We are given a picture of prayer that shows it to be foundational for the deployment of all other spiritual weapons given to us by God (6:10-17). It is in the context of prayer that the armor is put on and the sword is put into action. Thus, prayer is crucial if we are to stand firm in the spiritual battle.
So how do we pray to stand firm? Paul gives us five instructions for how we are to pray.
We Should Pray in the Spirit
What does it mean to pray in the Spirit? As always, context is king. Look back to verse 17, “take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (6:17-18). I think the key to understanding what Paul means here is seeing the connection between the word and prayer.
The New Testament is clear that God’s Spirit doesn’t work apart from God’s Word. People need to hear the gospel for the Spirit to convict; people need to hear the Scriptures explained for the Spirit to mature them. Likewise here, there is a relationship between the Spirit and the Word. The Word is the Spirit’s sword – he is the one who makes it sharp and effective. If Paul wants us to pray in the Spirit, surely he wants us to pray in a Spirit-directed way. That is, we should allow him to direct our prayers as we better understand God’s will from his word.
To pray in God’s Spirit is to bring your request into conformity to the Spirit-inspired word. The painful truth then is that our prayers are only ‘in the Spirit’ insofar as they conform to God’s Word.We Should Pray at All Times It’s easy to pray in the midst of trouble, but here we are told to pray at all times. The good, the bad, the ugly; times of blessing and peace as well as poverty and conflict. We should pray on vacation; we should pray at work.In the immediate context, we are to be praying at all times, because that is what keeps us strengthened in God’s armor. One Puritan pastor writes, “Now because of ourselves, we are as children, and no better able to wield this Armour of God, then David the Armour of Saul, the apostle adds that heavenly exercise of prayer.”
We Should Pray with All Prayer
When my dad was little, all he liked to eat was hamburgers – plain hamburgers. No ketchup, no lettuce, no onion, no pickle – nothing. And if they went out to eat somewhere that didn’t have hamburgers he wouldn’t eat anything. Eventually, his parents broke him of that stubborn habit. And with good reason, what kind of nutrition was he going to get from only eating hamburgers?Similarly, when we think of our spiritual health, how can we be nourished spiritually if we only pray the same kinds of prayers all the time?
When we look to the Scriptures, there are all kinds of prayers. We must mingle together our prayers, including praise of God. This is worshipful prayer for what God has done, not only in our lives, but in years past in the lives of his people. The focus of praise should of course be for what God has accomplished through Christ. Confession of sin is essential for warfare praying. The devil delights to come at us with accusations, playing to our guilt. But by confessing and repenting of our sins, because of Christ’s sacrifice for us, we will be encouraged, and well equipped to ward off such attacks. Thanksgiving is another important part of the Christian’s prayer life. Thanksgiving works in tandem with our petitions like the double action of our lungs – in petition we seek something for God, and in receiving it, the natural response is to exhale our grateful prayers of thanksgiving. Finally, there is petition or supplication. This comes in two forms – requests for ourselves and intercession for others. Like Moses for Israel, Abraham for Sodom, and Jesus for Peter, we must learn to intercede to God on behalf of others.
We Should Pray with All Perseverance
The Gospels tell us that Jesus told his disciples a parable, “to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Do you give up easily in prayer? Do you get frustrated and pout, not giving things over to God in prayer? Do you get down and disappointed and so lose heart, not seeking encouragement from God?
I am the kind of guy whose emotions can go up and down with ease. It doesn’t take much to excite me, or get me in the dumps about something. There is no way I would be able to continue in my ministry without prayer. One pastor has rightly said: “We must always pray or else we will give up.” If we are not praying, we will easily be choked by life’s riches and pleasures.We always make time for that which is important to us. We will not make time for prayer unless we understand how important it should be.
We Should Pray for All the Saints
Earlier we made the point that we must pray because we have an enemy. And we identified who that enemy was – the unfortunate thing is that we sometimes forget who that enemy is. Sometimes we mistake other people as the enemy – specifically, other Christians. Instead of fighting against spiritual forces, we want to fight each other.
But Paul here, corrects that sin. He says, pray “make supplication for all the saints.” We aren’t fighting a private war. We are all units in the same army; fight on the same lines. Therefore, we must pray that others may be able to stand and persevere as well.
If we are to stand firm against the attacks of the enemy, we must be devoted to prayer.