Pray at All Times

Praying at all times in the Spirit…
Ephesians 6:18 ESV

Paul begins his discussion on prayer in verse 18, and within this verse, we find four all statements made about prayer. So we will divide our study and view prayer through the lens of these four declarations on prayer.

The apostle first tells us to pray at all times in the Spirit.

It is worth noting that there is never an inappropriate time to pray. That may be incredibly obvious, but even so, I think it is still worth saying. Prayer is always appropriate.

After all, Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing.

Wait a minute.

If ceasing means to stop, does this mean that we are supposed to pray continuously throughout the day? If so, how often does Paul intend? Every hour? Every minute? Every second?

How are we supposed to pray without ceasing?

Here is my suggestion at what Paul means: our entire day should be prayerful, though not always with words. Remember for a second what prayer is: communion, or communication, with God. Though we may not always use words, living our lives in fellowship and communion with God is living prayerfully.

The Bible frequently calls our lives with Christ a walk with Jesus, so perhaps walking is a helpful metaphor to use here as well. When I am walking somewhere with my wife, our conversations tend to be numerous but not necessarily constant. Even if there is a moment of silence, we are still together; we haven’t left one another’s presence.

I think Paul desires for us to have this kind of attitude of prayer throughout each day. Praying at all times means living our lives in constant fellowship and communion with God, and like walk with a friend, verbal communication will be frequent but not necessarily constant.

How then do we live prayerful lives?

Praying in the morning tends to be immensely helpful, as it sets the pattern for the rest of the day. Morning prayer is not a requirement, but it is a wise discipline. It doesn’t have to be anything lengthy or formal, just begin the day with prayer. Is there really a better way of beginning our day than by immediately coming to our loving Father in prayer?

We also need to address the final three words of our present phrase: in the Spirit.

To your disappoint or relief, please note that Paul is NOT describing the need to speak in tongues here.

In Romans 8, Paul describes the Holy Spirit’s role in prayer as being the One who enables us to call God our Father (8:15). The Holy Spirit guarantees us that we are children of God, and it is only by His strength that our prayers are able to reach the throne room of God.

This means that we could very much call prayer an act of the Trinity. We pray to the Father. The Spirit lifts our prayers into the presence of God. And the Father hears them as the prayers of His children only through the mediation of Jesus Christ.

In this way, true Christian prayer cannot be made outside of the Holy Spirit. We cannot come to God as our Father without the continuous power of the Spirit. If we do not pray with the Spirit at all times, it is only because we do not have the Spirit. Prayer in the Spirit is the regular, but powerful, prayer of a Christian.

Advertisements

Prayer as Warfare

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:12 ESV

In his book, Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper dedicates the second chapter to discussing the role of prayer in missions. He opens up the chapter like this:

Life is war. That’s not all it is. But it always that. Our weakness in prayer is owing largely to our neglect of this truth. Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief. It is not surprising that prayer malfunctions when we try to make it a domestic intercom to call upstairs for more comforts in the den. God has given us prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie so that we can call headquarters for everything we need as the kingdom of Christ advances in the world. Prayer gives us the significance of frontline forces and gives God the glory of a limitless Provider. The one who gives the power gets the glory. Thus, prayer safeguards the supremacy of God in missions while linking us with endless grace for every need.

Verses 10-17 give us the necessary context for verse 18, so it is important that we spend at least a moment discussing them. In a nutshell, Ephesians is primarily about how individual Christians come together to glorify God as the Church, and throughout the letter, we find how the Church ought to pray, how we ought to worship, and various other things. Within these verses, Paul teaches us how to fight, how to wage spiritual warfare.

In discussing spiritual warfare, we must be careful to avoid two equally damaging extremes.

On one end, we have (typically) charismatic Christians who can often make spiritual warfare a de facto primary doctrine. They can become obsessed with defeating Satan in Jesus’ name, and often even speak to Satan directly in order to rebuke him.

But you also have less charismatic denominations that err to the opposite extreme of rarely, if ever, mentioning spiritual warfare. We talk about of sin and struggles, but we don’t talk about Satan. We let God deal with him. Both extremes are harmful. Neglecting and making it the centerpiece of our walk with Christ are equally damaging practices.

This passage calls us, as followers of Christ, to war. We cannot neglect this truth. We are in the midst of a battle with stakes that are higher than any earthly war ever waged. Although all war is serious and devastating, World War II stands apart from others. The Nazis, armed with heinous ideals and brutal death camps, are difficult to rival when imagining the epitome of evil in the world. Thus, in many ways, World War II was a fight for the world’s soul. In that battle against evil, millions of soldiers lost limbs and millions more lost their lives.

Yet as grisly as that war’s spectacle was, it pales in comparison to the stakes of this war. In this war, people lose not merely their lives but their eternity. Victims of this war will spend an eternity cast out of God’s presence and under the outpouring of His wrath.

Christ came to bring His kingdom to earth. Historically, kingdoms often find themselves warring against other kingdoms, and Jesus’ kingdom is no different. All of creation falls under the realm of one of two kingdoms: the kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness. There is no neutral ground. We are either soldiers for God or for the enemy.

This means that making disciples is spiritual warfare. If we are each a member of either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness, then expanding God’s kingdom means bringing people out of darkness into light. Making disciples, the mission of each Christian and church, is also God’s strategy for waging war.

