Well, tonight we’re looking at Ephesians 6 and bringing to its conclusion a look at the armor of God, the believer’s armor from this chapter. Timing is good since we’re really getting into the busyness of the holiday season, and trying to compete with that and collide with that is a great challenge in the weeks to come in the future.
Now, in looking at the text of the armor of the believer, it starts in verse 10. Let me read it for you. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
“Stand firm, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition praying at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,” and we’ll stop at that point.
This great letter begins with the fact that we have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies. And here in chapter 6, it is the same domain of the heavenlies from which our formidable enemy comes. That is to say, we have been blessed with supernatural spiritual benefits. We also confront a supernatural spiritual enemy. We need to be equipped to deal with that, as we have been learning through the series.
But there’s one final, additional, and all-pervasive element to our armor and it is contained in verse 18, and that’s where we find ourselves for tonight. “With all prayer and petition,” modifying the main verb, “pray at all times in the Spirit.”
The final element of the believer’s weapon is prayer - prayer. You will remember if you’ve read Pilgrim’s Progress, the great classic allegory by John Bunyan, that the last piece of armor that Christian is given in that story is the weapon of all prayer - all prayer. It is given because it will stand him in good stead when all else fails. And with this weapon of all prayer, Christian is instructed that he will be able to prevail against all who come against him in the valley of the shadow. When he pours out his soul in prayer, he is most formidable.
That is, of course, a reflection of what our Lord says in Luke 18:1, that men ought always to pray and not to faint, no matter how difficult the challenge is, no matter how formidable the enemy, no matter how hard the victory, men ought always to pray and not to faint. There are the two options. You can pray or you can faint. The Lord opts for the praying side.
This instruction is essential - foundational in the life of every believer. When it comes to the armor of the Christian, of course, it is climactic, it comes at the end. It is all-encompassing, it is all-pervasive. The whole picture here then ends with this plea for prayer. But it’s not just the end, as it were, of the armor section, it’s actually the end of the epistle.
All that’s left in verses 19 and 20 is an application of the prayer principle and then some final words to sign off so that this majestic epistle, which begins in the heights in chapter 1 with one of the greatest theological statements written anywhere in the Scripture, in which we are lifted up and exalted into the heavenlies from which all blessings come, this epistle, you might say, that begins in the heights, ends on its knees. And it’s important, I think, to get the big picture to understand the importance of prayer. It’s crucial for us to back up a little bit and capture the essence of this whole epistle.
And I know that’s hard, we haven’t really studied it together, but you might be familiar enough with it to follow, tracking with me a little bit. Let’s go back to chapter 1 for a moment for this is the context in which we are to understand prayer. If there is any epistle in the New Testament that celebrates what we have in Christ, it is this epistle. It is an accumulation of blessings and benefits and privileges and gifts and empowerments. In chapter 1, verse 3, we are blessed with all spiritual blessings or every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ.
In verse 4, we are chosen in Him before the foundation of the world to become holy and blameless. The end of verse 4 and into verse 5, we are loved so as to be predestined to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself. Verse 7, He has given us redemption, which includes the forgiveness of our trespasses to the degree that is commensurate with the richness of His grace.
We are even given an inheritance, verse 11. That inheritance is an inheritance that is described for us elsewhere in Scripture as undefiled, that fades not away, is incorruptible, and is lavish. We are made secure, verse 13. We are sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the pledge of our inheritance, which guarantees the redemption of God’s own possession for the ending point of all, and that is the glory that belongs only to Him.
In chapter 2, we start out realizing that we are dead in trespasses and sin, we’re under control of the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that works in the children of disobedience, which children all of us are. We live in the lusts of the flesh, desires of the flesh and lusts guide us, guard us, motivate us, drive us, compel us. We are by nature headed for divine wrath like everybody else.
But, verse 4 says, “God who is rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were in that condition, raised us with Christ, seated us with Him in the heavenlies in Christ. We are alive and we shall live forever.” We are objects of grace and will always be. In verse 7, it says that God is going to show us the riches of His grace in kindness through Christ Jesus, not just in time, but in the ages to come. Eternally, we will receive His grace. Verse 10 says we are His masterpiece, His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God designed from the very, very beginning.
