We are filthy rich. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians church tells Christians as much. Rich in Christ. Spiritually wealthy in Him. We have already received every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We are adopted, predestined, and chosen by God. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit. We have been reunited with Him. The work of Christ was a full work, and Christians must learn to enjoy all they’ve received in Him, to walk out the spiritual reality that is theirs in Christ.
But in the walk, there is a war. In that war, we must learn to stand. The enemy wants to take us out. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood. Our war is unseen and invisible. But an invisible war is not a fictional war. The battle is truer than the most flesh and blood war we’ve seen broadcast on CNN. Our war is a legitimate struggle in the spiritual realm.
For this war, God provides spiritual armor for His people. A belt. A helmet. A breastplate. Shoes. Even a sword. But then, finally, prayer. For this spiritual war, there is a spiritual opportunity, prayer to God.
Paul says it this way: “praying 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 words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:18–20).
All the great moves of God begin with prayer. Sometimes many people pray (see Acts 1-2). Sometimes one man prays (see Nehemiah 1). Sometimes the prayer is sparked by a trial (see Exodus 1-2). Sometimes prayer is sparked by sin (see Psalm 51). But the great moves of God, corporately or personally, often start with prayer, for God is ever-listening to the heart of His children. Here is how Paul describes it.
“…at all times…” — Ephesians 6:18
Paul does not invite us into a nonsensical prayer life when he says, “at all times.” He doesn’t mean we are to walk around muttering prayers out loud to God all day long. He isn’t suggesting a ridiculous form of life, but a radically helpful one.
The cross of Christ has won us forever access to the throne of God. We can pray at all times. We don’t have to get all worked up into a spiritual lather before we can pray. We don’t have to sing worship songs for forty-five minutes before we can pray. We don’t have to confess every known and unknown sin before we can speak with our Father. We don’t have to read ten chapters in the Bible before we can pray. No, Christ has won a way into the Father’s throne room. We can pray non-stop, at all times, because of the work of Christ.
In another place, God says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), which does not describe an unbroken flow of words, but fellowship. Interact with God all throughout the day. Start the day with prayer. End the day with prayer. But “at all times” cry out to Him in prayer. We've been invited into an unbroken flow of dependence and fellowship with our God. He resides within us, by His Spirit, so He is an ever-present help for us.
Do you find yourself in a hard conversation? Pray. Are you tempted? Pray. Are you feeling discouragement wash over your soul? Pray. Do you see or read something which grieves your heart? Pray. Do you need wisdom for a decision? Pray. Have you just spoken with someone in need of prayer? Pray. Right now, go to the Father, pray. Do not delay, for that is your enemy’s desire. Instead, waste no time — pray! Develop continual and open communion with God.
“…in the Spirit…” — Ephesians 6:18
The entire Triune Godhead is involved in your prayer life. Jesus made a way for us to access the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. So the cross is the way, the throne of God is the destination, and the Spirit is the helper. He wants to aid your prayer life. He wants to bring you into the flow of prayer, out of the dryness and into the stream of effectiveness in prayer.
But what does it mean to pray in the Spirit? Consider the alternative. Prayer in the flesh, in humanness, with manpower. To pray our own wills, desires, and insights are praying in the flesh. But to pray in the Spirit is to be led by the Spirit in prayer. God’s heart, God’s will, God’s desires begin to take center stage. No longer do we pray from our vantage point, but the vantage point of the Spirit. Spirit things, rather than flesh things, become the focus of the prayers.
We need the Spirit’s leading in prayer. Without Him, we struggle along, discouraged in our prayer life. God spoke through Zechariah of a day when He would pour out a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy (Zechariah 12:10). In other words, God would pour out the ability to pray well, because we need the aid of the Spirit.
“…with all prayer and supplication…” — Ephesians 6:18
All prayer, for there are many kinds of prayer. ‘Prayer’ is a big word. It contains many subsets and nuanced variations.
Sometimes we pray in adoration of who God is. Sometimes we confess our sins, revealing ourselves before the God who already sees, hiding from Him no longer. Sometimes we ask for the forgiveness of God, looking to Him to wash and renew us within. Sometimes bring specific requests from our own lives before God, while at other times we pray requests for others. Sometimes we pray prayers of submission before God, devoting ourselves afresh to Him and His work in our lives. Sometimes we thank Him for what He is doing or has done.
