Today we conclude our “Weapons of our Warfare” series, which is a good time considering this is the only Sunday that I’m preaching this month. So turn with me to Ephesians 6, we’re going to talk about prayer this morning. Have you ever heard the term “Prayer Warrior?” How many of you have seen the movie, “War Room?” It came out a few years ago and became the highest-grossing independent Christian film in history when it hit number one at the box office Labor Day weekend of 2015. When we think about a war room, we might think of generals gathering together to make battle plans, right? But unless you’re thinking about the comedy Dr. Strangelove, “War Room” is a movie that’s all about prayer.
Why is a movie about prayer called, “War Room?” That’s because prayer is like the sword of the Spirit, it’s how we wage spiritual war. And in the movie one of the main characters has a literal ‘prayer closet,’ but she calls it her ‘war room.’ In one scene, she says, “In order to stand up and fight the enemy, you need to get on your knees and pray.”
When I was a teenager, there was a popular Christian rock song that had a little play on words like that called, “Get on your knees and fight like a man.”
A few years later, there was another song by Bob Carlisle with the words, “If you see me on my knees it’s not because I’m weak, I’m getting stronger.”
That’s what we’re going to talk about today. The power of fighting on our knees.
Scripture: 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
We looked at the sword last week. God’s word—The Bible—may seem soft and flimsy and sometimes long and boring, but is instead a concealed sword. Prayer is like that. How many times do we look at prayer as being weak and flimsy? It’s just words, right? Depending on how you were brought up, maybe you were taught we’re supposed to fold our hands, or like Diana’s family gatherings they’ll hold hands. You’re always supposed to close your eyes, right? Maybe you got in trouble because you didn’t. Maybe you recite certain prayers. None of these things are wrong, but we shouldn’t be so engrossed in how to pray, that we miss how to pray. Right? In other words, prayer isn’t so much about what we do on the outside, or what tradition of prayer we use, it’s what we do on the inside. Praying is all about the spirit. James said, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
I find it interesting that Paul lists prayer along with the armor of God, but he never compares prayer to pieces of armor or as another piece of weaponry. By the time he gets to prayer, the armor is complete. But I don’t think it’s unintentional that he adds it here. It kind of reads like, “oh, and by the way, speaking of warfare, pray.”
Paul knows that prayer, though not listed specifically as a piece of armor or weapon, is a very powerful action that we must do to combat the enemy.
First, Paul says to pray in the Spirit. What does that mean? My family has spent six years in a Pentecostal church, and my ministerial education was in a Pentecostal environment, and my ordination will be through a Pentecostal fellowship. In that surrounding, many would say that this means to specifically speak in tongues. And it might also mean speaking prophetic words that come from God to another person. There might be a demonstration of that during the prayer time at the end of the ordination, I don’t know. But if you are not in a Pentecostal environment, then what does praying in the spirit mean?
The point is this: it doesn’t matter whether you pray in tongues or not. Praying in tongues is a gift, and The Bible says that God does not give every gift to every person. So some of God’s people pray in tongues and others don’t. So how can everyone pray in the Spirit? Praying in the Spirit should be understood as praying in the power of the Spirit, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, and according to His will. In other words, we should pray from the heart, directly from our spirit to His. As I said, it’s not so much about the traditions we have, such as folding our hands or making sure our eyes are closed tight, or reciting a prayer that was taught to us. It’s about getting our hearts right and in line with his Spirit.
I often search for words when I pray. For my sermons, I use a thesaurus and re-read my sermon points and polish my sentences so that each phrase is just so. Then, when it comes time to preach, if you haven’t noticed, I often try to say everything word for word just as I wrote it.
My public speaking and preaching teacher would deduct points if he knew I did that. Why would he deduct points? Because verbal communication needs to come from the heart. How would it feel if your child constantly spoke to you by writing everything down and then reading it or reciting it out loud to you?
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said: 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
This is where we get the idea of a ‘prayer closet,’ or a ‘war room.’
