I remember having a conversation with Chuck Swindoll one time here at our church. We were getting together and just talking about ministry and things, and we got to talking about the need to be alone, the need to have that quiet place, that quiet time away from everyone and everything. And he asked me the question – it was kind of an interesting question – he said, “Are you ever lonely?” And I thought about it for a minute, and I said, “Not that I can really recall. I have a lot of people in my life and certainly a lot of loving people in my life. I can’t really say I’ve been lonely.” Then he asked the question, “Do you mind being alone?” And I said, “No. How about you?” He said, “No.” And we began to discuss the fact that being alone is absolutely essential to be able to produce what we do.
You can’t study deeply the things of God. You can’t pursue the mind of God. You can’t commune with God in a group. That quiet place, that place of intense devotion to the truth of the Word of God, intense communion with God around His Word, is probably the most treasured thing in the life of a man who is responsible for the teaching and preaching of the Word of God. In fact, we both agreed that while we enjoy the fellowship with people, we crave the quiet place, because only in that place can we generate and create and study and commune with God so that we can be effective in proclaiming His truth. It’s in the quiet place that we come to grips with the realities of the Word of God, we come to grips with the power of God in our own lives; and that is such an important part of life.
Fortunately, for some of us who have to do this, we’re forced into the quiet place, we desperately require that quiet place. And for others, who perhaps aren’t responsible for such intense study of the Word of God, they may not realize how important it is to have that time with God, that quiet time in the Word. That is very, very important for all of us, where we can read the Word of God, meditate on the Word of God, come to grips with its truths, and spend time in communion with the Lord about them. So I trust that you’ll take that exhortation as we think about the matter of prayer today. And moving from that transition to the topic for our message tonight, I want to talk about praying always from Ephesians chapter 6 and verse 18, “praying always.”
This morning we tried to lay the foundation for prayer, which is an understanding of prayer as worship. I want to move beyond that to prayer as petition, and I want you to see in Ephesians 6 God’s design for prayer in its fullness. Verse 18, Ephesians 6, “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.” Now there are a lot of “alls” in there: all prayer, all times, all perseverance, and all the saints. And you get the idea here that he’s talking about something that is comprehensive; and that is precisely it.
He’s telling us, in effect, that prayer’s a way of life. You’re praying with all different kinds of prayer at all different times, through all different trials persevering, and on behalf of all the saints. The consummate character of prayer becomes a dominant force in your life if you are obedient to this verse. This verse is set in a context that I think is very, very important. It comes at the very climatic time in this epistle.
In fact, starting in verse 19, there are some specific statements by Paul about praying for him, some of his own particular situations in life, such as being in chains at the time he wrote. Talks about Tychicus, some other things, and a final greeting. But verse 18 is really the capstone on this magnificent epistle.
There are great heights of theological understanding throughout the epistle to the Ephesians, and this is where it all ends, “With all prayer, at all times, with all perseverance, for all saints.” And I think Paul’s timing here and his location of this injunction is very, very instructive. Let me tell you why.
If we were to go back – and we’ll do it very briefly – and review the whole epistle of Ephesians, let me just run you through very rapidly. In chapter 1, verse 3, we would note that, “We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,” a very, very comprehensive statement. “We are already blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”
In chapter 1 verse 4, 5, and 6, we are identified as the “objects of the love of God by which He predestined us to adoption as sons, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” We are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. We have been chosen before the foundation of the world. We will be made holy and blameless. In love, the Lord predestined us to become His children in order that He might kindly dispense to us freely all the blessings of His grace.
In verse 7 we have been given “the forgiveness of sin or trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” In verse 8, “He has lavished upon us this grace, and” – in addition – “given us all wisdom and insight, and” – verse 9 – “made known to us the mystery of His will,” – again – “according to the kind intention which He purposed in Him.” Again, God’s kindness toward us is to dispense to us wisdom, insight, the knowledge of the mystery of His will; that’s part of what it means to be a Christian.
In verse 11, “We have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose, and to the end” – at verse 12 – “we were to be the first to hope in Christ, and we would be to the praise of His glory.” Again, tremendous blessing, having to do with our eternal inheritance.
In verse 13, “We have been granted the sealing of the Holy Spirit,” which is our eternal security, so that no one can ever take us apart from God. No one can ever undo our salvation or cancel our redemption.
Over in chapter 2 and verse 4, “God’s rich mercy and great love have caused Him, even when we were dead in sins, to make us alive, and raise us up, and seat us” – verse 6 – “in heavenly places.” In verse 7 it says that, “We are the recipients of the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness extended toward us in Christ Jesus.”
In verse 10 we are identified as “His workmanship,” – or better, His masterpiece – “created in Christ Jesus.” In verse 13 and following, “We who were formerly far off have been brought near to God. Christ has become our peace, the wall between Jew and Gentile is broken down, the enmity has been abolished, and we have been reconciled in one body to God through the cross and put to death the enmity between us.” These are just profound blessings.