We are, according to verses 13 and following, brought near who were formerly far off. Brought near to whom? Brought near to God, brought near to one another, both Jew and Gentile made one, the barrier between the two broken down, abolished in His flesh; that is, in His death at the cross. We are members of His family, verse 19. We are God’s household. We are, in verse 22, a building in which the Holy Spirit lives.
In chapter 3, there are many more elements to the blessedness that has been given to us - fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. We are part of the manifold wisdom of God, manifest through the church to the heavenly authorities; that is, to the angels, both holy and unholy. Chapter 3 ends with a prayer that we would understand the riches, verse 16, of His glory. That we would be strengthened with the available power through the Holy Spirit in our inner man, that we would experience Christ settling down in our hearts, being rooted and grounded in love which is shed abroad in us.
He prays that we would be able to grasp with all saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge. To be able to get a comprehension of the vastness of this saving love. That we would experience the fullness of God, that we would know what it means to do exceeding abundantly beyond all we can ask or think according to the power that works not outside of us but inside of us so that God can be glorified through His church.
Those are just some of the statements in the opening three chapters that tell us who we are in Christ, what it means to be a Christian. It is lavish, it is massive, it is high and low and wide. And that is how it’s described.
Starting in chapter 4, we are called on to act like this. Since we possess the Son of God and the Spirit of God and have a relationship with God the Father, since we are members of the body of Christ, since we are in the church and come under the direction and leadership of the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the teaching pastors who are given to the church for the perfecting of the saints, since all these things work for us and in us, since we are growing together into Christlikeness, we need to make sure, verse 17 says, that we don’t live the way we used to live, we don’t walk the way we used to walk, since, verse 20 says, we have learned Christ, we’ve been taught the truth, our old self laid aside with all its lusts and corruption.
We need to be continually being renewed in the spirit of our minds, put on fully the new self in the likeness of God, that new self having been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Then he talks about some very practical things that we are to do. We are, in chapter 5, to be imitators of God, as beloved children. We are to walk in love as Christ loved us. Verse 8 of chapter 5 says since we dwell in light, we are to walk in light. Chapter 5, verses 15 and following, says be careful how you walk, not as unwise but as wise. We’re to talk in love, we’re to walk in light, we’re to walk in wisdom. We’re to walk in the fullness of the Spirit, verse 18, be being kept filled with the Holy Spirit. We have the power of the Spirit for every relationship and marriage, family, work, every relationship.
And finally he comes down to chapter 6 and verse 10 and says we have received armor. Though we have all these things, we have a formidable foe, and we need to be armed to have victory over him, and we’re given the armor. On top of all the things we’re given through the five chapters, we’re also given this added armor to defend ourselves against the onslaught of Satan as he works the world system against our sinful flesh.
Bottom line, we have all things that pertain to life and godliness, we lack nothing. But it is precisely at this point that there is a potentially destructive problem. You might call it spiritual overconfidence. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” By the time you got to verse 17 of Ephesians 6, if you just swept through it with me, there might be a sort of a sense of invincibility. Since you have all blessings, all power, all resources, all grace, and since victory is guaranteed, triumph is settled.
And you have the Spirit as a seal of that final triumph and a full inheritance. Since you are secure forever, since you have all of these things, you might think that that is, in itself, enough. But I remind you, we are still human, we still have remaining sin. We still operate with the principles of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, in their death throes. Though we are a new creation, we are incarcerated in that flesh. And we cannot become smug and feeling adequate, think we can just march on in the understanding of these theological truths with no need of God.
When all is said and done, when all is in place, verse 18 brings us to the culmination. “Take all this armor, put it on. With all prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit.” You might think that there’s nothing you lack, but that would be wrong. We are all vulnerable. We can all stumble. We can all fall into sin. We can all be defeated along the way. We can bring dishonor on the Lord and shame on His church. We can wound ourselves in the matter of sin and disobedience to the degree that we destroy our personal testimony and our opportunity for service and usefulness to the Lord. We can forfeit our joy.
