The Weapon of All-Prayer | Ephesians 6:10-20
Brian Hedges | March 17, 2019
Turn in your Bibles this morning to Ephesians 6. This morning we’re coming to the end of our series on the armor of God; we’ve called this “Dressing for Battle: Gospel Armor for the Fight of Faith,” and we’ve spent ten weeks in this passage of Scripture, digging as deeply as we could in these weeks in the various pieces of the armor of God; and today we’re looking at the final few verses in this passage.
In the course of this series, I’ve mentioned a number of times John Bunyan’s great allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, but I just want to begin with a scene that I haven’t mentioned before from this wonderful story. This is when Christian is in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Last week we saw how he fought Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation, but Christian comes to another valley, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and as he’s walking through this valley that’s full of darkness, there’s a ditch on one side, there’s mire on the other, he can’t see clearly; and he finds that the various weapons that he’s been given fail him in this moment.
There’s a moment where it says that Christian is so confounded that he did not know his own voice, and he’s standing right on the brink of this burning pit, and one of the wicked ones comes up behind him and whispers softly in his ear, suggesting grievous blasphemies to him; and Christian thinks that it’s his own mind, it’s his own voice. He is so assaulted by the evil one in this moment.
The one weapon that helps Christian through the valley of the shadow of death is what Bunyan calls the weapon of "All-Prayer." The weapon of All-Prayer. Of course he has in mind Paul’s language from Ephesians 6, and it’s the language that we’re looking at this morning. It’s the ending of this passage, where Paul brings in prayer as an essential part of our battle.
So we’re going to look at the text together this morning, reading verses 10 through 20, and then we’re going to talk about prayer. Let’s read it, Ephesians 6:10.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
This is God’s word.
Now, I suppose that when we talk about prayer there are few subjects in Scripture that are more daunting to any of us as believers. I feel like a preschooler in the school of prayer, coming up against the apostle Paul, in the graduate school of prayer, in a passage like this. I’m humbled when I think about my own prayer life and the deficiency of it; I’m preaching to myself as much as to anyone this morning.
Yet, as we dig into the text, I think there are lessons for us. I think there are things that the text can help us with in our prayer lives, and my hope is that there will be a mix this morning of conviction where that’s needed (and probably most of us do need some conviction about our prayer lives), but that it won’t be a guilt trip, that it won’t be an overwhelming sense of guilt without hope, but rather a real sense of privilege that is given to us in prayer and a fresh motivation to pursue the Lord in prayer and all the aspects of it in our lives.
So, three things that we’re going to look at to try to get our minds around this passage:
I. The Need for Prayer
II. The Scope of Prayer
III. The Way of Prayer
I. The Need for Prayer
First of all, the need for prayer. Of course, there are lots of reasons why we need prayer. We could do a whole series just on the various reasons why we need prayer. I’m going to limit myself this morning to just the reasons that are here in the text. I think it’s important that we understand prayer within the context of the Christian’s warfare, within the context of everything that Paul has been saying here, because that’s the context in which he speaks of prayer. So I want to give you three reasons for prayer, three reasons why we need prayer, that are from the passage.
(1) First of all, we need prayer in order to stand against the devil. You see the command in verses 11 and 12. The command, of course, is to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Now, we’ve talked about that passage, we’ve talked about the various schemes and strategies of Satan as he accuses us and he tempts us and he deceives us. We’ve talked about the various pieces of armor and how they help us to stand against the devil, but let us never forget that the only way we can stand, even with the armor, is if we stand through prayer.
There’s a wonderful old hymn by Charlotte Elliott, and the first verse went like this:
“Christian, seek not yet repose,
Hear thy gracious Savior say,
‘Thou art in the midst of foes;
Watch and pray.’”
You’re in the midst of foes! You’re in the midst of enemies! We live in this enemy-occupied territory, we are at war, we are in a battle, and the only way we can stand is on our knees. The only way we can stand is through prayer.
I think it would be true to say that to the degree that we draw near to God, to that degree the devil flees from us, and to the degree that we are at a distance from God, to that degree our enemies are evermore near.
