Chapter 9

Advice When Attacked

Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all
prayer, and supplication. To that end keep
alert with all perseverance, making suppli-
cation for all the saints, and also for me,
that utterance may be given me in opening
my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery
of the gospel, for which I am an ambas-
sador in chains; that I may declare it
boldly, as I ought to speak
(Ephesians 6:18-20).

The apostle Paul has outlined for us three steps we must take if we expect to "be strong in the Lord" and to resist the attacks of Satan. Thee first, as we have been discussing "is to put on the armor of God--the whole armor--"that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil."

And the second step, Paul says, is to pray:

Pray 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 utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I might declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18-20).

There is a very strong and powerful relationship between putting on the armor of God and praying. These two things belong together, in fact, one grows out of the other. It is not enough to put on the armor of God--you must also pray. It is not enough to pray--you must also have put on the armor of God.

As we. have seen, putting on the armor of God is far from being merely figurative--it is an actual thing you do. It is remembering what Christ is to you and thinking through the implications of that relationship in terms your present struggle and experience. Essentially, putting on the armor is done in the realm of your thought life. It is an adjustment of the attitude of your heart to reality, to things as they really are. It is thinking through the implications of the facts revealed in God's Word.

Our problem with life is that we do not see it as it is; we suffer from strange illusions. This is why we desperately need and must have the revelation of the facts of Scripture. Life is what God has declared it to be. When we face it on that basis, we discover that revelation is right, it is accurate, it does describe what is happening. And more, it tells us why things happen and what lies behind them. All this is part of putting on this armor, of appropriating Christ to the life in terms of your present situation. It is all done in the realm of the thought life.

What do you do when you put on the breastplate of righteousness? You think of Christ and what his righteousness means as it is imparted to you. What do you do when you take up the of the Spirit? You give heed, as we saw, to those flashes of Scripture, those portions of the word of God that come to your mind that immediate application to the situation you are facing. But again, this is all done in the realm of thou lit

At first it takes time to work this all through, but as we learn how to do it, the process becomes much more rapid. We can almost instantaneously think through this line of approach to the problems we are facing. This is what Paul means in the letter to the Corinthians when he says, take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Harmful If Not Applied

If we. merely think about these things, however, and never bring our thoughts into fulfillment through some form of action, we are actually violating our basic humanity, and this can be dangerous. Human beings are made both to think and to do--in that order. We receive information first, assimilate it, correlate: it, and think it out then we act upon what we have both thought and felt. Our emotions and our mind, working upon our will, bring us at last to activity. This is the normal and proper procedure for human living.

All our doing must and will grow out of thinking. Sometimes we speak of "thoughtless" actions. We say of someone that he acted thoughtlessly. This is impossible. You cannot act thoughtlessly. What we really mean is that someone has acted with very superficial, shallow thinking. But it is actually impossible to ever act without having first thought. Yet it is possible to think without ever acting. That is what the Apostle is bringing us to in 2 Corinthians 10:5.

To think without doing is inevitably frustrating. It is like cooking and never eating. You can imagine bow frustrating that would be. So the complement to putting on the armor of God and the activity which results from it is to gay, First to think through and then to pray.

Notice that the apostle does not reverse this and instruct us to pray first and then put on the armor of God. That is what we often try to do, and the result is a feeble impotent prayer life. There is great practical help here if follow carefully the designated order of Scripture.

I think most Christians, if they were honest, would confess that they were dissatisfied with their prayer life. They feel it is inadequate and perhaps infrequent. All of us at times struggle to improve ourselves. Sometimes we struggle to improve the quality as well as the quantity of our prayer lives. Sometimes we adopt schedules that attempt to maintain or we develop long lists of names, projects and. places that we try to remember in prayer or we attempt to discipline ourselves in some way to a greater ministry in this realm. In other words, we begin with the doing, but when we do that, we are starting in the wrong place. We are violating our basic human nature in doing it that way. The place to start is not with the doing but with the thinking.