Paul says, “At the end of everything, you must realize that even with all that you have, remaining sin is so powerful and Satan himself has devised such a mighty force in the evil in the world system that you need constant submission to God in prayer. You have to depend on Him. I think it’s a latent danger that Christians who have a knowledge of doctrine, who have a very strong knowledge of doctrine, a fairly effective grip on principles of living the Christian life, can become satisfied. And that sort of heart-rending, passionate, constant dependence on God isn’t there. And that is sin - and that is dangerous.
So Paul closes this great letter, the final crescendo, the music peaks out in a call to prayer. Prayer is the breath of the Christian’s life. Prayer is the air which we breathe. As the human body exists in an atmosphere and takes in the air because the air forces its way in, so the believer should be living in an attitude of prayer in which the need to come before God forces its way in.
You don’t have to try to breathe, the air makes you breathe. Just try holding your breath. It’s easy to breathe; it’s hard to hold your breath. For the believer, it’s easy to pray; it’s hard not to pray. You have to work at it because this is our communion, this is how we inhale spiritually. A Christian is like a special class of animal called cetaceous animals I read about, neither fish nor fowl. Inhabits the depths of the sea.
The sea is their home, they never leave the sea, they swim in the darkest depths of the sea and yet are compelled at certain intervals to rise to the surface to grasp some air. That is how it is for us. We might live at the depth of theological understanding, but we need to come up for that air that sustains our life. The Christian only by ever ascending to God, rising to breathe in constant prayer, maintains the fullness of spiritual life. All of us need to be moving throughout all the days and hours of our lives in the presence of the Lord. That’s the general essence of what this is coming to.
And if you just looked at Ephesians and you just sort of plopped down at verse 18, it might not have the impact that it would have if you were able to understand everything I’ve told you tonight. This, in some ways, is the culminating reality of the book, and without an understanding of what comes before, you don’t get that. You might treat this statement about prayer like so many other statements about prayer. Prayer seems for most people to be something of an option. But here, it’s the culmination of everything, on top of everything, with all your blessings and all the armor, praying at all times.
So let’s talk about this instruction for a minute. Pas, the Greek word for all, is used four times in this verse - four times - all, all, all, all. We understand, then, that this is pervasive. This is important. This is far-reaching. So let’s talk about the elements that fall under the category of all. First of all, the frequency of prayer. “Pray at all times.” Pray at all times, that’s the frequency of prayer. What does that mean? Just exactly what it says. There doesn’t need to be an explanation of that. Jesus said in Luke 21:36, “Watch and pray always.”
The early apostles said in Acts 6:4, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer.” It was said about Cornelius in Acts chapter 10 that he prayed to God always. Paul, in Romans 12:12, says, “Continue diligently in prayer.” In Colossians 4:2, “Continue in prayer.” Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” And famous, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without” - what? - “ceasing.” Pray without ceasing. Paul did that. Second Timothy 1:3, “Without ceasing,” he says, “I have remembrance of you in my prayers night and day.” The idea here is constancy.
Now, this stretches us beyond just some recited prayer. This cannot mean some focused, isolated prayer experience. That would have been typical of Judaism, formula prayers, hours to pray, times to pray, places to pray, postures in which to pray. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a life pattern. We’re talking about a consciousness of God’s presence at all times that leaves my heart open fully to Him. That’s what this is all about. To be so God-conscious that you see and experience everything with reference to Him. You see all events in life as related to God.
If you see something good, what is your immediate response to what is good? It is to offer God thanks and praise and adoration. You see evil, you see sin, what is your response? You ask Him to make it right. You confess it. You pray for the sinner. You grieve that God is dishonored, that His name is reproached. You ask God to vindicate Himself, to bring righteousness where there is only iniquity. You see trouble. You see people in distress. What is your initial response? To go to God and ask that God will somehow be honored in the distress and bring a deliverance that can glorify His name.
It’s simply living your life in that kind of dominant God-consciousness so that God is the filter through which every experience passes. I see everything that way - absolutely everything - good, bad, indifferent, minor, major, big picture, small picture. I see everything that way. If you will, I have God-colored glasses. Everything I see is viewed through my understanding of God. David said that, “I have set the Lord always before me.” “I have set the Lord always before me.” Everything in life is filtered through that God-enhanced vision.