It is upon this thought that Paul launches into the subject of prayer. The full armor of God is necessary, but prayer is the force that makes the armor usable.

Without prayer, faith is not our shield.

Without prayer, the readiness of the gospel does not gird our feet like shoes.

Without prayer, we cannot properly wield the Word of God as a sword.

If we strip prayer out of its warfare context, we risk turning it into something that is biblically unrecognizable.

Prayer | Ephesians 6:18-20

Praying at all times in the Spirit,
with all prayer and supplication.
To that end,
keep alert with all perseverance,
making supplication for all the saints,
and also for me,
that words may be given to me
in opening my mouth boldly
to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,
for which I am an ambassador in chains,
that I may declare it boldly,
as I ought to speak.

Ephesians 6:18-20 ESV

Prayer is important, far more important than we almost ever realize.

Consider for a moment what prayer is: communication with God.

Which God, you might ask?

The God Who is Genesis 1 created stars, galaxies, and quasars (whatever those things are) simply by speaking them into existence.

Prayer is the act of speaking with THAT God.

That alone should be enough to convince us of prayer’s importance, yet the Bible doesn’t stop there. It tells us that God originally created humans to live with Him in perfect harmony, but we messed the whole thing up by disobeying God’s command, by sinning. Our sin not only corrupted the world with pain and death; it also severed our relationship with God. We became imperfect and could, therefore, never more commune with our perfect God.

Graciously, God did not end the story there. 2000 years ago, God became a man named Jesus. As fully human and fully God, Jesus lived a completely sinless life and died an entirely undeserved death, and both were for our sake. He lived the life we were supposed to live and died the death we were supposed to die. Jesus did this as a substitute for us, so that our relationship with God is no longer based on our sinful actions but on Jesus’ perfect obedience.

Because we trust in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we are now able to have a fully restored relationship with God. We can only communicate with God again because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

What does this all have to do with prayer?

If prayer is communicating with God, then prayer is important because Jesus died so that we can pray to God the Father. The privilege of praying to God as our Father was purchased for us by the blood of Christ.

In this section, we will study Paul’s words to the Ephesians on waging spiritual warfare and learn that prayer is essential for combating Satan and making disciples.

PRAYER AS WARFARE

In his book, Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper dedicates the second chapter to discussing the role of prayer in missions. He opens up the chapter like this:

Life is war. That’s not all it is. But it always that. Our weakness in prayer is owing largely to our neglect of this truth. Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief. It is not surprising that prayer malfunctions when we try to make it a domestic intercom to call upstairs for more comforts in the den. God has given us prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie so that we can call headquarters for everything we need as the kingdom of Christ advances in the world. Prayer gives us the significance of frontline forces and gives God the glory of a limitless Provider. The one who gives the power gets the glory. Thus, prayer safeguards the supremacy of God in missions while linking us with endless grace for every need.

Verses 10-17 give us the necessary context for verse 18, so it is important that we spend at least a moment discussing them. In a nutshell, Ephesians is primarily about how individual Christians come together to glorify God as the Church, and throughout the letter, we find how the Church ought to pray, how we ought to worship, and various other things. Within these verses, Paul teaches us how to wage spiritual warfare.

In discussing spiritual warfare, we must be careful to avoid two equally damaging extremes. On one end, we have Christians who can often make spiritual warfare a de facto primary doctrine. They can become obsessed with defeating Satan in Jesus’ name, and even speak to Satan directly in order to rebuke him. But you also have other groups of Christians that err to the opposite extreme of rarely, if ever, mentioning spiritual warfare. They talk about of sin and struggles, but they never talk about Satan. They let God deal with him. Both extremes are harmful. Both neglecting and making it the centerpiece of our walk with Christ are equally damaging practices.

This passage calls us, as followers of Christ, to war. We cannot neglect this truth. We are in the midst of a battle with stakes that are higher than any earthly war ever waged. Although all war is serious and devastating, World War II stands apart from others. The Nazis, armed with heinous ideals and brutal death camps, are difficult to rival when imagining the epitome of evil in the world. Thus, in many ways, World War II was a fight for the world’s soul. In that battle against evil, millions of soldiers lost limbs and millions more lost their lives.

Yet as grisly as that war’s spectacle was, it pales in comparison to the stakes of this war. In this war, people lose not merely their lives but their eternity. Victims of this war will spend an eternity cast out of God’s presence and under the outpouring of His wrath.

Christ came to bring His kingdom to earth. Historically, kingdoms often find themselves warring against other kingdoms, and Jesus’ kingdom is no different. All of creation falls under the realm of one of two kingdoms: the kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness. There is no neutral ground. We are either soldiers for God or for the enemy.

This means that making disciples is spiritual warfare. If we are each a member of either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness, then expanding God’s kingdom means bringing people out of darkness into light. Making disciples, the mission of each Christian and church, is also God’s strategy for waging war.

It is upon this thought that Paul launches into the subject of prayer. The full armor of God is necessary, but prayer is the force that makes the armor usable. Without prayer, faith is not our shield. Without prayer, the readiness of the gospel does not gird our feet like shoes. Without prayer, we cannot properly wield the Word of God as a sword. If we strip prayer out of its warfare context, we risk turning it into something that is biblically unrecognizable.

PRAY AT ALL TIMES

Paul begins his discussion on prayer in verse 18, and within this verse, we find four all statements made about prayer. So we will divide our study and view prayer through the lens of these four declarations.

