The Armor of God Effectual Only through Prayer
The Impotence of Prayerless Soldiering
If this armor is able to defeat sin and Satan, why do debilitating sins cling to those who wear it? Why does Christ’s holy church pass through often cycles of sin and chastening, to be recovered by God’s mercy, only to fall back into decline? Why are Christian families as plagued with divorce as families that still lie in darkness? Verse 17 does not end with a period. The most beautiful chandelier or the most exotic automobile will be useless unless it has a power source. God has given us armor, but the armor is a tool – a necessary and wonderful and deadly tool – but it requires divine power if Satan is to be crushed and the strongholds of sin demolished. This power source is God himself, and we draw down his power, if you will, through prayer.
The issue of power is central to the Christian faith: “For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20). Personal questioning is important to ascertain whether or not one has power, and thus is part of God’s kingdom. Why am I not more effective in the battle? Why does my life reflect those very ups and downs that you describe, with the downs seeming to be lower and more difficult to overcome the longer I am a Christian? Why does the truth of God often fall lifelessly upon my ears? I believe that the Bible is his word, but why is it not changing me, replacing my anger with patience, my lust with purity, and my fears with peace in my God? Why is it not having more effect upon my children? Why does a clear gospel sermon about Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice not melt my heart with love for the Savior and fill me with the desire to be more consecrated to him? Why do I so often slip in the mud of worldly pleasure or pressure rather than being solidly grounded on God’s everlasting gospel? Why does its trumpet blast not thrill my heart more? Why am I often hopeless, forgetting the great salvation God has accomplished in his Son and the promises of everlasting life with him? Why do these things not mean more to me? Just the other day, a coworker told me that she had lost hope in her marriage, and I just stood there, not knowing what to say.
True and earnest believers regularly ask themselves these questions. If you read the Psalms, you will find that David asked them many times. He tells himself again and again to hope in God, to believe God, and to trust God. Why would he say these things unless he had for the moment lost or at least found his hope, trust, and joy attacked and quenched? And as for the sword of God’s word, each one of us must ask if we are finding it living and powerful or cold and lifeless. Is it driving away the many temptations that confront us? Have we made our peace with the world? Do we want a religion that allows us to get along in the world, partake of enough of its pleasures to be satisfied, but not so much that we feel guilty or turn away from Christ altogether? Is the sword working, defending, putting Satan to flight on the businessman’s road trip, where so many temptations abound? Here is the simple yet profound answer to these and many similar questions we should be asking ourselves. Without prayer, the armor of God will do us little good. It does not work automatically. It works powerfully when we are living in communion with the God of our strength.
Communion with God our Strength
David is a good example of this. When he was preparing to meet Goliath, Saul loaned him his armor. David put it on but then took if off. He had not tested it and had no confidence in its power. Unlike David, we often take to the field wearing armor that we have not consecrated through communion with God. The preacher says the armor will work. We feel strongly that we need something to protect us, and so we try to put it on. Others, we think to ourselves, have overcome sin and Satan by this armor, but little do we think that they used the armor effectively only because their lives were bathed in prayer. They put on “each piece with prayer,” as the old hymn says. They loved God’s truth, and they had personally wrestled with it and asked the Lord to make it powerful in their lives. The gift of Christ’s righteousness filled them with love for him and willingness to serve him. Their hope was set upon him, and this hope was expressed in prayers for safety, deliverance, and victory. Their faith was set on God. He was real to them, not an idea, not a gnawing reality but without being a delight to their souls. They used his word as those who built their lives upon it and were personally committed to it. They did not think: Well, I have this armor, so I will now go out and use it. They thought: I have this armor, but I can do nothing without my God strengthening me.
The Christian Soldier Like His Captain
Communion with God is the secret of victory over sin and temptation. The evil one cannot abide the presence of the Holy One in our lives. If we pour out our hearts to him and seek his strength, the faith, hope, and truth that God has given to us will be effective, for it will be God’s own omnipotence fighting for us. It is so hard to be convinced of this, especially in our age of formulas and principles to make life tidy. Communion with God is not tidy. It involves tears and sacrifice and soul-searching. It requires repentance. We must be willing for him to expose and demolish the idols of our heart so that we offer our hearts to him promptly and sincerely and wholly. The heart of the Christian soldier beats for God. It is like Jesus’ heart because we are in a living union with him of heart and soul. What do we find him doing after long days of teaching and healing thousands. He did not say, “Well, today went well, and tomorrow I’ll do it all again.” He regularly sought times of communion with God. This fellowship with his Father in prayer was irreplaceable and vital to his life. Without it, he could not have beaten back Satan’s temptations, exposed the schemes of his adversaries, or triumphed at the cross. The very last thing he did before the horrible night of beatings, the sham trial, and the pouring of out of his soul unto death was to pour out his soul to his Father in the Garden. That was the secret of his strength.
