Bible Study Series: Ephesians - The Third Heaven Epistle
Ephesians 6:18 Bible Study - The unseen weapon: All-Prayer
by I Gordon
1Pe 4:7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.
We have been examining the armor of God in Ephesians 6 and in the previous study we focused on the helmet of hope and the sword of the Spirit. Now I said in that study that the sword, the word of God, is our only offensive weapon in the armor of God. But Is that true? Or, having made that statement, did you see my nose starting to grow? Well, yes it is true... and no, not exactly! It is kind of right... and kind of wrong! Today we are going to look at prayer and while technically speaking prayer is not listed as part of the Christian's armor, there is no doubting that prayer is an offense weapon! Just ask Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, whether prayer was an effective weapon against his men! Well, ok, he's dead... but more on that later. Someone once said “Satan trembles when he sees, The weakest saint upon their knees.” So that is what we will look at today. It's the unseen weapon - All-prayer!
Specifically we'll explore:
- The important parts of our key verse - Ephesians 6:18
- Prayer in the life of Jesus
- A case study of prayer in the midst of warfare - Hezekiah & Sennacherib
So let's begin by giving Ephesians 6:18 a bit of a squeeze and see what goodness comes out!
All-prayer - The Unseen Weapon
Eph 6:18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,
So the Apostle Paul speaks of 'all-prayer'. We should note that while he doesn't liken it to a piece of the soldiers armory, it is directly related to each piece because none of it functions without prayer. That is why, after discussing each piece of the armor, Paul adds 'with all prayer and petition at all times...' You will note the all's in that verse. Prayer is absolutely essential. So let's just break this verse down a little... and I am going to include quite a few quotes from people who know what they are talking about!
With all prayer and petition
All prayer and petition is speaking of the different types of prayers, whether it is in a public group setting or privately by yourself. It could be filled with praise and thanksgiving or groans and cries from a heart that doesn't know what to do. Maybe it is acknowledging your sin or presenting your requests to God or interceding on behalf of another... Whatever it may be, the Apostle Paul encourages All-prayer!
“God does nothing but by prayer, and everything with it.” John Wesley
Pray at all times
Secondly it is at all times. 'Pray without ceasing' Paul told the Thessalonians (1 Thes 5:17). So how do you do that? We make a mistake when we think of prayer as purely formal instead of conversational. That is, we've got the wrong mindset concerning prayer if we think of set times and lengths instead of simply conversing with God as we go about our day. That is how you pray without ceasing. It means including Him and talking to God as you go about your business. Someone once said 'God is great not just because nothing is too big for Him. God is great because nothing is too small for Him, either.' And we definitely shouldn't think of prayer as something that we just bring out in times of emergency. Corrie Ten Boom expresses this really well asking:
"Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” Corrie Ten Boom
"Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan." John Bunyan
In the Spirit
Thirdly we pray in the Spirit which means to pray in accordance with the mind, will and prompting of the Holy Spirit. The opposite would be 'fleshly' prayers and many of these are offered up... especially in this age where some Christians think that God's ultimate goal is to make us happy. Those type of selfish, Father-Christmas type prayers are not honored by God for they are based on our own motives and pleasures (James 4:3)1.
"Praying in the Holy Spirit is not turning in a grocery list to God. It means that you and I recognize our enemy and that we lay hold of God for spiritual resources. We lay hold of God for that which is spiritual that we might be filled with all the fullness of God... All effective prayer must be in the Spirit." J. Vernon McGee
Be on the alert with all perseverance
Our prayers should come from an alertness of both the times in general and the state of our own heart or those around us. 'Watch and pray' was the command of our Lord. Those two things go together. For my life, I find myself praying more often these days - for both myself and others. There is a a heaviness around for many which you can sense. Many are alert to the fact that our world is changing and not for the better. It can feel overwhelming at times but if it drives us to the Lord again it is a blessing in disguise!
I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day. Abraham Lincoln2
And petition for all saints
Finally, the Apostle Paul tells us to add petition for all the saints. What percentage of your prayers would be for someone else? What percentage would be for yourself? Rhetorical questions but think about it. Do you spend time thinking about others, what they are going through and their need for the Lord's help? Maybe you relate to the young believer who determined to pray not for himself but only for others. So he closed his prayer asking 'and may you give my mother a beautiful daughter in law.' If we are led by the Spirit we'll truly think of others. It is our old nature that only thinks about itself. It has it's self-centered 'grocery list' (to quote McGee) that it presents to God of things that will make life easier. But prayer is so much more than that! When we truly intercede and make petitions for other people we are closer to the heart of God.
To sum up this section, think about the following quote which stresses the importance of prayer3 and its key role in spiritual warfare.
