Is your armor hanging in the closet?
As a young adult living in South Carolina, a motorcycle excursion up into the mountains was a regular Saturday afternoon highlight. Being a married man, albeit without children, this meant donning a helmet, jacket and gloves, basic protective gear, so as not to tempt fate. It wasn’t uncommon to approach the boarder between North and South Carolina and find any number of bikers pulled over on the side of the road to either affix or remove their helmets depending on their direction of travel. North Carolina required them by law for all riders, while their more southerly neighbor did not. Perhaps you’ve felt the same ironic concern that I have as you’ve driven down the interstate and been passed by a motorcyclist whose helmet is hooked behind his seat, flapping in the breeze?
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching to that end with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
Last week we looked at the context of the prayer found in Ephesians 6:18-20. The Lord gives us a sober description of our spiritual adversary who is incredibly powerful, well organized and as ruthless as he is cunning. Thankfully, the Apostle Paul has also explained the well-tested armor that God provides to each believer and which he himself has used since his conversion. His armor is no longer shiny and new. It is scarred, burned, slashed, and bears the tips of broken arrows embedded in it. Each blemish is a reminder that the armor worked and serves to increase the bearer’s confidence in it. At least, it works IF you wear it…
In verses 18-20 we see that prayer is the means by which we are empowered to use what God has given us to wage spiritual warfare. Like the old hymn says:
Stand up, stand up for Jesus, stand in his strength alone; the arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own: put on the gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer where duty calls, or danger, be never wanting there.
As if to write with the CAPS LOCK on in order to ensure that we don't miss the emphasis, every statement is prefaced with the word “all”! These four statements are…
1. Pray “Always”
It’s been said that “the Christian fights on his knees.” The kind of fighting we need to imagine and that we face daily is not like the regimented blue and red lines of colonial warfare with it’s scheduled battles, official rules of engagement and honored truces. Instead, think of guerilla warfare where the enemy could be anywhere, strike any time and perhaps has already infiltrated your camp so that you need sleep with one eye open! Only then will you realize the need to “always pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). Like the soldier in battle, there will be both planned drills intended to hone whatever skills are needed for the anticipated battle and unplanned skirmishes that must be faced head-on. Spiritual warfare is the same. Praying always includes regular, scheduled times of prayer and
2. Pray for “all things”
Because there is a right way to respond to every situation, because the “rightness” of our response is determined down deep on the level of attitudes and desires, every moment of life, every situation presents a potential battleground.
For me, our study of the Gospel of John has served to highlight God’s desire for us to depend on him because it has shown how dearly, constantly and deeply Christ himself depended on and communed with the Father. In Christ we don’t see a fearful, slavish, stunted “I’m not able to lift a finger without a ten-minute prayer session” kind of relationship. Instead, we see abiding: a constant desire that no matter how small a thing he does, it be pleasing to the Father. And so, all day long, in his life and in ours, there’s a prayerful question that pops out:
• Lord, is this what you want me to do?
• Lord, is there a better way to do this?
• Could I be more helpful to someone by doing something else right now?
• Are there things in my motives, in my spirit that aren’t right at the moment?
3. "Watch with all perseverance”
The third emphasis is that we “watch” with perseverance. In modern military terms, our soldiers rely on both intel and protection provided by those who are assigned to “overwatch.” Whether zooming in with high-power cameras from drones at tense of thousands of feet, or watching through rifle scopes from nearby rooftops, our troops in the middle east over the past two decades have relied on their fellows to provide overwatch protection. These individuals scrutinize every little action to determine whether a threat is posed. Because of the way that fighting takes place today, it’s impossible to know who the enemy is by simply looking at their uniform. Is the woman’s hand slipping into the pocket of her burkah to hit a detonator, or to take out a coin purse? Is the farmer burying trash or an IED next to his field?
We spoke last week of Satan using people, circumstances, and our flesh as his means of discouraging us, tempting us, or causing us to doubt. All of which can be very subtle, perhaps our hearts most of all! They are able to take innocent things that are good in moderation and turn them into vices that rob of us of joy. We cannot afford to fall asleep at this duty. The spiritual battle does not quit and neither can we and so we need strength that comes from outside of us. We need Divine strength. Thankfully, that strength is offered to us when we pray. Pray for strength. Pray that you would be aware of the dangers and of your own weaknesses. Pray that the Lord would work offensively through you in the lives of others using “the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.”
We now reach the final encouragement and it may surprise us to find that more time is spent urging and illustrating this one than any of the others.
4. Pray for “all the saints”
Christians aren’t supposed to think only of their own spiritual conflict but that of all the saints, their brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul lays his own need on the table as an example in verses 19-20…
...and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
Here is the man who had figuratively faced down the lions and not backed down. He had been imprisoned and beaten for preaching the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. He had stood before Felix and Agrippa, officials of the Roman empire who could have shut him away forever or snapped a finger and commanded his death. He’s currently imprisoned in Rome as this is written for appealing to Caesar and is waiting out the opportunity to give his testimony on the highest levels and he says “I can’t do it without prayer.” After all he'd been through, he still had no confidence in his flesh but only in the power of God working in response to prayer. He asks two things specifically as examples of how they can pray for him. He asks for “utterance” which I take to mean clear speech and he asks for boldness. I sympathize with the need. As John Stott writes:
“Some preachers have the gift of lucid teaching, but their sermons lack solid content; their substance has become diluted by fear. Others are bold as lions. They fear nobody, and omit nothing. But what they say is confused and confusing. Clarity without courage is like sunshine in the desert: plenty of light but nothing worth looking at. Courage without clarity is like a beautiful landscape at night time: plenty to see, but no light by which to enjoy it.”
We need prayer to fight this fight of faith. We need to pray for our sisters, our brothers as they fight this fight of faith. And we, as spiritual leaders and shepherds, desperately need your prayers! Without prayer, our armor is left hanging in the closet.