You remember what James says in James 4, “Submit yourselves, therefore, to God; resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” I think it’s with reason that those things are put together. As we submit ourselves to God and as we draw near to God in prayer, the devil flees. The way in which we resist the evil one is by prayer. Prayer is the way we tap into God’s protection, God’s strength, God’s power to resist and to stand against the devil.
Samuel Chadwick said, “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless study, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks at our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.”
If you find yourself failing often, if you find yourself getting tripped up often by the evil one, if you find yourself losing more battles than you’re winning, I can almost guarantee you that at least one of the reasons for it is a deficiency in your prayer life. If you want to stand against the evil one, you need to pray. That’s the first reason for prayer.
(2) Secondly, we need to pray in order to put on the whole armor of God. I pointed this out last week, but let me just show you again that there is a connection between verses 17 and 18. Verse 17, Paul tells us to “take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” verse 18, “praying at all times in the Spirit.”
Now, the verb there, the main verb is “take.” Take the helmet, take the sword. “Praying” is a participle. So, the idea here is that we take as we’re praying. We take the helmet as we’re praying. We take the sword of the Spirit as we’re praying. The way in which we take up and put on the armor of God is through prayer.
Again, one of the old hymns put it perfectly: “Put on the [gospel] armor, / Each piece put on with prayer.” The way in which we arm ourselves with the armor of God is through prayer.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to pray on each piece as if we’re metaphorically putting the piece on, although that can be a helpful thing to do, nothing wrong with that. But the idea here is that all of the graces, all of these qualities that must be ours in the Christian life for us to be well-armed, such as sincerity and holiness and peace and readiness and faith and hope, these various graces, these Christian virtues that we’ve been talking about in this series; the way in which we arm ourselves with those virtues is through prayer. If we cease praying, we will soon cease to be holy, we will cease to be sincere, we will cease to be peaceful, we will lose our hope. It all rises or falls with prayer.
Let me give you an illustration. So, my son Stephen, who’s been leading us in worship and doing a wonderful job, so grateful for him - Stephen has all kinds of various interests, and one of Stephen’s interests is watches. He really likes nice, fine watches. Now, probably the nicest watch I’ve ever owned was a Mickey Mouse watch, you know, when I was a kid. I’ve had a Timex, you know, and some watches of that nature, what you could pick up at Target and Walmart. Those are the kinds of watches I’ve always bought.
But for Christmas this year Stephen bought me a really nice watch. I’m wearing it right now. This is a nice watch. This is a divers’ watch. It’s nicer than anything I’ve ever bought for myself as far as a watch goes. One of the interesting things about this watch is it does not run on a battery, okay? This is a watch that the internal mechanics of the watch, you know, it runs by itself.
However, you have to wear the watch for it to keep time. What I’ve discovered is that if I go two or three days without wearing the watch (you know, so I wear my brown-band watch instead of my black-band watch) and I pick this up three or four days later, it’s lost time. Sometimes it’s even quit ticking, because the watch has to stay in movement in order for it to keep time. That’s why these watch connoisseurs, you know, the really wealthy people who collect these $50,000 watches, they have these machines that keep watches in motion all the time when they’re not wearing them, right? Because the only way the watch will keep time is if it stays in motion.
I would suggest to you that prayer is to the armor of God, to the graces of the Spirit in our lives, as motion is to the watch. It’s as we keep praying that we also keep hoping and that we stay holy and that we live in peace. It’s that constant motion of our souls to God that keeps us well-tuned, it keeps everything in time. Prayer works in that way.
William Gurnall, the Puritan who wrote this massive volume on the armor of God, The Christian in Complete Armor - it’s 1200 pages long, and probably 300 pages of that are on prayer. William Gurnall, regarding prayer, says that prayer helps our graces, and he says it’s both an evidence of grace when we pray, but it is also the way we exercise grace, the way we strengthen grace, when we pray.
Let me give you another illustration. Have you ever had to have an EKG? Maybe you were having chest pains or something like that. You go to the doctor, you have an EKG, and you know what they do? They put you on a treadmill. They hook you up to all these wires, you put you on a treadmill, and they say, “Start running.” Right? If you’re out of shape, I mean, they’re running you until you’re really, really tired, because they want to see how your heart does under stress. Because the EKG, as you’re running, will reveal the condition of your heart. But we also know that any cardiologist is going to tell you that one of the most important ways for you to keep a healthy heart is to exercise, right, is to run!
