Read Ephesians 6:10-20
I want to finish our look at prayer today although a little reluctantly. There is so much more we could learn. I hope that some of you will continue to make prayer an area of growth and learning. However, I think we need to move on to other topics.
For many of us, prayer is a battle. It may not be that way for you and I would be delighted if it wasn’t but for many Christians it is. Our minds wander, we fall asleep, we are too busy to pray, we don’t know how to pray, we feel that our prayers are simply bouncing off the ceiling and are not effective.
I am sure most of us know the problem of wandering thoughts. I want to pray; I start to pray; then some time later I realise that I am not praying but I have started thinking about all sorts of other things.
Let me tell you what I heard someone say once about that. I would never say this but this person said, “That’s pathetic! Do you forget to eat because your mind has wandered?”
That’s true! I am pretty pathetic. How come I can manage to keep my mind on eating but I can’t keep my mind on praying? How come eating is such a high priority and praying is such a low priority?
But I think there is more to it than that. It is not just a case of my priorities. The reality is that Satan doesn’t want me praying. When I commit to praying I am engaging in a spiritual battle. The forces of evil battle against me. It is not just like eating. Prayer is a spiritual activity with spiritual consequences. It is no wonder it is difficult. It is because prayer is so important that it is so actively opposed by the devil.
Think what prayer means. Prayer means relationship. Prayer means being close to God; enjoying God; being guided and directed by God. Satan doesn’t want that. Satan doesn’t want people finding deep satisfaction in their relationship with God. He wants us to be dissatisfied and to begin to doubt whether God really does love us; whether God really is willing to be involved in our lives; whether God even exists. Satan doesn’t want people hearing God speak and walking closely with Him, being obedient to Him. He’ll try to stop that!
Secondly, prayer means results. Things happen when Christians pray. God promises to answer prayer. Miracles happen. People are healed. People are converted. People are set free from all sorts of bondages. Churches see breakthroughs and growth when God is working in people’s lives. When those things happen Christians are encouraged, faith is enlarged and people pray even more. Satan doesn’t want that!
Satan wants us to believe that God is powerless and disinterested. He wants us to believe that the Christian life is a struggle with no relief and no joy. He wants the world to see a powerless, declining, divided church, not a church where miracles are happening.
If prayer means relationship and results, is it any wonder that Satan opposes prayer?
If it is true that prayer is a spiritual battlefield, what can we do so that we win and the Kingdom of God wins and Satan doesn’t? Well, let’s study the Ephesians 6 passage to see what God has provided so that we can win. This passage, of course is a classic passage about spiritual warfare in a general sense but let’s apply it to prayer..
The first thing it tells us is that we are to be strong. Prayer is called a spiritual discipline because it requires discipline. It requires us to not cave in and give up.
James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
The way to have victory over the devil to the point that he gives up and flees (at least temporarily) is to submit to God and to resist the devil. That simply means: say “yes” to God and say ‘no” to Satan.
So in this whole matter of prayer, say “Yes” to God. What does God want? Does God want you to pray? Of course He does. He is constantly exhorting us to pray. The way to have victory is to say “Yes I will” and conversely to say “no” to Satan. When Satan says, “It is not worth it. It is too much effort and God doesn’t listen anyway” disagree. Say, ‘No, I am going to pray.” The promise of scripture is that Satan will be defeated.
But Paul is not suggesting we simply rely on our own strength. Satan is stronger and more cunning than we are. Paul says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” It is God’s strength that we need and that strength is available to us. To have victory in prayer we must stay close to God and receive strength from Him.
You will have noticed that repeatedly in this passage, Paul talks about standing: stand against the schemes of the devil; withstand evil; stand firm; stand. We are called to be strong not weak. Too often we simply give up but God needs people, and the church needs people, who will stand strong despite the onslaughts.
Secondly, this passage reminds us that there is a real spiritual battle going on. We are not fighting against people. People are not the enemy. We are fighting against the spiritual forces of darkness. Do not be in any doubt about the real nature of this battle. We are fighting against demons!
That might sound really scary and even more reason to give up except that God has made provision for us to have victory in this battle. God has provided spiritual armour so that we can stand.
What are our options? The only options we have are to win this battle or lose it. What is your choice – win or lose? The only way to win is to use the spiritual armour God has provided. So what can we do?
First Paul mentions the belt of truth. What is true in this area of prayer? Here are some truths: God loves you; God is close and knowable. You can talk to Him; he will talk to you; God has promised to answer prayer; the Christian life is an abundant life of adventure; miracles are real; lives can be changed dramatically; people can be healed; the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.
Every one of those things Satan will deny. Satan tells us that God doesn’t love us; that he is distant and disinterested; that it is pointless talking to Him, He doesn’t hear and doesn’t care; that the Christian life is dull and dreary; miracles don’t happen; people aren’t interested in the gospel and if we share it, it won’t make any difference anyway. Have you heard Satan say to you that it is all a waste of time?
Which is the truth and which are the lies? Put on the belt of truth. Read God’s word. Know what He says. Read the examples of prayers being answered because God does love His people and does get involved in the world. Mix with other Christians in some context where you can hear their stories of answered prayers. Be convinced of the truth. We will have not victory in prayer if we don’t know the truth and allow that truth to strengthen and inspire us.
That is the first item of armour Paul mentions but notice that he says a couple of times, “put on the full armour of God”. One piece will help but we need the others as well.
So, put on the breastplate of righteousness. Satan might say to us, “We are all human. We all do things wrong. It doesn’t matter. God forgives you anyway.” Satan will either tell us that God is really soft or that God is hard and unreasonable. No one can expect to live by God’s standards so don’t even try.
