Rev. David Holwick
First Baptist Church
West Lafayette, Ohio
February 13, 1983
Prayer: The Final Armor
Ephesians 6:18-24, KJV
The last section in Ephesians has dealt with the struggle Christians have against the devil, the principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world and against the spiritual wickedness in high or heavenly places.
When our Lord Jesus was here in the flesh he was engaged in the same struggle. He was tempted "in all points like as we are," as Hebrews 4:15 puts it - All of these forces fought against him. The very fact that we are Christians means we are involved in the same fight and conflict. Nothing is more deadly than to start in the Christian life with the idea that now we are Christians we have put an end to all of our difficulties and problems. This is far from being the truth. As a matter of fact, it is almost the exact opposite of the truth. Instead, the New Testament tells us that because we are Christians we must expect attacks upon us in a way we have never known before.
How does today's passage relate to the struggle Paul has been describing? Two weeks ago I preached on the Christian armor. Some people make "praying always" in verse 18 the last piece of armor. This is possible but unlikely because prayer is not compared to any weapon. The connection is that praying in the Spirit is something we have to do and keep on doing while we use the whole armor of God. Paul is saying, "Take these various pieces of armor and put them on, and use them in the way described but in addition to all this, always, and at all times and in all circumstances keep on praying." This means that the armor God gives to us cannot be used unless we are in fellowship and communion with God. The danger in the Christian life is thinking once you have the armor on there is nothing more to do. You are saved, you have a pretty good grasp of the truth of the Bible and you've gotten rid of your most obvious sins. The temptation is to sit back and relax once you're in this state. If you think this way, you are already a defeated Christian.
The armor of God will not do you any good unless you are always in a living relationship to God and are receiving strength and power from him. The key element in your daily living relationship with God will be prayer. As Paul says in verse 18:
"We should be praying always with all prayer and supplication [that is, with petitions] in the Spirit, and watching [or being alert], thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints [that is, for other Christians]"
All of the great men and women of God in the Bible were men and women of prayer. Mark 1:35 says:
"And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, Jesus went out and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed."
The gospel of Luke shows that Jesus committed himself to prayer before each new phase in his ministry (Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18; 9:28-29; 11:1; 22:41-44). King David desired prayer so much he gave up sleep for it. When the apostles were tempted to put all their energy in other important and necessary tasks, they decided to give themselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). Other great Christians dedicated themselves to prayer. Martin Luther declared, "I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer." John Wesley, who is the father of the Methodist, Nazarene and Weslyan churches, said, "God does nothing but in answer to prayer." He backed up his conviction by devoting two hours daily to prayer. Adoniram Judson, the great Baptist missionary in the early 1800s, prayed every three hours, which came to seven times a day. For these people, and for all those who have tried to reach the depths of the spiritual life, to breathe was to pray.
I don't know about you but I find these examples very depressing. These "giants of prayer" are so far beyond anything I have experienced that they make me want to give up. Who has three hours a day anymore? The phone would ring five times. Prayer has always been difficult for me. Until I became a Christian at age seventeen I never really prayed. It was only when I felt the conviction of sin that I began to seek God in prayer. When I finally made up my mind to accept Christ, I laid on top of my bed, closed my eyes and asked God to forgive me and save me. I heard nothing in response. I didn't feel any different. I kept on praying after that day but for a long time it had an unreal quality to it. Many times I thought I was just talking to the ceiling. If I tried to pray for an hour, my mind would wander after five minutes. I looked at my watch a lot.
Fortunately, God does not expect us to be homerun prayers right off the bat. God always meets us where we are and slowly moves us along into deeper things. Occasional joggers do not suddenly enter an Olympic marathon. They prepare and train themselves over a period of time and so should we. Real prayer is something we learn. The disciples asked Jesus in Luke 11:1:
"Lord, teach us to pray."
They had prayed all their lives and yet something about the quality and quantity of Jesus' praying caused them to see how little they knew about prayer.
Perhaps the most astonishing characteristic of Jesus' praying is that he prayed with assurance. So did the apostles and prophets. They obviously believed that they knew what the will of God was before they prayed the prayer of faith. They were so immersed in the Holy Spirit that when they encountered a specific situation they knew what should be done. Their praying was so positive it often took the form of a direct, authoritative command: "Walk," "Be Well," "Stand Up." We cannot force God to do anything he does not want to do but our prayers should not be indecisive and half-hearted.
One encouragement is the fact that God wants to give positive answers to our prayers. It is easy for us to be defeated in prayer because we have been taught that everything in the universe has already been set and so things cannot be changed. We may gloomily feel this way but the Bible does not teach it. People in the Bible prayed as if their prayers could and would make a real difference. In 1 Corinthians 3:9 Paul says:
We are co-laborers with God [that is, we are working with God].
In other words, we are working with God to determine the outcome of events. Moses was bold in prayer because he believed he could change things, even God's mind.
The power of prayer is a great freedom but it also sets tremendous responsibility before us. Certain things will happen in history if we pray rightly. God gives us the opportunity to change the world by prayer. To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform our lives. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic in our lives. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ. We must learn to pray with the assurance that we can change things.
We must also pray always or constantly. Our tendency is to pray only in the great crises in life. I can see this in my own experience. It's human nature that we pray more intensely when our life is hanging by a thread. God listens to crisis prayers but it is from daily prayer that the Christian will find daily strength. One reason is that we need to learn how to pray for small things before we can handle big ones. Even before we pray for small things we need to listen for God's guidance. If we are still, we will learn not only who God is but how his power operates.
Sometimes we are afraid that we do not have enough faith to pray for this child or that marriage. Our fears should be put to rest because the Bible tells us that great miracles are possible through faith the size of a tiny mustard seed. Usually the courage to actually go and pray for a person is a sign of sufficient faith.
Often our lack is not faith but compassion. Genuine empathy can make a real difference. We are told that Jesus was "moved with compassion" for people. Compassion was a feature of every healing in the New Testament. We do not pray for people as "things," but as "persons" whom we love. If we have God-given compassion and concern for others, our faith will grow and strengthen as we pray. In fact, if we genuinely love people, we desire for them far more than it is within our power to give and that will cause us to pray. Prayer involves compassion but we must never wait until we feel like praying before we will pray for others. Prayer is like any other work: we may not feel like working but once we have been at it a bit, we begin to feel like working.
Finally, when we pray for others we should not forget our Christian leaders. In verse 19 Paul says:
"And pray for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel."
Paul doesn't ask for comfort or for peace but that he may boldly proclaim God's secret. Twice he stresses that he needs their prayers so that he may preach boldly. There is always pressure on preachers to water-down the gospel. There is always pressure to make it easy and acceptable but Paul knows that the gospel must be preached in all its power, and he asks for strength through their prayers.
Do you pray for preachers of the gospel? Do you pray for missionaries and Sunday school teachers? Pray that they will hold nothing back but give the gospel in all its completeness. Pray that God will channel his power through them.
Typed on January 25, 2006, by Sharon Lesko of Ledgewood Baptist Church, New Jersey
Copyright © 2017 by Rev. David Holwick
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