Verse 18, “We have access in one Spirit now to God.” Verse 19, “We are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and Jesus being the chief corner stone.” Verse 22, “We are the dwelling place of the Spirit of God.”
And then in chapter 3 down in verse 15, there’s this amazing prayer that Paul prays, “that we would have the fullest understanding of the riches of His glory, be strengthened by His Spirit in the inner man.” All the way down till you come to verse 20, “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us already.”
Now, these are monumental things: super blessed, super loved, forgiven, redeemed; given wisdom, riches; made secure, alive with new live, objects of eternal grace. We are God’s masterpiece, created to do good, one with another in the one body of Christ, all having access to God. We are in God’s family. We are the Holy Spirit’s habitation, and we are powerful enough in the energy of the Spirit to do things that are beyond our comprehension. The first three chapters really sort of unpack all of those immense blessings of what it means to be in Christ. That’s sort of our positional privilege.
Now, when we come to chapter 4, we hear more, even though it becomes a more practical exhortative section built upon the foundation of the doctrine of 1 to 3. Chapter 4, verse 3 reminds us that we possess the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of unity, and who provides for us the bond of peace. Chapter 4, verses 4 to 6 indicate that we are in the body of Christ, and that we have a hope, that we have a Lord and a faith and a God who is over us all and in us all, and we’ve been given grace, according to the measure of the gifts of Christ. We’ve been given gifts and gifted men to perfect and do the work in the ministry, chapter 4, verses 11 to 13.
Down in verse 20 of chapter 4, we have Christ to teach us how to walk. We’ve learned Christ, so that we can be different. “And we don’t live the way we used to live” – according to verse 22 – “in our former manner of life, which not has been laid aside the old self, having been set aside.” And so, continually, we are seeing these tremendous benefits of salvation.
Chapter 5 starts out by reminding us that, “We are beloved children of God, and we are to walk in love, because Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us.” In chapter 5, verse 8, “We dwell in light, so we ought to walk in light.” In chapter 5, verses 15 to 17, “Wisdom is available to us, so we need to walk in wisdom, not as unwise, but as wise.” “The Holy Spirit is available to us,” – verse 18 – “so we ought to be filled with the Spirit, causing us to speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and sing and make melody with our hearts to the Lord, fullness of joy and giving of thanks,” in verse 20, and on and on it goes.
We have the resources for fulfillment in every area of human relationships: in marriage, in the family, and among those who are in the workforce in their areas of employment. As chapter 6 unfolds, talks about slaves and masters or employees and employers. You come down in chapter 6 to verse 10, and we’re called to be strong in the matter of spiritual warfare, and to put on the full armor of God, which is at our disposal. We have the sword of the Spirit, which is the most powerful weapon, so that we can live victoriously in the battle against Satan.
Now all of that to say that when you’ve gone through the book of Ephesians, you are really overwhelmed with a presentation of Christian adequacy, or Christian sufficiency. It’s just really mind-boggling to go down through all of that more slowly, perhaps, and a little more thoughtfully than I’ve rushed it by you, and to recognize the richness of what we have in Christ. We lack nothing. As Colossians 2:10 says, “We are complete in Him.” And as 2 Peter 1:3 says, “We have all things that pertain to life and godliness.”
And after sweeping through all of that, you really would think there was nothing left. What in the world could you possibly add to this? If we have all of this, if God has dispensed all of this to us, it is all ours, it is all at our disposal, we get a presentation of sufficiency that is just monumental, that exalted position, an understanding of those great resources could lead to, I suppose, what we could call spiritual egotism. And it’s precisely at that point that Paul says, verse 18, “Pray at all times. Pray at all times.” I guess it reminds me of 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
We could actually get to a sort of a kind of a Christian atheism where we know God and we believe God, but we really don’t need anything from Him, it’s already all there, we think. We’re so adequate, we have no need for Him; and consequently, we stay just beneath the fullness of His power and just beneath the fullness of His blessing. So quickly and with mighty force, Paul says, “Pray at all times.”
Again, you might assume that this is an unnecessary activity based upon everything else that he said, but it is not. None of this is mechanical; all of it is dependent upon a constant submission to God that is absolutely essential. It is a latent danger that Christians who have a knowledge of doctrine and a fairly effective grip on practical spiritual principles can become self-satisfied, and that heart of passionate, constant concern for prayer has no place. As far as Paul is concerned, that is a grave mistake. So as he closes this great letter in a final crescendo, the music peaks out in a call to prayer, and that, frankly, is the key to everything, because all those spiritual blessings in the heavenlies are basically brought to us as we come before the Father to seek the riches.