Prayer is to the Christian’s heart, to his inner life, prayer is to our inner being what running is to our physical being. It reveals the health of your heart and it actually makes your heart more healthy. So we need to pray. We need to pray in order to put on the armor, we need to pray in order to cultivate these graces in our lives.
(3) Then number three, we need to pray in order to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might, verse 10. That’s the opening command: “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” It frames everything else that we’ve looked at.
The exhortation here is to rely not on ourselves, but on him. We’re not trusting in ourselves, we’re trusting in him. We’re not trying to be strong in our own strength, but in his strength. But how do you do that? You do that through prayer. Prayer is the Christian’s declaration of dependence on God. Prayer is, a Calvin says, “the chief exercise of faith.”
The way you can know that you really do believe the promises of God is that you pray them. The way you can know that you really do trust in Christ is that you seek him. Prayer is the humble appeal to God, in his omnipotence, in his almighty power, to stoop down and meet us in our weakness and in our need. The way in which we trust in God, the way in which we are strong in the strength that God provides, is through prayer.
If we are without prayer, we will be without strength. If we’re not seeking God for his strength, then should it be any surprise to us that we fall into temptation, that we find ourselves wounded in battle, that we have low levels of hope and holiness and peace and truth and so on? It shouldn’t be, because we’re not actually trusting in him, we’re trusting in ourselves.
So perhaps one of the first ways this passage should convict us and rebuke us this morning is to show us our pride, show us our independence, our self-sufficiency, and that we are trying to do it on our own rather than seeking the Lord in prayer. We need prayer, and we need it more than we realize.
II. The Scope of Prayer
But we need prayer in all of its dimensions. We need the weapon of all-prayer, and that leads us to the second point, the scope of prayer. I just want to point out the “alls” in this passage. Maybe you noticed as we read it, especially in verse 18, where Paul says, “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.”
Okay, so there are four dimensions there to the scope of prayer, the four “alls” in this passage.
(1) We are, first of all, to pray at all times. We’re to pray at all times. This means continuous prayer, it means constant prayer, it means devotion to prayer.
Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Colossians 4:2, “Continue steadfastly in prayer.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”
Now, this does not mean that we are always to be on our knees. It doesn’t mean that we’re always to be actually verbalizing our hearts to the Lord, or even consciously talking to God in our minds. That’s not going to be the case with any of us. Paul knows that; we’re human, we can only do one thing at a time. The idea, rather, is that we are in such frequent conversation with the Lord that our hearts are characterized by devotion to prayer. It means that we are regularly praying, it means that we are continuously praying. It means that there’s an ongoing, throughout-the-day, running dialogue between our souls and the Savior.
It really has to do with a Godward heart. It has to do with a posture that is oriented towards the Lord in prayer, so that when we’re waking, we wake with prayer in our hearts to the Lord. We’re getting ready for the day, and as we are, we’re always bringing our concerns, we’re bringing our burdens before the Lord. We’re getting our souls ready for the day. We’re interacting with people throughout the day and we become conscious of our need for wisdom in any given situation, and we just cast an upward glance to the Lord, to the Father, and we’re saying, “Lord, give me wisdom in this situation.” It means that we are continuously praying throughout the day, praying at all times.
Praying at all times also means that we are praying in good times and in bad times. It means we are praying in both prosperity as well as in adversity. It means we are praying when we are healthy and when we are sick. It means that we are not neglecting prayer at any point in our lives, in any season of our lives.
Someone has helpfully compared prayer to breathing. Prayer is spiritual breathing, and of course, you know, we don’t focus on our breath all day long, but we are constantly breathing. We are inhaling and we are exhaling. In the same way, we are to inhale and we are to exhale spiritually. We exhale as we confess our sins, we confess our needs, we are looking to the Lord in that way, we’re seeking to rid our hearts of things that are unhealthy and harmful and sinful; and we are inhaling as we breathe in the grace of God, as we breathe in the air of God’s gracious Spirit.
