Spiritual Warfare, Pt. 15: “The Priority of Prayer”

(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)

Faith Bible Church, NY

May 10, 1997

Spiritual Warfare, Part 15

The Priority yf Prayer

We have spent the last three months on the subject of spiritual warfare. We have examined each of the six parts of whole Armor of God which He has given to us so that we might stand firm against Satan and his schemes. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God. There is one more aspect to the armor of God that we need to talk about. It is not a piece of equipment per se, yet it is definitely something that cannot be overlooked for to do so would be to invite defeat. Turn to Eph. 6:18.

Paul makes a general statement here along with some specific requests. 18 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, 19 and 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, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

Too often the priority of prayer in the spiritual battle is overlooked. Even in this passage so much emphasis gets placed on the nature of the battle and the different elements of armor that prayer is overlooked. Paul did not see it that way. Notice that vs. 18 is not the start of a new paragraph, but rather the conclusion of what precedes it. Remember that the punctuation in your English translation as well as the verse divisions have been added in by men. Greek did not have such punctuation or verse divisions. The meaning here will be a little more clear to you if will change the period at the end of verse 17 into a semicolon and then go on with verse 18. Next, pencil in above the word “with” the phrase, “by means of,” because that is the sense in which it is used. Putting this all together you have, and take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; with (“by means of”) all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit,…”. The rest of the verse then transitions to specifics of also praying for all the other saints.

Prayer is in a subordinate phrase to verse 17, but that it is subordinate in its importance in spiritual warfare. Verse 18 actually takes us back and connects with verse 14 – Stand firm therefore with all prayer and petition. It is through prayer that we can be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. It is with prayer that we put on the whole armor of God by faith.

The hymn writer, George Duffield, understood this when he wrote Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus. The third stanza reads, “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.” We are to put on the panoply of God, but each piece goes on with prayer.

Paul states “all prayer and petition.” Prayer is a general term while petition refers to specific entreaties brought before God. We pray with both general and specific requests. We ask God to help us serve Him in general today, we ask God in specific for His help as we witness to another person. We ask God in general for His help to live for Him today. We ask God in specific to help us not be angry but to give grace to the irritating customer or the guy that just cut you off while driving.

Paul also says here that we are to “pray at all times in the Spirit.” All prayer is to be made in accordance with the Holy Spirit. How else can we pray and know that it is within the will of God unless we pray in the Holy Spirit? But what does that mean? We live in a day when there is a lot of confusion about this caused by the charismatic movement. I would prefer not to digress, but I need to make sure you understand what the Bible itself says about praying in the Spirit.

Contrary to what those in the charismatic movement advocate, praying in the spirit is not speaking in tongues, nor is it some private prayer language. Let me quickly dispel these myths.

First, Speaking in tongues is not “ecstatic utterances of glossolalia” – or in laymen’s terms – gibberish. Acts 2:8-11 could not be more clear that the speaking in other tongues that occurred when these people were filled with the Holy Spirit were other languages known to those who heard for the languages are listed in the text. They spoke in a tongue unknown them, but tongue known to the hearer.

Second, speaking in tongues was not for the benefit of believers but for Jewish unbelievers. In 1 Cor. 14:21,22 Paul states, “In the Law it is written, ‘By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,’ says the Lord. Son then tongues are for a sign not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy is not to unbelievers, but to those who believe.” The passage that Paul quotes from here is Isaiah 28:11 in which the Lord pronounces a curse against Israel and gives them a sign of His condemnation of them – when they would hear people from other nations speaking in other languages coming to them with God’s message. The speaking in tongues was a sign of God’s condemnation of the nation of Israel.

Third, speaking in tongues is not a private prayer language. I have heard people twist the early part of 1 Cor. 14, especially verses 2 and 4, trying to show that praying in the spirit is to pray in a private prayer language for the purpose of self edification. Such interpretation only demonstrates a complete lack of basic Bible study skills. The context of the immediate passage as well as that of the whole book of 1 Corinthians is a correction of their selfishness. Every spiritual gift is for the purpose of the edification of the whole body and not for yourself. Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 14:4 that “One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church,” is one of condemnation, not commendation. They are wrong in their practice. His statement in verse 2 that only God would know what they were saying is again, not one of commendation, but one of sarcastic condemnation that they have not given any consideration to the other believers around them – see also verses 3 and 16. What they are doing is not good, and without having their mind present then they could easily fall into blasphemy instead of prayer which is what was happening in Corinth (12:2,3), all the while claiming to be doing it by the Holy Spirit. Others have tried to use Romans 8:26 as the basis for claiming that praying in the spirit is to pray in an unknown tongue. Again such argument shows a lack of even basic Bible study skills. The verse reads as follows: “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words, And He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” This is the Holy Spirit interceding on our behalf, not us praying. And if the groanings are too deep for words, how can that then be claimed to be the prayer language of the man? Something that is too deep for words is something that is left unspoken.

