“Why can’t I just pray porn away?”
It’s a good question! After all, we know prayer is powerful. Jesus tells us that whatever we ask in his name will be answered (John 16:23-24). And while prayer isn’t listed in the Armor of God (Ephesians 6:13-17), it is essentially our best tactic for spiritual warfare (vs. 18). When we look at the miracles in the Bible, it seems like we should be able to pray porn away.
Unfortunately, that’s usually not how it works. When we put our faith in Jesus, he takes on the penalty for our sin, including our porn use, but he doesn’t usually break its immediate power. More often, we find ourselves like Paul, begging God to remove our thorns in the flesh, only to be told that God’s grace is enough—not to remove our weakness, but in spite of it (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Still, prayer is important for finding lasting freedom from pornography. We just can’t expect a full recovery after a once-and-done prayer. Instead, we need to learn how to pray effectively against pornography.
What to Pray Against Pornography
1. The Lord’s Prayer
To learn how to pray against pornography, we first need to see what effective prayer looks like. Our first example is from Jesus himself. In Matthew 6:9-13 (CSB), he teaches his followers this prayer:
Our Father in heaven,
your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
Far from teaching these as magic words, in this prayer, Jesus taught his followers the characteristics of a good prayer. Let’s walk through them briefly.
Our Father in heaven.
We are to pray to God as his sons and daughters, not as strangers or peasants petitioning a king (even though he is also our king). Don’t underestimate the importance of this!
Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points out that even earthly fathers give their kids good gifts, providing what they need, and therefore we can trust our Heavenly Father to provide us with even better gifts (Matthew 7:9-11).
He may not give us what we ask for immediately in the form we expect, and he may discipline us when we stumble in disobedience, but we can approach him knowing that he loves us far better than even the best earthly father loves his children.
Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
One critical part of prayer is to spend time worshipping him—stating what we know to be true about him back to him.
My hunch is that this serves two purposes. One is for God, of course—he has earned our praise. But God is sufficient unto himself; he doesn’t need our praise. We are the real beneficiaries of worshipping God in prayer: we are reaffirming the truths about God to ourselves.
Our adorations also remind us of our position. “Your name be honored as holy,” for example, calls us back to the third commandment in Exodus 20:7 and should serve as a sobering reminder to ourselves: are we sullying God’s name by claiming to follow him but behaving sinfully? If I claim the label Christian and am willfully sinning through unrepentant porn use, I am smearing mud on the name of Jesus Christ.
Give us today our daily bread.
We can ask God freely to supply our needs, and he will.
It’s worth noting, though, that “our daily bread” means we’re asking God to provide for our needs, not mere desires. When it comes to our sexual temptations and porn, for example, those of us who are single may beg and plead God to provide a relationship so that, among other things, we can enjoy sex without sinning (I’ve prayed variations on that prayer many times). But God is in control of our needs, and he knows what is best for us. Sexual satisfaction is a strong urge but is not ultimately a need, and God may choose not to provide a spouse.
Still, when we pray this prayer, even as we ask God to give us what we (and others) desire, we can trust that God will supply all our needs, and if He doesn’t provide it, we can trust that he didn’t provide it for a reason.
And forgive us our debts.
Practicing repentance is vital for our recovery! It stirs up in us the godly grief that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). More than that, though, if we practice a daily habit of repentance for our specific sins, we are partnering with the Holy Spirit to identify patterns of sins and even triggers.
If we find ourselves praying each night before bed in repentance of our porn use that day, it makes us more aware of the frequency of our porn use in general, and it may help us why we use it. For example, your confessions may be along the lines of “Dear Lord, forgive me of my frustration at my boss and my porn use” one day and “Dear Lord, forgive me of my anger when my kids broke something and my porn use” the next. These prayers might indicate that one of your triggers is anger.
The trick is that your confessions should be specific. God will listen to and honor them even if they are not (the psalmists ask for cleansing from secret faults for a reason), but being specific will train you to look out for the snares that lead you to sin and avoid them in the future.
As we also have forgiven our debtors.
Most of the time, we bundle this in with the previous point, but it’s worth exploring as a separate idea. What if we did start forgiving others in our prayers?