To quote one of the Puritans again, Thomas Brooks, “You can as well hear without ears and live without food and fight without hands and walk without feet as you are able to live without prayer.” Prayer should be as natural to the Christian as breathing! It really should. We should be praying at all times, “praying always,” Paul says.
(2) Not only that, we are to pray all kinds of prayer. Notice he says, “Praying with all prayer and supplication.” I think what Paul means here is that we’re using all the different forms of prayer, all the different methods of prayer, all the different aspects of prayer.
There are lots of ways you could think about this. Let me just suggest a couple. You remember the acronym ACTS, A-C-T-S. Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. That’s helpful. Those are four different kinds of prayer that should be characteristic in our lives. We are expressing our adoration to God, we’re praising him, we’re worshipping him, we’re remembering who he is; but we’re also confessing. We’re confessing our sins and our needs to him. We’re also supplicating; that is, we are bringing our petitions, our requests, before God. Then, when God has answered these prayers, he’s met these needs, we are giving him thanks, thanksgiving to the Lord.
John Piper has used another acronym. The acronym is FADES, F-A-D-E-S. The idea here is that prayer FADES when we don’t use these various forms or means of prayer, and he uses pairs of words here that start with each letter.
He says that prayer should be Free and Formed. Free and formed. Formed prayer would be using prayers maybe written in a book. So some Christians use, for example, The Book of Common Prayer, or maybe you have that great collection of Puritan prayers and devotions, The Valley of Vision. Or maybe you’re praying the prayers that are given to us in Scripture, such as Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1, Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3, or the disciples’ prayer that the Lord Jesus gave us, the Lord’s Prayer. That’s formed prayer.
Free prayer is when you’re just praying, kind of stream-of-consciousness praying. You’re just praying whatever comes to me. We need both kinds, free and formed.
A: Alone and Assembled. We need both private prayer (prayer by ourselves, prayer when we are alone), but we also need corporate prayer. We need prayer with others, assembled with others.
Desperate prayer and Delighted prayer. Those are the different emotional states of prayer. There are sometimes when we’re like Peter, when he was walking on the water to the Savior; remember that? He looks away and he sees the waves and he begins to sink, and you remember what he says? “Lord, help!” Right? “Lord, help!” That’s a real prayer! Sometimes that’s the extent of your prayer life; you’re in trouble, and you’re just saying, “Lord, help me in this moment!” It’s desperate prayer.
And then sometimes there’s delighted prayer, where you’re just delighted to be in the presence of God and you’re expressing your joy and your satisfaction and your gratitude to him.
The E is Explosive prayer and Extended prayer. Explosive, these short bursts of prayer to the Lord; but then also the long, quiet, extended seasons of prayer. Have you ever prayed for an hour without ceasing? Have you ever spent most of a day in prayer, or a good portion of the night in prayer? We tend to think that such seasons of prayer are reserved only for the most advanced Christians, you know, the Spurgeons and the Wesleys and the Whitefields of the world. “Maybe that’s good for missionaries or for pastors, but not the ordinary Christian.” Brothers and sisters, I think we rob ourselves by not setting aside time for extended prayer. You might be surprised at how the Lord will meet with you if you just set aside time for prayer.
Then S: Spontaneous and Scheduled prayer. So again, praying spontaneously, spur-of-the-moment, as thoughts come to mind; but also scheduling some times for prayer.
I’ve often thought that prayer in a relationship with God should be something like conversations in marriage. Holly and I enjoy talking together, we try to find time for one another every day. We’re texting throughout the day, just occasional check-ins. But we also schedule dates; we have date-nights, where we have concentrated time alone with one another, time for conversation and enjoying each other’s company.
I think our marriage would be impoverished if we were missing any of those dimensions; if we didn’t have the daily checkups, if we didn’t have the texting and the phone calls and just the quick “I love you” moments, our marriage would not be as good as it is. And if we didn’t have the dates, the occasional retreats and times alone, it wouldn’t be as good, either.