But like I said, what do we do if we just don’t have the words to say? Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say or how to say it. With my introverted brain, it happens all the time. My mind goes blank. How do I convey this, how do I say it? Jesus goes on in this passage next by teaching us how to pray. He gives us The Lord’s Prayer.
And The Lord’s Prayer is great. We recite it every Sunday. But sometimes, if we were to be honest, we have needs and emotions, and concerns that are just not found in The Lord’s Prayer. Our needs are sometimes too specific, sometimes too personal. And sometimes so personal and so desperate, we just don’t have the words and we don’t even know where to begin.
So Paul, the same man who told the Ephesians to pray in the Spirit, encouraged the Romans with a similar passage. He said: 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Matthew Henry said, “It is not the rhetoric and eloquence, but the faith and fervency, of our prayers, that the Spirit works, as an intercessor, in us.” He went on to say “nothing is more comfortable than that God searches the heart, for then he will hear and answer those desires which we want words to express. He knows what we need before we ask. He knows what is the mind of his own Spirit in us. And, as he always hears the Son interceding for us, so he always hears the Spirit interceding in us because his intercession is according to the will of God.”
Did you hear that last part? His intercession is according to the will of God. The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself. The Holy Spirit does not contradict the mind of God the Father. They are one.
So when our prayers are from our heart, led by the Holy Spirit, how can our prayers be off, even if we don’t have the words? How can we be praying for the wrong thing? How can our prayers not be heard and not be answered?
And when we pray in the Spirit, our hearts will also hear the Spirit speaking back to us.
Isaiah said: “21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
A few years ago, there was a big controversy over our former vice president Mike Pence who said that he hears the voice of God. It was mocked by a TV talk show personality. But when we’re in prayer, we can hear the voice of God. Not audibly in our physical ears, but by our spirit. So with having looked at how to pray, now let’s look at why we should pray.
Paul said to the Ephesians, “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
You know, I’m not much of a historian. Even though I like history, I wish I had taken more of it in school. I came across this passage that appeared in The Daily Bread. You may have heard of Mary, Queen of Scots. My familiarity with her doesn’t go any further than a Monty Python sketch, but apparently, there was a bit of a love-hate relationship between her and John Knox who was a Scottish minister and was a leader of the country’s Reformation.
This is what is said of him on his deathbed:
While very ill, John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, called to his wife and said, “Read me that Scripture where I first cast my anchor.” After he listened to the beautiful prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, he seemed to forget his weakness. He began to pray, interceding earnestly for his fellowmen. He prayed for the ungodly who had thus far rejected the gospel. He pleaded on behalf of people who had been recently converted. And he requested protection for the Lord’s servants, many of whom were facing persecution. As Knox prayed, his spirit went Home to be with the Lord. The man of whom Queen Mary had said, “I fear his prayers more than I do the armies of my enemies,” ministered through prayer until the moment of his death.
What can be said here that we can take away? Here are a few things:
- He didn’t let his circumstances hinder him from prayer. He had the ultimate excuse. He was on his deathbed. In fact, it was the scriptures (the sword) that inspired him in the moment.
- He forgot his own desperation, and he was inspired to pray.
- He didn’t just pray for fellow believers as Paul asked the Ephesian church to do, he prayed for every type of person he could think of.
- He covered the whole gamut. Even on his deathbed, he fought for the lost—one more time.
And did you catch what Queen Mary said? “I fear his prayers more than I do the armies of my enemies.” See how much of a weapon prayer can be?
A famous Puritan named Thomas Lye said something similar: “I had rather stand against the cannons of the wicked than against the prayers of the righteous.”
Why? Because, as I read earlier from James, “The prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective.”
This is warfare. Prayer works against the Devil in the same manner as the sword of the spirit does. It breaks chains, it breaks strongholds, it moves mountains and it moves angels to action against the demonic forces.
In Acts Chapter 12, verse 5, it says, “5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”
You remember the story. What happened next? In the words of another puritan, Thomas Watson, “The angel fetched Peter out of prison, but it was prayer that fetched the angel.”
