Does the devil actively interfere with our prayers? Does he teach us to neglect our relationship with God? If so, how does he do it?
In the Book of Mormon, Nephi teaches that the devil never encourages a man or woman to pray. Nephi goes even further to say that instead, the devil teaches you and I that we must not pray.
“ . . . If ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth a man not to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.” (2 Nephi 32:8) (Emphasis added by author.)
How does the devil teach us that we must not pray? We are familiar with his methods in general. However, we may not recognize how the devil interferes with our communication with Heavenly Father. He often uses subtle, indirect ways. I want to tell you about one way he attempts to place obstacles in my path to prayer. I would also like to share a way that I’ve learned to put the devil on notice—to let him know that I won’t put up with his tricks in my life any longer.
Just a Little Too Busy to Pray Right Now
To keep us from participating in powerful prayer on a regular basis, the devil strives to teach us a number bad habits. For me, distraction is the first and simplest way the devil can get in my way.
Life is full of potential distractions. There are many good things that need doing, that require my attention. The devil doesn’t create these things; rather he uses voices of self-doubt, of anxiety, and of inadequacy to encourage me to stay busy with good things. He wants me to be so busy that powerful prayer becomes an accidental casualty of my schedule.
Extra hours working may help me feel more successful, but those extra hours drain my physical, mental, and spiritual energy. Being overly concerned about how my yard, car, and other matters of appearance look help me stay ‘just a little’ too busy. Of course, it is not wrong to work hard and maintain our stewardships. But I have learned that I must know the difference between enough and a little too much.
In my life, five or ten minutes on my knees in the morning and before bed is simply not enough. A short conversation with God morning and night is enough to maintain a basic connection but not enough to bring the spiritual power I need to overcome the devil in my life. I am unable to draw upon heaven for the inspiration I need for my family, my personal life, and my calling if I am spending too little time with God.
For me, having time to really pour out my thoughts, struggles, worries, etc. is critical. Sometimes, it takes me a while to open up my soul and sort out what I need to do and what I need help with and to work through the many emotions of life. Heavenly Father is so patient with me. He doesn’t mind at all if I talk with him for 30 minutes, an hour, and sometimes even more on a regular basis. To have the opportunity and energy to spend this much time with Heavenly Father, I have found it necessary to move prayer to the very top of my priority list.
The devil teaches that there is always time for prayer and that we can spend extra time with God after finishing all of the things with deadlines. He then helps us see the importance of fitting more and more good things into our lives until we somehow are not praying every day. Then he teaches us to move from distraction to full procrastination by adding guilt for not being regular with our prayers. Procrastination in prayer is brought on by the feeling that we want to pray but feel ashamed because we have lapsed in our good habits. We feel a need to change before we approach God. When this happens to me, I may pray in a routine way, but I do not take the necessary time to pour out my soul and listen carefully for the answers that come with deeper, more meaningful prayer.
Thankfully, Heavenly Father allows trials and heartaches in this mortal existence. When I find myself procrastinating meaningful prayer, the hard experiences of life become the motivation I need to breakdown the walls I’ve inadvertently built between myself and God. If I am already having regular, deeper experiences with Heavenly Father through prayer, I better understand my ‘hard things.’ I better understand why they are necessary and I am able to experience peace instead of anxiety during hard times. I am also able to do my part in finding solutions without long periods of delay.
If I am not careful, the required and necessary things of life can keep me drained of the time and energy I need to pray. But there is another, more influential way the devil distracts you and I from meaningful prayer, and causes us to procrastinate talking with God. He uses entertainment.
Entertainment’s Role in Distracting Us From Prayer
I find that I have to be very careful with what I watch or listen to. I am surprised by how “just a little” inappropriate language, humor, or sensual content causes me to be distracted from prayer. When I indulge my carnal nature, even a little, I find it easy to procrastinate praying. The devil lays before us an astounding variety of entertainment choices and invites us to partake, telling us that we must have regular entertainment to cope with the pressures of life.
The devil encourages us to be anxious and stressed and then offers us entertainment as a way to relieve the very fear he builds within us. He creates the problem and then offers a short term solution for the stress, a solution that has subtle, but very real effects on our spiritual lives. He knows that the smallest amount of inappropriate entertainment will cause us to look away from God, if only for a moment.
May I be straightforward? I have learned that the source of excuses for violent content in movies, TV shows, and games is the devil himself. Have you ever said something like, “Well, it’s only some war violence. It shows men defending their country. And at least it doesn’t have a lot of sex.” When I have said this type of thing in the past to give myself permission to watch a questionable show, I was unaware that the evil spirit was “teaching” me to be distracted. But that was in fact the result in my life.
