Final of 8 messages delivered at the ERCS Family Camp, 19-22 Jun 2006
"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Ephesians 6:18).
We have been inside the armoury and store of the army of Christ.
We have been briefed about the war that is raging and the kind of battle that we have been enrolled to fight. It is a spiritual war. The enemies are invisible spiritual terrorists. We must fight a defensive battle. Christ our King has already conquered. We must stand and withstand as Satan the Prince of the enemy army schemes and plots to regain lost ground.
In order to fight this battle effectively, we must put on the full armour that God has provided for us.
There are six pieces of equipment available to us.
a. We have considered the belt or girdle of truth. We saw that this belt symbolises everything to do with the truth.
Objectively it refers to the truth of the Gospel which we must hold on tenaciously. Subjectively, we must gird ourselves with honesty, faithfulness, and integrity. Unless we know the truth and are truthful, we shall easily fall prey to the temptation of the devil to fight on his side. For Satan is the father of lies.
b. We have also considered the breastplate of righteousness. We saw that the breastplate of righteousness has two parts. One part of it refers to Christ’s imputed righteousness, and the other part refers to Christ’s imparted righteousness. We must make sure that we are assured of our justification in Christ and we must live holy lives in response to the work of sanctification of the Spirit of Christ.
c. We have studied the foot protection that Paul wants us to wear. We must put on the footwear of the preparation or readiness of the Gospel of peace. Though the war that we fight is a defensive war, we must be ever ready to move out not only to answer the queries of anyone who ask us of a reason for our faith, but also to present the Gospel to the lost.
d. We looked at the shield of faith. We saw that faith is the first level of defence against the temptations that the wicked one will hurl in our direction.
e. We considered the helmet of salvation. We noted how Satan will always try to assault our minds—the citadel of our soul. He will make us doubt our salvation. He will give us reasons to disobey the Lord. We must put on the helmet of salvation by reminding ourselves that we belong to the Lord.
f. And finally, we picked up the "Sword of the Spirit." We saw that this is the only offensive weapon in our panoply. The Word of God becomes a potent weapon to fight against the wicked one once it is taken out of its scabbard and spoken under the influence of the Holy Spirit. We must learn to wield this sword both individually and corporately through public preaching.
I trust that our consideration of the Armour of God has not just been an academic exercise.
I trust that you have become more conscious of the spiritual battle we have to fight.
I trust that you have resolved to put on what part of the armour you might have been neglecting.
But now as we step out of the armoury. It is essential for us to listen to some final words of our quartermaster in regard to the use of the armour.
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.
Let us consider what he is saying, phrase by phrase.
1. Praying always
Take note of what Paul is saying. He is not giving us an independent instruction to engage in prayer.
He is telling us that each piece of the armour of God must be used with prayer. Notice the participle. It is not pray always, but praying always. And I believe that it is a participle that coordinates not only with the use of the sword, but with the use of every part of the armour.
So it is…
Put on the whole armour of God… praying …
Stand… praying …
Girt your loins with truth… praying…
Hitch on the breastplates… praying…
Put on your shoes of the preparation of the gospel… praying…
Take the shield of faith… praying …
Put on the helmet of salvation… praying…
Wield the sword of the Spirit… praying …
Prayer, in other words, is essential at every moment and in every activity in the spiritual warfare. As a soldier in the army should be in constant contact with his commander, so we must be in constant contact with our commander by prayer.
In fact, prayer is even more essential than communication between a soldier and his commander, for the battle that we are engaged in, is a spiritual battle. And prayer is spiritual breathing.
To do physical activity you must breathe physically. To do spiritual activity you must breathe spiritually.
We may add that to have energy to do physical activity, you must eat and drink healthily; and so to do spiritual activity, you must eat and drink of the word of God.
But Paul is here speaking of the most natural and yet the most neglected spiritual exercise. It is an exercise we should not take for granted.
As soon as we stop breathing, we begin to die; so as soon as you stop praying you begin to die. Children, how long can you hold your breath before turning blue? Well, the apostle Paul is saying: "Do not hold your spiritual breath." Keep praying. Remember to be praying always in all your spiritual exercises.
And pray, as Paul says…
2. With All Prayer And Supplication in the Spirit
What is Paul saying? He is saying we should pray with all kinds of prayer and supplication. Our prayers should not only comprise of petitions, nor should it only comprise of thanksgiving. We should praise God, thank God, confess our sins and petition God.
We should make petitions in regard to ourselves. We should also intercede for others.
We should pray for great things that pertain to the kingdom of Christ—for the advancement of the Kingdom of Grace, the hastening of the Kingdom of Glory and the downfall of the Kingdom of Satan.
But we should also pray for the Lord’s help in our day-to-day functions. Do we need to pray for wisdom in our day-to-day activities and conversations? Many of us do not think it necessary. But I have done enough marital counselling to realise that if only we would learn to be like Nehemiah to pray before speaking, a lot of family squabbles could be averted.
Let us be praying always and with all kinds of prayer.
But notice how Paul speaks of praying in the Spirit too. What does this mean? Well, what it means is that we must pray spiritual prayers with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
It is easy to pray always with all kinds of prayer. It is not so easy to pray spiritual prayers always.
I think of my younger children when I ask them to pray before meals and in family worship. Each one of them has his own standard statements which they somehow begin to repeat almost mechanically. And it is not that we taught them to say what they say in prayer.
Well, I believe that this kind of mechanical prayer is understandable for young children. But I am afraid that there is also a temptation for adults to fall into the same problem of routine mechanical prayers.
