A little country church tucked just off Main Street, Trinity Fellowship had served the community for years and did it well. They had experienced growth over the last year—eight new families—but they had also experienced something less encouraging.
Rebecca Simms worried that her youngest daughter would end up in jail. She did.
Mike Travers heard about the layoffs a month ago. The pink slip came yesterday, his third in three years.
Emma Andersen, two semesters away from graduating from college (the first in her family), got that fated letter saying her full-ride scholarship money had dried up due to tough economic times.
Bryan and Lydia Preston found out two weeks ago they were expecting their first child. This morning, they learned something was wrong with the baby.
Between the six people on the leadership team at Trinity, they suffered a miscarriage, cancer, a bankruptcy, the suicide of a child, crippling depression, and an affair that led to divorce. Three are no longer in ministry and may never return.
Last Sunday, Daryl Wells, the worship leader, led a song that contained a lyric out of Isaiah 54:17: “No weapon formed against you shall prevail.” More than one person singing that morning wondered if the words were true.
Sometimes, the Devil seems to win.
Trinity Fellowship and the people who comprise it are the product of this writer’s imagination. But they might as well be real, because their stories are. Every Sunday in America, someone, somewhere, is sitting in church wondering how it all went wrong. For some, it’s a question asked many times.
It’s not enough to say we live in a fallen world. That brings no comfort at all. Nor does it make sense of the mountain of Scriptures that say that God rescues His people from calamity. Let’s be honest here: More than once, you’ve wondered why the Scriptures don’t line up with your experience of life.
I’m not wise. I make a lot of mistakes wise people wouldn’t make. But several decades of observation take me back to the same answer for this issue.
The Devil seems to win for one major reason: We don’t pray.
I think we’ve all learned that when someone says he will pray for us, he probably won’t. It’s not a malicious promise, though. The intent is there, but we all know how life intrudes and the best of intentions remains nothing but intentions. It seems to be the human condition.
Succumbing to the human condition is not what the Church is supposed to be about, though. Our God is not a god of settling.
I used to think that my condition was largely due to my own prayers—or the lack of them. I don’t believe that anymore.
Sure, what we pray for ourselves matters. But God means the Church to be a Body, a collective, a community that lives and dies by what the whole does. If I’m not praying for you and you’re not praying for me, then the Devil wins.
Several years ago, I attended a Christian Camping International conference, with Leighton Ford as the keynote speaker. He told us about a flight where he sat next to a man who prayed the entire flight. Ford assumed the man feared flying, so he broke in at one point to offer some comfort. Only then did he notice the sheet of paper the man clutched. On it were the names of many prominent Christian leaders. When Ford questioned him about this, the man confessed that he had been praying for the downfall of the people on the list.
Ford informed us that, with the passage of time, all but one of those leaders had seen their ministry—and their personal lives—destroyed.
I don’t think Evangelicals take the Devil seriously. We don’t see life as a battle. We blithely float here and there, mostly prayerlessly, and let the river carry us wherever it may. Then when we wash up on the rocks, we wonder what happened.
It’s not enough that we pray for ourselves. We need others to watch our backs for us, because many times we are too close to our own lives to see where we may be exposed to enemy fire.
People in ministry positions are the prime targets of the Enemy. Take down a pastor and an entire church can go down with him. I recently heard that a thriving, well-known church my wife and I visited a few years back blew up entirely after the pastor screwed up. And don’t think that doesn’t wreck a lot of bystanders, because it does. Maybe not at first, but that kind of disaster eats at people’s spiritual guts, fosters corrosive cynicism, and does enormous damage.
Really, how hard is it to pray for others in our churches, especially for those in prominent roles? Isn’t it much harder to fix the craters and wounds from shrapnel when a life blows up due to the lack of a prayer covering?
Kind of a Pentecostal term there, prayer covering. Regardless of whether or not it’s Christianese, it’s reality. When bad things happen to people, be they lost or saved, the holes in their prayer covering—if they even have a prayer covering at all—may explain everything.
I’m to the point in my life where I honestly believe that almost all of the hardship we see in life is due to a lack of prayer. Those Scriptures that don’t align with life don’t because we’re just not taking prayer as seriously as the Scriptures do.