended. :)).

The second lie here is that the devil is challenging Jesus by saying “Didn’t God promise to take care of You? Jesus You need to prove Yourself. Jesus, You need to do something amazing on Your own.” The lie is that your worth is tied to your accomplishments; my worth is tied to my accomplishments—and this is not true at all. God determines my worth because He created me and I am alive. Jesus determines my worth because He chose to die for me. I don’t determine my worth because I am not capable of doing anything spectacular on my own.

How does Jesus counter this second temptation? He quotes another scripture to counter the lie: “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’” Jesus is saying that obedience to God’s will is more important than personal recognition. My performance is not tied up and focused on me. It is focused on God’s will for my life.

The third temptation is interesting because the devil takes Jesus to a high peak and shows Him ‘all the kingdoms of the world’. Whether this is figurative or literal, it is definitely an interesting display. The devil gives Jesus what would appear to be the opportunity of a lifetime. Looking out at all the kingdoms of the world, the devil says to Jesus, “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” Here’s an opportunity for a shortcut. The devil is telling Jesus—who knows that He came to die to redeem the world—that He doesn’t have to follow through with that plan. Instead, here is a shortcut. Just for one moment, take your eyes off God and focus on me [the devil—or myself] and then I’ll hand over all the kingdoms of the world to You.

This temptation gives an interesting key into where the devil’s focus really is: not on helping us have a better life than God promises, but instead it shows that He doesn’t care about us at all, and instead would trade all of us over to Jesus if Jesus would acknowledge him as an equal.

The lie? You can win through compromise. The end result justifies the means. The quickest and easiest way is the best, and because God forgives our sins, it will be like it never happened.

God does forgive our sins, but compromising what we believe in is not something God views well at all. God knows that there is an infinite amount of things that we do not know, and if we misunderstand something, He is more than willing to teach us over time (whether that be here on earth or in heaven), but compromising what we believe to accelerate our goals is counter to what God stands for.

A shortcut results in a ‘short’win. Taking the long road (which is harder) results in eternal rewards (or a ‘long’win :)).

Jesus counters with the truth: “‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” In other words, Jesus is saying that nothing that can be gained through broken fellowship with the Father is worth having. Are we too quick to compartmentalize our religion when it ceases being convenient? Are we slowly sacrificing eternal rewards for ‘short’wins?

Today, if you are feeling satisfied physically, but are also feeling as though you are lacking mentally or spiritually, perhaps now would be a good time to pick up a Bible and start reading. Perhaps you are already working through parts of it in our Beginnings (101) or Life of Jesus (201) series.

Each response Jesus gave was a memorized promise from scripture. If a verse stands out to you, perhaps it would be a good verse to memorize, because at least for me, temptation doesn’t confine itself to only times where I have the opportunity to pull out a Bible and hunt down the truth to counter the lie.


P.S. As always, if I missed something, or if you would like to respond on this topic, join the conversation below!