"The prayer of the feeblest saint who lives in the Spirit and keeps right with God is a terror to Satan. The very powers of darkness are paralyzed by prayer... No wonder Satan tries to keep our minds fussy in active work till we cannot think in prayer." Oswald Chambers
Jesus, the disciples & prayer
Probably the best example we see in the Bible of the importance of prayer is in the life of the Lord Jesus Himself. The book of Isaiah spoke prophetically of the Lord Jesus and how He spoke and learnt from His Father each morning. It says:
Isa 50:4 The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples, That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.
But it wasn't just limited to the mornings. Jesus was always in communication with His Father. Just looking at the gospel of Luke we see:
- Jesus' ministry began with prayer, leading to an open heaven: Luk 3:21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened.
- Jesus took 'time out' from all the hustle and bustle to pray. In other words, He was too busy NOT to pray! Luk 5:15-16 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
- Jesus would sometimes talk to His Father for a long time! Luk 6:12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.
- Jesus' prayer life inspired the disciples to want to pray4: Luk 11:1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples."
- Jesus taught His disciples to always pray: Luk 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
- Jesus prayed at His weakest when the burden of the cross was upon Him: Luk 22:39-44 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, (42) Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done... And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
Let's say a take a short detour and say few words about the times of great burden and how it drives us to prayer. This is very important for this day for the burdens are increasing. To do this let's look into the past. I was reading Exodus the other day and some parallels with our day stood out to me. Note the following verses:
Exo 1:8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.
Exo 1:13-14 The Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously; (14) and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them.
Exo 1:22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: "Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live."
Exo 2:23-25 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. (24) God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. (25) So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
These verses sum up the days and years leading to the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. The Israelites lives became more and more bitter through increased demands from their oppressive rulers. The Egyptians were killing the new born Israelite boys. This bitterness led to a great collective cry that went forth from the Israelites unto the Lord God... And He heard their cry and remembered His covenant with Abraham and the covenant He made to bring them into the Promised Land. Now God allowed the burdens to increase, so the question is why? Why does He allow it in your life? Why is He allowing it worldwide in this age? 1 quick personal and 1 prophetic point from this:
- Personal implication: Every difficulty increases our need and dependence upon God, leading us to cry out in prayer to Him for help (just as the Israelites did). God is most present in our troubles. Burdens lead to prayer which leads to the presence and action of God, as we see in this example. And God is glorified in this. We can't claim any glory for ourselves in these situations or say 'look at what I did!' - No, all self-praise is replaced with God-praise in these times.
- Prophetic implication: God allowed the burdens to increase upon His people Israel because He had a better place for His people but He first needed them to want to leave Egypt. The burdens lessened the grip that Egypt had on His people. That is where we are today. God is allowing our freedoms to be taken. His is allowing oppressive and even at times immoral laws to be made by our Governments and leaders because He is releasing our grip on this world. He has a better land for His people. A heavenly one which has been prepared for those that love Him. This is what we look for and this is what we long for. One day all of the burdens of this world will be gone completely and forever in one marvelous twinkling of the eye.
Until that glorious day, there will be times when all we can do is pray. And that is fine... God doesn't mind those times at all! God allows such experiences and seasons for all Christians, using them for our good. John Bunyan expresses one such example in Pilgrim's Progress:
"Now at the end of the Valley of Humiliation there was another valley, the Valley of the Shadow of Death. And since there was no other way to the Celestial City, Christian was obliged to go through it. Now this valley was a very solitary place, and as the prophet Jeremiah described it, “a wilderness, a land of deserts, and of pits, a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, a land that no man [but a Christian] passed through, and where no one lived.”
The pathway was exceedingly narrow, and good Christian was tested to his limits. For in the dark, when he tried to avoid the ditch on the one hand, he was ready to tip over into the mire on the other. Also when he sought to escape the mire, unless he was very careful, he would almost fall into the ditch. And so Christian went on, and I heard him sigh bitterly. For besides the dangers mentioned, the pathway was so dark that often when he lifted up his foot to step forward, he never was sure where his foot would land or what he would step on. In the middle of this valley I saw in my dream the mouth of Hell, and it stood right next to the path.
What shall I do now? thought Christian. Abundant flame and smoke spewed from the place, with sparks and hideous noises (things that could not be fought with a sword, as Apollyon was). Christian put his sword back in its sheath and took out another weapon, the one called All-prayer."
Hezekiah, prayer and warfare
Now this weapon, all-prayer, has been used since the dawn of time, even in the very darkest of days. One example that I would like to look at is from the life of King Hezekiah. I have mentioned briefly in the last two studies how Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, came against Judah and Jerusalem with taunts and threats, trying to bring great fear upon the people of Judah. What we didn't do is look at how that worked out. Let's pick up the story with a wee bit of commentary thrown in.
