Ephesians 6 Paul is teaching on the spiritual warfare of the Christian life. Part of this spiritual warfare is the global nature of the participants, v. 12 Paul exhorts the believer to be strong in the Lord. This is not advice to put “your best foot forward”, to depend on your own strength. This is a spiritual battle and the strength is ultimately the Lord’s, not the believer’s. We have been looking at the component of prayer and in particular supplication – an element of prayer that is not superficial but in the mode of battle. This is a real battle; there are real wounds inflicted. The believer must enter into this spiritual warfare on a real level. That is supplication. Beyond that, Paul exhorts the believer to watchfulness, to perseverance, and again to supplication. The believer is called to watchful, persevering supplication. The believer cannot just stand back and once in a while throw up a prayer – he must enter in and be engaged on the front line. He is not just a sometime warrior on rotation; he is a front-line warrior. During World War II, it became clear that it was a strategic necessity for us to take Iwo Jima from the Japanese. We didn’t know there were miles and miles of tunnels in these islands but the Marines went in anyway. Three out of four were killed in the first assault but they took the islands, changing the outcome of the war. The Christian must be of that caliber.
This is call to prayer and not fainting, not being overcome. Matthew 26:36-45 When Peter, James, and John were in the Garden with the Lord Jesus, they were reeling under the prophecy that one of the disciples would betray Him and from knowing that He was going to death. They were emotionally and spiritually overcome and could not even stay awake. We are frequently emotionally and spiritually overcome in the battle. Thus Paul’s exhortation to watch and persevere.
How must we respond to battlefield conditions?
- We must watch our own hearts; we must be aware of ourselves, Proverbs 4:23. Peter had been warned that Satan wanted to sift him but he ignored it. If we aren’t physically fit we can’t run a foot race. In the same way, if we don’t watch our hearts we can’t pray.
- Prayer that perseveres, that is ongoing, is not natural. We are a little lackadaisical, happy-go-lucky. There may be an occasional crying out when we are in need but persevering prayer is not natural. It is also not without ceasing, so we are exhorted to these particular elements of prayer. Hebrews 5:7 This was the prayer of the Lord Jesus but we shy away from it because it is not natural. But it is a battlefield necessity for the believer
What does it look like?
- Prayer that is regular, serious, and engaged deals with the issues of life that are hard to face.
This is prayer that acknowledges desperate need for sinfulness and daily difficulties. It recognizes that we cannot make the changes needed in ourselves or others, that we need God’s intervention. Peter, James, and John may have been overcome by guilt and they could not pray. Persevering prayer is not “it’s all my fault” prayer. It goes beyond guilt because it is in the presence of the Savior.
- It is not shallow but engaged, intense communion with God.
- It needs to be daily and regular.
- It needs to be time set aside, not just in the midst of daily activities. But it needs to be realistic. Don’t try to start out with an hour. Start with ten minutes and then expand it.
There is an implied promise, James 5:16. The fervent prayer of the believer has real power.
John 1:1-14 is a prologue of a prologue to the beginning of this gospel account by John. This gospel is often given to unbelievers to read because it is thought to be simple, also because that is its stated purpose, John 20:30, 31.
Verses 1, 2 The one who comes to this gospel with a modern, materialistic worldview will not understand it. It cannot be taken apart in a rationalistic manner. There is internal spiritual logic to the Epistle that is the only way to grasp its meaning. And there is great depth to its meaning. The profound is presented in simple spiritual terms. The unspiritual man is invited to become spiritual that he might understand. The spiritual man is lead along into ever greener pastures.
Eternity past is presented with a depth of time that we can’t comprehend. Measurable things do not provide meaning for life. It requires eternity to provide meaning. Our meaning is in the immeasurable eternity of the beginning prior to creation. The unbeliever tries to find meaning of the things he does but meaning is supplied only to the believer in Christ the Word. The believer has God who is communion – the Word – and He gives communion. John is so taken up with the idea that the Son is in communion with the Father that he begins his epistle with it. And the believer can have communion in a like manner with the Father and the Son. Basic to the Christian life is this communion with the Father and the Son. Forgiveness of sin is not enough. That is the whole meaning of the story of the prodigal son, Luke11:11-32. The believer is made for communion. The Son has been in communion with the Father from eternity past and the believer has been brought into that communion. The believer needs to make a real effort to have daily, hourly communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Verse 3 The Lord Jesus is equal with the Father as Creator. As all things were created through Him, Colossians 1:16, so He is above all created things, Hebrews 1.
