Friday, July 27, 2007

The Flesh Is Weak

When you want to pray, have you ever noticed that "the spirit is willing but the body is weak" (Matt 26:41)? Jesus said these words in Gethsemane to Peter when asking him to pray. I've always thought of it in this way, "Peter you need to pray so that you have the strength to do what you know is right". But perhaps the Lord was explaining to Peter why he was finding it hard to pray. It wasn't that Peter didn't want to pray but that his physical body was rebelling against the idea.

Who's In Charge Here?
It is probably universally true that when we try to change our behaviour from a negative pattern to a positive one our flesh cries out against it. It could be eating more healthily, taking more exercise, giving up smoking, watching less TV, getting our tongue under control. Whatever it is, we may be very sincere in our desire for change but our body craves the taste of the chocolate, longs to put the feet up on the couch and share that little tidbit of gossip (just for prayer you understand).

So it shouldn't surprise us that when it comes to something as important as prayer our flesh tells us we really would be happier doing just about anything else. The problem we all face is the power struggle between our body and our spirit to see which is really in control. The first stage in gaining the victory is to recognise that we are spirits which happen to live in a body. It is the spirit who should be in control and not the body. You will never find true joy and you will never develop a powerful prayer life as long as the body is dictating the terms of the relationship. That's why Paul says, "offer your bodies as living sacrifices" (Rom 12:1). Getting our body into line is part of our worship and a prerequisite for becoming a pray-er.

It's About Choices
Here's an example. Almost every day in the past month it has rained. When it's time for my prayer walk my flesh starts telling me how much it doesn't want to get wet and cold and how it would much rather sit down with a hot chocolate and good book. At this point I have a choice. I can give in and do what my body wants and neglect my spirit. Or I can tell my body that the walk will do it good and get on with doing what I know will nourish my spirit and give me the space I need to intercede for those on my prayer list. It's like disciplining a child - each time it gets a little easier to do the right thing, but give in once and you're back to square one.

It's not easy to get up half-an-hour earlier to fit in a quiet time before going to work, it's not easy to go to the prayer meeting every week, it's not easy to commit to praying for your church leaders on a daily basis, it's not easy to take time to be quiet and listen to God. In fact, anything to do with prayer is not going to be easy. It requires utter commitment and determination. That's why Paul claimed, "I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should" (1 Cor 9:27, NLT). It takes time and effort. But if we will persist and not give up, our flesh will come into line, submit to our spirit and our prayer lives will be transformed.

Prayer College Assignment
It has been said that it takes 6 weeks to develop a new habit. In my personal experience it often takes a lot longer, especially in spiritual matters. If you are aware that the grumblings of the flesh are restricting the development of your prayer life make a conscious decision to put your spirit in control and to persist with the self-discipline required to develop a new habit. It's not good enough to say you are going to give it a try. That leaves a loophole for the flesh. The only thing that works is to make a firm decision and determine to see it through whatever happens.

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