Lack of diligence in prayer leaves us in a vulnerable position, making us easy prey for temptation. He called the disciples, and thereby us, to constant prayer, “that [we] may not come into temptation.” Prayer is necessary to keep us spiritually alert to the weakness of our own flesh and its propensity to sin. Lehman Straus writes, “No one can both sin and pray. True prayer will prevent us from sinning, or sin will prevent us from praying.” Jesus had taught his followers to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation” (Matt. 6:13). A lifestyle of dependence upon God in prayer guards our hearts from temptation and keeps us spiritually alert rather than lying in slumber, vulnerable to sin’s allure.
The prophet Samuel recognized prayer as part of the will of God. When the people of Israel realized the sinfulness of their demand for a human king in the place of God’s sovereign rule, they begged Samuel to intercede for them: “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king” (1 Sam. 12:19). In response, Samuel exhorted them to return to God lest they again turn away to futile things. However, he also understood his own personal responsibility to continue to pray for them: “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way” (v. 23). The Hebrew word translated “ceasing” is hadal, which carries the meaning of stopping, neglecting, or refraining from doing something. Though the people of Israel behaved rebelliously, their faithful prophet refused to neglect prayer on their behalf. He refused to give up on them. Israel had clearly stepped out of the will of God, but Samuel was determined that he would not do the same. Instead, he recommitted himself to pray for his people as part of his own obedience to God.
It is critical for us to recognize this truth: Samuel called prayerlessness sin. How many of us are willing to do the same? Oh, we feel badly when our prayer lives become stagnant or virtually nonexistent. But do we call our lack of prayer sin and repent of it as a form of independence from God? We are ready to admit, sometimes even with a degree of spiritual pride, that we need others to pray for us because “we are struggling in our prayer lives.” But who will dare to stand in church and publicly declare, “I must confess to you my sin of prayerlessness. I need you to pray for me to truly repent of this sin. Please hold me accountable to my renewed commitment to a lifestyle of God-dependent prayer”? Prayerlessness is sin, as is the self-sufficient heart attitude of independence that feeds it.