January 5, 2020

Pray

John Piper wrote in his wonderful, wonderful book "Let The Nation's Be Glad". He begins chapter three with this paragraph. He said: "Life is war. That that's not all it is. But it is always that. Our weakness in prayer is owing largely to our neglect of this truth. Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief. It is not surprising that prayer malfunctions when we try to make it a domestic intercom to call upstairs for more comforts in the den. God has given us prayer as a wartime walkie talkie so that we could call headquarters for everything we need as the kingdom of Christ advances in the world. Prayer gives us the significance of front-line forces and gives God the glory of a limitless provider. The one who gives the power gets the glory."

And really what Pastor Piper is echoing here is Paul's words to the Ephesians. Paul understood, in the words of Piper, that life is war. And a truth that I've repeatedly tried to stress throughout our study while we've worked our way through the whole armor of God, is that very fact. That the spiritual life of the Christian is a war, it's a battle. The armor of God separated from Spirit-guided, Spirit-directed, Spirit-formed prayer is not enough for you to experience victory in spiritual battle. In other words, knowledge of the armor is not sufficient in order for you to experience spiritual victory. You cannot divorce the armor from prayer. You cannot divorce the effectiveness of the whole armor of God from praying at all times in the Spirit. And we know this to be true because Paul includes prayer as an indispensable part of being able to stand. If you remember last week, I said that when you stand, you glorify God. To fall on the field of battle does not glorify God. But when we stand because we are properly equipped by the armor of God and by the Holy Spirit, we bring glory to God.

Piper also wrote, "until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for." That's an incredible statement, but I believe it. And because life is war, because life is war, you must believe that your life and the lives of your brothers and sisters in Christ depends upon you praying at all times in the Spirit. That's Paul's point. But we have a problem don't we? Ever since the fall one of the... well let me back up and say one of the schemes of the devil is to keep us from doing what? From praying. One of the schemes of the devil is to keep us from having fellowship and communion with our Heavenly Father. And sadly, as a result of the fall, and you see this in the relationship of God to Adam and Eve after the fall, because of the fall, God desires to spend more time with us than we desire to spend with him. So we have this problem. Our spiritual lives depend upon what? Praying at all times in the Spirit. We have a problem though. One of the schemes of the devil is to keep us from praying.

Sherry bought me several books for Christmas, amen. Good gifts. And one of them is called "Seven Leaders" written by Iain Murray. And chapter two of the book I have read it a couple of times this week it's so good. It's about a man by the name of Andrew Bonar. And he was certainly a man who understood the connection between prayer and our fellowship and our communion with God. And Iain Murray writes in his biography of Bonar, he said "It is only by Christ working through us, that there is fruitfulness. Our own busyness can accomplish nothing. The temptation of the devil," By the way, a temptation of the devil is one of the schemes of the devil. Don't think they're two separate things. "The temptation of the devil is to make us think that we have so many duties that we cannot afford the time to stop and wait on God." He said "The opposite is the truth. We waste time when we do not pray." To which I would add we lose the battle when we do not pray.

So one of the schemes of the devil, one of the ways that will certainly lead to your defeat, that will lead to your downfall, is for the devil to convince you that you are too busy to pray. And sadly, the devil and sadly, some preachers and churches, will try and convince you that all that God really wants is action. Just get out there and do something. God wants you to be on the move. Serve. Always do something. Now, I'm not encouraging spiritual laziness. But here's what I want you to see. It is possible to serve God and still have a very shallow relationship with God. If you are crazy busy--I don't care if it is attached to the church-- if you are crazy busy, you're on the go all the time, you're going to have a difficult time having any kind of depth in your relationship with God. And sadly, many Christians wear their busyness as a badge of honor. But you know what? It may be doing them great harm. Christian busyness is not necessarily an indication of a deep relationship with God. I will say this, conversely a thriving, a deep thriving relationship with God will lead to a life of service, not Christian busyness. Okay. Think that through, there's truth there.

So the devil will try and convince you that all you need is armor. Hey, after all, you've got this wonderful suit of armor. That's the important thing. You don't need to waste time in prayer. I mean, look at look how powerful this armor is just put it on, suit up, you're ready to go. Now think about this. Why would the devil try and convince you to skimp on your prayer life or to skip prayer all together? Could it be he understands more than we do the value of prayer? Could it be that he understands more than we do the power of prayer? I think that's exactly it. A prayerless Christian is a useless Christian. A prayerless Christian will soon be a defeated Christian. So I said last week in order to stand, in order to survive the spiritual battles, you must have the desire to stand. If you are to survive the battles that all Christians face, you must depend upon God and you must have a total dependence upon God. Say how can I know that I'm having a total dependence upon God? It's very simple. Your prayer life.