It is the same with us. If we would use the armor effectively, one way only is open to us. We must live in fellowship with God; we must live praying. We must seek his strength and wisdom with all the tenacity of a soldier scaling a wall, resisting a counterattack, or fighting for his life. The living God our Father must be in our life and rule our life. He must be our life. We must walk before him and learn to depend upon his strength each moment. This command and privilege belongs to every believer; there is no class spirituality among believers. If you want to win, be an effective Christian in the world, have a holy and happy family, overcome sin and see Satan crushed, forsake your anger and frustration, possess heavenly wisdom in your many responsibilities, be a winsome, loving Christian, you must do as Jesus did. You must be in the wilderness, on the mountain top, and in the garden seeking fellowship and strength and likeness to God. Never shall we be like Jesus, never strong, never shall Satan flee before God’s sword, except when we are wrestling with God in prayer and drawing down by faith all the resources and power he has promised.
The Praying that Energizes the Armor of God (v. 18)
All Seasons Praying
I cannot think of a single verse in Scripture that more clearly sets forth the depth and breadth of the Christian soldier’s praying. Understand that this is battlefield praying. If you take this as yet another call to do something you really do not want to do or do not feel your need to do, then expect more defeats, more sorrows, and more frustrations. “Praying always” means that the Christian soldier must “pray without ceasing.” It may be longer, scheduled seasons of prayer or shorter prayers uttered in a moment of need. It would include the church’s prayer meetings, which to neglect is to ask God for defeat and to tell him that we do not want his help, as well as the prayer closet morning, noon, and night. The common responses are: “but I have to work. The kids are screaming. I’m too busy.” Here is a golden response to any excuse we might make. Our Lord was busier than we. He did not hesitate to be busy in his Father’s service. And, he stayed up many nights praying or rose early to pray. During the day, the world could not contain a record of all the short prayers he offered – “Father, give me wisdom.” “Father, give me strength.” Father, help me to love you and obey your word.” He once said, “I thank you, Father, that you always hear me,” which must mean that he was always praying. He remained in the spirit of prayer. He died and rose again to bring us just this near to God. God walks with us and dwells with us. His ears are always open to our prayer. Sensible to this privilege, we must live praying. We must avoid sin and worldly entanglement if for no other reason but that they quench a praying spirit. We must endeavor to maintain at all times a sense of our need of God and of his readiness to help us. Remember, we are children, and nothing is more common than for children to scream all the time for what they want and need. It drives a parent crazy, but not God. It is the secret of his covenant. We live in his fellowship.
All Kinds and in the Spirit Praying
“All praying” means all kinds of prayer: praise to God for his excellent greatness, confession of our sins with humble hearts, thanksgiving for his abundant mercies, intercession for ourselves and others, supplication for pressing needs. Long prayers, short prayers, fervent prayers, weeping prayers: all are necessary and appropriate. What makes prayer effectual to call down God’s help is that it must be “in the Spirit.” Our spirit, of course, must be in the right, spiritual frame of mind to be praying always, to pray sincerely, and to pray with joy. Much of the difficulty that we experience in prayer is because we lack the right spirit to pray: insensible of God’s love and majesty, of our need, of our Father’s openness to hear us, worldliness, fears, and doubts. Because of our sinfulness, we do not know how to pray as we should, and we must have the Spirit’s help (Rom. 8:25-26). God condescends to dwell with us by his Spirit. He is our guide, comforter, and helper, especially in prayer. He intercedes for us according to the mind of God, and thus as we walk with him, as we are conscious of his promised presence and help, we shall pray with greater freedom and sincerity of heart, a more solid faith, and with greater hope. Praying in the Spirit and thus empowering the armor of God requires that we walk in fellowship with the Spirit of God: turning away from sin that quenches his fire and insults his holiness, meditating upon the Scriptures of which he is the author, and living closely with the body of Christ, which is God’s temple by the indwelling Spirit. We should have more of the Spirit’s gracious, quickening power unto prayer if we would praise God more for the gift of his Spirit and places ourselves under his government and power. We must ask God for the Spirit, praise him for giving us the Spirit, and then be where the Spirit is – in his word and on our faces in earnest prayer.
Alert and Persevering Praying
Since soldiers must expect hardships, forced marches, and sudden, deadly encounters with the enemy, watchfulness is survival. The disciples did not know that Satan was creeping up the Mount of Olives with Judas and the soldiers, but Jesus did and told them to “watch and pray” (Matt. 25:41). We never know when a temptation or pressing need may come upon us, a duty or challenge to be met only by the power of our God. When that moment comes, we must be ready, already in the spirit of prayer, so that we may call upon our Captain. Many fall into sin because when that moment comes, God seems far away, or their hearts are so tossed by worldly cares that they lack the spirit and confidence to pray. This is the reason that perseverance is immediately added, for sleep is a temptation to the wise and foolish virgins. The difference between them is that the wise virgins maintained some communion with the Holy Spirit, signified by the oil in their lamps, so that when the Bridegroom arrived, they were able to trim their lamps and rise to meet him. It is much easier to trim one’s lamp, to be living in the comforts and strength of the Holy Spirit so that one is able to turn to prayer immediately, even if a bit drowsy, than to have no oil, no secret communion with the Spirit, no habits of godliness and praying. Without these, the drowsiness is a deadly sleep. Conscience being grieved and guilty, there is no confidence to draw near to God when the enemy approaches. Persevering praying reminds us that prayer is not usually marked by elevation of spirit; it is hard and necessary work for the soldier that requires commitment and faith. It will bring blessing and power to us, but we must persist in it and ask the Lord to keep us from fainting (Luke 18:1).