In general, the Psalms lend themselves to thorough study. There is a real structure that can be discovered and there is profit in searching them out. Most Psalms have a definite theme that is repeated throughout.
Verse 1: “Make haste”, David is feeling vulnerable and this pushes him to urgent prayer. This is a valuable place to be. We have an urgent need for urgent prayer and this Psalm helps us to see that. This is not uncommon in the Psalms.
David wrote many of this sort because he had enemies seeking his life, verse 2. The believer also has enemies which are not as clearly visible as David’s but are the source of our urgent need for urgent prayer. Satan is absolutely seeking to destroy the believer’s Christian profession. He seeks by subtle ways and large ways to undermine the believer’s spiritual life. Sometimes God allows the believer to see the mortal combat of this life. This can lead to a kind of despair.
The believer’s circumstances as well as Satan’s direct attacks can also drag him into despair, away from the Lord. A kind of spiritual pride can also set in, an “I can face this” attitude. Yet the believer often doesn’t see where he is headed until the Lord shows the danger. It is a blessing when the believer sees his urgent need and that he has no ability in himself to stand against his enemies, verse 5. David may have been the king with riches and faithful followers but he saw how poor he was against the enemies of his soul. He cried out to God with urgency for His help and instruction. This is the same place that the unbeliever comes to before God saves him. This is the place where the believer is most blessed – when he knows he has nothing but the Lord Jesus Christ.
The blessing of this kind of prayer is the recognition that this is the place to be – utterly helpless before an almighty God. This kind of urgent prayer finds God, Psalm 73:25 “Whom have I heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.” From this place it is very clear that God is ultimate help for the believer and God’s sovereignty becomes very apparent. God uses urgent prayer in urgent need to show Himself to the believer.
Psalm 116 There is a repeated phrase in this Psalm, “I will call upon Him”. This is in the context of dire difficulties, difficulties such as could result in death. The Psalmist is expressing God’s deliverance and this is to be seen as spiritual deliverance.
Three aspects of prayer:
- All prayer is against the backdrop of eternal salvation, verses 1-3, when the believer comes to the edge of hell. Believers need to know that when they go to prayer that we are there only because God has rescued them and delivered them through Christ. They are able and privileged to come to God in prayer through the redemption of Jesus Christ, verse 13. In all prayer there is an expression of the salvation of God.
- All prayer is in a life-long setting, verse 2. Salvation is not short-term, it is not experience-based as so much of modern evangelicalism asserts. It is for a lifetime. The reason is God Himself and His work of salvation, Psalm 42:7, 8.
- All prayer is in a setting of amazing deliverances. There are great difficulties that call on continued prayer, but God gives great deliverances. Many are the difficulties of the ones God loves, but He delivers them out of them all, verse 8. Believers have a great responsibility in thought and prayer not to live down in the realm of the difficulties but in the perspective of God’s deliverance in those difficulties, verses 15, 16.
This report of the Lord driving out the money changers from the temple is in all the gospels. In Luke 19:46 the Lord Jesus is referring to Isaiah 56:7. He understood the temple to be a place where people were gathered to pray, not sell. It was where the godly went as being ordained a place of prayer, as it was for Simeon and Anna at His birth, Luke 2:25-38. Solomon’s temple had been dedicated as the place where God would meet with His people and hear their prayer, I Kings 8:22ff.
There is now a transition from a physical place to pray to a gathering of God’s people as the temple of God, wherever that gathering may be, I Peter 2:5. The temple has been superseded by the gathering of God’s people as the place of prayer. But the function is the same – prayer, the praise of our lips. As shown for a pattern in Acts 2:42, God’s people are to continue steadfastly in prayer. There needs to be a continuing of good order and steadfastness of faith when the church gathers, Colossians 2:5. This is the “must be” that the Lord declares His house shall be called.