There’s no waking moment, then, that prayer cannot rise. It isn’t a time that you wait for, it’s the life that you live. It’s a God-conscious life. It’s not just finding a list of requests and going over it, although that’s part of it. It’s not just having a prescribed prayer time, although that’s certainly part of it - private place. It’s much more than that. It’s that every single thing in your life is something to talk to God about, everything. Everything.
When Paul said in Colossians 4:2, “Continue in prayer,” he used the verb kartereō, which means to be steadfast and constant. It’s the same verb used in Hebrews 11:27 speaking of Moses’ enduring. It’s the enduring attitude of prayer. It’s to hang in there with strength.
Now, we’re not talking just about an easygoing God-consciousness, we’re talking about a strong, persevering, vibrant, even struggling God-consciousness, sometimes that says, “Lord, why did you choose to do that? Why did that happen? Help me understand. It’s a struggle for me. I can’t understand it. Why do you tolerate that?” I can’t tell you how many times I ask the Lord that. I just - there are things in the church, there are things in the name of Christ that I do not understand why God allows. I don’t understand it. There are things that happen that I don’t understand.
People ask me, “Why did this happen?” I don’t know. I trust God, but sometimes I struggle with the reality of what’s going on and all I can say is, like the martyrs under the altar in Revelation, “How long, O Lord, how long, until you will be vindicated and things like this will no longer have to happen?”
It’s not, then, an easygoing God-consciousness. It’s a struggling, persevering love of righteousness and love of the honor of God and desire to see God exalted and glorified. And that’s where the struggle lies. And so the prayer is always, “Lord, glorify yourself somehow through this. I may not understand it, it may be against the grain of everything that I think makes sense. So show yourself powerful, bring honor to yourself.” This is part of the persistence in prayer that Jesus talked about in the story of the man who kept knocking and kept knocking and kept knocking and because of his much knocking, he received what he wanted from someone who didn’t even care about him.
And the point that our Lord is making, if somebody who doesn’t care will give you what you want just because you bug him, what will God give you when He loves you, if you’re persistent? Prayer is a constant God-consciousness but it’s not an easygoing God-consciousness, it’s a struggling God-consciousness because you’re struggling with the world and the way it is because you love to see God honored. You love to see Him glorified.
There are so many tragedies, tragedy after tragedy after tragedy. Sometimes I’m fascinated by television programs that do these documentaries on trials of people who murdered somebody and they go through all the machinations. They can always solve the crime in exactly 56 minutes every time I watch one of those. But at the end of it all, all I can think to myself (and I know it rises to the Lord as from my heart to Him) is how tragic - how tragic, what a sad person, what a human eternal tragedy this is.
That’s the God-consciousness with which you view the world. “O Lord, how long does this have to go on? Please be gracious to sinners, save them and glorify yourself in that way. And finally, glorify yourself in the world at your return.”
Second aspect of prayer - first is the frequency, the second is the variety. Here’s another use of the word “all”: “With all prayer and petition.” First one, pray at all times. Second, pray with all prayer and petition (or the old word, supplication). What does that mean? All kinds of prayers. You pray all the time. You pray all kinds of prayers - public, private, verbal, silent, loud, soft, deliberate, planned, unplanned, spontaneous, requests, thanks, confession, humiliation, praise, standing, kneeling, lying down, lifting up your hands, putting your hands down - you name it.
Every kind of prayer, expressive of every emotional attitude, of every kind of thinking and every kind of circumstance, that’s the idea. Pray all kinds of prayer, proseuchē, prayer in general, all kinds of petition, deēsis, definite prayer. Pray all kinds of petitions, pray every definite prayer in every way in every manner on every occasion. Like 1 Timothy 2:8, “I will that all men everywhere pray.” Pray. In the general pattern of life, in the specific issues of life, we are to pray.
And this is part of our defense. This is part of the armor. This is part of our protection. This is what allows us to defeat the schemes of Satan. It’s the kind of living that opens up our resources to the flow of God’s power. Pray in every way you can possibly pray and every kind of prayer in every circumstance which calls for prayer. It is to be in variety, it is varied as the needs. We pray prayers of thanksgiving, don’t we? We come together and worship. Sometimes our prayers are filled with joy, sometimes our exuberance is manifest in our praying.