There are a number of ways to approach prayer. Prayer is the breath of the Christian’s new life. The air which your body requires is all around you, and it exerts what’s called air pressure. Air pressure makes it more difficult for you not to breathe than to breathe. Have you noticed? It’s very difficult not to breathe. The pressure builds and builds and builds until you finally explode and gasp for air. So it is with prayer.
I think the presence of God all around us exerts a pressure on us, and it’s harder not to pray than to pray. It’s harder to hold your breath spiritually than to just release and relax and commune, as it were, with the presence of God that’s all around you. In fact, if you don’t live a life of prayer, constant communication with God, you’re really fighting against your own spiritual nature as a person would be physically who tried to hold his breath all the time, because God’s presence exerts a certain divine pressure, and God’s truth sort of exacerbates that pressure and forces us to draw God’s presence and God’s truth in.
The Christian is like a certain class of animal that I read about called the cetaceous. It inhabits the deep places of parts of the ocean, and it sort of defies categories. The sea is its home; it never leaves the sea, swims at dark depths, but at intervals is compelled to rise to the surface to breath air or die, and then dive back down to the bottom.
And it’s the same for us. The Christian only by ever ascending to God, rising to breath in constant prayer maintains the fullness of spiritual life. It’s all dependence; it’s all about recognition; it’s all about communion. Prayer is really our breath. And if you know the Lord it’s difficult not to pray, because your soul moves in the presence of God who exerts a pressure. The easiest thing for you to do is to embrace God and include His presence, include His power, include His truth in your life.
Now with that sort of an introduction, I want you to look at verse 18 and just kind of take a look at the components here. Very simple, very straightforward; but I trust they’ll be helpful for you. There’s general instruction, basically, in verse 18, just general instruction. In fact, there’s nothing very specific there, it’s all general, and that’s why the word “all” is used so many times. But let’s start with four “alls” here, and let’s take them one at a time.
Let’s start with the frequency of prayer – and that’s pretty obvious: “Praying always,” or, “Praying at all times.” Prayer is to be at all times; that’s what it says, that’s what it means. It means on all the occasions in life, not just the crises.
Jesus said in Luke 21:36, “Watch therefore, and pray always.” The early apostles said in Acts 6:4, “We must give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word.” It was said about Cornelius that he was a devout man and prayed to God always, according to Acts 10. Paul said, “Continue diligently in prayer,” Romans 12:12. And in Colossians 4:2, “Continue in prayer.” And in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” Of course, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 sums it up best: “Pray without ceasing.”
Now that is precisely how Paul prayed. In 2 Timothy, for example, chapter 1, he says in verse 3, writing to Timothy, “I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day.” What you see here is a pattern of life. It’s like breathing: you don’t do it once in the morning, once at noon, and once at night; you do it all the time, without ceasing. “I remember You in my prayers night and day,” he says.
In the twelfth chapter of Acts, just driving the point home a little more strongly, in Acts chapter 12, verse 5, Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was made for him fervently by the church to God. The church was continuing in prayer. Verse 13, Peter showed up at the prayer meeting. Remember, God released him from prison. “He knocked at the door of the gate, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer, and when she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy, she didn’t open the gate.” She was so excited, she forgot to let him in. “She just ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. And they said to her, ‘You’re out of your mind.’” This was a really group of prayer warriors, wasn’t it? Their prayer got answered, and they didn’t believe it.
“But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, ‘It’s his angel.’ But Peter continued knocking. When they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed.” That’s good, isn’t it? Sometimes I think we assume that God only answers the prayers of great faith. He also answers the prayers of very little faith, as He did in the case of Peter. God heard that constant prayer, even though it was weak in faith. And you might conclude that prayer is so potent, that even in its weakness, it’s powerful.
The idea here in this “pray at all times” is constancy. As I have grown in my own Christian life, I have found that it really becomes a way of life. It is a consciousness of God’s presence at all times that just opens your life to Him, so that a silent prayer goes up to God time and time and time and time and time again through the day. I find myself pillowing my head at night to sleep and running before the Lord the things that are on my mind. I wake up in the morning with the same thoughts. As I begin the day, the things that are in my mind I bring before the Lord quietly in a conversation with Him. Conversation sort of flows along as the day goes on.
It’s really a kind of God consciousness where everything you see in your world you see in light of Him. When you see good and you see righteousness and you see salvation and you see sanctification, you praise and you thank Him. When you see evil, you ask Him to make it right, to cleanse it, to deal with it. When you see trouble, you experience difficulty, you ask His deliverance. When you’re confused and trying to figure out something, maybe a truth in the Scripture that’s not coming clear, you plead with Him to give you guidance and direction.