For the All the Saints Praying
Our warfare is corporate. The Lord has joined us into one body, with him as our Head, so that the joys and sorrows of one belong to everyone. The failings and sins, victories and virtues, of one impact the whole. All God’s saints must have a share in our prayers. When we pray for another believer, we are also praying for ourselves, for their health, or holiness, or prosperity, is also ours. Praying for other believers in their particular battles or persecutions, whether they live across oceans or next door, is a sure sign that we love one another and that God will give us victory. He may seem to delay his answers to test our faith and keep us praying, but he is gathering our prayers. They are rising as incense before his throne. If we persevere and depend upon our Savior’s and the Spirit’s intercession, God will in time throw these prayers back down on the earth in the form of deliverances for his people and judgments upon his enemies. Jesus prayed for Peter, and he was recovered; he prays for us all, and we shall overcome. Yet, we must join him in this supplicating work. He has made prayer the condition of crushing Satan.
The Gospel Prayers of God’s People (vv. 19-20)
Paul asked to be included in their prayers. This was more than humility talking. He who had been caught up into the third heavens and enjoyed such close communion with God knew the secret power of prayer. It is the way we dig up the treasures that God has revealed to us in his word, as Calvin once wrote. Paul especially desired utterance, the strength and boldness to proclaim God’s word. This great mystery is revealed to the sinner’s heart only when God opens it, and we must ask him. He was bound to preach the gospel, an ambassador-slave of Jesus Christ, but he was not like many preachers, going through the motions, drawing his salary, biding his time until retirement. His burning passion was to see Satan’s kingdom shudder and fall by the bold proclamation of the gospel. He knew he should speak boldly, and he also craved the strength to do so. Knowing one’s duty and doing it are two different things. Preachers and Christians of every stripe must be “strengthened with might.” They must be strong in the Lord, and prayer calls down God’s power and favor upon all that we do, especially living, speaking, and defending God’s great mystery – that sinners are reconciled to him through the death of his Son and made new creatures in Christ through his quickening Spirit.
We look around at all the problems in the world. Forget the world – the problems in our own lives are sufficiently overwhelming. Some have said that the times are changed, and that it is pointless to preach the old gospel and especially not in the old ways. Men need pictures. They need solutions to the complex problems of modern life, answers to the dilemmas created by the conflict between science and revelation, complex financial markets and the average man’s material struggles, technology and simple lives. This leads some to abandon the old ways. Others try to update them, to preach enough of Jesus so that they might be called preachers but enough of modern concerns so that they are relevant. This is a gerbil’s wheel – round and round, constant adaptation, starting and stopping, trying to gain some traction in a world of unbelief.
It is true that the Bible has eternal light to shed on the myriad of problems created by the unbelieving foundations of modern societies. It is equally true that we must engage with men where they are, or they will never be brought to where God wants them to be and can bring them by his grace. Whatever else we might do, here is a non-negotiable. Satan holds lost men enslaved in their sins. His tyranny can be broken only by the prayer-empowered preaching of the gospel. This is true of the individual believer’s witness in the workplace, street preaching, and the public preaching of the church, which is God’s throne. Preaching is extremely weak. God has chosen a despised and lowly instrument to bring salvation to the world. And yet, all the gains we have seen, the great revivals of which we read, the tremendous changes and advances in science and government and society as a whole have been accomplished through humble preachers, like the apostle Paul, Anselm, Columba, Bernard of Clairveaux, Luther, Wisehart, Knox, Farel, Calvin, Bucer, Spurgeon, Palmer, Hoge, and Chalmers, only to name a very few. Many faithful preachers today may be added to this list, famous and largely unknown.
It is not that the old way no longer works, or that no further gains and revivals and reformations are to be expected. It is not that modern communities cannot be powerfully effected by the preaching of the doctrines of sin, redemption, and sanctification. It is rather that we have forgotten that this is God’s work, and it is a work that we call down from heaven through verse 18 type praying. The battle is the Lord’s. He raises up men to move it forward, but the men can do nothing unless empowered by God, unless burning coals from the heavenly altar are placed upon their lips, so that they preach as dying men to dead men, with unction and conviction, faithfulness to eternal truth and understanding of the wanderings and deadness of the human heart. We must ask God for this power, this wisdom, and this intensity. This applies not only to preachers, who must give themselves to prayer if they are to see any lasting fruit from their efforts, but it also applies to every believer. All are not called to preach; all are called to pray. All are called to take up the prayer-empowered armor of God and to promote God’s everlasting gospel according to their callings, gifts, and abilities. Satan will fall again like lightning from heaven each time the church learns that the secret of Christian influence, of the spread of the gospel, of victory over personal sin, of godly families and happy and holy hearts is communion with God.