And then there are times when we pray and our eyes are filled with tears and there are all the range of emotions that we experience as human beings which give rise to certain kinds of prayers. There are all kinds of circumstances, good, bad, and indifferent - horrible as well as wonderful that draw out prayer. We’re not talking about prayer books. We’re not talking about prayers that are memorized or written down, although that in itself is certainly not wrong. We’re not talking about vain repetition.
I once heard a preacher preach a sermon on why you must pray in the morning. Took every Old Testament passage where people rose up early in the morning and prayed. And as I was listening, I was flipping around in my Bible. Psalm 55:17, “Evening and morning and noon will I pray.” Luke 6:12, Jesus said He continued all night in prayer. And 1 Timothy 5:5 says that godly widows that are to be supported by the church are known as those who pray night and day. Yes, pray in the morning. Yes, pray at noon. Yes, pray at night. Yes, pray all night. Yes, pray all the time with all kinds of prayer. There are no limits on that.
And the third thing he talks about is the manner of prayer. With all prayer and petition, praying at all times. And the manner? It says, “Be on the alert with all perseverance and petition.” Let’s just take the word “perseverance” here. What we’ve got here is the frequency, all the time; the variety, all kinds of prayer; the manner, with perseverance and alertness. In other words, you need to know what you’re praying about.
One of my children, when I used to go from room to room, pray with the little kids (when they were little) at home. I had one child - I’ll let you figure out which one - who was always tired and wanted to go to sleep. And so this child would say - I’d say, “Now I want to pray with you.” And the prayer inevitably would go like this: “Dear God, Thank you for Mommy and Daddy. Bless the whole wide world. Amen.” You know, you’re really making it difficult for God to answer that prayer. Just exactly how does He do that? “Bless the whole wide world. Amen.” That doesn’t quite get specific enough.
Find something to pray about. Watch. Mark 14:38, Jesus said, “Watch and pray.” First Peter 4:7, “Watch unto prayer.” Incessant attentiveness, vigilance, alertness. Pick out specifics. I remember years ago we were meeting in a gym. There was a guy in our church named Frank. I haven’t seen him in a long time. He had a spiral notebook, and he would come up to me in the patio every week and he would say, “Now, what can I pray for?” And I would always have to give him a list of specific things to pray for and he’d write them down in his spiral notebook. He did that all the time.
And he would come back to me week after week and he would ask me, “Now, I prayed for that last week. How did that work out?” And then he would write down an answer. And he was moving through - he came to me one day, and I said, “Now, Frank, how many of these books have you filled up?” He said, “Thirteen.” Thirteen. Now, if you were to ask Frank, “Does God answer prayer?” he’d say, “What kind of prayer would you like answered?” Just flip through, grab one here, one there. Had all kinds of notebooks because he watched and he persevered - all perseverance.
The Greek means intensive commitment, perseverance. So watch, see what’s going on, pray on the positive side, pray defensively. Lead us not into temptation, that’s a defensive prayer. As well as prayers to glorify Himself, to manifest His kingdom. So we stay with it in a continued, steadfast, consuming perseverance as we follow through praying.
Most people, I think, don’t pray in a persevering way unless some personal tragedy strikes them, then they do. But that really manifests our tendency - doesn’t it? - to be selfish. We don’t get consumed with the things that consume the heart of Christ, we tend to get consumed with the things that affect us. We’re a little less (sometimes) consumed with the things that affect others. Persevering prayer on behalf of those things that are a concern to the heart of God - which is everything that occurs within the framework of His purpose and His kingdom - should be the mark of a believer who is mature. Watching beyond ourselves, persevering in an all-consuming devotion to prayer.
Colossians chapter 4 is a good illustration of this. “Epaphras, who is one of your number,” Paul says to the Colossians, “a slave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. I bear him witness, he has a deep concern for you.” This is somebody who was a persevering person who watched, who saw needs, and who prayed faithfully in an all-consuming effort.