The apostle first tells us to pray at all times in the Spirit.

It is worth noting that there is never an inappropriate time to pray. That may be incredibly obvious, but even so, I think it is still worth saying. Prayer is always appropriate. After all, Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing.

Wait a minute.

If ceasing truly means to stop, does this mean that we are supposed to pray continuously throughout the day? If so, how often does Paul intend? Every hour? Every minute? Every second? How are we supposed to pray without ceasing at all times?!

Here is my suggestion at what Paul means: our entire day should be prayerful, though not necessarily with words. Remember for a second what prayer is: communion, or communication, with God. Though we may not always use words, living our lives in fellowship and communion with God is living prayerfully.

The Bible frequently calls our lives with Christ a walk with Jesus, so perhaps walking is a helpful metaphor to use here as well. When I am walking somewhere with my wife, our conversations tend to be numerous but not necessarily constant. Even if there is a moment of silence, we are still together; we haven’t left one another’s presence.

I think Paul desires for us to have this kind of attitude of prayer throughout each day. Praying at all times means living our lives in constant fellowship and communion with God, and like walking with a friend, verbal communication will be frequent but not necessarily constant.

How then do we live prayerful lives?

Praying in the morning tends to be immensely helpful. Morning prayer is not necessary, but it is wise. It doesn’t have to be anything lengthy, just begin the day with prayer. Is there really a better way of beginning our day than by immediately coming into the presence of our loving Father?

We also need to address the final three words of our present phrase: “in the Spirit.” Rest assured that Paul is not describing the need to speak in tongues or anything like that. In Romans 8, Paul describes the Holy Spirit’s role in prayer as being the One who enables us to call God our Father (8:15). The Holy Spirit guarantees us that we are children of God, and it is only by His strength that our prayers are able to reach the throne room of God.

This means that we could very much call prayer an act of the Trinity. We pray to the Father. The Spirit lifts our prayers into the presence of God. And the Father hears them as the prayers of His children only through the mediation of Jesus Christ.

In this way, true Christian prayer cannot be made outside of the Holy Spirit. We cannot come to God as our Father without the continuous power of the Spirit. If we do not pray with the Spirit at all times, it is only because we do not have the Spirit. Prayer in the Spirit is the regular, but powerful, prayer of a Christian.

PRAY WITH ALL PRAYER

Paul’s next ALL statement is that we should pray with all prayer and supplication. Since supplication is a particular type of prayer, I believe that Paul means to use various kinds of prayer whenever we pray, with a special focus on supplication. Fortunately, throughout the Scripture, the authors display and model for us the multifaceted nature of prayer. Nowhere is this better seen than in the Psalms, which are themselves God-breathed song-prayers. Thus, I will briefly touch upon a few of the main types of prayer and then provide a list of Psalms that incorporate that type of prayer.

ADORATION

Adoration isn’t used much outside of saying that kittens are adorable, but biblically adoration is a great word to describe our worship of God. Adoration simply means to deeply love and respect someone or something in a worshipful way.

We worship and adore God by loving Him deeply, but in order to do this, we must first know who God is.

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him how to pray, Jesus gave them the Lord’s Prayer as a model for them to use. In this prayer, He taught His disciples to begin praying by focusing upon God.

Here are a few characteristics of God that can be seen within the Lord’s Prayer:

  • God is our Father, which means like a father, He loves us, wants what is best for us, and is willing to discipline us as needed.
  • God is heavenly, which means He is not physical nor living on earth.
  • God’s name is holy. Holiness means unique, set apart, distinct, or other. This means that God’s name is completely unlike any other name in all of creation.
  • God has a kingdom that is coming; therefore, God is also a king.
  • God’s will is done in heaven, and it will also be done on earth, which means that God is sovereign and in control.
  • We can ask God to provide for our needs, like having food to eat, which means that He loves us and cares for us.
  • We can ask God for forgiveness, which means that He is ready and willing to forgive us.
  • We can ask God to keep us from evil and temptation, which means that He is able to help us overcome our sins.

Notice that Jesus spends the first half of the Lord’s Prayer describing God and praying for His will to be done. Jesus worshiped God before He asked God for anything.

Jesus knew that prayer is not about our desires but about submitting ourselves to His will. God is not a genie, granting us our wishes. He is the Creator of everything who will do whatever He wills.

The best way to adore God in prayer and know His character is by reading the Bible, which is how God has revealed Himself to us. The Psalms in particular are filled with prayers of adoration, and there are dozens of small ones in the New Testament called doxologies.

Psalms of Adoration

Psalm 8, 19, 33, 34, 103, 109, 145

New Testament doxologies: Romans 8:38-39; 11:33, 36; 15:5-6; 15:13; Ephesians 3:20-21; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15-16; Hebrews 13:20-21; 2 Peter 3:18; Jude 24-25; Revelation 1:5-6; 5:12-13; 7:12; 22:20-21

CONFESSION

Because confession is the pleading guilty to our sins before God, confession cannot be properly understood without first knowing what sin is.

The Bible gives a clear definition of sin in 1 John 3:4, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.”

Of course, John is not merely referring to city, state, or country laws; rather, he is talking about God’s laws, which are summed up nicely in the Ten Commandments.

But the problem does not end with simply being guilty of sin. In Isaiah 59:2, the prophet describes how our sins separate us from God: “But your iniquities [sins] have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

Notice how frightening is that last part: our sin stops God from listening to us!