The Place to Start

Now I am not suggesting that there is, no place Christian discipline. There is. I am not suggesting that won't need to take our wills and put them to a task and follow through. There is this need. But first, we should do what is involved in "putting on the armor of God." First, think through the implications of our faith, and then prayer will follow naturally and much more easily. It will be thoughtful prayer--prayer that has meaning and relevance.

That is the problem with much of our praying now, is it not? It is so shallow and superficial. What is needed Prayer should be an outgrowth of thoughtfulness about the implications of faith. at adds depth and significance to it. Prayer should be pointed and purposeful.

Now, basically, what is prayer? Is it a mere superstition as some people think, a mumbling, a talking to yourself under the deluded dream that you are addressing deity? Or is it a form of black magic by which some heavenly genie is expected to manipulate life to our desire--a kind of ecclesiastical Aladdin's lamp that we rub? I am afraid, many have that concept of prayer. On the other hand, is it, as certain groups tell us, self-communion, a psychological form of talking to yourself in which you discover depths in your being that were there all the time, but you did not realize it until you prayed?

All of these ideas of prayer bold no similarity with what we read in the Scripture on the subject. Paul here recognizes two categories of prayer: that which he calls (1) all prayer, and (2) supplication. "All prayer" is the widest classification; "supplication" is, the specific request that is made in prayer. And if you take the whole range of Bible teaching on this great subject of prayer you will find that underlying all the biblical presentation of prayer is the idea that it is conversation with God. That is all it is; prayer is simply conversing with God.

Family Talk

As we understand the position of a Christian, a believer, he is in the family of God. Therefore, prayer is family talk. It is a friendly, intimate, frank, unrestricted talking with God, and it is into this close and intimate relationship that every individual is brought by faith in Jesus Christ. By faith in Christ we pass out of the realm of being Strangers to God and aliens to the family of God into the intimate family circle of the children of God. It is easy to talk within a family circle, but think what harm is done to that intimacy if people refuse to talk within the family circle. Again, prayer, basically, is a conversation with God.

Now supplication is making some specific request. James says, "You do not I use you do not ask" (James 4:2). In our conversation with God it is perfectly proper to ask, because we are children and he is a Father. What Paul is saying is, "After you have put on the armor of God, after, you have thought through the implications of your faith in the ways that have been suggested previously, then talk to God about it." Tell him the whole thing. Tell him your reactions, tell him how you feel, describe your relationships to life around yea and your reactions to them, and ask him for what you need.

Prayer is often considered to be such a high and holy thing that it has to be carried on in some artificial language or tone of voice. You hear this so frequently from pulpits. Pastors adopt what has been aptly called a "stained-glass voice." They pray as though God were far off in some distant comer of the universe. But prayer is a simple conversation with a Father. It is what the Apostle describes so beautifully in the Epistle to the Philippians,

Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication [there it is again] with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, win keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

That is a wonderful study in prayer. Paul is saying there are three simple things involved in prayer. First, worry about nothing: "Be anxious for nothing," Christian friends, do you hear what that says? Worry about nothing! This is one of the major problems in Christian living today. Christians are either stumbling blocks to non-Christians or are a glowing testimony and witness to them depending on whether they worry or not. Christians are continually exhorted in Scripture to worry about nothing. Now that doesn't, mean not to have a proper interest about things. Stoicism is not advocated here, but we are not to be anxious, fretful, worried.

Nevertheless this is so often the attitude of our lives. Someone said, "I am so loaded up with worries that if anything happened to me this week it would be two weeks before I could get around to worrying about it." Sometimes we make an artificial attempt to cure our worrying by will power. As another has put it,

I've joined the new 'Don't worry' Club
And now I bold my breath
I'm so scared I'm going to worry
That I'm worried half to death.

But the admonition is: Worry about nothing, and that is only possible when you have put on the armor of God. Do not try to attempt it on any other basis. Worry comes from fear, and the only thing that 'will dissolve fear is facts. Therefore, to put on the armor of God is to face the facts. just as they are.

