Alert by Prayer

by D. Marion Clark June 24, 2012 Scripture: Ephesians 6:18b-24

Introduction

We come to the end of the “practical” half of Ephesians. The first half – well, the first half was filled with glory! Chapter 1, verse 3 introduced the theme well: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” He then, through chapter 3, explicates these glorious blessings that belong to the saints, those who belong to Christ – blessings of security, being sanctified, being adopted, being loved, being forgiven, given knowledge and power, obtaining an inheritance, being sealed by the Holy Spirit, being brought to life, being made citizens of God’s kingdom, knowing the love of God in Christ. Blessing upon blessing.

And then the next three chapters, he expounds on how these blessings should cause us to live as saints called to walk in a manner worthy of this glorious calling. We are to relate to one another in the church in humility, maintaining unity of the Spirit and using our gifts to build up one another into Christ our head. We are to put away the lifestyle and mindset of the old self and instead, put on the new self, created after the likeness of God. Thus, we put away falsehood and speak the truth; we put away anger and speak in a way that builds up others. We put away sexual immorality and vulgar behavior; and instead, walk as children of light. We put away drunkenness and are instead filled with the Holy Spirit.

In Christian households, order is laid out – relationships between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between masters and servants. Everyone is to use Christ as their model.

Finally, Paul explains who the enemy is and what the warfare entails that is waged against Christians to prevent them from walking the glorious walk. The enemy is the devil and his hosts, who scheme against the saints. The believers then are to stand firm against them, using the armor of God which protects them against the temptations, deceptions, and accusations that are thrown at them.

Now he concludes with a crucial command for them to be successful – pray.

Text

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, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

1. Consider the context in which we are to pray. We are praying as a means of keeping alert in our ongoing spiritual warfare. We remain alert by praying.

2. Consider the means of praying. We are to pray in the Spirit. Whatever exactly the phrase “in the Spirit” means, certainly it entails praying in the right spirit, seeking to align our prayers with the mind of God. 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 is helpful in understanding this concept. There Paul writes:

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The context is Paul explaining how he has received knowledge and wisdom that is of God and which cannot be discerned without the work of the Holy Spirit; furthermore, that we, because we are in the Spirit can now understand what is taught about God. One could, even as a regenerated believer, approach Scripture with the mindset of a person who thinks like the world and thus without understanding. Likewise, one could pray with a worldly mindset that keeps him from praying in line with the Spirit of God and from benefitting rightly from prayer. Remember, Paul has set up a contrast all along for his readers to no longer walk as Gentiles darkened in understanding but rather in the light of the Lord.

3. Consider first the type of praying. James Boice liked to teach prayer through the acrostic ACTS. A good prayer includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. That is a healthy prayer. But Paul’s focus here is on supplication, which he uses as an interchangeable synonym for prayer. We are to make supplication; we are to petition God, asking him to grant our requests.

4. Consider for whom we are to pray. The context initially is praying for ourselves in the midst of spiritual warfare. We are also to make supplication for the saints, our brothers and sisters in the Lord. And Paul asks specifically for prayer for himself as one who proclaims the gospel. We may apply the request to ministers and evangelists who fill that role today.

5. Consider the effort we are to make to pray. We are to pray at all times; we are to pray fervently, i.e. with all prayer and supplication. We are to pray with all perseverance, not giving up easily or limiting ourselves to convenient times. And we are to pray for all the saints, brothers and sisters whom we know and whom we do not know; saints who live near us and who live far from us; saints whom we respect and saints we differ with – all the saints.

Paul then introduces in verses 21-22 a fellow worker, Tychicus, who is the carrier of the letter.

So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

Do you understand what Tychicus is serving as? He is the ancient form of a missionary prayer letter! He is reporting back to Paul’s supporting churches so that they can both pray with knowledge and be encouraged by the work of the Lord that is being accomplished.

Lessons

These verses impress upon me a number of lessons.

