Praying to the Devil

Have you ever prayed to the devil? Before you recoil in shock and horror, let me explain what I mean. We are all familiar with the prayer the pharisee prayed to himself in the parable of the pharisee and the publican, Luke 18.9-14, and most of us would admit, a little shamefacedly, to having had moments when we allowed a touch of smugness to infect us. We may not have lauded our own virtue but we have condemned someone else’s failure to live up to our expectations or cried ‘hypocrite’ when they acted in ways we disapproved. Praying to the devil is much worse than that, but it is dangerously easy to slip into if we do not hold ourselves in check. Only this morning we received a prayer request which was essentially a calling down of curses on another and willing their death. I don’t think the person who sent the request had any idea of the spiritual danger to which they were exposing themself. However hurt or angry we are, however incensed by someone else’s conduct, we must not allow our feelings to open us up to spiritual harm. Nonsense? Let’s see.

Whenever someone ‘prays’ with anger and hostility, wishing ill to another, they are praying to the devil. People whose marriages have broken up sometimes call down curses on their spouse’s new partner rather than praying for conversion of heart and an end to the adulterous relationship. Or people inveigh against someone they dislike or think evil in terms that are themselves evil. If this is allowed to go on, it becomes a prayer to the devil. All prayer is powerful but this kind acts as a concentrator of negative feeling. It is one thing to tell the Lord our distress and anger (and maybe get cross with him), quite another to demand he punish or hurt someone we regard as the cause of our unhappiness. That is the one kind of prayer that isn’t going to please the Lord; but it will please the devil very much indeed. If we are sufficiently filled with bitter zeal, we may think that is all right. We don’t care whether God or the devil hears our prayer so long as x suffers. What we forget is that when we open ourselves up to evil, we open ourselves up to something we cannot control, something that does not desire our well-being but our destruction. In the end, we are even more harmed than the one we want to afflict.

You will notice I have carefully avoided saying who or what the devil is, and that is important. It is a great mistake to think that sin and evil are outmoded notions, the product of a febrile imagination; it is equally a great mistake to think we have got evil ‘taped,’ so to say. It is precisely because we haven’t got evil ‘taped’ that we succumb to its allure.

If we fall into the habit of praying to the devil our lives will change as surely as they do when we pray to God. Instead of seeing the good in others, we will see only the bad. Instead of being generous, we will become mean and grasping. We certainly won’t be very nice to know. Ultimately, I think that matters more than we may be ready to concede when we are consumed with anger. People often quote the tag lex orandi, lex credendi, meaning ‘as we pray (or worship), so we believe’; it actually has a third part, lex vivendi, meaning ‘so we live’. Praying to the devil is what we might call a whole life choice — only it isn’t life at all, it’s death. The next time we are furious about someone or something, we might usefully remember that.

Additional Note
Several people have  commented on the difficulty they have with the cursing psalms. I wrote about them here. The two posts go together.

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8 thoughts on “Praying to the Devil”

  1. I quite see what you mean, and this is a powerful post – but I do (especially given the warring Middle East) find the more vitriolic of the psalms hard to read nonetheless.
    The Roman office redacts some verses and it’s OK, in general, to interiorise the vicious verses. I fully take your point about praying for a hurtful outcome, but I still struggle with the ways in which the psalms put it all out there.

    • I see your point, but we pray the whole psalter every week, cursing psalms included, and I find I have no difficulty with that because I am well aware of the anger and hostility in me that must be healed; and the only way of healing it is to take it to Christ, who is always the chief pray-er of the psalms. I think that’s quite different from the deliberate cursing of another that some use our prayerline for. That isn’t a prayer for healing or acknowledgement of guilt, it’s a highly-focused prayer of destruction.

  2. “Prayer the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
    God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
    The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
    The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;”

    I take George Herbert’s words seriously. I believe God already knows about my angry moods and helps me. The Psalms are always great to read too.

  3. This post has been yet another very ‘useful’ one, with its recall, too, of your post from 2013. Praying the psalms can indeed shine light on the dark places.

    Who can detect all his errors?
    From hidden faults acquit me.

    (Delicta quis intelligit? ab occultis meis munda me)

  4. Thank you, Sister, for this very helpful post which puts a lot into perspective for me. I’ve found that when angry, hurt, feel taken advantage of, it’s been most productive to bring my feelings and issues to God with “I” centered prayer rather than raging against the other person or situation. I think in this soul baring honesty I’m most open to God’s healing and only then can pray with sincerity for the other person.

    I hadn’t ever thought of the possibility I might have been praying to the devil, but then evil is that cunning, isn’t it, sidling up to us and inviting us to join in?

      • Thank you for your blessing, Sister C, though I admit there’s nothing heroic about my faithfulness or honesty, rather I identify closely with St. Peter who asked “To whom shall we go Lord? You have the words of eternal life.” It would be far easier to take the easy way out in most situations but I know it wouldn’t end well. Trapped by Grace, nothing else but to move forward trusting in God’s mercy.

        I would also like to mention that I’m still reading my assigned Lenten book, the Letter to the Hebrews. I’ve been taken with Chapters 12 and 13, the notion of our being “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”. It’s very encouraging to be reminded we don’t journey alone and that there’s no longer a delineation of before or after concerning death, but that in living in communion with Jesus we have much more to look forward to. All the more reason to avoid praying to the Devil!

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