The second thing Paul says is involved in prayer is to "Pray about everything." Everything! Someone says, do you mean that God is interested in little things as well as big things? Is there anything that is big to him? Of course he is interested in them; he says so. The hairs on our head are numbered by him. Jesus was at great pains to show us that God is infinitely involved in the most minute details of out lives. He is concerned about everything. Therefore, pray about everything.

And what is the result? "You will be kept through anything!" That is what he says in Philippians. "The peace of God, which passes all understanding." It is a peace which no one can explain which is there despite the circumstances, and which certainly does not arise out of any change of circumstances. And it "will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Can there be anything more relevant than that in this troubled, anxious, fretful, weary, disturbed world?

An Essential Link

Inherent in prayer are three basic facts. When we pray we recognize first, the existence of an invisible kingdom. We would never pray at all if we did not have some awareness that someone is listening, that behind what is visible, there is an invisible kingdom. It is not far off in space somewhere; it is right here. It surrounds us on every side. We are constantly in touch with it even though we do not always realize it. It lies behind the facade of life, and all through the Scripture we are exhorted to take heed of this, to reckon with it and deal with it, to acknowledge that it exists.

The second thing that prayer reveals is that we Christians have confidence that the kingdom of God is highly significant, that it affects our lives directly, that the visible things which occur in our world are a direct result of something that is happening in the realm of invisibility. Therefore, if you want to change the visibilities, you must start, with the invisibilities.

Third, and perhaps the most hotly contested fact by the Devil and his forces is that our prayers play a direct and essential part in bringing God's invisible power to bear on visible life. In other words, God answers prayer. Prayer is purposeful and powerful. It is not pitiful and pathetic pleading with only a rare chance that it might be answered.

No, prayer is powerful. God answers! Prayer is an essential link in the working of God in the world today. Without it he often does not work--with it he certainly does. Those three things are all involved in the matter of prayer.

But now we must immediately add that God answers prayer according to his promises. There is a vague and undefined concept of prayer held by in God answers any kind of prayer, no matter what you want or how you ask for it. This, of course, results frequently in disappointments and gives rise to the widespread belief that prayer is ineffectual. But God answers every prayer that is based upon a promise.

Prayer does not start with us; it starts with God. God must say he will do something before we are free to ask him to do it. That is the point. That is how it works with a father and his children. No parent commits himself to give his children a thing they want or anything they ask for. He makes it clear to them that he will do certain things and not do other things. In the realm of those limits the father commits himself to answer his children's requests. So it is with God. God has given promises, and they form the only proper basis for supplication.

This is what is meant here by Paul's reminder that we are to Pray at all times in the Spirit. In the Spirit! Here again is a great area of misunderstanding. Many take the phrase "in the Spirit" to be descriptive of the emotions when we pray. They think it is necessary to be greatly moved before prayer can be effectual, that we must always pray with deep earnestness. This is, of course, possible at times, but it is not essential or necessary to the effectiveness of prayer. And it is certainly not the meaning of this phrase "in the Spirit." It has no relationship to the emotions that we feel in prayer.

If He Promised

Well, what is it, then? It means to pray according to the promises which the Spirit has given, and it is based on the character of God which the Spirit has made known. That is praying in the Spirit. God has never promised to answer just any prayer, but he does promise to answer prayer in a way that he has carefully outlined and given to us. He does so invariably and without partiality; he is no respecter of persons in this matter of prayer. In the realm of our personal needs (those needs that call forth most of our prayers)--the need of wisdom, perhaps, or power, or patience, or grace, or strength--God's promise is specifically and definitely to answer immediately. He always answers that type of prayer immediately. 'To him that asks, it shall be given" (Luke 11:9).

The Apostle is saying in our text that we must take this matter of prayer seriously and learn what God has promised. In other words, master this subject as you would master any other course of stud you undertake. Scientists have mastered various areas in the realm of science. Teachers have become proficient at the art of teaching. Artisans give time. and study to their trade. in the same way, we must learn to master the art of praying. For, though prayer is the simplest thing in the world--a conversation with God--it also can become the very deepest and most profound experience in your life. As you grow in this matter of praying, you will discover that God is very serious about prayer and that through it he makes his omnipotence and omniscience available to us in terms specific promises.