You see, the only way that we could ever understand the Bible is if we were led by the Holy Spirit, because it’s only the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 2, who understands the mind of God, isn’t it? Just a cold, hard reading of Scripture doesn’t yield the great realities, it’s the work of the Spirit as we yield to His movement in our minds, so that all your life and all your words and all your thoughts and everything you do and everywhere you go, and every responsibility you fulfill, somehow carry on this running communion. There’s really no waking moment when you can’t be praying. You don’t have to go to a place, you don’t have to get into a position, God is there all the time.
And it’s a way of life, it’s just a way of life, it’s just a constant conversation. And sometimes it gets more intense than others. Sometimes it’s full of joy, and sometimes it’s full of sadness. When it says in Colossians 4:2, “Continue in prayer,” it’s from the root kartereō, which means “to be steadfast or constant.” It is used in Hebrews 11:27 of Moses: “He endured.”
It actually refers “to being strong,” “to sustaining something,” “to hang in there with real strength” is the idea. In fact, it’s the compound form of kartereō in Colossians, which means just that, “to endure with real persistent strength.” And I say that to say this: this God-consciousness is not some kind of easy-going God-consciousness. It’s not some kind of laissez-faire approach, some lazy, sort of come see, come saw, but rather a strong, persevering, intense consciousness of God.
I guess as we grow as Christians, when you read the pattern of growth in 1 John 2, the pinnacle of spiritual growth has become a spiritual father – spiritual children, spiritual young man, spiritual father; there’s three levels of spiritual growth – and a spiritual father is identified as one who knows Him who is from the beginning.
I don’t want to get mystical here, but for someone who is a mature Christian, they may be more conscious of God as they live their life than anybody else. As you become deeper and deeper in the knowledge of God, as you come to grips with God’s reality and His presence and His power and His truth, and it begins to dominate your life, you tend to be more conscious of what is God’s role and what do you desire God’s response to be in every given situation, than you are dealing with the people in that situation, because you begin to see things through God’s eyes, and in His perspective.
There’s a certain earnestness in this that stems from this God-consciousness. There’s a certain persistence and certain strength in it. Turn to Luke 18 for a moment, let me illustrate that, Luke 18:1. And you’re very familiar with this, but I only remind you of it. “He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray.” So here we are; we’re going to illustrate that you should pray all the time. “He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not lose heart.” You just keep praying and you keep praying and you keep praying, and you don’t lose heart, you don’t stop praying.
And here’s his story. “There was in a certain city a judge who didn’t fear God and didn’t respect man.” He would suit the American culture, I think, the way things are going, no fear of God and little regard for man. “There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’” Here’s a poor, beleaguered widow who is being taken advantage of and has no one to defend her. So she goes to the judge, and she says, “You’ve got to protect me.” You remember that one of the condemnation of the prophets with regard to Israel was that they devoured widow’s houses, took advantage of people who were without protection.
So she goes to the judge, and she pleads. “For a while, he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man – I don’t care about God, I don’t have any particular religious thing in view here, I don’t have any moral law that I have to live up to, and I could care less about her – yet because this widow bothers me, I’ll give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she wear me out.’”
Now you say, “That is a strange story. Is that supposed to illustrate God? Is God like that, saying, ‘I don’t care about you, I just get sick of you coming, so I’m going to do what you ask’?” No.
Look at verse 6: “The Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said.’” He simply means by that, “Let me tell you what the story means. Now, shall not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?”
What is He saying here? He’s saying, “Listen, if an unjust judge, if an unrighteous judge who had no moral standards and who couldn’t care less about people would finally do for a woman what she begged him to do just because he was tired of her coming, what will a just God, a righteous God who loves His children do in response to their requests?”
It is a parable of contrasts, not a parable of comparison. When you come to God, you’re not coming to an unjust judge who has got no moral standard to live up to and no promises to keep. You’re not coming to a judge who doesn’t care about you. You’re coming to a God who is righteous, who has made promises, and who loves you supremely. And if an unjust judge will respond for someone who comes very often, what will your God do when you come to Him and continue in prayer and don’t lose heart?
Go back to chapter 11 of Luke, verse 5, “Then He said to them,” – He’s just finished giving them the disciples prayer, which we studied this morning in verses 2 through 4. “Then He said to them, ‘Suppose one of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves;” – now, first of all, it’s a little late to be going there; it’s midnight, and you show up, and you want three loaves, three biscuits for breakfast – “for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.”’” And hospitality was a major necessity. This would be a serious embarrassment.
“Well, from inside he will answer and say, ‘Do not bother me;’ – you’re there at midnight asking him for bread – ‘the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed.’” Now there’s a novel idea. We could talk about that as a parenting methodology. You say, “What in the world are they all doing in bed?” Well, you know, in those days, they usually all slept together when it was cold, because that’s how they stayed warm.
“I can’t get up and give you anything.” You know what it means? “If I’m in there, and my wife’s in there, and all the kids are in there, and I get up, we got chaos. Everybody’s awake, the whole family’s upset. So I just can’t get up and get you anything.”