We pray in groups, but we also pray alone. We pray on our knees, but we also pray while walking. We pray to start the day, but also to end it. We pray long and detailed prayers, but we also pray quick prayers. We pray with a light heart, but we also pray with groanings. Sometimes we are fervent, other times we are barely there. But we are to pray with every type of prayer at our disposal.
“…keep alert…” — Ephesians 6:18
One of the words Jesus used was the word ‘watch’ in combination with prayer. We are to ‘watch and pray.’ A spiritually alert people are a prayerful people. We must keep our spiritual eyes open.
When my eyes are open to the dangers of temptation, I will pray. “Watch and pray,” Jesus said to His disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, “that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). When I see the danger of temptation lurking, I pray preemptively against it.
But our eyes are open to more than temptation. The pains of this world and life, not just for ourselves, but for others, are an important part of our prayer lives. Like soldiers on watch, we look out for potential threats to others and cry out to God on their behalf. We open our eyes to see what to pray for, asking the Spirit to show us how and what to pray. Each person, each catastrophe, each church, is in need of prayer. Our discerning eyes must look upon them, process the situation, and ask of God.
“…with all perseverance…” — Ephesians 6:18
The work of prayer — real, true, battling prayer — takes perseverance, for the work is so invisible. It takes perseverance to regularly do anything in life. Writing, running, and study all take perseverance in my life. But none of them require the endurance and perseverance prayer does. There are a million things easier than prayer. Prayer requires faith. Prayer takes a pushing through the stuff of life, the lackadaisical attitudes, the distractions of the moment.
The enormity of it all can cause us to quit prayer. Problems never cease. Trials never disappear. The enemy is never fully vanquished. But life without persevering prayer is a worse alternative. We are without a choice. We can chop that wood or freeze in the winter. But if we chop the wood we will grow strong, and the task will refresh us. Prayer is that chopping of wood. Hard, but healthy. The deeper we go, the easier it becomes.
Grab a friend or spouse or someone you look up to in Christ. Pray with them. Set a time, regularly. Keep it. This might help you as you endeavor to pray with perseverance.
“…making supplication for all the saints…” — Ephesians 6:18
In prayer, we are to lift up more than our own lives. “Our Father” is the first line of the disciple’s prayer life. Not ‘my’ but ‘our.’ I am to think of you when before the Father in prayer. I am not alone. Others must be prayed for.
It is in this others-centered prayer life we get our wings. Prayers begin to fly as we get behind others we love and know in Christ. Knowing their pains, their struggles, their desires, we cry out to God on their behalf. Some we know well, others we know less, but they are all human. Therefore we know how to pray. We are to pray for victory, for wisdom, for guidance. We pray for provision, for joy, for opportunities.
And we are helped! No longer are we swallowed up by self-thought. Prayer for others releases us from our burdens.
“…and also for me, that word may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel…” — Ephesians 6:19
We also pray for the work of the kingdom, especially in the work of preaching. Paul asked for prayer for boldness and clarity. He wanted to strongly declare the deep mystery of the gospel. Boldness and clarity, clarity and boldness — this is the prayer of the preacher.
And believers are to pray for the communication and transmission of the gospel. But how to pray for this? Well, for the preacher we ought to pray for boldness and clarity, that grace would be imparted to the hearers. For the listener, we ought to pray for a soft heart, receptivity. Jesus spoke of four soils. We are to pray for the hearts of humans to be turned into the soft and ready fourth soil, ready to receive the seed of God’s word.
“Your kingdom come, Your will be done” is part of our prayer life. This includes prayer for the broadcasting of the word of the kingdom, the word of God.
In all the weaponry provided for us in this spiritual fight, let us not forget prayer. I find prayer to be the five loaves and two fish I bring to God. Meager, small, seemingly nothing, but, passing through the hands of Christ, more than enough. Bring your feeble heart to God, cry out to Him as best you can. Talk to Him about the cares of life, for He cares for you. As you pray, you are taking up a great weapon, because God is mighty and He hears the cry of His people.