I think our relationship with the Lord is like that. With the Lord you should be regularly, throughout the day, sending up just a thought to him, just a prayer, just a request, just a moment of adoration, expressing your love for him, your need for him, your dependence on him. But you also have these scheduled alone times with God, where on occasion you’re seeking him more intently. That’s praying with all kinds of prayer.
(3) Thirdly, pray with all perseverance. Notice what Paul says. “To that end, keep alert with all perseverance.” You remember how Jesus told his disciples a parable, and the effect was that they ought always to pray and not to faint? Again, it’s the idea of praying at all times. It’s not giving up in prayer. It is constant prayer, persevering prayer. Praying with importunity. Not giving up.
You remember the parable of the widow and the unjust judge? She keeps coming to him, bringing her case. He’s unjust, he doesn’t even want to hear her, but because of her importunity, because she won’t quit knocking on the door, and he’s ready for her to just quit, he relents and he answers her request. How much more will God, our heavenly Father, hear our prayers when we pray with perseverance!
(4) Then the fourth “all” is “all the saints.” We are to pray for all the saints. This is where intercession comes in. We’re praying for others. We’re not praying only for ourselves, we’re praying for others.
John Stott one time said that most Christians pray sometimes with some prayers and some degree of perseverance for some of God’s people! That’s not what Paul’s saying. Paul is saying we’re to pray at all times, with all perseverance, with all kinds of prayer, for all the saints.
Now of course, that doesn’t mean we can pray for every single saint by name, because there are millions of them in the world, but certainly we can pray broadly for the church of Christ scattered throughout the world. We can pray for the kingdom of God, not only in our own nation, but in other nations. We should be praying for missionaries, we should be praying for other countries, we should be praying for other churches. We should be praying for other Christians, far beyond our four walls.
Here’s a good way to pray: just think in concentric circles. You start with your smallest circle: start with yourself and your family, pray for those needs. Then go out a circle, pray for your small group, pray for your Christian friends. Go out a circle, pray for the church. Pray for the various ministries of the church, the leaders of the church, the needs of the church, the needs of people in the church, the members of the church. Get a membership directory, a church directory, and pray through those names.
Then go out a circle: pray for the community, pray for the needs of the community, pray for other churches in the community. Go out another circle: pray for the nation. And go out another, and pray for the nations of the world. “Praying for all the saints,” Paul says. This is the scope of prayer.
Now, if you’re like me, it’s overwhelming, the scope of prayer. It’s such a high calling, to pray with this kind of intensity and this kind of comprehensive concern. May God give us more of that! I think we need it. I think we’re lacking in it.
III. The Way of Prayer
But I want to end by thinking about the way of prayer. If you’re like me, thinking about prayer can often lead to feelings of discouragement and inadequacy. As I said at the beginning, I think some degree of that is appropriate. We probably should be convicted of our prayerlessness. But mostly what I hope this morning is that we will leave freshly amazed at the privilege that is given to us to pray, and that we will understand that there is a way of prayer. There is a way in which to pray, there is a kind of heart that is characterized by certain features, that will get us to praying.
We know that there are wrong ways to pray; Jesus talked about that. Those who think they will be heard for their much speaking, their vain repetition, those who pray in order to be seen by others. Listen; if you do some kind of a spiritual retreat and you meet with God in prayer, don’t put it on Facebook! I mean, you’re completely going against what Jesus says about how you should pray, in secret, seeking the Father’s face, not the praise of men.
There is a way of prayer that is entirely self-reliant, like the Pharisee in Luke chapter 18, who prayed thus with himself, “Lord, I thank you that I am not as other men are.” There are ways of praying that are religious, but are not Christian!
So what is the Christian way of prayer? What is the way of prayer that actually gets heard? What’s the way of prayer that will actually encourage us and motivate us in prayer? I just want to give you three features, two right here in the text and then one in the broader context.
(1) The way of prayer is, first of all, spiritual prayer. That is, it is Spirit-given, Spirit-directed, Spirit-empowered prayer. Notice that Paul says in verse 18, “Praying at all times in the Spirit.” Praying in the Spirit.