“I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.” If the guy just stays there and keeps bugging him, he will eventually get up, not because he’s his friend, but because he’s tired of the guy; he can’t take it anymore.
Now, it’s the same scenario. It’s a parable by contrast rather than comparison. If your friend, who is hostile at first and indifferent, and doesn’t want to help you, will help you because you just won’t stop asking, and you won’t go away, what will the God who loves you and never sleeps do? That’s the point. But in either case, the message is to keep praying, is to keep asking.
Verse 9, “I say to you, ask, and it’ll be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.” And then we see that same passage from Matthew 7 is, of course, repeated here: “Suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish, he will not give him a snake instead of fish, will he? Or if he’s asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” The point is that – it’s what’s the Old English word “importunity,” which means “perseverance” or “persistence.” Constant prayer, constant prayer. Persistent prayer.
Well, let’s go back to Ephesians chapter 6 and verse 18. The first aspect of prayer is the frequency of prayer, and it’s all the time, “Praying at all times,” constant God-consciousness, constant petition, constant pleading with the Lord. As the thoughts run through your mind, they transform into prayers brought before Him. It’s a great way to live your Christian life. Every thought that becomes a worry could become a prayer.
Secondly is the variety of prayer. Not only the frequency of prayer, but the variety of prayer. And this is quite interesting. Verse 18 begins, “With all prayer and” – literally – “petition,” or supplication. What he means by “all prayer” is “all kinds of prayer.” There are lots of kinds of prayer: public, private, verbal, silent, loud cries, quiet whispers, deliberate prayer, planned prayer, spontaneous prayer. There is corporate prayer. There is prayer that directs itself at God in thanksgiving. There’s prayer that directs itself in confession of sin. There is prayer that is humiliation before God and a bowing down, exalting Him. There is prayer that is pure praise. And prayer can be offered kneeling, standing, sitting, lifting up holy hands, lying on your face, lying on your back. All kinds of prayer in all kinds of fashions.
As you study the Old Testament – I won’t take time to do that tonight – you find people praying in all postures about all kinds of things. I remember reading a book one time about the fact that we ought to pray in the morning and in the evening, and it quoted a few little verses about so-and-so praying in the morning and praying in the evening. And I went to my concordance and began to find that people prayed all the time – all day long, morning, evening, noon, middle of the day, in the middle of the night. And then I went on in this book, and it advocated that we should always pray in a kneeling position. And as I went through the concordance again and looking through all of the positions of prayer, I found out that people prayed with every conceivable kind of posture. All kinds of prayer, all kinds of postures.
Now, take the word “prayer” to begin with here. Let’s just mention what it means in the Greek. It’s proseuchē, and it means – it’s basically prayer in general, and it suits very well this kind of spiritual conversation that we’ve been talking about, because it refers to a sort of a general conversation of prayer. It doesn’t focus on petition necessarily, or confession, or even praise. It’s just general conversation with God. And all of the aspects of prayer sort of fit well into that broad term.
The second word is “supplication,” or as it’s translated in the NAS here, “petition,” deēsis, and this as opposed to proseuchē, which means “prayer in general,” refers to “prayer in specific.” It is a word that has to do with a definite prayer. And I think that the Holy Spirit chose those two words because you cover the ground. Prayer in general, in all of its forms and possibilities, and in general terms, and prayer in very specific requests.
Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:8, “I want that men pray everywhere, everywhere, lifting up holy hands,” a posture of offering prayer to God and receiving from God that the Jews often expressed themselves with. But there is prayer that is very general, such as praising God and honoring God and worshiping God, and praying generally for the church, the family, friends, the work of God in the world, missionaries, all of that. And then there is that very specific request with regard to an issue of life that is a burden on our hearts. So we see here that prayer as wide as encompassing all the general requests on our heart and as narrow as the very specific things that burden us. We should be like a – thinking the motif here of a soldier. We should be like that soldier who’s got the full armor on, sort of ready at every moment to commit everything to God. Wherever we are in any kind of battle, with every kind of prayer, every general prayer, every specific prayer.
I don’t know about you, but I find myself praying in those ways: praying generally for you as a church, praying specifically for individuals within the church, praying generally for the well-being of missionaries, praying specifically for a very pointed request with regard to them. And that’s how it is the life of prayer. It’s general, and yet it’s very specific. And God answers prayers generally and specifically, as well. It’s as varied as the need and as varied as the passion of our heart.
Now, when we talk about this, we’re not talking about prayer books, vain repletion. We’re not necessarily even talking about prescribed prayer times. The Jews had these traditional prayer times that they engaged in that had been developed through the years, where at a certain hour every day, everybody had to go somewhere and pray. We see the Muslims doing that today, bowing down, facing toward Mecca; the Jews do it.
