Series: P.P.E for the Christian life, By Rosie Moore
Through prayer, even the weakest Christian gains renewed energy and strength for the battle.
“…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 (Eph 6:18-20).
Knowing our enemy and putting on Christ’s armour are not enough. The Christian soldier is also an ambassador of the Lord Jesus, and we need to declare his gospel boldly and fearlessly. Paul was doing it from prison even as he wrote this letter to the Ephesians. We need the energy to face the Enemy and use the equipment we’ve been given. Prayer is the power behind all the Christian’s armour. When we neglect to pray, or when our prayers are sporadic, meaningless or self-obsessed, we will never have victory in our battle with Satan. That’s why, straight after Paul’s list of the spiritual armour in Ephesians 6, he appeals to Christians to pray, including to pray for himself and other saints. He set us a wonderful example of how to do this, even in chains, in a cold prison cell (Eph 3:14-19). Today let’s look the vital energy behind the armour as we wrap up our series on spiritual warfare.
Satan trembles when we pray
William Cowper, who lived in the 1700’s, is remembered today for his theologically-rich hymns and poetry, which have blessed countless Christians with hope and comfort. Ironically, Cowper himself struggled with mental illness and severe depression for most of his life. With the help of his faithful friend John Newton, Cowper was engaged in a fierce spiritual battle over despondency for most of his life. This is what he wrote about the power of prayer for the Christian soldier:
Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
Prayer keeps the Christian’s armour bright;
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.
The weakest saint upon his knees
The way that Paul writes Ephesians 6:18-20 in the Greek, tells us that prayer is the mechanism by which we put on all the armour of Christ. In other words, in order to put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, gospel shoes, shield of faith, helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, we must pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is how we get dressed for battle!
There is nothing inherently strong about a soldier of Christ. To the contrary, each and every Jesus follower is weak and vulnerable, while the devil is a devouring lion (1 Peter 5:8). But Paul reminds us that when properly equipped, we can “be strong in the Lord and His mighty power” (Eph 6:10). Through prayer, even the weakest Christian gains renewed energy and strength for the battle. And the most potent prayer is the kind that perseveres, like a nagging child that won’t relent. It is the kind of prayer that “keeps on praying, on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”, even when answers seem delayed or impossible (Eph 6:18).
We dare not venture out even a single day without prayer, thinking to ourselves:
“I don’t have time to pray. I’ll just let go and let God today. I’m sure He’s got this covered.” Or, “I’ve had victory over this battle once before. Surely I’m strong and experienced enough to do it again?”
No, we are never strong or wise enough to have victory over Satan’s schemes without prayer. We will never do God’s work without prayer. Nor can we ever sit back and expect God to work out his purposes and show us His will, without prayer. Paul is emphatic that we are personally responsible to pray:
“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil 2:12-13).
The habit of prayer
Prayer is vital to working out our salvation each day, over a lifetime. Prayer is how we respond to what the Holy Spirit has taught us in the Bible. Prayer is our daily surrender to Christ as Lord, where we offer Him every nook and cranny of our lives to be re-calibrated. When we pray, we invite the Holy Spirit to convict and shape us into godly people. That is how we ‘pray in the Spirit’.
As a child growing up, the most vivid picture I have of my parents, is them kneeling together and praying at their bedside, every morning. I knew that they were praying for me and my siblings and for all the concerns of the day. Before breakfast and all their important duties, I knew that my mum and dad had met with the Lord. I knew that they were on the same page in their marriage and that God was the centre pivot of their lives and our family. Seeing this daily habit of prayer gave me great security and showed me how to dress in Christ’s armour in the real, everyday struggle of life.
When we pray as a daily habit, we don’t just babble or recite a prayer, or ask God to bless us or others in some vague way. We say something, not nothing! We speak directly to our heavenly Father, about real and specific details.
The posture of prayer
We don’t have to kneel when we pray, but kneeling is a posture of reverance and awe. Kneeling says that we understand the greatness of the Holy, wonderful God we are addressing and our own sinful, frail humanity. Using heartfelt but ordinary words, we remember who God is, and then place our little story within the big story of His kingdom and reign. When we pray, we forget about worshipping ourselves and nursing our grievances. Instead, we direct our praise and thanks to the caring Creator who made us and gave his life for us. And as we show Him gratitude, our vision of the world becomes clearer. We begin to see ourselves and our neighbour through a different lens. Through prayer, creatures practise humble surrender in a world that we cannot control. We learn to say to God, “Thy will be done, not mine.”
Thankful prayers produce perspective and peace in us (Phil 4:6-7).
When we pray, we offer the Lord our opportunities, gifts, struggles and responsibilities, to be used for His glory. We lay down our loved ones, our sins, questions, doubts, temptations and troubles, which weigh heavily on us. We entrust to God the groaning world in which we live. We ask the Lord to re-align our emotions and ambitions, to make them more accurate and less selfish.
An Ambassador in chains
When we pray, we remember that we are not masters of our fate after all, but rather, as Paul puts it, ‘an ambassador in chains’. Paul was literally stripped of all his rights, freedoms and personal ambitions in a prison cell when he wrote this. But if even Paul knew his dependency on prayer, how can we possibly rely on our own experience, eloquence and training to “fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph 6:19-20)? You and I are never strong or wise enough to be Christ’s faithful ambassadors, but even the weakest saint upon his knees can make Satan tremble.
It was what Daniel did, as an old man in Babylon, when “he got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10). Daniel had built a habit of prayer over a lifetime. He had a relationship with Yahweh. That’s why, when his great test came, he could defy the King’s edict by continuing to pray, as he’d always done.
Through the practice of prayer, God equips and prepares us for battle one day at a time, over a lifetime.
All kinds of prayers and requests
In the NIV, Paul says to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Eph 6:18 NIV).
Apart from habitual prayer, we must also ‘pray continually’ (1 Thess 5:17). That means anywhere and everywhere, because our prayers are urgent and necessary. It means we make quick, brief prayers our automatic response to every situation throughout the day. We silently pray before we read the Bible or talk to someone about Jesus. We spontaneously pray for wisdom when we face a hard choice (James 1:5), or when we need to demolish an idea that sets itself up against Christ (2 Cor 10:5). We are alert and prepared to pray whenever a friend calls for help. When we can’t sleep at night, we get up and pray like David prayed throughout the watches of the night (Ps 63:6). When I was at boarding school, I learnt to pray in toilet cubicles because there was no other place to be alone! Prayer is just speaking to God silently wherever we find ourselves, even on a busy taxi, along a noisy street, or in prison as in Paul’s case.
We should also pray “for all of the saints” (Eph 6:18), because all God’s people around the world are fighting the same battle we are. If they fail to resist Satan and his evil forces, it affects us all. Denominations don’t matter to the Lord, as the invisible Church of Christ transcends nations, time and space. So, if a fellow soldier falls, the devil gains one more foothold. But if a fellow soldier stands strong and declares the gospel fearlessly in spite of opposition, it advances the kingdom of God.
Don’t doubt for a moment that the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective (James 5:16). Prayer is a fearsome weapon against the fury of Satan who “has gone to make war on those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 12:12; 17). Our prayers are like incense that rises before God, with powerful reverberations on earth. The symbolic language of Revelation is stunning: “And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (Rev 8:4-5).
Flashes of lightning and earthquakes! That’s how God regards our prayers and that’s what the prayers of the weakest saint can produce! Let’s stay alert and keep on praying, for “Behold, I am coming soon!” (Rev 22:12)