What does Paul mean by that? I don’t think he means praying in tongues. I could give you reasons why I don’t think that; I probably don’t need to with our congregation. I don’t think he’s talking about praying in tongues. I think he’s talking about prayer that is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
As Paul says in Ephesians 2:18, “We have access in one Spirit to the Father.” The Spirit is the one who gives us access into the presence of God, so we are to pray in the Spirit.
Jude, in his epistle, verse 20, says, “But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith. Pray in the Holy Spirit.”
Listen, Christian: everything we do that pleases God must be done in the Spirit! This is the great gift of the new covenant, the forgiveness of sins and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. He gives us a new heart, he puts his Spirit within us to enable us to know God, to walk with God, to love God, to believe him, to trust him, to become more and more like his Son.
Everything in the Christian life that is good and that is honoring to God is done in the power of the Spirit. We live in the Spirit, we are to walk in the Spirit, we are to bear the fruit of the Spirit. We are to sing in the Spirit, right? We are in the Spirit to be united with one another. “...the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” Ephesians 4 talks of. All of our spiritual disciplines are spiritual disciplines. That means not only that they pertain to the spiritual life, but they are Spirit-enabled, Spirit-empowered disciplines. So our prayer lives must be enabled by the Holy Spirit.
If you don’t know how to pray, take consolation from Romans 8, which tells us that the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. The Spirit is the one who fills our hearts and searches our hearts and enables us to bring our hearts before the Father. If you don’t know where to start in prayer, you might just start in this way: “Father, send me your Spirit. Father, empower me by your Spirit.”
If you look at how Paul prays in his letters, he’s often praying about the Holy Spirit and for the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 3 he is praying that the Ephesians will be strengthened in their inner beings by the Spirit, so that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith. In Ephesians 5:18 he tells us to be “filled by the Spirit.” We need the Holy Spirit in our lives; we need to pray for the Spirit. So spiritual prayer, Spirit-directed prayer.
(2) And then secondly, watchful prayer. Paul says, “Be on the alert with all perseverance.” I actually like the New King James better; it says, “Be watchful to this end, with all perseverance.” I like that, because it echoes what Jesus said to his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
William Gurnall calls watchfulness "the guard of prayer." It’s been interesting to me, thinking about this discipline of watchfulness. Most of you know I’ve written about this. I won’t say a lot about it now. One of the things that was interesting to me was to discover that the Puritans treated watchfulness as a spiritual discipline right alongside of prayer and meditation.
In fact, Richard Rogers, who was one of the early Puritans, one of the Cambridge Puritans who helped define the whole movement in the 17th century, wrote a massive volume, Seven Treatises. In the third treatise he dealt with the means and helps for godliness, and it is, from what I can tell, the very first Protestant book that catalogues the spiritual disciplines. Richard Rogers divides the disciplines into public and private, and the very first private discipline, or means or help, as he calls it, is watchfulness. He says that watchfulness is the one discipline that keeps all the others in tune and sharp.
You might think of it as a whetstone. You know how you have to sharpen a knife, the blade of a knife, so that it doesn’t grow dull? You sharpen it on a whetstone. Watchfulness is the whetstone to the other spiritual disciplines. We are to watch and pray because of temptation. We are to watch and we are to be sober-minded because we have this adversary, the devil, like a prowling, roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
What is watchfulness? It simply means that we are attuned to what’s going on in our own hearts, we’re watching our hearts, we’re careful about our hearts; and it means that we are watching Christ himself, we are looking to Christ. It’s this wakeful alertness, spiritually, in our lives. It’s vigilance, recognizing the dangers and the threats against us.
Nobody put it better than Charles Wesley in these words:
“I want a principle within
Of watchful, godly fear;
A sensibility of sin,
A pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel
Of pride or wrong desire
To catch the wandering of my will
And quench the kindling fire.”
A principle within of watchful, godly fear. Does that characterize you? Paul says you should pray with watchfulness. Watchful prayer. There has to be this vigilance in our spiritual lives, taking care of our hearts.
(3) Spiritual prayer, watchful prayer; number three and I’m done: gospel prayer. What do I mean by gospel prayer? I mean prayer that is on the basis of the gospel, prayer that is empowered by the gospel, motivated by the gospel.
