11. Standing Together In Victory, Pt. 3: Perseverance In Spiritual Battles (Eph. 6:18-20)Related Media
Wearing the proper armour in battle is essential but what good is it if you don’t know how to use it or what to do with it? Wearing armour does not of itself assure victory. To be victorious we need strength, protection, and wisdom - wisdom to know how to act and think in battle; wisdom to listen to our Commander and understand His tactics. All of this we derive from persevering in all the power of prayer.
Prayer is the fuel that makes our armour effective and useful. Prayer is the link between God’s armour and God himself, between God’s provision and his person, between God’s care and his commands. Prayer is the source of wisdom and power in battle. Satan’s strategies in battle are cunning; our strategies are spiritual, prayerful. Prayer is the expression of our dependence upon God for direction, wisdom, and courage - that’s how we are able to persevere, to “stand in the evil day”.
In order to stand firm for God, we need to be spiritually empowered and protected (10-18), we need to be spiritually prepared (14-17), and we need to persevere in all the power of prayer (18-20). Standing for God requires constant and vigilant prayer. In particular, when we take hold of the sword of the Spirit (Word of God), we must do so in conjunction with the power of prayer if we want spiritual victory. The combination of the Scriptures (the Word of God directed to men) and prayer (the word of men directed to God) can withstand any enemy. This section of our passage teaches us that “Continuous and vigilant prayer is the key to spiritual vitality and victory”.
A doctoral student at Princeton, 1952, once asked: "What is there left in the world for original dissertation research?" Visiting lecturer, Albert Einstein, replied: "Find out about prayer. Somebody must find out about prayer." 1
Notice six important characteristics of true prayer. First…
I. The Variety Of Prayer
…praying with all prayer and petition (18a)
Prayer refers to prayer in general, including the adoration of God, confession of sin, profession of faith, thanksgiving. Petition refers to specific prayer - entreaty, supplication. If we sign a petition, we are entreating someone in authority to act in a certain way, to make a decision or to prevent something from happening. We plead for specific benefits or needs. That’s petition.
Used together, prayer and petition encompasses all forms of prayer - adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, intercession, general requests and specific requests for people and problems. The injunction is that we must pray using the complete variety of prayer, every type of prayer.
The first characteristic of prayer, then, is the variety of prayer. The second is…
II. The Frequency Of Prayer
…praying always (18b)
This means praying in all seasons, at all times, in every period of life. Don’t just pray when you’re in trouble, or when you’ve failed, or when you want a “favour” from God, or when you don’t know which way to turn. Don’t just pray when you’re happy, or when you’ve just won a spiritual battle, or when you feel close to God. Don’t just pray at certain seasons of the year – like Christmas, thanksgiving, Easter, or on Sunday.
There is never a time when you do not need to pray. “God is my witness…that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers” (Rom. 1:9; Phil. 1:4; Col. 1:3; 4:12; 2 Thess. 1:11). Like the early church we are to continue “steadfastly” in prayer (Rom. 12:12; cf. Acts 2:42). We must pray with regular devotion, “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). We must pray at all times of the “night and day” (2 Tim. 1:3).
Our prayer life is what generates our relationship with God. Spirituality is not a function of what you know but who you know. You may know a lot about the Bible by reading it and studying it, but you can’t truly know the God of the Bible without regular prayer. Knowing God is the key to deepening your spirituality. Intimacy with God is the sure sign of a spiritual person. And this intimacy with, and knowledge of, God stems from your prayer life coupled with your study of the Word.
When we pray we get to know God, we commune with him. Then our desire for God and our love for his Word deepens because the more we know him, the more we grow spiritually. That’s the motto of my ministry at the Institute for Biblical Preaching, “to deepen people’s desire for God and love for his Word”.
Praying always doesn’t mean formal prayer all day long. It’s not about bowing to the east five times a day. True prayer isn’t about ritual or repetition of words (Matt. 6:7). True prayer is an abiding consciousness of God’s presence, living in the awareness of God, making our whole life a matter of walking with God, lifting up our situations and decisions to God throughout the day, thanking God throughout the day, an attitude of prayer in our reactions, thoughts, and motives. In other words, our whole life is a looking to God – “setting our mind on things above not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2).