We broke God’s laws, so we rightfully deserve His punishment and to be cut off from any relationship we might have had with Him.

But by the grace of God, even though sin earns us eternal separation from God and left us incapable of doing enough good works to fix it, Jesus Christ came to offer eternal life with God as a free gift instead.

Of course, believing the good news that Jesus came to save us from our sins does not mean that we stop sinning.

We continue to break God’s laws on a daily basis, and the gospel is not a get-out-of-hell-free card that we believe in once, continue to live in sin, and still go to heaven when we die.

The Bible calls us to continually kill the sin in our lives and to admit the sins we commit to God in prayer. This is called repentance.

When we repent, we confess our disobedience to God and strive to obey Him from now on.

Confessing our sins in repentance to God is so important that John uses it as a test to see if we are truly Christians: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10)

Followers of Christ confess and repent of their sins to God, knowing that He will graciously forgive them because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.

Psalms of Confession

Psalms 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, & 143

 

THANKSGIVING

Most Christians probably agree that we should give thanks to God in our prayers, but why is that? By journeying through a few texts of Scripture, we should be able to get a brief look at what thanksgiving is and isn’t, and why it’s important.

The story of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19 is one of the most popular in the Gospels because of its lesson on thanksgiving.

Of the ten, only one returned to thank Jesus, which Christ equates with giving praise to God. Because they did not give thanks, they failed to praise God for healing them.

Some people have wondered how the other nine lepers could be so ungrateful, but I imagine that they were indeed very grateful.

Because it is a highly contagious skin disease, people with leprosy were exiled from normal society and forced to live in groups with other lepers. They were completely cut off from their friends and family, forced to die a slow death alone.

How could they not be grateful for being cured!

But Jesus did not fault them for being ungrateful; He faulted them for not giving thanks.

Ultimately, gratitude is feeling and giving thanks is an action.

Jesus never questioned how grateful the other nine felt. He only remarked that they did not give praise to God through giving thanks.

We, therefore, must understand first of all that thanksgiving is not the feeling of gratitude. If thanksgiving is not spoken, then we have not truly given thanks.

If Jesus equated giving thanks to praising God, why should we give thanks to God?

James gives us a pretty great answer to this question: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17-18)

Notice James’ wording: EVERY GOOD GIFT comes from the Father.

All of the good things in this world come from God.

As the Creator, He has given us the ground we stand on, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. Rain and sunshine, friends and family, meat and fruit, dogs and cats, everything comes from Him.

As our Savior, God declared His love for us by dying on a cross for our sins, allowing us to be called the sons and daughters of God.

This is why Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Notice that Paul views thanksgiving as so important that he calls it the will of God for us.

God’s will for your life is for you to give thanks in all circumstances.

Because God has given us countless good gifts, we ALWAYS have something to give thanks for. There is no circumstance in life where we cannot thank God for something He has done for us.

Psalms of Thanksgiving

Psalm 27, 37, 42, 56, 100, 117, 136, 139, 145

SUPPLICATION

Supplication isn’t exactly the kind of word that comes up in everyday conversation, but even though it’s an uncommon word, supplication is probably the most common type of prayers that we pray.

Supplication simply means to make a request or petition, so praying a prayer of supplication is asking God to meet our needs or wants.

It can be tempting to feel uneasy about making requests to God after having discussed confessing our sins to Him, adoring Him in worship, and thanking Him everything. We might wonder why we should bother God with our small needs.

Fortunately, bringing our requests to God isn’t only something we are invited to do, we are commanded to do it: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Paul commanded the Philippians not to be anxious but to bring their request to God instead.

Let’s think through this verse together for a bit.

What does it mean to be anxious, and why does Paul command us to pray instead?

Anxiety is excessive worry about something.

The Bible repeatedly tells us to trust God by taking our needs to Him instead of being anxious.

What kind of requests does Paul urge us to bring to God?

The answer is all of them. Paul commands us to bring all of our needs to Him in prayer. God as our Father invites us to bring everything to Him, no matter how small.

Before you get too crazy about bringing God your requests, it is important to remember that God is not a genie. He does not exist to grant our wishes, and He makes no promises about giving us everything we want.

Remember the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13. Before Jesus taught His disciples to pray for their needs, He told them to pray for God’s will to be done.

God’s will often doesn’t match our own, which can lead to God not answering our prayer (or really just telling us no).  This is ultimately for the best because God’s will is better than our will. God may deny our requests because what we want would actually be bad for us.

Can you think of anything that you wanted in the past but now know that it was best not to have?

We think we know what we need, but God actually knows what we need. It’s important for us to trust that He knows best when we bring our requests to God.

Psalms of Supplication

Psalm 4, 5, 25, 28, 54, 56, 77, 106, 130, 141

LAMENTATION

If you noticed, I just described a popular acronym for prayer, ACTS. While adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication are certainly biblically mandated types of prayer, we must take care to understand that they do not encompass every form of prayer. In fact, there is one more type of prayer that often gets neglected, but it highly prevalent throughout the Scriptures: lamentations.

Praying a lamentation, or lamenting, is a form of bringing our trouble, sorrow, or suffering before the Lord. Too often, we feel uncomfortable about praying our sorrows or complaints to God for fear of being disrespectful. While fear of disrespecting God is healthy, God is also big enough to handle our questioning, and He is loving us to listen to our pain and confusion. As with all prayer, lamentations are best guided by Scripture, which help prevent us from praying unbiblical prayers.

