Evagrius of Pontus once wrote, “If your soul grows weak, pray. As it is written, pray in fear and trembling, earnestly and watchfully. We ought to pray like that, especially because our unseen and wicked enemies are vehemently trying to hinder us.”[i] The reality is, sin wages war against the believer. Though Christians are no long under the dominion of sin, it still inflicts harm upon God’s people (Romans 7:13-25; Colossians 1:13). Sin isn’t a principle solely outside of us, it’s an ungodly force that comes from inside of us. The Bible calls this the “flesh.”
The word “flesh” in Scripture has a variety of meanings. For example, it (flesh) can refer to the physical tissue of a human (Genesis 2:21) while other times it refers to ancestry (Romans 1:3). For the purposes of this article, the term “flesh” refers to that part of our being that is the seat of sin and rebellion against God. Jesus said to His disciples, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh [sarx] is weak” (Mark. 14:38). The flesh is hostile to God (Romans 8:7), and “no help at all” for giving life (John 6:63). It bears fruit for death (Romans 7:5), and we mustn’t give it any provision (Romans 13:14). The “flesh” is also worldly (1st John 2:16), and instead of sowing to the flesh, we ought to sow to the Spirit (Galatians 6:8). What an interesting thought that is—sowing to the Spirit. How does one do such a thing? Aside from all of the general components of “walking in the Spirit”, a crucial thing indeed, one of the most precious remedies God has given His people to combat the onslaught of the flesh’s sinful devices that war within us is prayer.
Prayer is a soul-realignment type of activity. With the flesh waging war against us, the soul gets out of whack. Prayer adjusts the soul, cultivating within God’s people a desire for more of God and His holiness, majesty, and presence in their lives. Think of prayer as the Spirit’s prompting in the souls of men whereby God’s glory can be accessed, enjoyed, contemplated, and experienced. It is no mere coincidence that Christ prays for His people to behold His Glory. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24; emphasis mine). To behold the glory of Christ is to commune with God, and to commune with God is to be earnest in prayer (1st Thessalonians 5:17). Is there a greater aim in life than to commune with the Triune God? Is there any greater desire than to take our knowledge of Him and to know, taste, and see that the Lord is good in all of life? The answer is overwhelmingly, “No!” There simply is no greater aim in life and no greater joy than tasting, seeing, and knowing Christ in all of life.
The goal of prayer is the glory of God and the enjoyment of His personhood. The Spirit intercedes for God’s people in their weakness (Romans 8:26). In addition to this, Jesus—the High Priest mediating for His people—lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25). Prayer isn’t some magical “catch-all”, it’s a powerful remedy to fight against the flesh, and enjoy communion with the Godhead. In prayer, all persons of the Trinity are active in this communion which results in the Christian’s affections being stirred up and their confidence in Him increased. As John Bunyan wrote, “Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God.”[ii]
God’s people pray to God the Father because it is His will that His people seek Him (Matthew 6:9-10). Such prayer is mediated through the Son, who serves as High Priest over His people. God’s people are to pray by the power of the Spirit who is carving their souls into the image of His Son. A sure and precious remedy against the onslaught of the flesh is a deep, intimate, and robust prayer life. So be bold, o’ child of God, He awaits to commune with you! So “…let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
[i] The Sayings of the Fathers, ed. Owen Chadwick (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958), 141–42.
[ii] John Bunyan, A Discourse Touching Prayer, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 623.