Then there’s another “all” here, a fourth one. “These prayers are to be offered” - end of the verse - “for all the saints.” The frequency of prayers? At all times. The variety of prayers? All kinds of prayers. The manner of prayer? Watching at all times so you don’t miss anything. And here, the indirect object of prayer. What is the indirect object? All the saints. The direct object is whom? God. Because in the end, John 14, the promise is this, that “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
The direct object of all prayer is God. You pray to God for God’s glory. The indirect object is the saints. You pray for the saints; by means of those saints, God may display His glory. So when you want to glorify God, you pray, “God, glorify yourself by putting your power on display, your grace on display, your mercy on display, your wisdom on display, your truth on display, by answering this prayer concerning these saints.” So you pray indirectly for the saints, directly for the glory of God.
This is critical. The direction of our prayers is outside of us, okay? For all the saints. Praying at all times in all kinds of prayers, all varieties of prayers, with all alertness and all perseverance for all the saints. This is how the body of Christ operates. A Christian is not to think only of his own conflict, but that of the whole body. Not to be concerned only with his own issues but those of the whole body. In fact, there’s a certain sense in which you have a basic indifference to what happens to you. If it glorifies God, bring it on. “Whatever, Lord, you need to do in my life to glorify yourself, do that. Help me to discern your glory even in the things I don’t understand in my life.”
You pray, of course, “Lead us not into temptation,” but that’s us. Of course, you’re included in that, but it’s a bigger picture. We need to understand that part of the body of Christ function is praying for each other. And this, of course, is the epistle in which there is so much important instruction about the life of the body of Christ in chapter 4.
When your physical body is hurt, when your physical body is ill, all the other parts of the body come together - don’t they? - to compensate for that, to defend you, to fight for you, to heal, to restore you. This is how it is in the body of Christ. When one member has a need, when one member has a struggle or when other members have a struggle, we come alongside and we minister healing and mercy and grace and restoration to each other. That’s a whole subject that we could (and probably should) address together.
But the idea here is to be consumed with praying for others - for others. Not just our own concerns, not being selfish about ourselves. It’s so hard to get beyond us. Praying always for all saints.
Now, in the midst of all of this, there is one other statement that we need to consider. All of this occurs in the Spirit. All of this occurs in the Spirit. All the variety of prayer, all the times of prayer, all of the things that cause us to pray and persevere and pray in prayer, and all the saints for whom we pray, all our praying needs to be in the Spirit - in the Spirit.
And by the way, this is a very, very common New Testament principle. Jude 20, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit.” If you want to grow and be strong and be triumphant, you need to pray in the Holy Spirit. All prayer must be in the Spirit. What does that mean? Well, for years Charismatics and Pentecostals have told us it means speaking in tongues. Doesn’t mention that at all. That is never a biblical description of praying in the Spirit. What it means is to pray in harmony with the Holy Spirit. Pray consistently with the mind and will of the Spirit.
And a clear understanding of that is granted to us in the eighth chapter of Romans, if you’ll look at it for a moment, Romans chapter 8 and verse 26. The Spirit helps our weakness. We don’t know how to pray as we should, but “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” That is just one of the most encouraging verses in all the Bible. Here we are, we’re believers, he’s talking about us. He’s saying we need help because we don’t even know what to pray for. We don’t know how to pray. There are things that we can’t anticipate.
There are things that are too complicated for us to know which direction to direct our prayers. We don’t always know what to pray for or how to pray. So, “The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Some people think that means speaking in tongues. No, it’s not us speaking gibberish, it’s the Holy Spirit praying for us with a kind of groaning that can’t be audiblized. And verse 27 says, “He who searches the hearts” - that’s God - “knows what the mind of the Spirit is.”
Would you believe this, that the Spirit knows how to pray for you? Yes. Omniscient. That the Father knows what you need, that the Spirit prays in perfect accord with the will of the Father. Verse 27, “He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” So when you’re praying in the Spirit, it is simply praying consistently with the mind of the Spirit and the will of God. We don’t always know what that is, but we know a lot about what that is because God has disclosed His will in Scripture. Praying in the Spirit simply means praying in perfect harmony and perfect accord with the mind of the Spirit of God and the will of God.