It would get us in the habit of practicing forgiveness in general. On top of this, it may be inappropriate to forgive some things before anyone but God. For example, you probably shouldn’t walk up to your boss and tell him, “I forgive you for running a meeting really poorly yesterday, even though my frustrations made me binge on porn later.”
Forgiving people in prayer will keep us in line with the will of God, who desires us to pass on the love he has shown for us and also helps shape our own hearts and actions to show more mercy and compassion on others.
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Pray against your triggers and temptations. Pray specifically. For example, if work stress is a trigger, pray for that project to go well or for pleasant interactions with the coworker who grates on your nerves. And pray that you will be on the lookout for the ways of escape that God has promised—and for your willingness to take that escape path (1 Corinthians 10:13).
2. Praying through ACTS
The Lord’s Prayer gives us the principles we need for prayer, but sometimes praying through a specific pattern to stay focused and keep our minds from wandering.
My preferred method of prayer is ACTS, an old Sunday School acronym that stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
- Adoration covers the “Our Father” through “as it is in Heaven” from the Lord’s Prayer. Adoration is about who God is; focus your prayers around praising him for his attributes and how he saves and cleanses us.
- Confession covers “Forgive us our debts.” Pray specifically about the sins you committed that day. Take them before a holy Lord and watch him cleanse you from them.
- Thanksgiving isn’t directly covered in the Lord’s Prayer, but it’s an important aspect as well. Take time to thank God for the specific details of how he has worked in your life. Did he answer a prayer request? Did you get a pleasant surprise? Thank him as the giver of all good and perfect gifts (James 1:17).
- Supplication covers the rest of the Lord’s Prayer. Ask God to supply what you need physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. That includes both your daily bread and your “way of escape.”
3. Liturgical prayers
One of the most common types of prayers available is liturgical prayers, in which you repeat specific words, often in community. Even those of us from a non-liturgical church tradition probably know the Lord’s Prayer best as a church liturgy, for example.
The risk with liturgies is that they will devolve into “meaningless repetition” instead of personal communication with our Savior, but they can also be very helpful. For one thing, they connect us to believers across the globe and, in some cases, spanning centuries. When we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we are joining our voices with nearly 2,000 years-worth of believers. For another, they can help us put words to our struggles when we’re not sure how to pray. Finally, the origins of the word “liturgy” mean the works of the people. Modern church use draws this connection to our participation in Christ’s greater works.
If you’re looking for a liturgical prayer against pornography, we offer a Novena for Purity for Catholics. If you’re not Catholic, the good people at the Rabbit Room gave us permission to reprint “A Liturgy for One Battling a Destructive Desire” from their book of modern liturgies, Every Moment Holy. You can find that at the beginning of our free ebook Hobbies and Habits.
How to Pray Against Pornography
Sometimes the problem with praying in general, let alone against pornography, is that we have a hard time praying. Our minds wander (or at least mine does), or we simply forget. So how do we make this a regular practice?
1. Make it a daily habit
The first trick to building up our prayer lives is to set aside the same time every day to pray. One trick is to bundle it to a different activity you already do daily to reduce the stress of finding time to fit one more thing into your day. Try praying while you brush your teeth, on your commute to work, or on your lunch break. The main thing is to find a time that works for you.
2. Experiment with form
I don’t just mean praying ACTS vs. praying liturgically here, though that’s part of it. Rather, this is about knowing yourself and knowing what will help keep you focused, and using that knowledge as you pray.
For example, instead of praying silently with my eyes closed, which inevitably makes my mind wander, I write out my prayers, usually in the form of a bullet list using ACTS. The simple act of writing out my requests keeps me focused, and it also gives me a way to look back and see how God has answered my prayers (immediately or over time).
In other words, if silent prayers work for you, great! If not, try writing your prayers down, typing them out, or speaking them aloud. Find what works for you.
3. Pray with your ally
The final—and, in some ways, most obvious—way to make your prayers against pornography effective is to pray with someone, like your ally. Whenever you and your ally meet to talk through your Covenant Eyes reports, open in a brief prayer that God will guide your conversation and reveal triggers to you. Close in prayer as well! Thank God for your meeting, and pray for strength to take action on whatever you may have discussed.
In all of these, remember: the goal is not a specific form of prayer—it’s simply to find a way to communicate with our invisible God and stay in relationship with him.
Do you have any tips or tricks for praying against pornography? Share them in the comments!