John Calvin stated that the believer has two duties: believe and pray. Our tendency in life is to be anxious. Our duty is to be in prayer in everything, Philippians 4:6. In the daily spiritual battle that we call the Christian life, prayer is central. Otherwise we tend to withdraw on the most particular matters if we aren’t engaged in constant prayer. And as the believer engages in private prayer, the church must reach out in prayer for one another.
We see further exhortation to prayer in the example of the Lord Jesus in Luke 3:21, 22. He was often in prayer and in this passage we see the Holy Spirit descends on Him as He prays.
Acts 1;13, 14 In like manner, the disciples were praying, not just waiting, and the Holy Spirit came upon them while they prayed. The believer has a desire for the ability to pray from the Holy Spirit and we seek more aid in our prayer from Him as well. The believer desires to enter into real communion with God in prayer. That occurs by the Holy Spirit.
What is prayer that the Holy Spirit aids?
- Prayer is the prerequisite for such prayer. Luther set aside the best hours of his day for prayer and was in prayer several hours in the day. In such time of prayer the believer ought to expect the Holy Spirit to be present. Romans 8:26, 27 There is aid from the Holy Spirit for prayer, not just a recitation of a list as a duty.
- If we are not living as we ought, we will not have that aid. The believer needs to be a “free channel” that the Holy Spirit flows through as living water. If the life is clogged with the cares of the world and sin, there can be no expectation of the Holy Spirit.
- The believer must invite the Holy Spirit to enable the type of prayer that meets with God. James 5:16. Fervency comes from the Holy Spirit. Luke 11:13 This is the gift of the Father to those who ask.
Matthew 27:46 This prayer of the Lord Jesus from the cross can involve us in large theological difficulties but that is not the nature of this devotional. What is very clear as a backdrop is that this is a direct quote from Psalm 22:1 where David cries out to God with these same words. God brings His people into great difficulty such that they have such feelings, such an outlook, that they are in such darkness that they feel forsaken by God. This is not just an unbeliever but God’s own anointed – David and the Lord Jesus – who is brought into the place where there is no sight of God. In Isaiah 50:10 the believer is exhorted to trust in God when he finds himself in darkness. It may seem unthinkable that a believer would ask “God, have You forsaken me?” But this is an even stronger declaration of desertion, “Why have You forsaken me?” The Lord Jesus has been in even worse darkness than any believer can know.
If God brings His people into great difficulty, He also gives them prayer. The Lord Jesus doesn’t pray to God as an entity; He prays, “My God.” From the believer’s inability to see, he calls out, even lashes out, but it is to the God of his refuge. There is fight in such prayer. How could the believer dare to claim that God, the One who keeps the covenant, has forsaken him? The believer can call out with such prayer because of his relationship with God. He knows that the covenant-keeping God cannot possibly have forsaken him but the believer is asking why He appears to have left him in total darkness. He is complaining, vehemently, that it should not be so with such prayer, Psalm 22:1-21a. In Psalm 22:21b he declares that God has heard him. In the deep darkness where God’s people are driven they are able to pray vehemently and they are heard.
In Luke 22:46, when the Lord Jesus knew He was facing His greatest trial, He exhorted His disciples to pray for the trial they would also be facing. He was praying with great earnestness before the cross for God to deliver Him but with submission to the Father’s will. The believer likewise must pray earnestly that the difficulty he faces will pass but with submission to God’s will as it unfolds. And God enables and answers such prayer.
A study of Christ speaking on prayer brings it to light everywhere in the Gospels. In Luke 19:46 He quotes Isaiah 56:7 that God has designated a specific place for His house in the wilderness where men could speak with Him. It was to be a house of prayer. The Lord Jesus declared that it should not be made into a place for merchandise which lowered its purpose.
In John 4:23, 24 the Lord Jesus declares that God is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth. In the new covenant age the house of prayer is no longer a place to meet but the meeting of God’s people. The local visible church has become the place of prayer. God’s people are uniquely called to gather for prayer corporately as well as privately with the men leading, I Timothy 2. Praying out loud before the congregation is a duty for pastors and the men of the church that takes the Lord’s grace. The whole congregation must uplift and join the men in silent prayer.