The third characteristic of prayer is…
III. The Means Of Prayer
…praying in the Spirit (18c)
The Word of God came through the Spirit of God and our prayers go back to God through the Spirit of God. “For through Him (Christ) we ... have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18).
To pray in the Spirit is to pray in harmony with the Spirit (Rom. 8:26-27); to pray through the intercession of the Spirit (Rom. 8:15, 16); to pray as the Spirit prays – to have our requests, thoughts, desires, line up with his and so to be in tune with God’s will; to pray with the Spirit’s help; to submit to the Spirit, depend on Him, be yielded to Him.
Prayers in the Spirit are inspired prayers, guided prayers, effective prayers, prayers according to God’s will because the Spirit knows the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:11).
To be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) you must pray in the Spirit. One commentator has said: “Those who are united in their access to the Father through the Spirit (2:18), who are built into God’s dwelling place in the Spirit (2:22), and who are being filled with the Spirit (5:18) can and should pray constantly in and through the Spirit.” 2
The variety of prayer, the frequency, the means, and fourthly…
Iv. The Manner Of Prayer
…to this same end, being watchful in all perseverance and petition (18d)
To what end? To the end of praying always and in the Spirit. To that end, we must be watchful (alert) in prayer.
If you want to pray always, you need to be watchful in prayer. If you’re not alert in prayer you might fall asleep spiritually. That’s why Jesus urged the disciples to be alert, watchful: “Stay here and watch…(but) he came and found them sleeping… Could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Mk. 14:34, 37-38). How could they pray for him in his hour of trial if they were asleep? How could they pray for strength, grace, encouragement if they were asleep? How could they be consistently in prayer if they were sleeping? How could they enter into his suffering? How could they be on the alert for danger? How could they be aware of his needs? How could they prayer for his comfort? What Jesus wanted more than anything else at that time was for his nearest and dearest friends to be alert in prayer, to be watchful in prayer, to persevere in prayer.
If you want to pray in the Spirit, you need to be alert in prayer. Then, you’ll be sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. You’ll be aware of the needs around you. Your spiritual radar will be active. So, how do we keep alert and watchful in prayer?
We keep alert in prayer through perseverance. Jesus taught us to “pray always and not lose heart” (Lk. 18:1). It’s easy to lose heart, to lose motivation in the battle, to become discouraged and give up. When we lose spiritual motivation, one of the first things that disappears from our lives is prayer.
Don’t become sloppy about your prayer life. Don’t think you can pray effectively after you fall into bed at night. You can’t. Your mind will wander and you’ll become sleepy. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t pray in bed - I often pray during the night and early in the morning in bed. But it should not replace disciplined, alert prayer. Be disciplined in prayer. Set aside particular times for concentrated prayer and maintain a constant attitude of prayer throughout the day.
Perseverance in prayer is steadfast devotion to prayer (Col. 4:2), constant, persistent, and purposeful prayer. “Be serious and watchful in your prayers” (1 Pet. 4:7).
“Continue earnestly in prayer; being vigilant in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2).
We keep alert in prayer through perseverance. And…
We keep alert in prayer through petition. Petition is heartfelt supplication, pleading, earnest intercession about something that weighs heavily on your heart and mind.
Many Christians don’t become serious about prayer until they have a serious problem. Then their prayer life becomes much more focused and earnest and intense, fervent. But we should always pray in the same manner, not so much for ourselves but for others, petitioning God for the needs of others, interceding on their behalf.
We need to be constantly petitioning God for victory over temptations, for forgiveness of those who have wronged us, for reconciliation with those who are estranged from us, for holiness of life amid all the temptations around us, for salvation for unbelievers before it’s too late, for spiritual protection, strength, and courage in spiritual battles.
One of our most pressing prayer concerns ought to be spiritual warfare, that we “stand firm” in the “whole armour of God”, that our missionaries be protected against evil spirits, that our Christian school teachers be protected from Satanic attacks, that our church be preserved in spiritual wellbeing and unity.
V. The Object Of Prayer
…for all the saints (18e)
All the saints means the church (both Jews and Gentiles), all who have been united in one body, the church (cf. Eph. 1:15; 3:18; 4:4). Prayer for all the saints is the practical expression of the unity that has been formed by the Holy Spirit between all believers. We are to pray continuously for all the saints because they are engaged in spiritual warfare, in the process of which they experience struggles and victories, joys and sorrows, successes and failures. To petition God on behalf of other believers is a privilege that every believer can and should participate in. It requires no spiritual gift, just a heart for God’s people.