What is the truth? The truth is that God is a holy God who hates sin. All sin is rebellion against God and God takes rebellion seriously. But the truth is also that God is merciful and forgiving.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we have unconfessed sin in our lives, trying to talk to God will be like one of those awkward conversations we have with people when we both know that there is some unresolved issue between us but no one is addressing it. Everyone knows but no one is saying and the whole conversation is fake.
Satan says that sin doesn’t matter but the Bible says we should confess our sins before praying.
James 5:16 …confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Victory in prayer comes through wearing the breastplate of righteousness.
Then comes the readiness given by the gospel of peace. Readiness for what? I suspect it must mean readiness to obey God; readiness to be about the business of God; readiness to respond to what God says to us in prayer. Satan might say, “You don’t have to do anything; just pray.” If we pray but are not willing for God to use us there is immediately some sort of incongruity going on there. To pray is to seek God; to want to know His will better; to want to receive instruction from Him. To pray but not be willing to be used by God in His work just doesn’t make sense. Every prayer must, at least implicitly include Isaiah’s phrase: Here am I, Lord, send me. Without that we are already defeated. With that readiness, we have on another piece of the armour.
The next piece is the shield of faith.
I think the primary reason my thoughts wander is that I start thinking about what I have to do. I’m planning instead of praying. Or I simply want to get on and do it rather than pray about it.
I suspect that behind that, Satan is saying to me, “You had better start work because it all depends on you. God isn’t going to do anything. You had better do it.” Do I really trust God? Do I believe that time spent praying actually achieves anything?
Martin Luther, when he was once asked what his plans were for the next day, answered, “Work, work, from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” He had it right: the more I have to do, the more I need to pray – but that is a faith statement. That is saying, “I believe God really does answer prayer.
I remember hearing John Daniel say once that some said to him, “Five minutes spent in prayer can save hours later in the day.”
That shield of faith extinguishes the devils flaming arrows. When Satan says, “God’s not listening” our faith in God immediately extinguishes that attack. It gets nowhere because we know it is not true.
How do we grow in faith? Again, read the scriptures and all of the stories of faith and of a faithful God. One of the best ways to grow in faith is actually to pray and to notice the answers. When we experience prayers being answered, our faith in God expands and we are emboldened to trust Him even more.
The fifth piece of the armour is the helmet of salvation. Satan will say, “You are not really a Christian. Look at all your failures. You have forfeited your position as a child of God. You haven’t done enough to please God.”
If I believe that, it will destroy my prayer life very quickly. I need to come back and say, “Yes, I do fail God and I am not proud of that but I am still one of His children. He loves me. He forgives me. Jesus died for me and I have put my trust in Him. On that basis I can pray and can expect my loving Father to hear my prayers and answer them.”
Of course, that is true only if we actually have been saved. We need to be sure that our faith is in Jesus but, if we have, then we should come to prayer wearing that helmet of salvation and ignoring Satan’s lies.
Paul then lists the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. I have already mentioned that the Bible is one of the chief means of growing our faith and encouraging us in prayer. It is the chief way of knowing the truth and of being aligned with God’s will. It is where we read God’s promises
Martin Luther’s barber asked for help in knowing how to pray, so Luther wrote him a wee book that can still be obtained, called “A Simple Way To Pray”. In it he suggests using the Lord’s Prayer – not that we should simply repeat it as empty words but that we should listen to what Jesus says we should pray about and then pray about those things in our own words.
He also suggested praying the psalms. Luther said, “Whoever begins to pray the psalms earnestly and regularly will soon take leave of those other light and personal little devotional prayers and say, ‘Ah, there is not the juice, the strength, the passion, the fire which you find in the psalms. Anything else tastes too cold and too hard’”
He also found the Ten Commandments useful for prayer. Each commandment reveals something the Lord requires of us. Luther then turned that into thanksgiving, then confession, then a prayer.
The Bible itself is part of the armour God has provided so that we can stand and prevail in this spiritual battle.
Paul then says, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” The Holy Spirit is yet another resource God has given His people. We can allow the Holy Spirit to guide our prayers. The Holy Spirit will help us when we don’t know what to pray. We can pray in tongues – in a prayer language that the Holy Spirit gives. Notice that Paul talks here of all kinds of prayers. There are many ways to pray. Let the Holy Spirit lead you. Use a variety of prayers.
Then he says, “Be alert”. He must have been aware of the tendency for people’s minds to wander. Be alert. Stay focused. Sometimes it just requires a little mental discipline. “And keep on praying for all God’s people.” Keep on praying. The best way to learn to pray is to pray. The best way to have victory in prayer is to keep on praying. Satan wants you to give up. Refuse. Keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. There are people who need your prayers. There are people who are in need. There are people who are serving God but face difficulties because the spiritual forces oppose them. Keep on praying.
It is precisely because prayer is so important that Satan opposes it so strenuously. Who is going to win in your life? You can. It is a spiritual battle but God has provided the armour required: truth, righteousness, readiness to be obedient, faith, salvation, the scriptures and prayer itself. Put on that armour and you will stand. Each one of us can win and we can see fantastic things happen as we win in prayer and God answers.
- Who is winning the prayer battle in your life at the moment?
- What do you think are the lies that are most affecting your prayer life?
- What truths do you use to defeat Satan when he tries to stop you praying?
- What one step should you take to improve your prayer life?
- Which piece of armour do you need to attend to and how can you do that?