1. The importance of prayer.

Prayer is such an assumed activity of the religious life that it can become a mere matter of Christian lingo. We at times say “pray for me” and “I’ll pray for you” so blithely that it falls into the same use as “how you doin’.” “Pray for me” becomes the Christian form for “I want you to know something”; and “I’ll pray for you,” a polite way of saying that it is time to end the conversation. We might throw out a quick mental prayer to God to fulfill our obligation (which is not bad to do), but we are as likely to forget.

Let’s be truthful. On the whole, most of us do not give prayer much attention other than the scattered mental prayers made throughout the day. But in our passage, Paul is clearly assigning to it a key role in spiritual warfare. It becomes the very means of keeping alert to the attacks of the evil forces. It needs to be done all the time for all situations and people.

But the best way to tell its importance to Paul is by his own prayer life and by the credit he gives to the prayers of others in aiding his ministry. Listen to these examples:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved (Romans 10:1).

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers (Ephesians 1:16).

…we have not ceased to pray for you… (Colossians 1:9).

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers (1 Thessalonians 1:2).

Consider Paul’s requests for prayer.

I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea (Romans 15:30).

To the Corinthians, he writes: On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer (2 Corinthians 1:10-11).

And to the Thessalonians: “that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men” (2 Thessalonians 3:2)

Paul requests prayer for effective ministry:

…pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2-4)

…pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

He asks for prayer so that God will be glorified:

You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many (2 Corinthians 1:11)

The most gifted missionary of the church; the leading apostle who was a force of prayer – indeed was a great warrior in spiritual warfare – thought he needed the prayers of others to be delivered from harm, to have an effective ministry, and to honor God.

How valuable, then, should we regard the prayers of others on our behalf, as well as our prayers for them? If Paul thought he needed the prayers of believers in Rome to deliver him from danger in Judea, how valuable should we regard our prayers for fellow believers who live in such dangerous places as Nigeria or the Middle East?

Isn’t that what we struggle with – knowing that our prayers actually make a difference? We hear from time to time stories that purport to prove the difference prayers make. There is even research taking place to try and make a connection. But a few stories do not verify the causality of millions of prayers. Surely mathematical odds will lead to coincidental occurrences. I think Paul was devoted to the value of prayer because he knew the God to whom prayers are made, the same God who commanded his people to pray to him. Paul did not need to be convinced that prayer matters; he merely needed to know how God operates. And God operates, mysteriously, through prayer.

2. The value of supplication.

The second lesson from these verses is the value of a particular form of prayer – supplication. Adoration, confession, and thanksgiving may be more important. Adoration and thanksgiving, after all, are what we are created to do; and confession is critical for the health and sanctification of the soul. But they do not lessen the value of supplication in the eyes of God; and supplication is as needed in this earthly life as much as the other elements. For remember, we are engaged in spiritual warfare. We are attacked from all sides by all means. We not only have a great enemy – Satan – battling against us; we have the temptations and stumbling blocks of the world, and our own weak flesh. As the hymn says, we need God every hour. And if God has chosen to work through our prayers, then all the more we need to be making prayers of supplication at all times with all perseverance and for all the saints, including ourselves.

For what do we pray? Jesus said that we may ask anything, and we can take him at his Word. Nothing is too small, and I doubt I am the only driver in Philadelphia who prays for parking space. Again, listen to the prayers of Paul.

…remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you (Ephesians 1:16-18).

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,  so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9-11).

…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10).

So what do we have here? Paul prays for love to abound; for righteousness; for knowledge of God’s will; for power, endurance, patience, joy; for a thankful spirit; to bear fruit in good works; to be worthy of God’s calling; to live in such a way that the name of the Lord Jesus is glorified. Are those the things you focus on when you are making supplication on the behalf of others? Are those the things you request prayer for?