I remember flying to Israel one time on a 747 full of orthodox Jews, and it was a really wild trip, because every time we came to a prayer time, they all got up and got in the aisles and started facing Jerusalem and genuflecting. And the crew was becoming more and more contentious because they couldn’t serve the meals, because they wouldn’t sit down. And it was interesting, because we had a landing in Brussels and the whole flight service crew walked. And so we flew from Brussels to Tel Aviv with only pilots, I think, I guess. Maybe they put it on automatic, I don’t know. But I mean, wherever they are at the prescribed time they just went into that mode and engaged in that particular prayer, as if the prescription itself had some spiritual meaning.
A speaker took every Old Testament passage one time where people rose up early in the morning and prayed, and concluded that that’s the time that Christians ought to pray, and tried to start a sort of a morning tradition. Psalm 55:17 says, “Evening and morning and noon will I pray.” Daniel prayed five times a day. Luke 6:12 says of Jesus that He continued all night in prayer to God. First Timothy 5:5 says, “Godly widows are those who pray night and day.” And again you’re back to all times, all prayer, and as general way of life.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out that, in a sense – this is quite an interesting statement: “Prayer is more important than knowledge.” This is what he writes: “Our ultimate position as Christians is tested by the character of our prayer life. It is more important than knowledge and understanding. As theology is ultimately the knowledge of God, the more theology I know, the more it should drive me to seek to know God, not to know about Him, but to know Him. The whole object of salvation is to bring me to a knowledge of God. I may talk learnedly about regeneration. But what is eternal life? It is that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent, John 17:3.
“If all my knowledge,” he writes, “does not lead me to prayer, there is something wrong somewhere. It is meant to do that. The value of the knowledge is that it gives me such an understanding of the value of prayer, that I devote time to prayer, and delight in prayer. If it doesn’t produce these results in my life, there’s something wrong and spurious about it, or else I’m handling it in a wrong manner.
“The trouble, I’m convinced, is that we tend to stop at putting the whole armor of God on, and that’s it. The devil puffs us up with our knowledge, and thereby defeats us. If you really do know the truth about God, then the thing that would be the most natural response to that would be to seek communion with Him, would it not? You know, one of the great comforts in life, no matter what happens in life, is this God-conscious living. No matter how stressed out things get, no matter how difficult they become, no matter how dire the circumstances are, no matter how troubled your heart may be, when you really know your God, and you really believe your God to be faithful to His Word, you’re content to take everything to Him, everything.
Let me give you a third point: The manner of prayer. The manner of prayer. “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance.” This is translated in the Authorized Version, “watching.” “Be on the alert, watching.”
Mark 14:38, Jesus said, “Watch and pray.” First Peter 4:7, Peter said, “Watch unto prayer.” Sleepless, incessant, persevering prayer demands concentration; it demands attentiveness; it demands vigilance. You need to really assess what’s going on. Lack of prayer, frankly, is related to a failure to understand what the issues are. Most people don’t pray perseveringly. They don’t pray with importunity, supplicating, because they’re just not that involved in the needs or the issues.
It’s really a sad commentary on all of us that we don’t get as concerned about the needs of others as we do about our own needs. We don’t have much trouble praying passionately when it strikes us; but on behalf of others, we find that a little hard to do. But we’re to be watchful. We’re to be looking around us; assessing the enemy, his attacks, his assaults, what we need to be guarded about. We need to be looking at the friends and the family around us, and understanding their strengths and weaknesses, understanding their temptations and struggles, so that with watchfulness, we can pray with perseverance.
Again, here is this same idea of consistency, enduring prayer; steadfast, continual prayer. This becomes a pattern of life for the one who is watchful. “Be on the alert with all perseverance and petition,” Paul said.
The disciples made themselves vulnerable to Satan because they weren’t alert to his approaches. Part of being watchful is understanding the schemes of the devil, and that means understanding the Word of God. Part of watchfulness is having discernment. I spent all day yesterday teaching a seminar on discernment to biblical counselors in Chicago, and it just brought back into my mind the urgency of being a discerning Christian.
The Christian church today is just filled with people who have no clue what’s really going on. They can’t see the subtleties of Satan. They can’t see the takeovers that Satan is managing to pull off all over the place in evangelical Christianity. They’re sort of witless to the real things that are going on. And the reason is primarily not because they wouldn’t like to know, but because they don’t have the criteria to know; and that means they do not understand the Word of God well enough to be able to measure things that are happening against sound doctrine. So part of watchfulness – and I need to emphasize this – part of watchfulness is knowing the truth of God so that you can rightly discern what’s happening.
When I mentioned some weeks ago that the number one problem in the church is deception, that was no big revelation. The number one problem in the church is deception. Frankly, the number one problem in the world is deception. And the number one deceiver in the world is Satan, who works his deception through his host of demons, and his false teachers, and all the false ideologies raised up against the knowledge of God. Deception is the issue; therefore, it is incumbent upon believers to be able to discern truth from error.