If you want proof that the adversary uses entertainment to subtly block us from praying, try kneeling down and talking with God immediately following your next ‘action movie’ or the romantic comedy that would have been really good ‘except for that one scene.’ For me, it takes a while for the feelings brought up by violent or even mildly sensual content to fade before I feel like praying. I therefore procrastinate taking time to pray deeply. It is hard, frankly, to kneel down and have an honest conversation with God when battle scenes, or that one scene I wish hadn’t been in the show, are playing as reruns in my head.
At these times, the devil uses one more method. He teaches us to avoid thinking about why we don’t feel like praying. If we try to stop and honestly consider how we feel, he’ll work to confuse us and muddle our thinking with justifications until we stop trying to figure out what is going on. He encourages us to just move on to the next thing that demands our attention. To me this muddled thinking is a type of stupor of thought. It’s a sign we need a different approach.
An important part of the devil’s teaching method with distraction and procrastination is to encourage us to resent or get frustrated with those who tell me or even suggest that what I am watching or playing is inappropriate. I’ll admit that I’ve said or at least thought, “Seriously? If I avoided all violent or sensual content, I wouldn’t be able to watch anything!”
In the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, church leaders tell us to, “not attend, view, or participate in anything that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in anything that presents immorality or violence as acceptable. Have the courage to walk out of a movie, change your music, or turn off a computer, television, or mobile device if what you see or hear drives away the Spirit.” (Emphasis added by author.) What then do we do? How can we go through this life without entertainment delivered in mainstream ways? Does Heavenly Father expects us to go through life without anything to lift us up and help us get through the challenges of life?
In my life, I have learned that in very subtle ways, the evil spirit is the one teaching me to argue against clear prophetic counsel. As I’ve learned to pull away from even the mildly inappropriate forms of entertainment I find my desire to pray and my ability to hear the voice of God through His Holy Spirit has increased dramatically! As a people, we do not need the counterfeit pleasures Satan offers to get us through life. But we cannot know and understand the real pleasure of spiritual power until we exercise faith and walk away from what the devil is so carefully packaging for our consumption. Spiritual peace and power will get us through life’s stress and struggles better than anything movies, TV, and video games can offer. We can walk away and be happier.
Loving Obedience is the Answer
How do we give the devil notice that we are going to stop playing the distraction and procrastination game with prayer? The answer is loving obedience. I am a man of God and a son of eternal parents. I didn’t come to the world to be perpetually distracted by a little too much success at work, a little to much care of worldly things. I especially didn’t come to this world to be distracted by what the unrighteous offer me for entertainment. If entertainers will not meet God’s standards, they will need to find someone else to entertain!
I am not obedient to the commandment to pray because I feel I have to please family or friends or even my fellow ward members. I choose obedience in prayer because my Father in Heaven has helped me understand who I am and why I am here. If you don’t feel you know who you really are, your Father in Heaven will most definitely help you find out. Ask Him! Tell him about your desire to be obedient in the areas of your life where you lack strength or commitment, or even hope. When I have done this, He has answered and showed me the next step to take.
As I feel Heavenly Father’s loving guidance, I feel the desire to be obedient in prayer, and in all things, growing fiercely within my heart. When tempted by distraction, I am determined to fight the devil by being obstinately obedient to the commandment to pray always without ceasing. I try my hardest to smile when I blow it and then approach my God asking for yet another chance. I must practice shooting, passing, and dribbling to become good at basketball. I must spend many, many hours practicing an instrument to master it. Today, I have consciously chosen to practice obedience in prayer knowing that it pleases God and frustrates my enemy.
Loving obedience wells up from inside. It is not forced upon me by expectation. It is something I choose and learn to cherish as it takes hold within me.
I have dropped out of the devil’s class on distraction and procrastination. I am instead studying the happy state of loving obedience. I am going to make plenty of mistakes in the future, but I will not let the devil continue to draw me away from prayer. I am committed to continually making time for deeper, more meaningful prayer in my life. If this means that I need to step back just a bit from my many responsibilities and let go of even mildly inappropriate entertainments, then so be it. I for one am tired of letting the devil’s carefully designed ‘teachings’ keep me from my rightful and joyful relationship with God.
If you find yourself distracted from meaningful, powerful prayer, start today, right now even, by asking God if He will help you learn to avoid distraction and procrastination in prayer. Ask Him to help you know what you can cut out of your schedule and entertainment. Then start with one or two things. Also pick one or two things that you want to be more obedient in. Making adequate time for deeper prayer is a good one to start with. As our distractions begin to fade and the very real joy of increased obedience replaces the devil’s counterfeit satisfactions and pleasures, you and I will find ourselves excited to make even more time for deep, meaningful prayer.