Your prayer life either reveals your dependence upon God or reveals your dependence upon self. Your prayer life is a tangible, visible demonstration of your dependence upon God, his strength, his wisdom, his power, and his love. And so God gives you His Spirit to help you pray. We saw that last week. God gives you His Spirit to help you pray and the Holy Spirit helps build and strengthen your desire to stand. How? By helping you understand and experiencethe length, the breadth, and the depth of God's love for you. So as you pray it is not wrong, in fact it's a act of wisdom, to continually ask the Holy Spirit for his help in helping you to understand the vastness of God's love for you.

God's love for you, the vastness the riches of God's love for you, is beyond human comprehension apart from the Holy Spirit. It is this great wealth of treasure that God has given to us yet so many Christians remain woefully ignorant of it and they do so to their own detriment. So honor God by praying in the Spirit and asking the Holy Spirit to give you increasing understanding and increasing experiences of the love of God for you. I'm not big for, you know, these here's the key to this or here's the key to that, but I do believe this. I do believe that a key to your spiritual success is praying at all times in the Spirit. If your desire is to stand, if your desire is to live a life that glorifies God, then you must be a praying Christian. You must be a Christian who does more than simply give lip service to prayer. You must be a Christian who practices prayer. Prayer must be the habit and the pattern of your life. And I mean, again, praying at all times in the Spirit. I don't want to offend anybody but if it jolts you awake, that's good. Examine your prayer life. If you say the same thing over and over and over and over and over ad nauseum again in your prayer life I doubt that you're praying in the Spirit.

How do we stay away from that rut? By praying in the Spirit. As I said last week, when you begin to pray, don't necessarily rush in. Stop and think and ask the Holy Spirit to empower your prayers, to guide your prayers, to direct your prayers, to give you what you should pray about. So prayer must be the habit and the pattern of your life, but not just any kind of prayer. So Paul lists several attributes of prayer that ensures our spiritual success number one, I think I have four or five them so here we go. To stand, which when every time I say the stand, I want you to equate it with glorifying God. To stand or to glorify God, you must be constant in prayer. Now, admittedly, some of this is review from last week. I'm mimicking John MacArthur here. If you listen to John MacArthur he always begins with a review of his last message. Good practice. If it works for John who am I to complain? Right? So Paul says that you must be praying at all times. As I said last week, you should feel free, and I will add this week, you should feel the need to be in constant contact with your heavenly Father.

Say, well, what do I do? What should I do if I'm lacking the desire to be in constant communion, constant fellowship, constant contact with my Heavenly Father? Here's what you should do: ask the Holy Spirit to increase your desire. Okay. And he will be pleased to answer that prayer. It's a God-honoring prayer. It's a prayer that is asked according to God's will. As I said last week, there is nothing so small in your life that it escapes God's attention. There is nothing so small in your life that does not concern God. And remember he is actively working all things together for good and that includes everything, the small things as well as the large things. The Bible teaches us that we are to be constant in prayer. That's Romans 12. Paul taught to Thessalonians that they're to pray without ceasing. That's 1 Thessalonians 5. Jesus taught us that all men should always pray and not to faint. That's Luke 18. Here in Ephesians, again, this finds the same truth a little bit different words. Say, not only are you God's child, you're also God's soldier and every day, whether you want to come to grips with it or not, but the sooner you do, the better, but because you are God's child, you're also God's soldier. And guess what? You never get to take leave. We have and face spiritual battles every day of our lives. The spiritual battles are constant. And therefore so too should be our prayer life, our fellowship, our communion with the Father.

But not only must you be constantly in prayer, second, to stand, Paul says you must pray in the Spirit. I gave you the same two definitions last week. Brian Chapel defines this as "praying in the Spirit is prayer that conforms to the will and the purpose of the Spirit." Martin Lloyd Jones said "this means that the Holy Spirit directs the prayer, creates the prayer within us, and empowers us to offer and to pray it." Would you would you kind of wrap your mind around this: praying in the Spirit is praying in love. Prayer is primarily an act of love, not of duty. But so many times we present prayers as what? As a duty. Do you have a responsibility to pray? Yes. Do you have an obligation to pray? Yes. But it is a duty and it's an obligation that is motivated by my love. It's a duty and an obligation that is motivated by God's love for me. It's not some sterile relationship, it's not some clinical relationship. It's a relationship of love. That's why our sin is so, should be so repulsive to us because when we sin, we're sinning against the one who loves us the most. Okay.

