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Robert Henderson: "Prayer is Spiritual Conflict"

Robert Henderson

Most people I know believe intensely in prayer. Even those who would not consider themselves Christians actually believe in prayer—especially in times of trouble, trauma and tribulation. Yet, even with this strong belief in prayer there is still a great deal of frustration concerning how it operates and what we need to do to see our prayers answered. We have all found this frustration at the lack of answers to our prayers to be real and at times confusing.

Some, in an attempt to put a positive spin on the whole issue of God’s response to it, have said that God answers all prayers. Sometimes His answer is ‘Yes’, and we get what we are petitioning Him for. Sometimes His answer is ‘No’, because He knows better than we do what we need. At other times, His answer is ‘Wait’, because it is a timing issue. As much as I believe that this is at times correct, I believe it to be too trite and simple an answer. I have watched people pray prayers that I knew were in agreement with God’s will, heart and timing, and yet the desired answer did not come. I watched these unanswered prayers result in relationships being destroyed, businesses going under and even premature deaths occurring. Devastating consequences took place because there appeared to be no answer from Heaven.

So what is the problem, or better yet what is the solution? Why does Heaven sometimes remain silent when we pray from the earnestness of our hearts? I believe that the Lord has unveiled, at the very least, a partial answer to this dilemma. The answer is found in where the spiritual activity called prayer is actually taking place.

Prayer, at its very core, is where we insert ourselves into a spiritual conflict. Prayer is not just an asking or petitioning of God for some things. When we pray, we engage the Lord Himself, but we are also engaging powers of darkness that want to resist us in our prayer activity. We see this in the book of Daniel. Daniel is interceding, asking God for understanding regarding the Scriptures. Satan does not want this knowledge released to Daniel and high powers of darkness seek to stop him receiving the answer to his prayers. After 21 days, Daniel finally receives the answer to his prayer and also gains understanding of why the answer took so long to come through. Daniel 10:12-14.

Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia. Now I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision refers to many days yet to come” (Daniel 10:12-14).

Daniel’s prayer engaged God but also engaged the devil and his forces. My point is simply that prayer is almost always about a conflict. Daniel’s words stirred Heaven, but also stirred up hell. When we pray we are entering a conflict. We are moving the powers of heaven for God’s kingdom will to be done, but we are also engaging the forces of darkness that are resisting that will from being done. This is the power of our words that are directed toward the Lord.

The Apostle Paul talks about this conflict in many of his writings. In 1 Corinthians 9:26 Paul speaks of “one who beats the air” but doesn’t land the blows. 

Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air (1 Corinthians 9:26).

Paul says he doesn’t run with uncertainty, yet we certainly have. We participate in spiritual activities wondering if any of it is doing anything in the unseen realm. He then goes on to say that he doesn’t ght as one who beats the air. This is a reference to ‘shadow boxing’. Shadow boxing is a training method to build stamina and perfect the art of punching. Shadow boxing is for the gym, for training. It is not something you do in the ring with a real opponent opposite you! When there is a real opponent, real blows need to be landed and damage done to the adversary that is trying to knock you out. If you shadow box in a real match, you will simply wear yourself out and not do any real damage to your opponent. You can be sure he will take advantage of your weakened position, knock you out and win the match.

I speak about this from experience. I was a Junior High student in Texas, and our PE teacher decided that we would have a boxing lesson. I remember the mats being put down and each student taking his turn against an opponent on the mats. I found myself matched up against one of the worst athletes in the school. I was an average athlete, definitely better than my opponent. (That’s my assessment of it anyway and I’m sticking to it.) We took our position on the mats, facing each other with our gloves in their right position, as we had been instructed, and we began to punch. I don’t really remember what happened, other than as I punched, I threw a wild ‘haymaker’ of a punch that left my jaw completely exposed. My opponent (the non- athlete) saw it and delivered a left hook that landed perfectly. The next thing I knew, I was lying on my back with all the other guys commenting very vocally on what had just happened to me (the better athlete). I was extremely embarrassed and ashamed. This happened because I was wild in my boxing approach and I didn’t know how to land my blows.

This is what many Christians are experiencing. They are throwing punch after punch at an unseen opponent, but landing none of them. The problem is that we are discouraged, faint-hearted and would like to just quit. We are wearing ourselves out. But please don’t quit. There are answers to the whole realm of unanswered prayers. Let me give you a clue concerning this mystery: 

If we are to get unanswered prayers answered, we must first rightly discern where the conflict is in which we find ourselves. Most teachers on prayer and spiritual warfare teach that we are on a battle field. I have come to believe deeply that, at the least, initially our prayers are in the courtroom of Heaven and we need to learn how to operate there if we are to get answers released and unlocked.

The protocol of a battle field will not work in a courtroom and neither will the protocol of a courtroom work on a battle field. These are two different arenas and we must discover where we are in prayer if we are to be effective. When we come off the battle field and get into the courtroom and learn to function there, verdicts come out of the realms of God’s throne that put in place the cry of our hearts. We must know how to be a part of the legal process of Heaven that grants God the legal right to fulfill His passion on our behalf and in the Earth.

- Robert Henderson, author of Operating in the Courts of Heaven


  • I so needed that, as I fought for my son’s life, the battle was huge, the atmosphere was crazy, but the outcome, the eternal destination of my son’s life was at stake, Gods presence met us in that room.

    Debbie on
  • This word really helped me.
    archie robinson on
  • Thank you for this wonderful outlet, and for the wisdom of Robert Henderson one of my favorite wisdom sources.

    Rosemarie Newton, JD, PhD on

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