Warfare by Prayer
Tony Renshaw, Heald Green, Cheshire
In Ephesians chapter 6 Paul deals with the Christian's armour, for he saw the Christian life as a life of conflict. The call to service for Christ is essentially a call to battle. We have been enlisted for active service. There is a war on, and unlike earthly hostilities between nations, it permits of no exemptions on grounds of health, age or alternative employment! Those of us who are old enough to remember war-time conditions need no reminder that, in those days, life was neither normal nor tranquil for the vast majority. Air raid shelters in the streets, personal ration books, absence of consumer luxuries, curtailed holidays, evacuation to safe areas, street and house black-outs, tense daily news bulletins, daily injuries and loss of lives among service men and women, and among the civilian population-these and related matters prevented us from ever forgetting that the nation was at war. The spiritual warfare which is now raging may be less obvious outwardly, but in reality it is far more deadly and of infinitely greater consequence than conflict between nations. The devil and his hosts are our implacable foes. We live in enemy-occupied territory; all around us are Satan's captives whom he fiercely desires to drag down to eternal sorrow with himself. We dare not judge our fellowmen as though we were somehow superior to them. We may be revolted by the grosser evils in human behaviour which surround us, but we are not authorized to sit in judgment on lost sinners, for only the power of God has delivered us from their ranks. Their plight should arouse our compassion and rebuke our lethargy.
In verses 14-17, Paul identifies six components in the armour of God, namely, truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation and the Word of God. These are the resources with which we are to equip ourselves. But what is the climax of Paul's exhortation? For what purpose does he urge us to put on this armour? Surely, verse 18 supplies the answer. All is with a view to prayer, which is the seventh and final resource of the Christian. Is it too much to assert (as the writer was once taught) that prayer itself is the warfare to which we are called in this passage? That is what Paul is leading up to, and it is to that subject that we now address ourselves.
The R.S. V. rendering of verse 18 involves four phrases using the word "all" (following the Greek), and these emphasize four aspects of the practice of prayer.
1. Prayer Must be Unceasing. "Pray at all times". This is consistent with Paul's terse instruction to the Thessalonians, "Pray without ceasing", 1 Thess. 5. 17. Luke tells us why the Lord taught the parable of the importunate widow, namely, "And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint", 18. 1. Two alternatives confront us here, and there is not a third. Either we pray or we faint. Either we give ourselves to regular and adequate seasons of secret prayer, or we faint; and the word "faint" is variously rendered "turn coward", or "lose heart". Did Paul practise what he preached in this matter? "Wherefore I also . . . cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers", Eph. 1. 15-16; "night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith", 1 Thess. 3. 9-10; "We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you", Col. 1. 3; "For God is my witness . . . that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers", Rom. 1. 9.
Is it not amazing that the apostle Paul maintained such a rich and full prayer life, in the light of his privations and the hazards that he experienced? Constant travelling, irregular hours, physical weakness, fierce persecution, recurring dangers of many kinds, yet through it all he clearly spent hours in faithful and unceasing prayer. Surely those of us who enjoy a more tranquil and untroubled life-style are without excuse it we neglect the throne of grace. For prayer is not an optional extra, but one of life's fundamental necessities. If we fail in prayer, we shall fail in everything else that we do.
2. Prayer Must be Thorough. "With all prayer and supplication"; this implies detailed, thoughtful and systematic prayer. To be thoroughly practical it demands early rising, if need be, with whatever aid is necessary. A formative influence in the writer's early Christian life was the small classic booklet The Quiet Time. One contributor gives this terse advice, "Go to bed in time. Late nights are the relentless enemy of the morning watch. The devil will fight us here. He must be fought back. Pray the night before about your getting up the next morning". As we grow older, our prayer list should grow longer. We will probably use the Echoes Daily Prayer Guide, and other information sources. Known human needs, including those who are unemployed, or sick, or backsliding, or bereaved, or lonely, or discouraged, will claim our prayer time. Our Sunday School registers will become prayer lists. We shall pray for home workers as well as those overseas, indeed, for the whole household of faith. We may seek God's blessings on a range of Christian agencies and causes which further His work in many lands, a number of which readily come to mind. We ought also to be praying earnestly for all in authority at home and abroad, and if we do we shall rapidly discover (if we have not already done so) that such praying demands time, effort, persistence, and especially the gracious enabling of the Holy Spirit Himself.
3. Prayer Must be Persevering. "To that end keep alert with all perseverance". How encouraging it is to discover that Paul realized that prayer demands perseverance! Why is this so? Let William Cowper supply the answer:
What various hindrances we meet, in coming to the mercy seat;
Yet who that knows the power of prayer but wishes to be often there. Restraining prayer we cease to fight, prayer makes the Christian's armour bright,
And Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.
Therefore the devil will seek to keep us from our knees. He will remind us of other duties and tell us that they are more urgent than prayer. He will plague us with distracting and unholy thoughts. He will represent prayer as a waste of time. We shall need divine resources if we are to win this battle. But we have those resources! We shall have to contend with what C. S. Lewis (with telling honesty) called the "irksomeness of prayer". For God has not promised an unfailing, subjective awareness of His presence, an inner glow as we approach the throne of grace. Certainly there are seasons, which we may feel are all too few, when He seems to draw near for our joy and encouragement. But there will also be times when we shall have to cling by faith to His promises to hear and to answer our prayers, though we are painfully unaware of His presence. But such dry seasons may be the ones which God values most highly, since they cost us much in effort and perseverance. As good soldiers, let us not give up the struggle, and let us bear in mind those vital words, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened", Matt. 7. 7-8.
4. Prayer Must be Comprehensive. "Making supplication for all the saints, and also for me". This means that we should pray for all the saints without exception in our own assembly, as well as the saints in all assemblies in the homeland and in all assemblies elsewhere. Remembering the thrust of the Ephesian letter, it means that we should pray for all saints who are members with us of the body of Christ, though they be outside assembly life as we know it; this is quite consistent with seeking to uphold local church principles as found in the N.T. All who are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, members of God's family and destined for eternal glory, have a claim upon us. Surely, we shall be glad in the day when we are "caught up together", that we prayed for them, and sorry if we failed to do so. In 1 Timothy 2. 1, Paul calls for prayer for "all men", and the context makes it clear that he means all unbelievers; see vv. 3-4. Thus we are to pray for all saints and all sinners. Who else is there left? We are meant to cover the world in prayer, to reach out to those whom we shall never meet on earth.
Thou art coming to a King:
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.