Psalms of Lamentation

Psalm 12, 13, 44, 74, 85, 90, 137

Also, there is a book of the Bible called Lamentations that is composed of five prayers of lament.

PRAY WITH ALL PERSEVERANCE

Third, Paul tells us to pray with all perseverance and alertness. Alertness means to stay awake and sober, and perseverance means to be constant despite difficulties.

Prayer is hard.

We often read the story of the disciples in Gethsemane with frustration. They were present with Jesus right before His crucifixion, and yet they couldn’t stay awake praying. They kept falling asleep. We get frustrated with them, but with each year of walking with the Lord, I realize more and more how similar to the disciples I am. Too often I pray to the Lord from my bed, and I am fast asleep before I ever move past praying for God’s will in the Lord’s Prayer.

Staying awake and persevering in prayer are difficult tasks.

Part of the reason for prayer’s difficulty is that prayer is a humbling work. Dying to our pride and selfishness is often the most painful aspect of sanctification, and prayer forces us to die to self. When we truly pray to God, we must first acknowledge that He is alone is God, not us. We must recognize Him as holding all strength and power, while we are frail and needy.

We must be vigilant, therefore, not to treat prayer as an act of desperation. As Christians, we should never use the phrase, “All we can do now is pray.” If we truly believe that God is sovereign and supreme, prayer should never be our final option! Prayer should always be the first thing we do, since we know that God desires for us to bring everything to Him in prayer. Humbling ourselves by coming before God is a difficult thing, but we must persevere in it nevertheless.

Paul urged the Colossians toward the same goal of prayer: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (4:2). Arguably the greatest enemy of prayer is concentration—or more accurately, the lack thereof. The issue of concentrating on prayer has always been an issue of concern, but it has never been so deadly as it is today. With the advent of the smart phone, modern society is constantly connected to the world via the internet. Much of today’s media content is now broken in bitesized chunks, so that we can quickly move onto the next item of information. If we are not careful, this trend can leave us with a goldfish-sized attention span. This makes the call to alert and persevering prayer more important now than ever.

May we give the best of ourselves and our mental faculties to prayer!

PRAY FOR ALL SAINTS

The final ALL statement of Paul is for us to make supplication for all saints.

We have already seen that supplication means to bring our requests before God, but who are the saints? The word saints means holy ones, which refers to all Christians. Peter calls us in his letter a holy nation and a people for God’s own possession. (1 Peter 2:9) As followers of Christ, we have each been bought with the precious blood of Christ by the Holy One, God. Therefore, since He has purchased our freedom from sin, we now belong exclusively to Him. We are holy because we belong to God. We are no longer common; we are uniquely reserved for the purposes of God.

We should, therefore, pray for believers of our own congregation, but it is also necessary to pray for ALL saints. Our prayer radius is often far too small. We should gladly pray for the other churches within our city, even those belonging to a different denomination! We should fervently pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout our state, throughout our country, and across the world. We must make supplication for all saints.

Unfortunately, our minds tend to fixate on prayer requests whenever we think about praying for other Christians. We pray for sickness, accidents, hospital visits, surgeries, job losses, lost pets, grieving hearts, broken hearts, and much more. Let me emphasize now: it is good to pray for those things. God has commanded us to bring everything to Him in prayer; therefore, we should pray for each other about physical needs and sufferings. However, it is not good for us to ONLY pray for our fellow Christians about their physical needs. I think it is Paul Washer who frequently discusses the tragedy of Christians that only ever pray to keep other Christians out of heaven but rarely pray to keep sinners out of hell.

In verses 19-20, Paul informs the Ephesians what he most desires them to pray for him: boldness and words to proclaim the gospel. Keep in mind the high likelihood of the apostle writing this letter from prison and the great sufferings that Paul endured throughout his ministry. Paul certainly did not lack physical prayer requests, but he doesn’t ask for any of them. Instead, Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for words and boldness to faithfully proclaim the gospel.

Could the reason many of us are weak in evangelism correspond with our lack of prayer for about evangelism? Think about it. Paul was asking for boldness. This was the same Paul who was stoned nearly to death, but then immediately went back into the city (Acts 14). This is the same Paul who was miraculously broken out of prison by God in Philippi alongside Silas (Acts 16). This is the same Paul who received 39 lashes five times, was beaten with rods three times, was shipwrecked three times, and boldly faced crowds of people that wanted him dead (2 Corinthians 11). When we look at everything that Paul did, he sometimes looks more like a superhero than an actual person, but still he asks the Ephesians to pray for him to be bold.

If Paul felt the necessity of prayer in order to boldly speak the gospel, why do we so often expect to share the gospel without first praying for words and boldness? This is a failure to use prayer as the weapon it is, and it can lead to us thinking that prayer is ineffective. Here is what John Piper has to say about how we can use prayer incorrectly:

Probably the number one reason prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that we try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for. Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission. It is as though the field commander (Jesus) called in the troops, gave them a crucial mission (go and bear fruit), handed each of them a personal transmitter coded to the frequency of the General’s head-quarters, and said, “Comrades, the General has a mission for you. He aims to see it accomplished. And to that end he has authorized me to give each of you personal access to him through these transmitters. If you stay true to his mission and seek his victory first, he will always be as close as your transmitter, to give tactical advice and to send air cover when you need it. But what have millions of Christians done? We have stopped believing that we are at war. No urgency, not watching, no vigilance. No strategic planning. Just easy peace and prosperity. And what did we do with the walkie-talkie? We tried to rig it up as an intercom in our houses and cabins and boats and cars—not to call in firepower for conflict with a mortal enemy but to ask for more comforts in the den.

