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In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 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 6:16-20
After commanding believers to take up the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, Paul continues with the attitude that must be maintained: an attitude of prayer and keeping alert. Paul says, “praying at all times…keep alert.” These are not the means by which we pick up the helmet and sword but rather the manner in which we pick them up. If we were to dig a ditch, the means would be a shovel; the manner would be to dig quickly or with great joy.
We are in a war and we fight the enemy with our spiritual armor (the means). Prayer is the manner in which we take up the helmet and sword, demonstrating our dependence on Jesus for power, wisdom, and guidance. This is an exhortation to pray at all times and keep alert, but in this context, the exhortations refer specifically to taking up the helmet and the sword. The passage could be read another way:
“Keep praying and stay alert when taking up your helmet and your sword because an attack is imminent; the schemes are many and the enemy is cunning. God’s power and wisdom is needed. Keep praying, pray for all of us.”
What is the role of prayer in the battle?
In a recent movie, a woman sits in a hotel room, talking to her husband and son on FaceTime. She wants to be home with them, but ends the call to go to an appointment. She picks up her coat, grabs her purse, and walks out the door. As the door closes behind her, the camera focuses on the credenza next to the door. On the credenza were flowers, miscellaneous items, and her phone – she left her phone behind.
The phone represents communication and a connection with help and support. Today when we leave the house without our phones, we feel vulnerable. We have become dependent on our phones for everything from directions and information, to communication and distraction. Prayer should be like our phones: we should feel vulnerable without prayer and never think of going anywhere without it.
Prayer is our spiritual means of communication with the One we need to be in touch with for guidance, wisdom, and power. Prayer is necessary for survival in the battle we find ourselves. Many of us do not look at prayer for spiritual survival, but for temporal gain and comfort. We often use prayer as a heavenly eBay, designed to get things we want. We bid on things with our spiritual capital rather than engaging in the battle for souls. Prayer is really a battle for souls, our soul and the souls of others.
We’ve redefined God’s definition of a blessing to what we want as a blessing. Ephesians 1-3 is filled with many of God’s blessings, but there is no mention of the perfect wife or husband, a new car, or an A on an important test. Jesus is the blessing and He is what our hearts yearn for. Jesus is the truth we put on, He is our righteousness, He is our peace, He gives us faith and He is the object of our faith to extinguish the fiery darts. He is our salvation and the sword of the Spirit. He is our blessing and that is to be our mindset as we pray:
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James 4:3
Pastor and author John Piper describes prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie:
God has given us prayer not as an intercom for increased convenience in our secluded cottages, but as a walkie-talkie connecting the general’s headquarters with the transportation line and the field hospital and the front line artillery. Prayer is not a bell to call the servants to satisfy some desire we happen to feel, it is a battlefield transmitter for staying in touch with the general. • John Piper
Prayer is vital, like air to the lungs or water to a goldfish. Some of us are dried up spiritually and stuck on the floor, like a goldfish out of water. We have been living without prayer as an integral part of our life. Why don’t we pray? Here are three reasons:
1. Incorrect view of ourselves – we overestimate ourselves
2. Incorrect view of God – we underestimate God
3. Incorrect view of prayer – we don’t estimate (place value on) prayer at all
We have an incorrect view of ourselves.
We feel like it’s the first inning of a baseball game and we’ve got it covered, there’s no need for a relief pitcher or pinch hitter. It’s only when we’re in the bottom of the eighth inning and completely buried that we call out to God. We overestimate our own abilities, not realizing that we only have one shot at life and our opponent plays for keeps. It is appointed for every man to die before judgment (Hebrews 9:27), though we do not know the day or the hour.
In the early days of World War II, Winston Churchill said to Britain: “I must drop one word of caution; for, next to cowardice and treachery, overconfidence, leading to neglect or slothfulness, is the worst of martial crimes.” We are in a war and cannot afford to be overconfident in ourselves, which will only lead to our ruin.
We have an incorrect view of God.
We underestimate His power, His authority, His willingness to get involved, His call on our life, His role in the world, His abhorrence for evil and rebellion, His holiness, His grace, His mercy, and His great love for us. When we neglect prayer, we communicate that we have an incorrect view of God, ourselves, and prayer.
We have an incorrect view of prayer.