If you love God’s people, you’ll care about their spiritual health. You won’t be absorbed with yourself but with others. Their spiritual welfare will be your concern. You will rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).
How much do you care about God’s people? It is directly related to the amount you pray for them. Praying for others also has a direct benefit to you. It takes your attention away from your own circumstances and onto others. Apparently, “before the onset of the Spanish civil war, Spain was experiencing such an epidemic of neuroses that psychiatrists could hardly handle them all. However, despite the devastation and horror of the war, it had the unexpected effect of curing many of Spain’s thousands of neurotics. When they became concerned about the welfare of their families, friends, and country instead of their own, their own anxieties disappeared.” Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones writes: “These neurotic people were suddenly cured by a greater anxiety” – an anxiety that reached beyond their own selfish welfare. 3
When we think less about ourselves and more about others, it has a spiritually therapeutic effect. Through intercessory prayer, we petition God to strengthen the weak, to stimulate their spiritual growth, to meet their spiritual, physical, and psychological needs. That should be the object of our prayer.
VI. Specifics Of Prayer
Pray for individuals by name. That’s why Paul says: (Pray) for me! (19a). “ I need your prayer support,” he says. When you pray, don’t just say: “Lord, bless your people. Heal those who are sick. Amen” Name them, visualize them, speak of them personally and affectionately. Pray for their needs specifically, for their problems, worries, obstacles, burdens, sorrows, victories, joys. And pray accurately; know what you’re praying about.
Pray especially for those who labour in the gospel. Satan wants to close their mouths so that they do not speak for God. Paul says here: (Pray) for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly as I ought to speak” (19-20).
Let me suggest four specific things to pray for those in ministry and leadership:
1. Pray that they will have the words and opportunities to speak at the right time.
2. Pray that they will have the courage to speak the gospel boldly.
3. Pray that nothing will prevent them from serving Christ - not even prison - that they will act as ambassadors for Christ even in chains.
4. Pray that they will fulfill their obligations in ministry, to speak as I ought to speak. It’s a duty. It’s compelling.
Their success for God is directly related to our prayers for them. Do you want the gospel to reach the uttermost parts of the earth? Then pray for those you know who are engaged in this task. Do you want victory for the ambassadors of Christ? Then pray for them in their spiritual warfare. This doesn’t just apply to missionaries in foreign lands but to all who are engaged in ministry, particularly those in leadership. The leaders of our churches are very susceptible to the enemy’s attack. Who do you think Satan is going to go after in order to weaken the war effort? Church leaders!
In his book, “Dying for Change,” Leith Anderson recounts an important incident in the American Civil War. In 1777 the battle of Saratoga was fought. Some believe that this skirmish was the turning point of the Revolutionary War. On the eve of the battle, patriot troops recognized that the British regiment had more soldiers, more gunpowder, more muskets, and more gun shot. Daniel Morgan of New Hampshire was commanding a ragtag group of farmers known as “Morgan’s Rifles.” He met with his men the night before the battle, and said to them, “Don’t waste your shot on those who fight for six pence a day. Save your shot for epaulet men.” Morgan’s point was simple. Patriot troops could not afford to waste their limited shot on the ordinary solder. Instead they were to target the officers, the ones with the epaulets on their shoulders.
This strategy devastated the British. By the second day of the battle the British officer ranks were decimated. The British regiment still had plenty of men, fire power and supplies, yet they surrendered because the principle is true: as goes the leader, so goes the battle.
This illustrates what is happening in churches today. Leaders are being taken down right and left by the enemy. Programs and human strategies do not counteract the roaring lion who seeks to devour the officers of this spiritual battle. Ministry today is a war zone. “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered” (Zech. 13:7). So, pray for your church leaders and your spiritual mentors, for those who preach the gospel, for those who teach in Bible Colleges and Christian schools. It’s not easy.