Of course, prayer does not itself deliver the gospel, but by prayer, God gives His people the courage and boldness to proclaim it to a lost and often hostile world. That is how prayer helps to fulfill the Great Commission. Prayer gives us the boldness to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light!

HOW TO PRAY

Since God primarily communicates with us through the Scriptures, reading the Bible and praying each day forms a daily conversation with God that we should strive to maintain.

As disciples of Christ, prayer is essential for us to follow Jesus properly. In fact, E. M. Bounds goes so far as to say:

Nothing distinguishes the children of God so clearly and strongly as prayer. It is the one infallible mark and test of being a Christian. Christian people are prayerful, the worldly-minded, prayerless. Christians call on God; worldings ignore God, and call not on His Name. But even the Christian had need to cultivate continual prayer. Prayer must be habitual, but much more than a habit. It is duty, yet one which rises far above, and goes beyond the ordinary implications of the term. It is the expression of a relation to God, a yearning for Divine communion. It is the outward and upward flow of the inward life toward its original fountain. It is the assertion of the soul’s paternity, a claiming of the sonship, which links man to the Eternal. Prayer has everything to do with moulding the soul into the image of God, and has everything to do with enhancing and enlarging the measure of Divine grace. It has everything to do with bringing the soul into complete communion with God. It has everything to do with enriching, broadening and maturing the soul’s experience of God. That man cannot possibly be called a Christian, who does not pray. By no possible pretext can he claim any right to the term, nor its implied significance. If he does not pray, he is a sinner, pure and simple, for prayer is the only way in which the soul of man can enter into fellowship and communion with the Source of all Christ-like spirit and energy. Hence, if he prays not, he is not of the household of faith.

It is wonderful to know the importance and necessity of prayer, yet that information does no good without the knowledge of how to pray. Too often this is a neglected subject since many simply assume that prayer should come naturally, yet in many ways, prayer is entirely unnatural. It goes against every fiber of our souls to pray to a God that we cannot see and even more so to trust in Him. Nevertheless, if God is indeed the creator and sustainer of the all things, there is nothing more important for us to learn than to pray correctly and efficiently.

First, pray Scripture. If you remember nothing else, remember to pray the Scriptures. Have you ever wondered if your prayer requests to God were inside His will? Have you ever struggled to find words to pray? Turn to the Word. Open up the Bible, read it, and pray it. If you pray the Scriptures, you are then praying within the will of God, and you need not worry about finding words because they are written down for you. The Psalms are of particular help in this area. Donald Whitney’s book, Praying the Bible, is a short and well-spent read for learning to pray the Bible.

Second, use the Lord’s Prayer or the acrostic ACTS for a time of prayer before daily reading of the Scriptures. The Lord’s Prayer will take you through praying to God as our Father, for His name to be made holy, for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done, for our daily provision, for forgiveness of sins, and for deliverance from sin. It is worth noting that without going through the Lord’s Prayer most of us will never pray for God’s name to be made holy or for His kingdom to come, yet both are highly important prayers for us to make. Also, you can use the acrostic ACTS, which stands for adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. This leads you through a four-part prayer of adoring God, confessing sins to Him, giving thanks for His provision and grace, and finally making our requests known to Him. We’ve already discussed ACTS, and you will find in the appendices short meditations on praying through the Lord’s Prayer.

Third, pray on a daily basis. The time of day is not crucial, just make sure that you pray daily. Many people pray in the morning, as soon as they wake up, or in the evening, right before they go to bed. Others find it best to pray during lunch hours or breaks at work. Regardless of the exact time, pray daily. You will never grow in prayer until you actually pray.

DISCUSSION & REFLECTION

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read verses 10-17 and discuss the following.

  1. In these verses, Paul describes the Christian life as being encompassed within spiritual warfare. Do you regularly consider yourself to be a part of spiritual warfare? How should this knowledge impact our daily lives?

Read verses 18-20 and discuss the following.

  1. How does Paul expect a Christian to pray at all time?
  2. What might be the all forms of prayer that Paul encourages us to pray?
  3. Why does Paul call us to pray with alertness and all perseverance?
  4. Why is it necessary for us to pray for all saints? How does Paul’s prayer for boldness display the importance of prayer in making disciples?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon Ephesians 4:18-20, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

a brief thought on Titus 2:12

training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age

Titus 2:12

Even in sections of theology like this one, Paul cannot refrain from disclosing doctrine’s application. Here the emphasis is that the gospel trains us in godliness. In believing the truth of Scripture, we must conform ourselves to the pattern of life that it outlines.

This means that we renounce, or reject, ungodliness and worldly passions. Our passions are, instead, upon the things of God. In fact, Peter goes so far as to claim that worldly and fleshly passions ‘wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11).”

Thus, the battle over what we desire is exactly that—a battle.

Whether for war, athletics, or other things, training is difficult; it’s a fight. It requires discipline and work, and spiritual training is no different. Anyone who has spent any length of time in prayer, fasting, and the study of the Scriptures will readily verify the strenuous nature of the growing in godliness.