It’s a magnificent concept - has nothing to do with speaking in tongues, has nothing to do with some ecstatic language, has nothing to do with some kind of gibberish that can’t be discerned. It is the Holy Spirit who prays for us in perfect harmony with the will of the Father, and we need to make sure we line up with our prayers consistent with the Spirit. And I think it would be a stretch to demand from God that He heal us or make us rich. That might not be the will of God and, therefore, wouldn’t be the will of the Holy Spirit, either.
So we need to pray for things we know God wills, our virtue, our holiness, our strength, our spiritual maturity, our usefulness, our service, a deepening of our love for Christ. Those are the things the Spirit prays for that God agrees with, and our prayers need to be consistent with that. Zechariah 12:10 calls the Holy Spirit - I love this - the Spirit of supplication. One of the overlooked ministries of the Holy Spirit is that He is the One who prays for us.
You say, “I thought Christ did that in His high priestly work.” Yes, He’s at the right hand of the Father praying for us as our great high priest. The Holy Spirit is inside of us, praying for us from here, and the One who searches the hearts, who is God, knows what is the mind of the Spirit because He always prays according to the will of God and, therefore, whatever it is that the Spirit prays for, God gives. So learn to line up your prayers, get past the trivial, past the mundane, past the superficial, and learn to line up your prayers with what you know to be the will of God and the desire of the Holy Spirit.
So you’re praying, for example, for the things that are manifestly evident when you walk in the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. Instead of praying for some material thing, pray that God would grant you love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. Pray that you would walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh rather than walking in the flesh and doing the deeds of the flesh.
It is even true that Galatians 4 gives us a further insight into this ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is so wonderful. “Because you are sons,” verse 6, “God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.” And what’s He saying? “Crying Abba, Father.” That’s an amazing statement. Because you are a son, God has placed His Holy Spirit in you, and from within you, the Spirit on your behalf is crying “Abba, Father.” In other words, the Spirit is interpreting what it means to be an intimate child of God for you. He’s pleading for those things that belong to you because God is your Papa. This is Spirit-driven, Spirit-directed prayer.
Paul closes this letter with a practical opportunity to put these principles to work, and I’m going to borrow it. Verse 19, here’s his application. “Pray on my behalf.” As long as we’re talking about prayer, how about me? What did he want? Prosperity? No. Earthly success? No. Results? No. All he wanted was “pray on my behalf that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.” That’s as far as he could go. He couldn’t determine the results. He couldn’t determine the effect. Just pray, just pray that when I open my mouth, the truth of God and the glory of the gospel will come out boldly.
That’s as far as any preacher can go because “this, he says, is why I live. It is for the mystery of the gospel that I am an ambassador in chains, that in proclaiming it, I may speak boldly as I ought to speak.” Pray for my utterance. Pray for my boldness because the price of me doing this is very high. It’s why I’m in prison.
Bottom line, pray for the preacher so when you start applying Ephesians this week, you can start with me. Pray for the preacher that the Lord would give him utterance and boldness and courage to speak the glorious gospel for which we all are ambassadors, and he was an ambassador in chains.
Lord, we come again at the end of a wonderful day before you, and we have to confess that we bewail our cold and listless and heartless prayers. The poverty of our own prayers adds sin to sin, and if we were to hope in our prayers, we would be without hope. We ask you, Lord, to forgive us for that.
Help us to understand that in prayer, we literally catapult ourselves into the eternal world, and on that glorious heavenly ground, our soul enters into your triumph. In prayer, we see ourselves as nothing and our hearts going after you with intensity because you are everything. In prayer, all things mundane and superficial here below vanish, and nothing seems important but the salvation of others, holiness of heart, and your glory.
In prayer, all our worldly cares and fears and anxieties disappear and are as of little significance, like a puff of air. In prayer, our souls inwardly rejoice at what you have done for us and are doing in your church. In prayer, we are lifted above the disappointments as well as the earthly victories and taste heavenly joys. In prayer, we put everything in your hands.
We live entirely at your disposal for your glory. Lead us into that, that we may be victorious and triumphant, not only in our own lives but together as your church and always that the Father may be glorified in the Son. We pray in His name. Amen.
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