When you learn to pray on that basis, you will discover that exciting and unexpected things are constantly happening, that there is a quiet but mighty power at work on which you can rely. And as you learn to pray in this way, you find that a tremendous weapon, a mighty power to influence your own life and the lives of others, is put at your disposal.

Open Their Eyes, Lord

But we are not alone in this battle--this conflict with doubt, dismay, fear, confusion and uncertainty. No, there are others around us who are weaker and younger in Christ than we are, and there are still others who are stronger than we. But all of us are all fighting this battle together. We cannot put on the armor of God for another person, but we can pray for that other person. We can call in reinforcements when we find him engaged in a struggle greater than he can handle for the moment, or perhaps for which he is not fully equipped. It may be, he has not yet learned how to handle his armor adequately. We are to be aware of other people's problems and pray for them. We are to pray that their eyes will be open to danger, and we are to help them realize how much is available in the armor God has given them, for it is a means of specific help and strength for specific trial.

Notice how Paul asks this For himself in this very. passage. "Pray for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the, gospel" (Ephesians 6:19), This mighty apostle has a deep sense of his need for prayer. He says, "Pray that God may grant to me boldness that I will so confident of the truth of which I speak that no fear of man will ever dissuade me or turn me aside." You find another notable example of Paul's desire for prayer in the closing verses of, the fifteenth chapter of Romans where he asks the Christians to pray for three things specifically: physical safety when he visits Jerusalem; a sensitive, tactful spirit when he speaks to Christians there; and an ultimate opportunity to visit the city of Rome (Romans 15:30-32) Three specific requests, and the record of Scripture is that every one of them was answered exactly as Paul had asked.

In reading through the prayers of Paul I find that he deals with many matters. But he prays repeatedly for other Christians that their spiritual understanding might be enlightened. He asks that the eyes of their mind--their intelligence--might be opened and unveiled. This repetition in the Apostle's prayers indicates the importance of intelligently understanding life--what is true and what is false, what is real and what is phony. It also illustrates the power of the Devil to blind and confuse us and to make things look very different from the way they really are.

So the repeated prayer of the Apostle is, Lord, open their eyes that their understanding may be enlightened, that intelligence may be clarified, that they may see things as they are. In the letter of James, the importance of praying for others is forcefully underlined: "My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19, 20). The prayer of another person can change the whole one person's life oftentimes overnight.

One Christmas eve my family and I were in the Sierra Nevada mountains at Twain Harte. When the sun went down, the landscape around us was dry and barren. A few brown leaves swirled down from the trees; it was a typically bleak winter landscape. But when we awoke the next morning it was to a wonderland of beauty. Every harsh line was softened, every blot was covered. A five-inch snowfall had fallen during the night and the whole landscape was quietly and marvelously transformed into a fairyland of delight.

I have seen this same thing happen in the life of an individual whose attitude toward the things of God and of reality was hard, stubborn, determined to have his own way. By virtue of prayer,' secretly performed in the closet, that person's heart was softened, melted; mellowed, and changed. His total outlook was changed overnight.

Now it does not always happen overnight. Sometimes it takes much longer. Time is a factor which God alone controls, and he never putt a time limit on his instruction concerning prayers. But he constantly calls us to this ministry of Prayer both for ourselves and for one another.

When we pray as God teaches us to pray we learn to release in our own lives and in the lives of others the immense resources of God to strengthen the spirit and to give inner stability and power to meet the pressures and problems of life.

Our Father, we know so little about this mighty ministry of prayer. We pray that you will teach us to pray. Forgive us for the way we have often looked at prayer as though it were unimportant, insignificant, an optional thing in our lives. Help us to take this seriously. Help us to realize that you have made this the point of contact between us and you. We pray, then, as the disciples prayed, "Lord, teach us to pray!" In thy name, Amen.