Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance Book 4:- Spiritual Warfare: Winning the Daily Battle with Satan, By Dr. Ray C. Stedman
Chapter 9: Facing the Onslaught
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me
so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,
for which I am an ambassador in chains.
Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Ephesians 6:18-20
ONE NIGHT, JOHN PATON AND HIS WIFE--a missionary couple in the New Hebrides Islands--were awakened by chants outside their mission station. Looking out, they saw that scores of hostile islanders had surrounded the station with torches, intent on burning the place down and killing the missionary couple. The Patons got down on their knees and prayed throughout the night, asking God to deliver them. The tense, dark hours passed, yet the islanders kept their distance.
Finally, around daybreak, the Patons looked out the window--and the hostile tribesmen were gone. John Paton was baffled. There seemed to be nothing preventing the islanders from attacking, yet no attack came. Paton didn't find out why the islanders left so mysteriously until a year later, when the chief of the tribe was won to Christ. Remembering the night-long siege of a year before, John Paton asked the newly converted chief why the tribesmen had departed instead of burning the mission station to the ground. "We were afraid of the men who were with you," the chief replied.
"What men?" asked Paton.
"There were a hundred tall men around the mission house that night," said the chief. "Their clothing shone with light, and they had swords in their hands. We knew that they would never let us harm you, so we went back to our village."
That is spiritual warfare at its most extreme! God does not always have to intervene in such a dramatic way on behalf of His children. Yet the battle is just as real, just as deadly, for you and me in our everyday lives as it was that night for the Patons in a mission station on the New , Hebrides Islands. You and I are hemmed in by enemies every day, but God has provided a defense for us that will enable us to stand against the schemes and flaming arrows of the enemy. The apostle Paul has listed for us three steps we must take in order to "be strong in the Lord," and to resist the attacks of Satan:
Step 1: Put on the armor of God. Put on the whole armor--so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
As we have seen, putting on the armor of God is far from being merely figurative--it is a practical step that you must take in order to defend yourself against the devil's attacks. It means remembering what Christ is to you and thinking through the implications of that relationship in terms of your present struggle and experience. Though putting on the armor of God is a very practical step, it is something we do in the realm of our thought-life. It is an adjustment of the attitude of your heart to reality, to things as they really are. It is the act of thinking through the implications of the facts revealed in God's Word.
Most of our problems in life stem from the fact that we do not see life as it really is. We suffer from illusions, from impaired vision, from limited perspective. This is why we desperately need to begin with the belt of truth the revelation of the facts about life that we find in Scripture. Life is what God has declared it to be. When we face life on that realistic basis, we are able to live more effective, joyful, productive lives. We understand what is happening to us and why. We understand what is going on in the world and why. And we are able to arm ourselves for the battle that rages around us and within us--spiritual warfare. All this is part of putting on the full armor of God, of appropriating Christ and his strength so that we can live life realistically and effectively. We do all this in the realm of the thought-life.
When we are first learning to put on the full armor of God, it takes time and thought and attention. But like any other endeavor in life, we improve with practice. Eventually, putting on the full armor of God becomes a habit, it becomes natural. That, after all, is why soldiers train--to build soldierly habits, so that survival tactics, defensive tactics, and offensive tactics become second nature. In the heat of battle, a soldier does not want to have to think, "What do I do now? Where's my checklist? What did my sergeant tell me to do in this situation?" He wants to be able to act on instinct and carry out his training without hesitation.
So it is with soldiers of the Lord. When the devil presses his attack, we need to be ready to respond in a moment's notice, beginning with the belt of truth, and finishing with the sword of the Spirit. That kind of ready response comes only through continual practice, prayer, and awareness of the full armor of God on a daily basis.
Step 2: Pray. There is a very strong and powerful relationship between putting on the armor of God and prayer. These two steps belong together. It is not enough to put on the armor of God--you must also pray. It is not enough to pray--you must also have put on the armor of God. It is not a case of either/or. It's a case of both/and. Paul writes,
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should (Ephesians 6:18-20).
Step 3: Stand firm. In the face of Satan's attacks, we are to stand firm in our faith with the certain knowledge that the battle is the Lord's. Our faith in His victory a victory that is already accomplished on the cross is what overcomes the world. In the next and final chapter, we will explore what it means, practically and biblically, to stand firm.
The place to start
Notice that the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6 does not reverse the order of what we should do when we feel that attack of Satan. He does not instruct us to pray first, and then put on the armor of God. That is what we often try to do, and the result is a feeble, impotent prayer life. There is great practical help here if we carefully follow the designated order of Scripture.
I think most Christians, if they are honest, have to confess that they are dissatisfied with their prayer life. They feel it is inadequate and perhaps infrequent. All of us at times struggle to improve ourselves. Sometimes we struggle to improve the quality as well as the quantity of our prayer lives. Sometimes we adopt schedules that we attempt to maintain or we develop long lists of names and projects and places that we try to remember in prayer or we attempt to discipline ourselves in some way to a greater ministry in this realm. In other words, we begin with the doing, but when we do that, we are starting in the wrong place. We are violating our basic human nature in doing it that way. The place to start is not with the doing but with the thinking.
Now I am not suggesting that there is no place for Christian discipline. There is! I am not suggesting that we won't need to take our will and put it to the task and persevere in the hard work of prayer. There is a great need for that! But first, we should do what is involved in putting on the armor of God. First, think through the implications of faith, and then prayer will follow naturally and much more easily. It will be thoughtful prayer--prayer that has meaning and relevance.
