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The BATTLE of the Threshold

by John Stott

Dr. Andrew Bonar, the nineteenth century Scottish minister, wrote in his journal these words:

“By the grace of God and the strength of His Holy Spirit I desire to lay down this rule: Not to speak to man until I have spoken to God; not to do anything with my hands until I have been upon my knees; not to read letters or papers until I have read something of the holy Scriptures. With me, every time of prayer, or almost every time, begins with a conflict.”

I too have found that in prayer there is a great need to resist the Devil. Is this your experience – that when your prayer-time comes around, morning or evening or mid-day, a strange disinclination to pray descends upon you? I experience this again and again. I know I ought to stop what I am doing and begin to pray, but I don’t want to. And a thousand and one innocent alternatives present themselves to my mind. There is another letter I simply must write before going to bed. There is another telephone call to make. There is another chapter in the book to read, and so on.

Why is this? You see, it is completely illogical. We know very well that when we do truly have communion with God in prayer, it is the most deeply satisfying experience that we ever have. When we penetrate into the presence of God and our spirit is in communion with Him, it is the greatest delight possible to man. I trust that each one of us can say that. Now if that is so, then the logic is, we ought to want to pray. If this thing satisfies me more than anything else, I ought to want to do it. Instead of that, I do not want to do it. I feel disinclined to do it. I do not know anything in my own experience that proves the warfare of the Devil more evidently than this strange phenomenon, that I don’t want to do the thing that satisfies me most!

I sometimes think about this pictorially. As I come to pray, God is there inviting me. He is in a garden, surrounded by a high stone wall. And there is a gate there, and I must pass through the gate into the garden, into God’s presence. But outside the gate, with drawn sword the Devil stands, to oppose every inch of the way, to stop my getting through to God.

The Devil knows much better than we do that the only way that we renew our strength is by waiting on the Lord. And he attacks our prayer-life more than anything else. Therefore before we get into the presence of God, there is very often this conflict Bonar mentioned, which I call “the battle of the threshold.” And brethren, too often we lose the battle of the threshold! For five or ten minutes it seems we cannot get through, we do not feel that we are in the presence of God, our spirit is downcast, and so we give up and go on our way. The Devil has kept us from communion with God.

Now how do we win the battle of the threshold? How do we get through? No scripture has helped me more than James 4:7-8. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” My brethren, I humbly say to you that I have proved that verse again and again. I proved it this morning. I had a spiritual battle in my bedroom. I was assaulted by the Devil, but I took my stand upon this very verse and he fled. This is a definite promise of God. We must remember that the Devil seems to be much stronger than he really is. The Devil is a defeated enemy, and a great deal of his strength is bluff. We need to call his bluff, to resist him. For then he will flee, according to God’s promise.

It is a great thing to realize as we begin to pray that this dis-inclination to pray is diabolical in its origin. The New Testament writers are so much more aware than we are of the spiritual conflict in which we are involved. I guess there are days that we go through when we never even think about the Devil. And yet we are told that these principalities and powers are what we are wrestling with. And oh, my brethren, they are seeking to keep us from praying!

Let us then take this promise, and as Scripture says, “by faith and patience inherit” it (Heb. 6:12). The way to inherit the promises of God is not only by faith but also by patience. Sometimes we have to take hold of a promise and persevere, holding on to it until we inherit it. Hold on until the Devil frees. Then, as James says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”




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That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:10