So we are to pray at all times with the aid of the Holy Spirit. We are to let the Holy Spirit direct our prayer. We are to let the Holy Spirit inform our prayers. We are let the Holy Spirit guide us in our prayers. And as I said last week when the Holy Spirit prompts you to pray, pray. Say what if I'm in a car and I'm driving down the road? Just don't close your eyes. Just go, have at it. Okay. I can think of no situation in which you cannot pray. Praying at all times, praying in the Spirit. And when you pray in the Spirit, you know that you will always be praying according to God's will. Without fail. As I said, that should provide us with all the motivation that we need to pray in the Spirit, to always be praying in the Spirit. When you pray in the Spirit, when your prayers are under the control the Holy Spirit, when your prayers are being directed by the Holy Spirit, guess what you're doing? You are praying according to the will of God. And God is always pleased to hear and respond to those prayers that are prayed according to His will. So I said last week, the Holy Spirit and the Father are not at cross purposes. One does not have one will and the other has another will. They do not have competing wills. So we can pray in the Spirit knowing that when we are praying in the Spirit, we are praying according to the will of God.

Number three: to stand, you must keep alert. You must keep alert. To keep alert is to make an effort with the help of the Holy Spirit to anticipate what the devil's next move against you may be. It's not just, you know, we may have read this first in the past and thought, well, that means that I just need to be aware that I'm going to be attacked. And we sit back and we just wait for it to come. That's not what Paul's saying. Paul says keep alert. Make an effort, and I emphasize this, with the help of the Holy Spirit to anticipate what the devil's next move against you may be. It means to be on the lookout, to be vigilant. Jesus said Mark 13:33 "Be on guard, keep awake." Now, so I don't leave you scratching your head as to how this all works out. In order for you to stand, in order for you to be on the alert, in order for you to anticipate how the devil may attack you next, you have to be self aware.

Now here's what I mean by that. You must know the areas in your life that you are prone to attack. No two of us are alike. Your area strength could very well be my area of weakness. It'd be foolish for me to stand up here and try and list some categories of which you need to be aware of. You know your areas of weakness. Say how do I know them? Where do you continually fall? Where are you continually attacked? What do you find yourself confessing time and time again, repenting of time and time again? So you demonstrate wisdom when you take the time to learn yourself. Okay? You demonstrate wisdom when you take the time to pay attention to the areas of your life in which you seem to be more prone to attack than other areas. Let me ask you a question. Do you think the devil is a student of human behavior? I guarantee he is. Think about this: he scored his first victory, as far as we know, he scored his first victory on his first attempt to do what? To convince Adam and Eve to sin.

Why? He's pretty skilled. You know today, when I read that today, admittedly, I read it with centuries of hindsight. But I read that and I wonder, Adam and Eve how could you have fallen so quickly? Well, guess what? You and I would have fallen prey to the schemes just as quickly as they did. Say why is that? Because he knew exactly where to strike. And just as he knew exactly where to strike Adam and Eve, he knows exactly where to strike you. And by the way, he strikes with pinpoint precision.

Now let me talk to the younger folk here for a moment. And us old people can benefit from this as well. We may be a little late to the game but it's still good. Let me encourage you, highly encourage you, to take the time now to pinpoint your areas of weakness. Make the effort, take the time to figure out exactly where you are vulnerable to attack and then take the steps necessary to protect yourself. In other words, learn to be alert. Learn to anticipate the devil's next move against you. Why? Because Satan has done demonstrated time and time again that he is a master strategist. Let me give you an example that most preachers, I believe, face. So this is one where we have to learn ourselves and protect ourselves. You know what is the most difficult day of the week for a pastor? It ain't Sunday. It's Monday. Or maybe Sunday afternoon. Why? Because, you know, every, every every pastor preaches that sermon to himself over and over again after he's preached it to you. And they say, oh, why did I say that? Oh, I should have said that. Oh, JimBob was sleeping, I must be boring. Or you know, they go through all these permutations and all this self-criticism. Satan knows that. So guess what he's going to attack? Sunday morning most pastors, they're on high alert. They're aware that Satan does not want the church service to go off smoothly. If he can create distractions, that's what he'll do. Ah, but come Monday morning.