What is praying in the Spirit? It is praying under the control of the Holy Spirit for God’s will to be done. A person who prays in the Spirit is seeking out God’s will and glory above all else. What they may suffer is secondary to God being glorified by their life. It is Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethesemane – My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, They will be done.” (Matt. 42). It is Paul praying and striving to go to Bythinia and being sensitive to the leading of the Spirit to see that the Lord wanted Him to go to Macedonia instead (Acts. 16:7-10). It is Paul praying three times to have the thorn in his flesh removed, but being satisfied with the answer from God that the Lord’s grace was sufficient for him (2 Cor. 12:9).

As I have already pointed out from 1 Cor. 14:14,15 to pray in the spirit is not to leave out the mind. Certainly there are times, as noted in Romans 8:26, when we just do not know what to pray and there is a deep groaning within us, but that does not mean that our mind has been cast aside.

I think of Paul’s dilemma in Philippians 1 where he recounts his longing to depart and be with Christ but at the same time desiring to remain and be with them that he might still be used of God in their lives. Don’t you ever feel that way? I am tired, I am weary, and this old sinful world gets to me. I long so much to cast aside all the cares of this life and be in heaven with my Savior. But at the same time I have a great yearning to remain with my wife and work with her in training our children in godliness. I long to continue laboring here as long as the Lord will find me useful. There is a conflict within and I don’t know what to pray. So I leave it with the Lord. He knows my heart and he knows what is best for his kingdom. I remember this is the same conflict that Myrtle Baker, a member of our church, had in the years before she died. She longed so much for heaven and she found she could not do what she used to in serving the Lord. How do you pray in such a situation? Sometimes it is very difficult, but there is comfort to know that the Spirit intercedes Himself on our behalf right then.

As I pray and petition the Lord for my own life to serve Him faithfully and walk in holiness with all my armor on, I also pray for fellow saints, their service and their walk. I am not the only one involved in a spiritual battle. So are all my brothers and sisters in Christ, so as Paul says in the conclusion of verse 18, “with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.”

This is what some have called, “warfare praying.” I don’t really care for the term because of its abuse and false ideas that have been passed around about it, but the essence of it is that I take part in the spiritual battles other people are involved in through my prayers and petitions to the Lord on their behalf. This is one of the reasons that I put together a prayer sheet for the church most weeks. I want you to be praying for me. I want to pray for you. I want all of us to be praying for each other.

I was very glad to have many people praying for me when the demonized woman was in my office. I could sense the peace of God filling me even though these demons were threatening me. That was a sensational manifestation of the spiritual battle, but those kind of open conflicts are not the most dangerous ones. We need to be praying for each other on a regular basis for even the more common things of life. How? Let me give a few quick suggestions based on each piece of armor.

Girded with the belt of truth: pray for one another to be controlled and directed by truth, that Satan’s lies would be exposed and his slander against God would be revealed.

Having put on the breastplate of righteousness, pray for one another that we would not be carried away by our emotions, but would instead by seeking after holiness in all things regardless of how we might feel. That we would deal with other people with grace and mercy instead of anger and revenge. That marriage relationships would be kept pure and that parents would be modeling godliness to their children. That honesty would control us in all our business dealings and that each of us would set and keep the priorities God has set for us rather than what our flesh and pride might seek after.

Feet shod with the gospel of peace: Pray that God’s peace would control us regardless of circumstances. That we would seek out and rejoice in our relationship with God and would not neglect it in anyway. That each person would grow in the knowledge of God and His love for us.

Taking up the shield of faith: Pray for one another that each would become stronger in faith having it tested and proven to be true. That we would counter each fiery dart of the devil with a trust in God that exposes Satan’s lies and grips the hand of the Lord even tighter.