Fortunately, we can always rely upon the truth that the Jesus’ grace is entirely sufficient (meaning we now work from gratitude, not obligation) and that God is training us (He is our coach).

Or we could say it like this: though we are called to work hard, we can only do so because God worked first in us and continues to work through us.

With this in mind, we would do well to remember that spiritual warfare is not merely waged over what we do but also what we want. Our desire must be to live lives that are pleasing to the One who graciously saved us.

To Smyrna: Be Faithful Unto Death | Revelation 2:8-11

Seven Letters Week 3

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9)

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

OPENING THOUGHT

Our study of Jesus’ seven letters in Revelation truly began with the message to the church of Ephesus. Therein, Christ set the pattern for the six to follow: He gives a report to them of how they are doing as a church and then proceeds to give them commands to follow. The church of Ephesus was essentially a mixed bag. They were doing things right, but they lost the love behind their actions. Jesus, therefore, gave them a strong warning to repent or else they would cease to function as His church.

This week’s letter, addressed to Smyrna, is quite different than the Ephesian message. Only the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia receive no criticism from Jesus, only encouragement. Living in a city of strong devotion to the Roman Emperor, the Christians of Smyrna knew well what it meant to suffer for the name of Christ. The officials of the city were constantly against the Christians (who refused to worship Caesar as lord), and the Jews in Smyrna antagonized the Christian/government conflict in order to keep focus off of themselves.

Even though persecution was both regular and severe in Smyrna, Jesus encourages them to remain faithful until the end. By remaining faithful to Jesus even in death, the church of Smyrna would conquer and receive the crown of life. History lends further encouragement to this message because there is still a Christian presence in Smyrna (now called Izmir) to this day. The church in Smyrna is an excellent example of the gates of hell not prevailing against Jesus’ followers.

Read verses 8-9 and discuss the following.

  1. Jesus states that He knows the church’s poverty, but then He claims that they are rich. How can the God’s followers be rich even in the midst of material poverty? How does this message compare to the message to the church of Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22)?

Read verse 10 and discuss the following.

  1. The message continues with Jesus urging the Christians of Smyrna not to fear the suffering that they will encounter. As followers of Christ, how are we expected to stand firm in the midst of trials and suffering? What other passages of Scripture are encouragements in times of trouble?
  2. Jesus declares that the devil will put some of the Christians into prison and that the Jews of the city were acting as a synagogue of Satan. These clearly emphasize the underlining spiritual battles behind physical events. What does the Bible say about how Christians should engage in spiritual warfare?

Read verse 11 and discuss the following.

  1. The closing promise of this message is that the one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. What is the second death? What is the significance of this promise?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Though we may not relate much to Smyrna’s persecution presently, Christians around the world (Izmir, present-day Smyrna, included) are under near constant suffering for their faith in Jesus. Take time this week to pray specifically for these brothers and sisters around the world, that they would be faithful to Christ, even in death.

Should Christians Pray Against Satan Directly?

This past weekend I watched the newest Christian movie, War Room. To be honest, I am absolutely one of the worst people to see one of these kinds of films. As a person who deeply loves well-crafted narratives, such typically cheese-filled productions usually leave my gut wrenching. However, I found War Room to be surprisingly pleasant. No, it was not a masterpiece of cinema, but as a film that urged believers to toil daily in prayer, I actually enjoyed it. I would even go so far as to say that I recommend it.

However, the aim of this discussion is upon an aspect of the film that I did not appreciate. Allow me to set the scene. Our protagonist has finally resolved to fight in prayer for her husband and her marriage. Her prayer begins in her closet (one of the film’s war rooms), but she proceeds to walk throughout the house as her prayer becomes more fervent. Soon she begins to speak to Satan directly, declaring that he has no authority over her or her family. The music swells throughout, and all in all, the scene is the turning point of the film. The prayer works, and her husband is miraculously kept from committing adultery that very evening.

My issue with this scene is not the passionate, emotional prayer. Most of our prayers likely need a good dose of fervor. I also have no problem with the protagonist praying for her husband and marriage. Biblically, we are called to intercede in prayer for all people, so we should certainly do so for our loved ones.[1] Rather, I do take issue with the notion of praying directly against Satan. Let us, therefore, discuss why I find this thought to be unbiblical.

To Rebuke or Not to Rebuke?

First, consider the nature of Satan. Though he has legions of demonic forces at his disposal, Satan is nothing like God. He is not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. This means that Satan cannot hear our thoughts, and he cannot be in more than one place at a time. Ephesians 6 and 1 Peter 5 clearly affirm demonic hostility throughout our walk with Christ, yet it is quite unrealistic to continually assume that Satan is directly antagonizing us. Therefore, if we speak directly to Satan himself, most likely we are merely speaking to the open air or to demonic cohorts.

Next, note how Michael rebukes Satan in the book of Jude. The half-brother of Jesus writes in verse nine about Michael the archangel battling Satan for the body of Moses. Since Michael is the only angel that we know to be designated as an archangel, we could assume that if any heavenly being had the power to confront Satan directly, it would be him. However, Jude tells us that Michael “did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’”[2] The archangel, when battling Satan, relied upon the Lord to rebuke the devil. In fact, Jude’s reason for mentioning this event is because there were false teachers in his day that were blaspheming “all that they do not understand.”[3] The lesson being that we must not throw around weighty pronouncements against beings that we do not fully comprehend.

