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 alwpraays 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.

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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

Sermon | Week 3

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

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)

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

OPENING THOUGHT

The purpose of the Western Meadows Values Series is to articulate the primary values that we hold at Western Meadows Baptist Church. Our study began with the Great Commission, which is Jesus’ final command for His disciples to make disciples. This call toward perpetual discipleship is the mission and purpose of each Christian as individuals and of each church as a community. Because making disciples fills the earth with the glory of God, the Great Commission is not optional for Christ’s followers.

The command, of course, means little to us unless we know how to obey it. Like our walk of faith, discipleship happens at both an individual and communal level. As individuals, we make disciples by witnessing (adorning the gospel with our lives), evangelism (the verbal proclamation of the gospel), and teaching other believers how the gospel applies to their lives. Likewise, there are three broad ways discipleship occurs at the community level: through the preaching of the Scriptures and the devotion to prayer and community.

Last week, we studied the importance of the Scriptures and how the preaching of them is an essential component toward making disciples. Today we will discuss the importance of prayer. Because making disciples is the expansion of God’s kingdom, discipleship is essentially an act of spiritual warfare. In Ephesians 6, Paul carefully illustrates this truth by urging us to equip ourselves with the armor of God. He then closes the section by reminding us of the importance of prayer in expanding God’s kingdom, especially prayer for the bold and faithful proclamation of the Scriptures.

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 all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, 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