What could be more difficult to speak for Christ than prison? Imprisonment for your faith would tend to make you quiet. If you think your situation is difficult for witnessing what if you were in prison because of the gospel (as Paul was). But it didn’t change Paul’s view: he was an ambassador in chains (20). Isn’t that a contradiction in terms - an ambassador in chains? An ambassador is supposed to be free, to enjoy diplomatic immunity. But he was an ambassador in chains because his imprisonment was an opportunity to further the gospel as a representative of Christ.
Notice, Paul didn’t ask for prayer for his release from prison but that God would empower and use him effectively in prison, that he would boldly speak as he ought to speak. And he did speak boldly so that the guards heard the gospel and as a result other believers were inspired to speak boldly (cf. Phil. 1:12-14).
If you want to be victorious in spiritual battles - overcoming sin, growing in your relationship with Christ – then persevere in all the power of prayer. The truth is what theme of this section: “Continuous and vigilant prayer is the key to spiritual vitality and victory”. We all know that, but we have to admit that sometimes it’s hard to maintain because our spiritual enemy tries to prevent it.
In order to stand for God, we need to wear all God’s armour. Prayer is a vital part of that armour for fighting spiritual battles. If you don’t put it on, you’re vulnerable. This is a war of hand-to-hand combat against a deadly enemy – powerful, spiritual, operating in heavenly spheres. So, make sure you have all the armour on.
Are your spiritual organs protected by the shield of faith? Is your mind protected by the helmet of salvation? Are your feet protected by the shoe leather of the gospel? Is your heart protected by the breastplate of righteousness? Do you wear a belt of truth around your waist? Do you fearlessly wield the sword of the Spirit, the word of God? If you don’t have all these on you’ve got gaps in your armour.
In ancient China, the people desired security from the barbaric, invading hordes to the north. To get this protection, they built the Great Wall of China. It's 30 feet high, 18 feet thick, and more than 1,500 miles long! The Chinese goal was to build an absolutely impenetrable defence - too high to climb over, too thick to break down, and too long to go around. But during the first hundred years of the wall's existence China was successfully invaded three times. It wasn't the wall's fault. During all three invasions, the barbaric hordes never climbed over the wall or broke it down and they never went around it. They simply bribed a gatekeeper and then marched right in through an open door. The security of the wall was penetrated because of a separation between truth and practice. The truth was that the wall could provide ample protection - that is how it was planned and what they claimed. The practice was, however, that there were gaps in the wall that made them vulnerable. 4
Don’t let there be any gaps in your spiritual wall, your spiritual armour. Make sure that your practice of truth aligns with your profession of truth. Ensure that there are no gaps in your armour of truth which the enemy can penetrate.
If your church is to be a healthy, growing, vibrant church, leading people to Christ, baptizing believers, training people to serve the Lord, impacting your community, manifesting joy and unity, then prayer is the key (both corporate and private prayer). So, you need to commit to praying for the pastors, the elders, the deacons, the property, the congregation, your visitors. Why not become part of a focused prayer effort of your church by praying with a group around the building and grounds, by praying with others over the pews in the sanctuary, by praying for the pastor on Saturday night and Sunday morning, by praying for the Spirit to protect your young people etc. etc.
When was the last time you attended a prayer meeting? When was the last time you had a powerful encounter with God in personal prayer? When was the last time you prayed with your spouse? If you find it hard to answer those questions you need to discipline you prayer life; you need to get right with God.
Perhaps you’ve wandered a bit recently in your relationship with the Lord - you’re discouraged; you’ve suffered spiritual defeat. You need to renew your relationship with the Lord in prayer. Perhaps your prayer life just isn’t as disciplined as you’d like it to be; you don’t feel the intimacy as you once did; the freshness of your relationship with God has faded. You need to get back where you were. Or, perhaps your prayer life is regular and earnest and you don’t want to lose that.
There’s no better time than now to that make that commitment, to strive for constant, vigilant, persevering prayer in the Spirit. Why don’t you make that commitment now, publicly? There’s no need for embarrassment, just make a public declaration: “I want continuous, vigilant prayer to be characteristic of my life. I want the key to spiritual victory.”
1 Citation: Unknown, Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 1.
2 Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians (Dallas, Word Biblical Commentary, 1990), 252
3 Cited in MacArthur, Ephesians, 383.
4 Citation: James Emery White, You Can Experience a Purposeful Life (Nashville: Word, 2000) in Christianity Today.
Related Topics: Christian Life