The sons of Sceva are a great examples of this thought. In Acts 19:11-20, the author, Luke, tells us about seven sons of Sceva encountering a demon-possessed man. These men were itinerant exorcists who heard of the great miracles that the apostles were doing by the name of Jesus. Because of this, they decided to invoke Jesus’ name as well, saying, “I adjure by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.”[4] After saying this to one demon-possessed man, the evil spirit said back to them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”[5] They are then beaten by the demon-possessed man and run away naked. This shows that the name of Jesus is not a magical mantra by which demons are forced to obey, and that we must not treat spiritual matters flippantly. Without knowing Jesus in a relationship, speaking His name will do us no good, and of course, the only way to grow in knowing Jesus is through the Scriptures and prayer.

Now let us approach the matter of spiritual warfare. If we are strongly exhorted by Jude to be careful in our accusations against the Accuser (which is the meaning of “Satan”), how then should we fight? After all, Paul does clearly tell us that we are wrestling against “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” In Ephesians 6:13-20, the apostle describes our battle armor; however, Paul emphasizes that our armor’s primary usage is being “able to withstand” and “to stand firm.”[6] He speaks far more of defense than offense, and James seems to agree with him: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”[7]

How to Fight Spiritually… Biblically

I am not, however, suggesting that spiritual warfare is all defense; instead, it seems that Paul speaks primarily of three offensive tactics for combating the “spiritual forces of evil” in Ephesians 6.[8]

1. Study the Word

The only offensive weapon in the armor of God is the sword, which Paul states is the Word of God. Our primary action for fighting the devil and/or sin should be going to the Scriptures. If we doubt the importance of the Bible in battling Satan, we need to look no further than Jesus. In Matthew 4, we read about Jesus being tempted by the devil after fasting for forty days and forty nights. Satan tried three times to cause Jesus to sin.[9] Each time, Jesus answer Satan by citing Scripture. It is interesting that even Jesus never enters into a lengthy dialogue with the devil; rather, He simply falls upon the Word of God. We must understand that the Bible is sufficient for resisting the devil. Too often Jesus’ words to the Sadducees could also be said of us: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”[10]  Therefore, let us be quick to read, study, memorize, and meditate upon the Word of God.

2. Pray in the Spirit

In Ephesians 6:18, Paul urges us to pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” In resisting the devil, we must be a people of prayer. But what does Paul mean by praying in the Spirit at all times? To reach an answer, we must understand the Holy Spirit’s role when we pray. Prayer is naturally trinitarian. The entire Godhead is involved in our prayers. We pray to the Father, through our only mediator, Jesus. But what about the Spirit? Romans 8 tells us that “the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”[11] The role of the Holy Spirit is to intercede on our behalf, aligning us with the will of the Father. Furthermore, we are told that the Spirit “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”[12] Thus, all of our prayers should be in the Spirit because He teaches us how to pray the will of God and affirms that we are God’s children. Praying to the Father, through Jesus, with the Spirit, is one of the greatest blessings that we have as followers of Christ. Because the Spirit allows us to come to God as our Father, why would we ever waste time trying to speak directly with Satan instead of praying to the omnipotent God who calls us His children?

3. Proclaim the Gospel Boldly

Paul gives us the third weapon of warfare in Ephesians 6:19-20: proclaiming the gospel. The apostle requests that the Ephesians pray for him to boldly declare the “mystery of the gospel.” Because the gospel is the centerpiece of the entire Bible, this one should not come as a surprise, yet sadly, it probably does. Jesus came into the world, not to cast out demons or even heal the sick, but to proclaim the gospel. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.”[13] The only way to truly press back against “this present darkness” is by expanding the kingdom of God. Before ascending to heaven, Jesus left us with very clear instructions to follow until He returns: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”[14] Go, make disciples, baptize, and teach, that is the game plan for every Christian, and we can only do so through proclaiming the gospel. Far more important than denouncing Satan in prayer is proclaiming and exalting Jesus to others. That is how the kingdom of God will increase and the kingdom of darkness decrease.

The End of the Matter

Once again, let me reiterate: I really enjoyed War Room. It challenges Christians to go spend more time in prayer, which is, for me, a win. However, the notion of directly praying against or rebuking Satan simply is not biblical. Instead of fighting Satan by declaring our victory over him again and again, let’s actually expand the kingdom of God by diving into the Scriptures, praying to the Father, and proclaiming the gospel to anyone that will listen. At least to me, that just sounds like a better plan.

[1] 1 Timothy 2:1

[2] Jude 9

[3] Jude 10

[4] Acts 19:13

[5] Acts 19:15

[6] Ephesians 6:13

[7] James 4:7

[8] I anticipate some people arguing that because Jesus and the apostles directly engaged demons that we should understand this as a call to do likewise. However, we are never commanded to deal with evil spirits like Jesus or the apostles did, but we are called numerous times to resist the devil, to hold fast to and proclaim the Word of God, and to prayer to the Father. I submit, therefore, that this is how spiritual warfare ought to be fought.

[9] By the way, it is worth noting that the only real power that Satan has over us is through our sin. He cannot directly cause anyone to be thrown in hell; rather, Satan can only lure us toward sin, hoping to capture us in its snare.

[10] Matthew 22:29

[11] Romans 8:27

[12] Romans 8:16

[13] Mark 1:15

[14] Matthew 28:19-20a