See, the point is, you need to learn the areas of your life where you are most susceptible to attack and prepare yourself for that. I'm not talking about some kind of mystical experience. Just look at your life. Look at your personality. Look at your makeup. What is it that you struggle with? Maybe you struggled with it your whole life. Well, now's the time to take the steps to protect yourself. Don't go another day without putting in the effort to be alert. To seek the help of the Holy Spirit so that you can properly prepare yourself. Say, well what if I fall? It's not if you fall, it's when you fall. When you experience defeat, when you fail to stand, you know what? Do not lay there. I love that account where Josh was laying flat out on the ground and, this is my paraphrase, God basically says him, get up. Get up. And when we fall, you know what God wants us to do? Not have a pity party. I don't even believe he wants us to condemn ourselves. He wants us to get up, acknowledge our sin, repent of our sin, seek the filling of the Holy Spirit, and move forward. sStand, stand. Okay.

Four. Number four. I've got two number fours on my paper. So that's, you get a choice I guess. Fourthly, to stand you must persevere in prayer. Now, here's another one of those things. When you think about persevering in prayer, perhaps you think like I do that it just means well, just hang on. Just see the thing through. Well, that certainly is an aspect of what the apostle Paul is urging us to do here. But it's much more than that. The kind of perseverance that the apostle Paul has in mind here is that perseverance that continues, despite the severity of the conflicts that come our way. In other words, he wants us to keep moving forward to keep praying at all times in the Spirit, regardless of the difficulties that we may face. There is not a difficulty that comes our way, there's not a battle that comes our way, there's not a challenge that comes our way that we have the right to throw up our hands and say, okay, that's it, I'm done. We don't have that right.

We are to pray, with all perseverance, knowing that difficulties will come, but we have prepared ourselves for them and so we power through them with the help of the Holy Spirit. I'm not saying it's going to be easy. I'm not saying it's going to be pleasant. I am saying is necessary. This is what Paul urges you to do. If you're going to achieve maximum benefit from the whole armor of God, you have to pray this way. Praying at all times, praying in the Spirit, keeping alert with all perseverance. It's prayer that never gives up, prayer that never gives in, prayer that never concedes defeat, prayer that never considers defeat. That's the kind of prayer that Paul is calling us to. It's the same kind of prayer that describes Jesus in the garden. It said that he did what? He sweat great drops of blood. Okay?

Now it'd be so easy for me at this point to relive my roots as a fundamentalist and make you all feel incredibly bad about your prayer life. It'd be easy to do. I'm not going to do that. Because you know why? I'm right there with you. I doubt that any of us are happy with our prayer lives, right? I don't need to make you feel bad about it. You probably already do feel bad about it. I don't want to do that. Here's what I do want you to keep in mind. When you pray in the Spirit, you will discover that you naturally begin to pray with a greater level of intensity. You will discover that there will be more effort expended in your prayers. Say how can you say that? Here's why: the Holy Spirit, and I do not say this irreverently, the Holy Spirit is not a quitter. Can I say this? The Holy Spirit's a fighter. He's not going to give up. He's not going to give in. He doesn't give up easily. And when you find yourself wanting to give up, what should you do? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you. See, these are all things that your Father will be pleased to answer for you. When you are praying and you begin to lose focus, what should you do? Throw up your hands? No, say Holy Spirit please help me to focus here. Please direct and guide my prayers.

I'll call this 4a, it's really number five. To stand you must pray with urgency. Urgency. In verse 18 Paul urges us to "pray at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication." Then he says, "keep alert with all perseverance and making supplication for all the saints." So supplication in this context is more than asking, it's more than making a request. It means to ask, it means to beg, it means to plead. But it means to ask, to beg, and to plead with urgency. Urgency. Here's how I want you to think about this. When you need help, when do you want it? Now! You want it right away. When a person calls 911, normally, they need help right now. Let's revisit John Piper's analogy of prayer as a wartime walkie talkie. When a soldier's on the battlefield and they need help, when do they need it? They need it now. The enemy may be rapidly advancing towards them. They need help now. They may be wounded or one of their comrades is wounded. When do they need help? They need help now. So what they do? They grab the walkie talkie. They cry out for urgent help. I imagine if we could listen to a series of 911 calls we would hear urgency in the people that call. Why? Because they need help now.

And that is the way that we are to pray. We are to pray with a sense of urgency. When you are under spiritual attack, listen, you do not have a lot of time to think about it. You need to pray. You need to pray with urgency. There's no time to waste you need help right away. The enemy of your soul will not wait until it's convenient to attack you. He will not call a truce. There will not be a ceasefire. He will not say, will you get your house in order and I'll be back in 24 hours? No, he's not going to do that. So you must learn to pray with urgency. Paul says if you're going to be able to stand when you are under attack you must pray as if your life depends upon it because it does. It does.