James 4 tells us we have not because we ask not, and we ask but do not receive because we ask with incorrect motives. 1 John 5 tells us that if we pray according to God’s will, He hears us and if He hears us, we will receive what we asked for. What are we asking for and why?
If we are in the midst of a battle, we are on mission. If we radio to command for additional supplies but instead ask for portable jacuzzis so we can relax and ear plugs so that the warning sirens don’t disturb our sleep, the answer will be no – none of those things will help us accomplish our mission or help us in battle. God is not going to send us comfort, which would be detrimental to the fight – He loves us too much to let us be comfortable. We are not in this world to be comfortable, we must remember that we are in a battle!
We go to God for His will to be done (Luke 11:1). What is God’s will? His will is for people to be saved, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). His will is that we be conformed to His image (Romans 8:28-29), abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:3), give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18), and do the will of God (1 Peter 2:15). God’s will keeps us steadfast in the battle and requires prayer.
With a correct view of God and man, we see that: God is all-sufficient and man is not; God does not exist for man but man exists for God, and prayer is the lifeline God gives us for the battle.
Why are we in this battle? Why did God give us the mission? Prayer is for mission but mission exists so we will pray! God has chosen to use us for our good and His glory. We, the church, are to demonstrate the manifold wisdom of God:
so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father… so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith— Ephesians 3:10-14, 17
God calls us to make His wisdom known by living out Christ in our lives. Victory in the battlefield is an overflow of Jesus in our lives. The battle drives us to prayer and prayer gives us the victory in battle. When we’re in a crisis, we pray. If we don’t pray, we’ve lost sight of the battle. There is a cost in every battle and sacrifice involved. The battle is not about convenience and it require us to put on spiritual armor.
In this passage, Paul tells us that we are in a war. This war is not against other people, but against principalities and powers unseen – it is a spiritual battle. We cannot fight this battle with conventional means; we must use spiritual armor, the armor God provides that we find in Jesus. The armor is the means with which we fight and the manner in which we wear the armor is by prayer. This is not prayer some of the time for some of the saints, but prayer all the time, in all ways, for all of the saints.
We are to pray at all times because the battle rages at all times. Praying at all times means having an awareness of our need for God. When Nehemiah was before the King, he recognized his need for God and prayed:
I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. Nehemiah 2:3-4
Peter jumped out of the boat to walk on the water to Jesus. When he began to sink, he cried out:
But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Matthew 14:30
Devotion to prayer affects everything in our life:
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
pray without ceasing, 1 Thessalonians 5:17
The battle is not against flesh and blood but is a spiritual battle that cannot be fought with conventional, carnal means. Ephesians 5 tells us to be filled with the Spirit continually. To be pray at all times, we need to be walk in the Spirit if we expect victory. Being filled with the Spirit is submission to the Spirit, letting Him rule and reign in our lives. We are to pray in the Spirit:
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27
The Spirit gives us power to wield the weapon, the Word.
We are to pray in all ways. We pray prayers of praise and thanksgiving, prayers of petition, quiet prayers on our knees, corporate prayers, and quiet prayers. We pray long prayers of desperation and short prayers for help or praise; prayers for salvation of those unsaved, prayers for brothers and sisters suffering around the world, prayers for those we know and prayers for those we may never meet until we are in heaven. We pray prayers for our leaders, pastors, and families; prayers of confession and repentance, and prayers of the psalmist. Pray in all ways!
We are to pray with all perseverance, keeping alert:
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 1 Peter 4:7
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 4:2
In the battle of intercessory prayer, the devil will try to attack us and pull us away from prayer. Persistence is key because prayer is not about the magic of repetition; prayer is relational. Prayer is about being faithful, determined, and dependent in going to God. We persevere because Jesus persevered when He endured the cross for us (Hebrews 12:1-3). We have a hope and our hope does not disappoint. We don’t blindly persevere but run with endurance, continually reminding ourselves of our need for HIm because our hearts are prone to wander.
We are to pray for all the saints. All believers are engaged in the battle. There has been a focus on unity in Ephesians and this continues with the exhortation to pray. Paul mentions “all the saints” (Ephesians 1:15-16; Ephesians 3:14, 18). Now we see that all the saints involved in the struggle against evil make up a larger army that collectively battles against the enemy (Ephesians 6:18). We need each other.
So we pray at all times, in all ways, with all perseverance, for all the saints.