In Luke 11:13 the Lord Jesus expresses what should be an object of prayer, the giving of the Holy Spirit. If the people of God are the ones who gather to pray and the Holy Spirit is the author of prayer, then we ought to pray about our praying. We ought not to just walk into a time of prayer without concern for the quality of the prayer. Charles Spurgeon expressed concern for prayer meetings where there was nothing but common, tired prayer. The Holy Spirit can give power for greater aid in prayer. Prayer is not a human activity; it is a spiritual activity and needs to be prayed about. We must ask the Lord to give us prayer, vitality of prayer, content of prayer, corporately as well as personally. There is room for growth in every prayer life. We must ask the Holy Spirit for growth in prayer.
In Acts 4:23-31 we see that God gives the Holy Spirit in power as the result of prayer. And the giving of the Holy Spirit leads to boldness in witnessing. If we would have ability to witness as we desire, we must have the power of the Holy Spirit, which comes in answer to prayer.
The Lord Jesus is the refuge of the believer. In Luke 11:1, 2 He teaches the disciples to pray to the Father. We might sometimes call God the Father but we need to meditate on this relationship, not just repeat the word. There is a reason why God is the Father of the believer.
We have a place of safety, of refuge, from God’s wrath, where we truly safe because God has poured out His wrath on His Son. In Matthew 3:7, 8 John the Baptist rebukes the Pharisees and Sadducees who want to receive baptism but do not have God as their Father. They have not come to God through repentance and faith in Christ. The Lord Jesus is the One who saves from wrath, I Thessalonians 1:10. The believer is the one who has fled for refuge to Christ Himself, Hebrews 6:18. They have entered the ark of safety, as Noah, which is Christ, Hebrews 11:7.
Psalm 62:8 Because of who the Lord Jesus is for us, we have a place where we are not only safe but taken care and provided for. The refuge is not only by means of Christ but with Christ. He is our Shepherd, I Peter 2:25. In this place of refuge, Paul pleaded with the Lord about the thorn in his flesh, II Corinthians 12:7, 8. The believer must likewise come to Christ to plead for those things he needs.
Often when we are coming to the Lord in prayer, our greatest need is for wisdom. Christ is that for the believer, not only wisdom for salvation but for every situation he finds himself in, I Corinthians 1:30. Is He our wisdom or do we seek to manipulate the events of life to achieve what we want? We must seek Him as our wisdom and refuge in all situations.
All of this is implied when the Lord Jesus exhorts us to pray “Father” – that we come into this place of safety provided by the blood of Christ. This is the heart of the Christian life – prayer that takes us into this refuge. We must center our lives in this place of refuge, where we are built up, where God hears prayer, where spiritual change occurs.
Matthew 5:23, 23 The Lord Jesus is speaking of bringing a physical offering to the altar. This is an OT outlook as they were still in the midst of the old covenant. He is exhorting that if your brother has something against you – not if you have sinned against your brother – you must not come to the altar.
Sin bars the way to God. We do not now bring a physical offering to a physical altar, but prayer is still a sacrifice in a holy place in the presence of God. Hebrews 13:15 calls praise a sacrifice from the lips of believers. Christ’s admonition, His spiritual command, is still very appropriate. We have a blessed privilege of coming before God through the death and resurrection of Christ. We have the way paved to the altar by His blood, and we have a sacrifice of prayer to lay there. Sin cannot live there. We can’t just tromp in and blast out our needs and desires. It is true that Christ’s righteousness covers sin but we must be sensitive to sin in coming into God’s presence.
As Moses had to remove his shoes in God’s presence in the burning bush, the believer must remove his sin in God’s presence for prayer. This is another reason for secret prayer. As we approach the mercy seat over a period of time and come into God’s presence over a period of time, we become more aware of what needs to be dealt with in our lives. Self-examination and repentance is the “shoe removal” of secret prayer. The way in which we have consciousness of sin is because we have been given the law of God in the inner man, the knowledge of the reality of who God is that we cannot ignore. Psalm 66:”If I regard iniquity in my heart…” The Psalmist is not saying “sin on my hands”, “the intention of sin” – he is saying that he cannot condone sin in the inner man. If the believer is not maintaining the knowledge of who God is in the inner man, God will not hear prayer.
There must be a reconforming of the soul to God’s image. Only the believer can conform to the image of God in the inner man. Only the believer can know the distinction between what is sinful and what is not. And when there is the presence of sin, the believer will be made to know that. We will not attempt to come into God’s presence with the knowledge of sin.