You can say, “Well, I’m really looking around, and I’m really watching.” But if you don’t have a criteria by which to evaluate what’s going on, you don’t understand the schemes of Satan, you don’t understand sound doctrine. Your watchfulness is only marginally beneficial. That’s why it’s so important to teach the Word of God and to have a sound foundation of truth. The frequency of prayer at all times, the variety of prayer, all kinds of prayer, both in the general sense and the specific sense, the manner of prayer, watching with perseverance, being discerning, so that you can assess what is going on. And you can pray in regard to the real attacks of the enemy in their subtlety.
Let me give you, lastly, the indirect objects of prayer. We’ll call it “the indirect objects of prayer.” It’s at the end of verse 18, “for all saints.” You say, “What do you mean, the indirect objects?” Well, the direct object of all of our prayers is God; we pray to God. The indirect object, we pray to God about all saints.
I want you to note this, because it’s very important. We make our petitions, our supplications with perseverance, with alertness, at all times, in all forms, on behalf of all saints. As Samuel said in 1 Samuel 12:23, “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you.”
Let me tell you something: the more mature you are as a Christian, the more preoccupied you are with praying for somebody else rather than yourself. This is part of the ministry of the body. When the apostles gave themselves to the ministry of prayer and the Word, they were focusing those prayers on the people of God. It’s the wonderful reality of the New Testament that as you unfold the prayers of Paul, he was always praying for somebody else. And when he needed prayer, he asked somebody else to pray for him, such as in verse 19, “Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.” He was praying for them, and he asked them to pray for him.
And that’s how love works, and that’s how the body is unified, and that’s how we bear one another’s burdens. That’s part of the body of Christ; that’s part of the way the muscles in the body work. We pray for each other: I pray for you, you pray for me. When a member has a need, the other members pray for that one. We constantly are asking God on behalf of one another.
I don’t know how it is with you, but apart from confession of sin, and apart from submission to God and the pursuit of wisdom, most of our prayer life should be made up of praying for other people, shouldn’t it? I find that that’s the mark of spiritual maturity. In fact, nowhere does Scripture put the emphasis on praying for ourselves. Obviously, you have to confess your own sin, submit yourself to God. Obviously, you have to praise God, obviously, thank God; that’s obvious. But what I’m talking about is in sense a petition or supplication.
You look at the prayer of Jeremiah, he’s praying for his people. You look at the prayer of Daniel, he’s praying for his people. Now, Jonah, he was praying for himself; we understand that. There is a time and a place to do that; and that was the time and that was the place. And so are other times and places, we understand that. But the general thrust of prayer is on behalf of others.
And isn’t that the way it works? People got together yesterday and had 1,200 prayer requests, many of whom were from people they didn’t even know, and they were praying for the people they didn’t know. That’s the ministry of prayer for all the saints. It’s based on the same selfless, humble love that is the key to Christian unity. So we want to focus on each other, and pray for each other.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones has an interesting couple of illustrations. He writes, “Before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in Barcelona, Madrid, and other places, there were psychological clinics with large numbers of neurotics undergoing drug treatment, and others attending regularly for psychoanalysis and such like. They had their personal problems, their worries, their anxieties, their temptations, having to go back week after week, month after month to the clinic in order to be kept going. Then came the Civil War, and one of the first and most striking effects of the Spanish Civil War was that it virtually emptied the psychological and psychiatric clinics. The neurotic people were suddenly cured by a greater anxiety – the anxiety about their whole life, whether their homes would still be there, whether their husbands would still be alive, whether their children would be killed. The greater anxieties got rid of the lesser ones. In having to give attention to the bigger problem, they forgot their own personal and somewhat petty problems. That is a fact, and a measure,” he writes, “that also happened in Britain during the second World War. A greater fear drives out lesser fears.”
When you feel that you are in a kind of vortex and can’t forget yourself, when you are sorry for yourself and feeling that you are having an unusually hard time with everything against you almost enough to drive you to despair, one of the best remedies is to sit down and say, “What about so-and-so? What about this person? What about that person? What about Christians in other countries?” What about what I mentioned to you this morning: “What about the family that lost six children?” I said to that pastor, “That’s a real problem, not an artificial one.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Get on your knees and pray for somebody else, and you’ll soon get up finding you forgot yourself.” So apart from all other reasons, it’s a wise thing to make supplication for all saints. You’ll find that in praying for them, you are solving your own self-centered problems. Wisdom, indeed. Wisdom, indeed.
Now, there’s one overarching qualification – and we’ll wrap it up – one overarching qualification in this verse that we haven’t noticed yet, and it’s that little phrase “in the Spirit.” We’ve covered praying always, praying at all times. We’ve covered with all prayer, all petition, being on the alert, persevering, and praying for all saints. But that little phrase “in the Spirit” is the qualification for prayer.