It tells me that though I may pray for that parking space, I should also be praying for patience for however long it takes to find a space. I should be more concerned for my sanctification than my convenience, especially when I have an enemy who uses my parking dilemma as a means to attack me spiritually.

3. The necessity of laboring in prayer.

Prayer, it seems, ought to be a pleasurable and easy activity. After all, we are communing with God. But then, I know of few believers who can honestly say that they have a rich prayer life.

My concern here is not to make you feel guilty about praying poorly but rather to impress upon you the necessity of praying however poorly you may do so or lack the true fervor that should accompany prayer. Just do it!

Prayer can and should be a delight, but the prayer of supplication is nevertheless work. Again, consider Paul’s language.

I appeal to you, brothers, …to strive together with me in your prayers (Romans 15:30).

Epaphras…always struggling on your behalf in his prayers….he has worked hard for you (Colossians 4:12-13).

Supplication is work…hard work. Like any worthwhile job, you don’t stop working because you find it difficult to do. You push on. You focus all the more when distracted. You persevere. When you are praying, does your mind wander? Well, when you catch yourself day dreaming, laugh at yourself and get back to the petition you were making.

Do you have trouble praying more than sentence long prayers? One sentence is better than none. Pray them. Do you have no trouble knowing what to say? You can always ask God to bless or simply ask him to do what is best. The Holy Spirit can fill out the rest. Pray! Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you think you are mentally or emotionally ready. Don’t withhold praying merely because you feel guilty your prayer is not whole-hearted or is not articulated well.

Maybe your prayer life is not the best it should be, but it is still better to pray than not to pray. And you are more likely to improve your prayer life by praying rather than waiting until you think you are ready. But more to the point of this passage, you need to pray, however poorly you do it, because it is prayer that keeps you most alert to the attacks of Satan against you and against your fellow saints.

Understand that one of Satan’s most effective strategies is to discourage you in completing the task he most hates. And so he accuses you. “There! Your mind wandered again. Do you think God is pleased with your poor performance? Do you think he listens to you when your heart is not really into talking to him? Is that really the best you can do?” He wants to discourage you, precisely so you will not keep alert. Don’t let him succeed. All the more ask God – pray to God – to make you better at praying. Pray!

We come now to the closing benediction in verses 23-24:

Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

As a minister of the gospel, Paul is exercising his role to not merely preach the blessings of the gospel but to bestow blessing upon his flocks by the authority of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Peace be to the brothers, [and sisters.] Gospel peace – the peace of being in right relationship with God through the work of Christ; the peace of resting in that peace.

Love with faith – the love of God the Father demonstrated in the giving of his Son Jesus Christ to make atonement for our sins. May that love be made all the more real in your life. “With faith” is an unusual addition. Yet, Paul had already stated back in 2:8 that faith is a gift from God. You cannot know God’s love unless you know it by faith; and so, may God all the more grant you daily the faith to know him and his love.

Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. Grace – living under the knowledge that you belong to God through Christ by grace, by the power and love of God who keeps you secure in him. May you each day live by grace.

But then the last phrase seems troubling – who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. How many of us confidently affirm that we love our Lord with love incorruptible, considering that we know how often we stumble it that love. But Paul is not giving a blessing meant to trouble the souls of his flock. Rather, he is simply identifying them. The followers of Christ are those who love their Lord with love that is incorruptible, i.e. undying.

And is this not the central identification? There are many who respect Jesus; many who say they believe in him or have faith in him, whatever that means. But when they think of the cross, when you think of the cross – what do you feel? You know what you feel – you feel undying love for your Lord who saved such a sinner as you by such costly means.

You know that. If you don’t feel that way; if you don’t feel that you are a sinner needing such salvation, then I appeal to you to open your heart before the Lord and to yourself. I appeal to you to see where you stand before the almighty righteous God; I appeal to you to behold the grace, the love, the mercy offered to you through Jesus Christ who died on the cross for your sins. Then you will know what it is to love your Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

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