2Ki 19:9-14 When he (Sennacherib) heard... he sent messengers again to Hezekiah saying, (10) "Thus you shall say to Hezekiah king of Judah, 'Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you saying, "Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria." (11) 'Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the lands, destroying them completely. So will you be spared? (12) 'Did the gods of those nations which my fathers destroyed deliver them, even Gozan and Haran and Rezeph and the sons of Eden who were in Telassar? (13) 'Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, and of Hena and Ivvah?'" (14) Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD.
You can hear the hiss of the Serpent in these words of Sennacherib can you not? Listen to what what this wicked king is saying - 'Don't you trust your God... don't be deceived. Who is your god? I have smashed all the gods, all the nations and you will be no different. No one can stand before me, no one can stop me! Your god can't help you. You will not be spared!' Now I LOVE Hezekiah's response! After reading this fear filled threatening letter he went straight to the house of the Lord. And what did he do? He laid this letter out before the Lord... and what did he do next?
2Ki 19:15-19 Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said... "O LORD, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. (16) "Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God. (17) "Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands (18) and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. (19) "Now, O LORD our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O LORD, are God."
Hezekiah prayed. We can stop right there. Faced with this overwhelming situation, his first response was to go to the Lord and pray. First response. If our first response was the same imagine the worry that would save us! And look how he prays. It is not a long payer. He doesn't try to say the same thing five times over just using different words. The Ryrie Study Bible calls it a 'childlike prayer'. Childlike and beautiful!5 He begins by simply stating who God is. He is Yahweh, the God of Israel... One completely different to any so-called 'gods' of any other nation. He is the Most High who alone rules over all the kingdoms of the earth for He alone created both heaven and earth. This is who Sennacherib is taunting. It is like a single ant threatening a human! So Hezekiah prays that they will be delivered... but did you note why? He didn't pray for deliverance so that they may may dwell in peace or have a nice life. He prayed for deliverance so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that Yahweh, alone, is God! Do you think that a humble simple prayer for God to be glorified will be answered?
2Ki 19:20-22 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah saying, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard you.' (21) "This is the word that the LORD has spoken against him: 'She has despised you and mocked you, The virgin daughter of Zion; She has shaken her head behind you, The daughter of Jerusalem! (22) 'Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? And against whom have you raised your voice, And haughtily lifted up your eyes? Against the Holy One of Israel!
Note now how the Lord replies - 'Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib, I have heard you.' What might have happened had Hezekiah not prayed? Imagine if upon hearing the threats Hezekiah had just said 'I've got this. It will be fine. No one mocks the Israeli defense force!' and went out to meet this fearful enemy in his own pride and strength? Hmmm... That wouldn't have gone so well. But he did pray and so should we. And you will note that God took this personally saying against Sennacherib 'And against whom have you raised your voice, And haughtily lifted up your eyes? Against the Holy One of Israel!' I have a feeling that Sennacherib is about to learn that prayer is a weapon and the God of prayer is not to be messed with!
2Ki 19:32-37 'Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, "He will not come to this city or shoot an arrow there; and he will not come before it with a shield or throw up a siege ramp against it. (33) "By the way that he came, by the same he will return, and he shall not come to this city,"' declares the LORD. (34) 'For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David's sake.'" (35) Then it happened that night that the angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men rose early in the morning, behold, all of them were dead. (36) So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home, and lived at Nineveh. (37) It came about as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with the sword...'
Wow! Was prayer a weapon or what? Well, the angel of the Lord was the weapon but prayer was the means of unleashing it! The angel brought deliverance but prayer brought the angel. And let us not forget that these Assyrians were a wicked and deadly army at this time. They were experts in warfare and everyone was frightened by them. They had done many horrible things to many nations. From man's point of view they were to be feared. Yet God only had to send one angel to deal with them. It was all over in one night were they reaped just as they had sown. Is prayer a weapon? You bet it is! Sennacherib learned that the hard way as will the 'kings of the earth' in the last days (Rev 6:10,15-16).
So what have we seen in this study? Well, we've been reminded again about the power and importance of prayer. And I think we need that reminder. I do. We've seen that 'God does nothing but by prayer and everything by it' as John Wesley said. We've been reminded again of its importance in the context of the battle that is going on around us and in our hearts and minds. 'With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit' is the word of the Lord and we've seen how this was evident in the life of Jesus Himself.
“Anything is a blessing which makes us pray” Charles Spurgeon once spoke. This is contrary to how we normally think but it is true. We are to be alert to the days in which we live and also to the struggles of those around us. 'The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray' was what the Apostle Peter wrote (1 Pet 4:7) There is a connection between the end being near and praying for it becomes all the more necessary in trying times! In such days there is no better advice than that given by Paul to the Philippians:
Php 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (5) Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (6) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (7) And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Rejoice. Be gentle. Don't fret or be anxious. Instead pray with thanksgiving. And the peace of God will guard your heart and mind.
Always remember the unseen weapon - All-prayer!