Taking up the helmet of salvation: Pray for one another that each would live according to the new nature given to us at salvation and would live with salvation’s hope moving us forward. That we would view life from eternity’s view and no longer live for the pleasures of the moment. That our minds would be renewed and every thought would be taken captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

The sword of the Spirit: Pray that each one would handle it with accuracy and not be carried about by every wind of doctrine, but become mature and firm in understanding and convictions based solidly on the Scriptures. That in our usage of the Scriptures we would be adept at using them to defend ourselves from Satan’s attack as well as using them to help others to come to Christ.

These are brief examples, but I trust you get the idea of how we can pray for one other and at the same time remind ourselves to keep our own armor on.

Let make a few comments about some of the erroneous ideas that have become common place about so called “warfare praying,” because what Paul says here is in contrast to what occurs in modern “warfare praying.” Many of the methods advocated reduce prayer to incantations that supposedly will defeat the devil. These are the more prevalent ones.

“Bind Satan.” This is supposedly based on Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 in which Jesus states first to Peter and then to all the apostles, “whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Many in “spiritual warfare ministries” talk about “binding Satan” in order to clear up problems. I even find it used among conservative fundamental groups.

What is wrong with this concept? First, scripture does not talk about men “binding Satan or demons.” Revelation talks about God having some demons bound in a pit currently and that He will bind Satan during Christ’s millennial reign, but men are never presented as “binding” him. In fact Jude even warns us not to “revile angelic majesties” or “pronounce against him a railing judgement.” Second, the phrase is a Jewish idiom referring to what is forbidden or permitted by God’s Word. The context of the passages are related to the authority of believers to declare based on the Word of God what is sinful and what is not, what sins are forgiven and what sins are not as in John 20:23. There is nothing in these passages about putting restrictions on Satan or demons. Third, If these people are supposedly binding Satan and demons all the time – why do they keep letting him go?

“Plead the blood.” This is another phrase used in an incantational way. It is supposed to be based on what occurred in Exodus 12:13 – “And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” The idea promoted in this is that when you “plead the blood,” or claim the blood of Jesus as a covering, God will give you special protection from Satan, the demonic and evil.

What is wrong with this? Again, the basic problem is that it makes prayer a magical incantation – if you just say the right words you will be okay. You end up trusting in your prayer rather than the one you are praying too. In addition, it distorts what has already been done for us. I do not need to plead the blood as a covering of protection, I just need to recognize it and make use of it. The apostle John put it succinctly in 1 John 1:7-9, “but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “Pleading the blood” will do me no good. I need to walk in righteousness and when I fail at that I need to confess my sins. My protection from Satan comes by submitting to God, resisting the devil for he will then flee from me (James 4:7).

How are we to pray? Well, as I already mentioned above, but in addition, look at what Paul says in Eph. 6:19 as a request for himself. “and 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, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

Think about that for a moment. The apostle Paul is asking people to pray that he would be bold. Paul, who began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues of Damascus only a few days after he was saved (Acts. 9:20), who then a few weeks or months later is boldly doing the same thing in Jerusalem (Acts 9:28), who some three years goes on a missionary journey through Asia Minor to places where the gospel had not been preached before, then not long after getting back from that adventure does it again, but this time going to Macedonia and Greece as well, who stood up in the midst of the Areopagus in Athens to proclaim Jesus to the philosophers (Acts 17:22), who proclaims Christ without hesitation to the mobs that try to kill him (Acts 21) -this Paul asks people to pray that he would be bold? Yes, and so we should pray for one another.

We are in a spiritual battle and we cannot rely on our own strength – physical or mental – even if it is an area that we normally do well in. We are up against a cunning adversary and must be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10). Don’t get into “binding Satan” and “pleading the blood.” Instead pray diligently with perseverance for one another to live fully for Jesus Christ in every area, in every way, at every moment – to be bold in faith, diligent in service, righteous in action, humble in character and submissive to God’s will.

The tragedy of prayer for most people is that they request it and do it only when something has gone wrong. We need to pray before that. Pray for the good marriages as well as the shaky ones. Pray for the good kids as well as those with problems. Pray for those who walk boldly in faith as well as those who falter. Pray in the spirit for all the saints.

For comments, please e-mail Church office