Our assurance of pardon this morning was based on Ephesians 2, where Paul tells us that Christ is our peace and he’s broken down this middle wall of hostility that was between us. He’s really talking there about the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in one body, and then the reconciliation of both the Jews and the Gentiles to God. He tells us that Christ is our peace, and that through his blood, through the cross, he’s killed the hostility, he’s removed the enmity between us and God, so that through him we have access to God in one spirit.
Then you drop down just a few verses to Ephesians 3:12, and he makes this amazing statement. He’s speaking about Christ and how Christ has given us this access into the presence of God. So in verse 12 of chapter 3 he says, “...in whom we have boldness and access with confidence” to come to God. I just think it’s amazing there, the pileup of words.
There is boldness. That means outspoken frankness. You know boldness when you see it. You know how you meet someone who’s just bold, they’re just outspoken, they’re frank. They’re a “what you see is what you get” kind of person. The just tell you what’s on their mind. They’re not shy, they’re not timid. That’s the idea here; boldness in the presence of God! Outspoken frankness in the presence of God. You’re unveiling your heart in the presence of God. We have boldness, Paul says.
But not only that, there’s access. That’s the word that would describe the access that an inferior subject would have in the presence of a superior ruler or a king. Now, in our democratic society, where everyone is equal in every sense of the word, we don’t think in those ways most of the time. But you might think that way if someone gave you access into the Oval Office and might just say, “You have unhindered access. You can walk into the Oval Office. Whoever the President is, whatever the time is, at any point, you’re the one person who has unrestricted access to the ears of the President.” You would certainly feel that you have a privilege, to speak to someone who is in this superior office. If you had access to royalty, you know, the Queen of England or something like that.
How much more should we feel privileged that we have access to the King of kings and the Lord of lords! God, the Creator of the universe, the sovereign ruler of heaven and earth, gives us access into his presence. That means that through Christ and because of Christ, because of the gospel, because of the blood of Christ that covers your sin, because of the Spirit of Christ indwelling your heart, that means that any moment, Christian, you can come right into the presence of God. It’s an amazing privilege.
Boldness and access, and then confidence as well. It’s not just that you have access, but it’s also that you have confidence, and that word means a hopeful confidence. It’s an expectation of being heard. It means that you can come into the presence of God, you can speak your mind, you can come with boldness, you can come with frankness, you can be outspoken; you have access, but you also have confidence that God will hear you, that God will listen, that his ear is bent towards you.
How do you get it? You get it through the gospel. You get it through the Lord Jesus Christ and only through him.
Brothers and sisters, how’s your prayer life? Let me just encourage you, as we close - and this is really the close of not only this message, but it’s the close of this whole series, okay. I don’t want us to just move on from this and forget about it; I want us to actually put this into practice in our lives, and I think the one way for us to do that is to cultivate a deeper prayer life, a deeper watchfulness, so that we are regularly exercising these graces of hope and righteousness and so on in our lives. So let me encourage you in just a couple of ways.
First of all, would you give some fresh thought and attention to your personal, private prayer life? Would you do that? I asked you last week, I gave you an assignment. I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, but I gave an assignment: everybody read Psalm 119. Probably about half of us did it, maybe? Maybe I’m optimistic; maybe 75 per cent. My guess is that some people didn’t do it because you forgot or you weren’t here or you didn’t hear it, or whatever.
But let me give the assignment again: read through Psalm 119, because it’s a beautiful psalm, and it’s a prayer, that brings together these two things, the word and prayer. Every line of Psalm 119 is a prayer. The whole thing is a prayer! If you need a starter for your prayer life, you could pray Psalm 119. Take a stanza a day; it’ll give you 22 days of prayer. Just pray that psalm. Read through Psalm 119, but give some fresh attention to your prayer life, and just think about some of the things we’ve talked about this morning: the various forms of prayer, the different types of prayer and kinds of prayer, who you’re praying for, watchfulness in prayer.
Think about your own personal relationship with the Lord, your devotional life, the word, prayer, the combination of those things; and ask, “God, what new thing do you want to do? How do you want me to change? What privilege am I missing out on? How do you want me to go deeper this year in my prayer life?” Start there, okay?