We are unaware, really, exactly what happens in the spiritual realm when we pray. Last time, I read a passage from Hebrews 4 regarding the word of God: 2 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Here’s what follows directly after that: 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. 14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Our prayers go before the throne of God. The throne of grace. And the writer of Hebrews encourages us to approach the throne of Almighty God with confidence that he hears us and loves us and will respond to us with grace.
We can never really know how our prayers are heard, or when God assigns our prayers to be answered, and exactly what role the angels might play as they surround us unseen. What we do know is that our prayers are lifted to the throne of God, and from experience, the more people that lift up a single prayer request before God, the more powerful the outcome. It’s warfare. It’s strength in numbers.
Why does God want us to pray? Why did Paul ask the church to pray for each other and for the saints? Can’t one quick prayer from one person do it?
I know I’m using a lot of quotes today. Here’s something author John Piper said, Prayer for God’s help is one way that God preserves and manifests the dependence of his people on his grace and power. The necessity of prayer is a constant reminder and display of our dependence on God for everything so that he gets the glory when we get the help.
Jesus said in John 14 “13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” He reiterates that in the next verse. “14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” But did you catch it? So that the Father may be glorified through Jesus.
You see, prayer is a form of worship. We humble ourselves, we recognize that God is greater than our circumstances. He can be the only source of comfort, healing, and answer for troubles that we cannot solve on our own.
And when we pray, we sense the spirit of God come upon us. Paul said to the church in Philippi: “6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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.”
When we pray, we sense God’s spirit flow into us and give us peace in that situation.
And when we are prayed for by others, we sense that peace. And then when your prayer is answered, everyone who prayed for you gets to share in your victory and in your joy and everyone gets to praise God. His love and power is recognized by not just you whose prayer was answered, but by another person or a whole group of people, maybe even a whole church as a loving God who knows us and hears us and is on our side. Your faith and our faith are strengthened at the same time over the same answer to the same prayer. We all get to rejoice.
But even before the prayer is answered, when a group of friends, a prayer chain or church comes together in prayer, when you know that is happening for you—when you see it, when you hear it—how much more is your faith strengthened? How much more joy and encouragement do you have in the circumstances that you are going through? Or when you are the prayer warrior for another, how much more is your spirit lifted by praying for someone else? There’s something about praying for another that lifts our spirits, doesn’t it? Even when I don’t hear a prayer but read a prayer, I’m still encouraged. I’ve texted prayers before, and I’ve been the recipient of texted prayers, I still feel the joy in that.
Before and after a prayer is answered, we get to bond with each other and our church becomes more and more like a family. Like a Roman legionary, we come together in a tight-knit group to strengthen each other as one unit. That’s what the prayer list is for in our bulletins. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you take the time to pray for the prayer requests that are in the bulletin, and to make sure your prayer request gets in there, and how we can know how to specifically pray for you. That’s why we now have a church Facebook messenger group so we can share our prayer requests with each other as needs come up. We don’t have to wait for Sundays.
Paul himself wasn’t too proud to ask for prayer. Just before he ends this chapter, he makes a personal prayer request: 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Paul’s prayer request was specific and humble. You can hear the urgency and desperation in his voice. He was a prisoner in Rome, and yet he still wanted to minister to the people he was surrounded with—the guards and fellow prisoners. In the first chapter of Philippians, Paul was writing from prison, and he said, “12 And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. 13 For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.14 And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear”
“19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (1:12-14;19-20).
He—Paul, the big guy, the head honcho, the greatest of apostles (even though he called himself the least), the most inspired writer of The New Testament, the greatest evangelist, teacher, church planter, and missionary of his day and probably in history—was not ashamed or felt too proud to ask the church that he was encouraging for encouragement. And you could hear just how encouraged he was by the prayers.
I know that there are some things that are personal. I know that there are some things you don’t want to be shouted out to the whole world. That’s okay. You don’t have to say anything that’s private. But, when you can, we want to know how to specifically pray for you. It’s not gossip, it’s warfare.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on First Baptist Church of Watkins Glen