Prayerlessness Comes Before a Fall

We’ve all seen the tragic headlines. We’ve all been shocked by the news of yet another once-revered pastor tarnishing the name of Christ and disqualifying himself from the ministry. Not long ago, one such Christian leader famously preached, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay” — all while he was living in gross sin. How ironic that his own life proved his quote to be true.

I recently addressed a group of pastors regarding the theme of finishing strong, and I shared with them a quote from Donald Whitney’s now-classic sermon “The Almost Inevitable Ruin of Every Minister . . . and How to Avoid It.” Whitney preached,

Almost everyone knows someone who used to be in the ministry. Almost everyone knows someone who shouldn’t be in the ministry. And every minister knows another minister — if not several — he does not want to be like. . . . So I think it’s important to address the subject of the almost inevitable ruin of every minister . . . and how to avoid it.

Once, when a Southern Baptist denominational executive was on the Midwestern Seminary campus in the late 1990s, he asserted that statistics show that for every twenty men who enter the ministry, by the time those men reach age sixty-five, only one will still be in the ministry.
Paul rightly admonishes us, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

How the Mighty Have Fallen

We easily fail to take heed. Isn’t that why Samson, the strong man, fell? Before his infamous defeat at the hands of his enemies, he tested God’s grace by sleeping with three different women who were from his enemy, the Philistines (Judges 14:1–20; 15:11–20; 16:1–3).
And didn’t David, Israel’s greatest king, similarly sin? While the Lord multiplied David’s victories in battle (2 Samuel 5:10; 6:2), David ignored God’s admonition and multiplied wives to himself (Deuteronomy 17:17). And when kings and soldiers all went out to battle (2 Samuel 11:1), the emboldened king stayed home, saw another man’s wife bathing, and decided to take her (2 Samuel 11:2–5).

And what about Solomon, to whom God appeared not once, but twice (1 Kings 3:5; 9:2)? God gave him unmatched wisdom and wealth (1 Kings 3:1–15). How did Solomon respond? Instead of trusting God, he pursued political marriages to protect his kingdom and flagrantly married a thousand women. And what happened? When he was old, he yielded to his pagan wives and turned from God. He bowed in idolatry to worship their idols (1 Kings 11:3–10).

If the strongest of men and the greatest and wisest of kings scandalously fell because of their pride, what lesson does that teach us? We can all scandalously fall too. Rightly did John Owen say, “He who walketh humbly walketh safely.”

What can we do to guard ourselves against falling? We can start by listening to our Lord Jesus and praying the prayer he taught us to pray. We can earnestly plead with the Father to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).

Indispensable Means of Grace

Prayer is not a convenient luxury that we can casually employ when we feel like it. We are at war, and war demands spiritual countermeasures to protect ourselves against spiritual attacks (Ephesians 6:10–12), the world’s enticements (1 John 2:15–17), and the corruptibility of our own flesh (Colossians 3:5). Prayer and praying correctly is, therefore, an indispensable means of grace in our daily war.

But to heed Jesus’s instructions, we first need to understand them and apply them correctly. In calling us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” Jesus is not suggesting that the Father never tests believers (Genesis 22:1), and neither is he suggesting that the Father himself tempts us to sin (James 1:13). Rather, Jesus’s instruction should be understood as a general appeal for the Father’s protection. In praying, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are asking the Father to guard our faith so we don’t fall before the deceitfulness of sin.

I’ve followed Jesus now for almost forty years, and without fail, I can connect the times when I have struggled and strayed to dry spiritual seasons of weak or absent prayer. Dear saints, let’s regularly pray, “Father, protect us from temptation.”

Formidable Foe

Jesus makes it clear that we are not wrestling against flesh and blood, but against a powerful and evil spiritual enemy. When Jesus teaches us to pray, “and deliver us from evil,” he is likely referring to Satan in particular. Most English translations either mark that in a footnote or translate Jesus’s words with the definite article: “and deliver us from the evil one.”

This title for Satan is fitting because he is, in the fullest sense, the personification of evil. He is our great enemy. He wants nothing less than to destroy us — our unity, our ministries, our testimonies. The Bible chronicles his schemes so that we will be aware of his temptations. To name but a few, he tempts us

  • to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3),
  • to engage in sexual sin (1 Corinthians 7:5),
  • to give up on our ministry goals (1 Thessalonians 2:18),
  • to be prideful in ministry (1 Timothy 3:6),
  • to turn from God and curse him in suffering (Job 1–2),
  • to let wolves infiltrate our church leadership (2 Corinthians 11:13–15), and
  • to believe and teach false gospels that damn souls (2 Corinthians 11:3).

Satan’s sword is covered with the blood of our faithful martyred brothers and sisters. He parades a horde of others who, through their fear of man over God, have apostatized from Christ. They have become his henchmen (John 8:44), enemies of the cross. Theirs will be a just eternal judgment when Jesus returns and destroys all of his enemies (2 Thessalonians 1:4–10).

More Powerful Savior

When Israel cried out for help against the Egyptians, God sent Moses to deliver them. When they needed to defeat their enemies in the land, God gave them Joshua. When they cried out for help against their enemies in Canaan, God raised up judges to save them. When they needed to secure the land, God gave them David. But God has given us a greater deliverer than Moses, Joshua, the judges, or David. God has sent us his only begotten Son — Jesus. And Jesus came “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8; Acts 10:38).

However strong your temptations, Jesus can set you free if you abide in him (John 8:31–32). Praying connects us to our Lord, and he empowers us to overcome our besetting sins. With Christ, we can do everything that he wants us to do (Philippians 4:13). We can bear holy fruit in keeping with the Spirit (John 15:5).

Well did Martin Luther lead us to sing:
Did we in our own strength confide,
     Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side,
     The Man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who that may be?
     Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name,
     From age to age the same;
And he must win the battle.

God hears our cries for help. He answers our humble acknowledgments that we need him to win our battles, and he answers by giving us Jesus. He is our defense (1 John 2:1).

So before you turn to your own strength and resources, before you give up your fight, and before you yield to the weight of temptation and sin, pray. Pray more fervently. Pray more accurately. Pray with more faith. But by all means, pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” and trust that our God will answer you with favor.
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