We must therefore constantly remind ourselves of the importance of praying in the Spirit. We can pray in the Spirit if we feed our souls with the word of God and meditate on the truth, and at the same time explicitly cry to the Lord to help us by His Spirit.
But not only must we pray always with all prayers and supplication in the Spirit, we must be "watching thereunto with all perseverance."
3. Watching Thereunto With All Perseverance
Again notice that this is a participle. We are to be praying and watching at the same time. The Lord Jesus says, "Take ye heed, watch and pray" (Mk 13:33).
The apostle Paul is saying pretty much the same thing, except that it is praying and watching.
What is it to be watching? There are a few Greek words that are translated as ‘watch’ or ‘watching’ in the New Testament. But the word that is used here by the apostle Paul (ajgrupnevw) is one that literally means ‘to be sleepless.’ This word is used only 4 times in the New Testament. Twice it is used in the Gospel account to express the instruction by our Lord to watch and pray. Once, it is used by the writer of Hebrews to speak of how the elders of the church watch over the souls of the members of the church.
Here in our text, the apostle Paul is exhorting us to be praying and watching. Essentially, he is saying: "Do not fall asleep! Keep awake!"
Now, this is quite relevant to many of us who fall asleep when we pray whether privately or publicly.
But I believe this is not really what Paul has in mind. What he has in mind is spiritual watching. He wants us to keep awake to fight the spiritual battles with all perseverance. He is exhorting us not to relax or give up.
Yes, being spiritually awake is surely related to being physically awake as the example of the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane indicates. But what Paul is certainly emphasising is to be spiritually awake.
He is exhorting us not to allow ourselves to fall into spiritual slumber, but to remain spiritually alert.
It is easy isn’t it to fall asleep spiritually? To be asleep spiritually is to backslide, or to become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, to become spiritually nonchalant, to become spiritually lazy, or to give up the fight completely.
When do we fall asleep? We fall asleep when we let down our guard and forget that a battle is raging. We fall asleep when things are very smooth sailing in our lives. This is why the Lord sometime sends trouble into our lives so that we are awakened to seek Him in prayer.
Paul is calling upon us not to forget that there is a spiritual war raging. We must not allow ourselves to take it easy in spiritual things. Satan is ever so happy to see us falling asleep.
We must be praying and watching. We must be aware of the devices of the wicked one. He is prowling about like a lion waiting to pounce on any unsuspecting prey, to devour whom he may. Unless you are alert and watching and praying, you are going to fall prey to him. So open your eyes, consider your life. Is there a mud trap in your home, in school, at work, in church? Watch! Stay away from the trap. Be diligent in prayer so that you do not fall prey to the devil. And not only so, but let us be accountable to one another to exhort and encourage one another, for as Paul says:
4. Watching thereunto with… supplication for all saints
To supplicate for all saints is to pray for all saints. Each of us has a duty to intercede for one another.
Remember that we are not walking fighting the spiritual battle alone. We are fighting as part of the great army of the Lord Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation.
As such we must depend on one another and we must support one another.
Therefore, we must pray for all saints. We must do so generally, praying even for those we do not know such as those in Islamic countries who are persecuted for the faith.
But let us also learn to do so especially for the saints whom we know by name. I am referring to the members of the church. The Lord teaches us to pray even for our enemies that we may be like our Father in heaven. How much more then must we pray for one another!
We must confess our faults one to another that we may pray one for another, says James. We must share our weaknesses, struggles and temptations with one another that we may pray for one another.
You may not want to share with everyone all your struggles publicly. But learn to share with a few closer brothers or sisters in the church.
Beloved brethren, it is so important for us to have good friends in the church. May I encourage you to cultivate some close friendships here. May I encourage you to make sure that not all your friends are found in the world.
I know it is inevitable that many of you will get to know more people in the world better than you know the people in the church simply because you spend much more time with them. But may I encourage you to make an effort to build good friendships in the church.
Think of yourself in the army. You are fighting a battle. You are not fighting alone. You cannot fight alone. You have to fight alongside one another. You have to depend on one another. You cannot fight each other.
Imagine what it will be if those who are fighting with you don’t trust you. Imagine what it will be if those who are fighting with you are unreliable.
I remember very clearly the occasions during my army days when severe injuries could have resulted because of carelessness in regard to the safety of others. Once, during night live-firing exercise while charging up a hill, we saw several tracer rounds flying sideways rather than forward. We could actually hear the bullet zipping by. Thank God no one was injured. It happened because one of the soldiers forgot to point his rifle forward while running and he accidentally squeezed the trigger. Sadly, a couple of years later, in a similar night exercise, someone was actually killed in a similar accident. The man who was killed was a good friend of one of our members.
Another time, we were having a live firing exercise in a build up area. I was paired up with my buddy to clear a particular room. What we were supposed to do was to lob a grenade into the room, and then my partner was to go in first. He was to fire at whatever was in the room and then move aside immediately. I was supposed to go in immediately after him. When I got into the room, I almost squeezed the trigger when I realised that my friend was right in front of my rifle. He had for some reason delayed moving aside. I could have killed him. Thank God for His protecting hand.
I share all these stories to show you how important it is for us to fight the spiritual battle together; and how important it is for us to pray for one another to watch out for one another.
It is when we fail to pray for one another that we begin to fight one another and hurt one another and we begin to fight not for Christ our captain, but for Satan, the enemy of our Lord.
Beloved brethren and children, let us not neglect to pray. Let us not forget to pray for ourselves and for one another for the battle is very fierce. Let us:
[Pray] always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.
Let us not fight each other, for we wear the same belt of truth. And let us not fight alone, but watch out for one another to encourage each other. Let us fight side by side, hand in hand, until the Lord should give us rest and the battle be done. Amen.