R. C. Sproul talks a little bit about the importance of prayer for combatting temptation in his book Following Christ:
The neglect of prayer is a major cause of stagnation in the Christian life. Consider the example of Peter in Luke 22:39-62. Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to pray as was his custom and told his disciples, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” The disciples fell asleep instead. The next thing Peter did was try to take on the Roman army with a sword; then he denied Christ. Peter did not pray and as a result fell into temptation. What is true of Peter is also true of all of us: we fall in private before we ever fall in public. (p. 110)
Along these lines, here are four four ways that prayer helps with temptation:
1. While you are praying, you are not sinning.
This seems patently obvious but maybe not. Many Christians don’t even think of prayer with regard to temptation; they always want the pastor to tell them what to do. Seeking the Lord’s help through prayer is certainly a good thing to do and is in line with God’s promises (e.g., Heb. 4:16).
I have thought, however, of two occasions where you might be sinning while you are praying:
(1) If you pray that God bless sin or a sinful enterprise. This one is self-explanatory.
(2) If you pray against people. This is when you pray for God to judge or punish another person or for harm to come to them. If you seek mercy for yourself you should seek it for others. If you seek judgment for others, why do you not seek them same for yourself. Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for them (Matt. 5:44-45).
2. Prayer about a specific sin or temptation brings strength and wisdom to face it.
- Prayer brings God’s strength to fight against it. Praying through the Christian armor (Eph. 6:10-20) is a good reminder of the gifts we have in Christ to fight temptation.
- Prayer brings God’s wisdom to know how to face it. James tells us (James 1:5) that if we lack wisdom, all we need do is ask God for it and he gives generously. Recognizing the heinousness of sin is a good start since that comes from a fear of the Lord and the Proverbs tell us repeatedly that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
3. Prayer about general sin and sinfulness guards against temptation and sin.
Prayer strengthens you in your faith against:
- False teaching
- Sins that seems to bind us
- Weakness in temptation
- A Tendency to stray from the Lord
Prayer also strengthens your soul for unexpected temptation. Just walking with the Lord and being in his presence strengthens you. A soldier doesn’t just train when he goes to war; he trains all the time because he never knows when he will be called to fight.
4. Prayer inclines your heart toward God.
- Prayer builds affection toward God. When we spend time in God’s presence, we learn to love being there. But it takes time to bend our mis-shapen hearts to enjoy God’s presence, Far too many of us simply give up long before we reach that point.
- Prayer replaces our affection toward ungodly things with an affection toward God and godly things. As we grow in our love for God and the things of God, we find our desire for the things of the world decreasing. God has replaced our affection for the things of the world and of the flesh with an affection for him and for godly things
I;m sure this isn’t exhaustive. Feel free to leave any additional thoughts in the comments. I’d love to see this list grow!