And then here’s the second thing: I want to encourage all of us to some fresh energy and commitment to corporate prayer. Now, to help us with that we’re actually going to be scheduling corporate prayer meetings. We’ve done away with the Monday night; that hasn’t seemed to work too well. So we’re going to have prayer meeting when everybody’s here, okay? We’re going to do some Sunday morning prayer meetings that will be during the Sunday school hour. These will happen periodically through the year; the first one is on March 31st. Okay? So that’s two weeks from today. From nine o’ clock to ten o’ clock we’re going to have a strategic-focus, guided prayer meeting (one of our elders, Phil Krause, will be leading us in that), directing us in corporate prayer.
Can I encourage you to make a commitment to be there, to engage with the body of Christ in praying? And then be seeking out other ways and opportunities for engaging in prayer on the corporate level; maybe in your small group, maybe in a prayer group, a study group, or a group of friends, where you’re getting together and you’re praying. You’re praying earnestly for one another, you’re praying for the church, you’re praying for God’s kingdom, you’re praying for the success of the gospel, as Paul encourages here in this passage; praying for boldness in proclaiming the mystery of the gospel. Pray that for me, pray that for yourselves as you seek to share Christ with others.
So focus on your personal prayer life, focus on your corporate prayer life; and then, throughout it all, let’s not forget that we are in war, okay? We’re in war time. We have enemies who do not want us doing this. There will be obstacles along the way, and we need the prayerful, watchful vigilance that Paul encourages us here.
I’ll just close with these words; I want to read to you more of the hymn of Charlotte Elliott that I quoted earlier. This is what she says:
“Christian, seek not yet repose;
Hear thy gracious Savior say,
‘Thou art in the midst of foes;
Watch and pray.’
“Principalities and powers,
Mustering their unseen array,
Wait for thy unguarded hours;
Watch and pray.
“Gird thy heavenly armor on,
Wear it ever, night and day.
Ambushed lies the evil one;
Watch and pray.
“Here, above all, hear thy Lord,
Him thou lovest to obey,
Hide within thy heart his word;
Watch and pray.”
Here’s the final verse. I think this is so good. It gets the balance exactly right:
“Watch as if on that alone
Hung the issue of the day;
Pray, that help may be sent down;
Watch and pray.”
Brothers and sisters, we cannot be too watchful, we cannot be too prayerful. We need to join these together, we need to watch and pray, because we’re in battle, because we have foes, we’re in the midst of foes. We need our armor on, we need to be pursuing holiness, living in the word, devoting ourselves to prayer. Let’s watch and pray together. Let’s bow together in prayer.
Gracious Lord, we acknowledge our great need for your mercy and grace. When we examine our lives, I would guess that 90 per cent of us, maybe 95 per cent of us this morning would have to say that we need a refresh in our prayer lives, we need a renewed devotion and commitment to prayer. Maybe even more than the discipline, we need a fresh awareness of our absolute weakness and dependence on you. I’m reminded of what Jesus said in John 15, “Without me you can do nothing.” Father, to whatever degree our efforts in ministry are without success, the root of that probably lies in our neglect of prayer. To whatever degree we are struggling with sin and not living in holiness, to that degree the failure is in prayer.
Then, Lord, how much do we miss out on because we haven’t sought your face! Lord, please forgive us. Please forgive us and change us and give us a fresh love for you and a renewed devotion to you, expressed in prayer.
I pray, Father, that even this morning, as we now observe the Lord’s table together, that we would do it with a prayerful heart, with a watchful heart. So Lord, would you help us in these moments to examine ourselves, to turn from any sin, to repent of those things that we have done which we should not have done and to turn away from our neglect, our slothfulness in spiritual disciplines, and to renew our devotion, maybe in a simple sentence, to you. “Lord, please forgive me for…” whatever the sin is, “and Lord, please help me to devote myself in a fresh way to fellowship with you in the word and prayer.”
Lord, we pray that you would meet with us in these moments, that you would draw near to us as we draw near to you, that we would resist the evil one, that you would flee away; Lord, that you would give us strength and grace and help in this time of need as we come to your throne of grace. We pray this in Jesus’ name and for his sake, Amen.