When Prayer Won't Work

We all face temptation. And for many of us, there is nothing more frustrating than temptations we seemingly can't overcome. So, what do we do? I know the most predominate fall back is prayer. We use prayer as a prescription for illnesses that God never prescribed prayer to be the cure for. I have yet to meet a Christian, who came to me for counseling about a moral or character issue, that hadn’t already prayed about it.

But, God never designed prayer to be the primary tool for changing and redirecting our character. God offers renewal as that tool. Prayer won’t set you free, the Bible says the truth will set you free. Prayer won’t transform your life, a renewed mind transforms your life. I’m not against prayer, not at all. But when it comes to issues over our character and overcoming temptation, prayer is not the right tool. It was designed for other purposes. It's like trying to use a screw driver to hammer a nail. All you get is frustration.

We need to follow Jesus' example of how to overcome temptation, doing as He did in Matthew 4 when He was being tempted by the devil. Not once, in the entire story of His temptation, do we see Him crying out to God in prayer to rescue Him. No, instead He countered the specific lies the devil was feeding Him with specific truths from God's Word.

Behind every temptation is a specific lie that you are prone to believe. What we must do to overcome temptation is learn how to counter those specific lies with the specific truths from the Bible. In other words, prayer isn't the tool designed to overcome temptation, the Word is.

Let's read how Jesus did it:

Matthew 4:1-3 (NIV) 1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

All of these temptations were a temptation to misuse His power.

What was the lie hidden in temptation #1? It was “Jesus, you have a right to meet your own needs, regardless of what God says.” The temptation was to use His power for His own benefit. It wasn't wrong for Him to turn a stone into bread. Only days later He would turn water into wine. What would be wrong is using His deity to benefit Himself.

How did Jesus counter this specific lie? He countered it with a specific truth from God’s Word.

Matthew 4:4(NIV) 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. This scripture emphasized the need to do only what His Father instructed Him to do. This verse gave Him the authority to say no to the temptation. If Jesus felt it necessary to respond to this temptation by quoting scripture, is it any wonder that we constantly give in to temptation when we try to pray our way out of it, or try to use our will power to overcome it?

Matthew 4:5-6 (NIV) 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

What was the lie hidden in Temptation #2? It was “Jesus, you need to prove yourself. You know who you are. I know who you are. But the world doesn't know who you are, yet.” Notice, Satan even quoted scripture this time and yet this whole thing was twisted around this central lie. Most of our temptations are wrapped around this lie, too. There is this inner drive to prove ourselves, make others notice us. Many of the mistakes we make is simply giving into this prideful temptation.

Once again Jesus counters with the Word.

Matthew 4:7 (NIV) 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

This time Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16. This verse makes it very clear that obedience takes precedence over recognition.

Matthew 4:8-9 (NIV) 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

What was the lie hidden in temptation #3? It's another common temptation we all face, “You win through compromise and shortcuts.”

Matthew 4:10 (NIV) 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Jesus again, responds with Scripture that in essence says “nothing I gain through broken relationship with the Father is worth it.” And with that the devil gave up. Jesus won.

Question: Are you willing to take the time to so fill your mind and your heart with God’s Word that in a moments notice you could reply to any temptation with “it is written”?

Here are a list of scriptures and the lies they are designed to counter: scripture memory