Finally, it is your responsibility to pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ at all times, in the Spirit, keeping alert, with all perseverance, and all supplication. In other words you are to pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ the same way that you pray for yourself. Look at verses 19 and 20. Paul says, "and also for me." Also for me what? Pray. Pray for me the same way that I've instructed you to pray for yourself, to pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ, pray this 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." Twice he says boldly, boldly. So again, not only are we to pray at all times for ourselves, we are to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ. And here's what strikes me about this. Here is the apostle Paul, a church planter, missionary, theologian, writer of Scripture, spent three years being instructed by the Lord Jesus himself, a dramatic conversion story. And here, what's he saying? Pray this for me. I'm not above spiritual attack. I need help.

Now he says specifically, I need help in order to proclaim the gospel boldly. Boldly. I don't know about you, but when I read Paul's letter I don't feel that he's not a bold person. He tells us exactly like it is but here he's, you know what he's saying? I'm human. I'm susceptible to fear. I am susceptible to the fear of man. But I need you to pray for me that I am not intimidated, not just to silence, but in giving a week presentation of the gospel, of watering down the gospel, of presenting a non offensive gospel. "Pray also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly." So what do we learn from this? First of all, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Therefore, it is to be boldly proclaimed, we do not do the sinner or the gospel justice by not declaring it boldly.

I'm not, now listen, do not equate brashness with boldness. We are to speak the truth in love. We are to speak it boldly. Do you believe that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation? If we do, we won't have a problem speaking it boldly. We won't run the risk of diluting the gospel. We won't run the risk of diminishing the message of the gospel by some of the messages that we as churches give off. Listen. I like to have fun as much as the next person. Don't, don't throw anything at me family. My fun may be different than your fun, but the church is not about fun. Show me one scripture that says the church is about fun. So many times what is the message that the church gives off? They run their Facebook ads: We're a fun church, come do something fun. Come to our ice skating rink. Come to this come to that. Come see Paul Jr. and American Chopper. What does that have to do with the gospel? And I like American Chopper as much as anybody. I guess I'm a biker at heart. But I do not want Paul Jr. as an evangelist in my church. Oh that we were like the apostle Paul and we could say with all honesty "I am not ashamed of the gospel." What's the purpose of the gospel? The purpose of the gospel is to bring glory to God through the salvation of the lost.

Here's what I want you to see: notice that Paul understood that the success of the gospel requires prayer. If you and I want to see our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors, our family members, our co-workers, whomever, we want to see them come to Christ, we must engage in frequent prayer in the Spirit that is characterized by urgency and intense effort. If we as a church, desire to see God glorified through the salvation of the lost, we must as a church, engage in frequent, ongoing prayer in the Spirit, prayer that is characterized by urgency and effort. That's why our Sunday morning prayer meeting is so important. I said earlier a prayerless Christian is a useless Christian. A prayerless Christian is a defeated Christian. A prayerless church may be a useless church. A prayerless church may be a church soon to be defeated. And we intentionally try and pray for the lost during our times of prayer. Somehow prayer meetings have devolved, disintegrated into 1000 different medical requests. Did you ever think that God has brought that medical problem into a person's life to teach them a lesson? And what do we do? We just please, please, please heal them. Please, please, please take this out of their life. That may not be God's will. I know what God's will is: for people to be saved. I can pray that with all confidence. I don't know if God's gonna heal Aunt Mary's bunion.

Are we like john Knox? Remember what he said? "Give me Scotland or I die." Can we say give me Berea, give us Berea or I die? See there's a danger that I want to be careful of. We're going to have that Tell The Truth weekend in April. We're going to learn the gospel. But before we learn the gospel, we better learn how to pray. Because life is war you must believe that your life and the lives of your brothers and sisters in Christ depends upon you praying at all times, ing in the towel. Pray that through you and through your church, the gospel would be boldly proclaimed.

Father, as we conclude our study of the whole armor of God. I personally want to thank you for what it has meant to me in my own life, and my own spiritual life. Father I have taped across the front of the desk here that I preach from, I have taped "We are strong in the Lord and in strength of his might." Father, may we never forget this. Lord, may we never, ever take off the whole armor of God. And may we continually pray at all times in the Spirit. Father, the apostle Paul understood that you could not sever, Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered, Spirit-guided prayer from the effective use of the armor. Oh, I pray that we would not learn that lesson the hard way. But we would submit to the teaching of your Word this morning. Father, please keep these things fresh in our minds. And Father may we make, if we're going to make a new year's resolution here'd be a good one: to pray at all times in the Spirit, to pray with a sense of urgency, keeping alert, praying despite the difficulties that make come our way. May that be our resolution, not only individually, but as a church. We ask these things in Christ's name, Amen.