It’s a common New Testament theme, by the way. It’s repeated in Jude 20: “All prayer at all times with all persistence and alertness, for all saints must always be done in the Spirit.” What does that mean? Does that mean speaking in tongues? No. It means praying in harmony with the will of the Spirit, that’s all it means. Praying in harmony with the mind and will of God’s Holy Spirit.
And according to Romans chapter 8, verses 26 to 28, “The Spirit always prays for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. The Spirit is always interceding for us. And the Spirit knows the mind of God,” it says. “The Spirit knows the mind of God,” Romans 8:27. The Spirit in perfect harmony within the Trinity knows the mind of God, and always prays consistent with the mind of God. It says, “He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
God knows the mind of the Spirit, the Spirit knows the mind of God, and the Spirit always prays in perfect harmony with the will of God. So when it says, “Pray in the Spirit,” it’s not asking you to do something ecstatic, it’s not asking you to do something mystical. It is simply saying, “Line up your praying with the Holy Spirit,” which means, “Pray in the will of God.” Takes you right back to where were this morning where you say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Spirit-directed prayer is what we’re after here. So in the end you’re praying in the will of God, consistent with the mind of the Spirit.
Now, having given that basic sort of practical description of prayer, he gives an illustration, and I’ll just comment on it briefly. Look at verse 19. He sort of gives us an opportunity to see this in action. “Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make knows with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
I’ll tell you one thing: everything he asked for there is the will of God, isn’t it? I mean, clearly, God wanted him to preach. God wanted him to open his mouth and boldly make known the mystery of the gospel, or God wouldn’t have made him an ambassador. So he was praying in the will of God. He was praying in the Spirit, if you will. He’s asking them to pray persistently, faithfully, continually, at all times, in all places, in all manners for him, that God might use him to fulfill his calling. He wants courage, he wants boldness. He wants to speak the gospel powerfully, he wants to proclaim the message of saving love, and he wants his people to hold him up in prayer.
I understand that. Nothing is more gratifying to me than people who tell me they’re praying for me. And I just continue to be amazed at what a massive amount of people there are in the group of folks who pray for me. If there’s anything that the Lord will honor, it is the faithful prayers of those people; and I’m so grateful. Only eternity will reveal the great reality of the prayers of those people who, in large measure, had probably more to do with God’s blessing in my life than anything I did. I’m always rejoicing to go places and meet people who say they’re praying regularly for me. And that’s how Paul closes in verse 20, and then there are a few final comments as he wraps up the book.
Well, by way of conclusion, a final prayer, a prayer offered by a Puritan long ago: “O God of grace, I bewail my cold, listless, heartless prayers; their poverty adds sin to sin. If my hope were in them, I should be undone. But the worth of Jesus perfumes my feeble breathings and wins their acceptance deep in my contrition of heart, O Lord. In prayer, I launch far out into the eternal world, and on that broad ocean, my soul triumphs over all evils on the shores of mortality. Time with its amusements and cruel disappointments never appears so inconsiderate as when I’m praying.
“In prayer, I see myself as nothing. I find my heart going after Thee with intensity and long with vehement thirst to live to Thee. In prayer, all things here below vanish. In prayer, all my worldly cares and fears and anxieties disappear and are as of little importance as a puff of wind. In prayer, my soul in inward joy casts its thoughts toward You and Your church, and I long that You should get Yourself a great name from sinners returning to You.
In prayer, I am lifted above the frowns and flatteries of life, and taste the heavenly joys, and enter the eternal world, and I can give myself to You with all my heart. In prayer, I can place all my concerns in Your hands to be entirely at Your disposal, having no will or interest of my own. In prayer, I can intercede for my friends, my ministers, my pastors, sinners, the church, Your kingdom. With greatest freedom, profoundest hope, as a son to his father, as a lover to the beloved, help me to always be in prayer and never to cease.” Let’s pray.
Again, Lord, it’s been a wonderful day today as we’ve contemplated the tremendous blessing of communion with You. We’ve really talked mostly about our part and not Yours. But all the way along we’ve certainly implied that You hear and answer prayer consistent with Your will, and that somehow in the wonder of Your sovereignty You do things in response to prayer that otherwise would not happen. You have ordained that our prayers be the means by which You unfold Your will. What a tremendous privilege it is to come before You and commune with You in all the issues of life.
Father, we thank You for that open line of communion. We thank You that we can have a God-consciousness and know that You are conscious of us at every moment, and of all our needs, and of Your will for us. And may we eagerly grasp that privileged communion and make the greatest use of it by bringing before You those things consistent with Your will, that You may display Yourself and Your glory in the answers. What a resource we have, that whatever we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, You do, that You may glorify Yourself. What a promise of resources. May we take advantage of that and trust You for every answer, in Your Son’s name. Amen.
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