Isn't that the problem with much of our praying? Our prayers are often so shallow and superficial. What is needed? Prayer should be an outgrowth of thoughtfulness about the implications of faith. That adds depth and significance to it. Prayer should be pointed and purposeful.
In Ephesians 6, Paul recognizes two categories of prayer, which he designates: (1) "all kinds of prayers" and (2) "requests." "All kinds of prayer," of course, is the widest classification; "requests" is the specific plea for help or provision made in prayer. And if you take the whole range of Bible teaching on this great subject of prayer, you will find that underlying all the biblical presentation of prayer is the idea that it is conversation with God. That is all it is; prayer is simply conversing with God.
When thinking about prayer, it is crucial to recall the position of a Christian--he is a member of the family of God. So prayer is not just a religious ritual it is something much more real, much more profound: Prayer is family talk. It is a friendly, intimate, frank conversation with God. We have the privilege of such unrestricted communication with God by reason of the close and intimate relationship we have entered into with God by His grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. By faith in Christ, we pass out of the realm of strangerhood toward God and alienation from God; we have passed into the intimate family circle of the children of God. It is easy to talk within a family circle, and harm is done to family' intimacy when family members maintain silence and refuse to talk.
So this is the essential nature of what Paul calls "all kinds of prayers." Prayer is nothing more nor less than family talk--a conversation with our Father.
What Paul calls "requests" are prayers of a somewhat special nature--but again, requests are also a form of family talk. The apostle James says, "You do not have, because you do not ask God" (James 4:2). In our conversation with God, it is perfectly proper to ask, because we are His children and He is our Father. Paul is saying, "After you have put on the armor of God--after you have thought through the implications of your faith--then talk to God about it." Tell Him the whole thing. Tell Him your reactions, tell Him how you feel, describe experiences and reactions to those experiences, and ask Him for what you need.
Prayer is often considered to be such a high and holy thing that it has to be carried on in some artificial language or resounding tone of voice. You hear this so frequently from the pulpit. Pastors adopt what has been aptly called a "stained-glass voice." They pray as though God were far off in some distant corner of the universe. I believe this sends a faulty message to people about what prayer truly is. It is important that we all understand that prayer is simply a conversation with our Father. It is what the apostle Paul describes so beautifully in his letter to the Philippians,
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
That is a wonderful study in prayer. Paul is saying that there are three simple steps involved in prayer:
(1) Do not worry or be anxious. Christian friend, do you hear what that says? Let go of your worries and anxieties--turn them over to the Lord! This is one of the major problems in Christian living today. Anxiety not only hinders our prayer life, but it also makes us ineffective soldiers for the Lord--and ineffective witnesses for the gospel. Christians become either stumbling blocks to nonChristians or a glowing testimony and witness to nonChristians depending on how they handle pressures and problems. A worried, anxious Christian gives the appearance that God cannot be trusted and the gospel provides no help in times of pressure and trials.
Since God is trustworthy, then Christians have nothing to worry about. He is in control. Since the gospel is true, Christians have nothing to be anxious about. All things . ultimately work together for good in God's perfect plan. That is why Christians are continually exhorted in the Scripture not to worry. The more we worry, the less faith we demonstrate.
This is not to say that Christians should not be interested and concerned about life's problems, tragedies, and injustices. The Scriptures do not advocate a stoic, indifferent approach to life. We must be compassionate, concerned, and involved in life and the lives of people around us. We must care. But we demonstrate a lack of confidence in God whenever we are anxious, fretful, and worried.
Someone once said, "I'm so loaded down with worries that if one more thing goes wrong this week, it'll be two more weeks before I get around to worrying about it." Sometimes we make an artificial attempt to cure our worrying by sheer human will power. As one poet has humorously put it,
I've joined the new 'Don't worry' Club
And now I hold my breath;
I'm so scared I'm going to worry
That I'm worried half to death!
But Paul says, "Don't be anxious, don't worry about anything." How is that possible? It is only possible when you have put on the armor of God. Do not attempt it on any other basis. Worry comes from fear, and the only power that dissolves fear is recognizing the facts: the fact that God is in control; the fact that Jesus has already won the battle; the fact that we can trust the Lord to manage all events for our ultimate good and His ultimate plan even tragedies, pain, and setbacks. When we put on the armor of God, we face the facts as they are. We accept reality as it truly is.
The next step Paul gives us for effective prayer is:
(2) Pray about everything! You may wonder, "Is God really interested in the little things as well as the big things?" Of course He is. He tells us so. The hairs on our heads are numbered by Him. God is concerned about everything, even the little things so don't hesitate to bring Him any concern you have. God is a loving Father, and He is intimately concerned about every aspect of our lives.
The final step Paul gives us for effective prayer is this:
(3) The result is peace. Paul says that when we pray, "the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." That is the result of prayer, as Paul tells us in Philippians. The peace of God is a peace no one can understand or explain, a peace that comes to us despite our circumstances, and which does not arise out of emotions or events. It is " supernatural in origin and nature. Can there be anything more relevant to the trouble and anxiety of this world than the peace of God?
The essential link
Inherent in prayer are three basic facts:
(1) When we pray, we recognize the existence of an invisible kingdom. We would never pray at all if we did not have an awareness that Someone is listening, that behind what is visible there is an invisible kingdom. It is not far off in space somewhere; it is right here. It surrounds us on every side. We are constantly in touch with it even though we do not always realize it. It lies behind the facade of life, and all through the Scripture we are exhorted to take heed of this, to reckon with it and deal with it, to acknowledge that it exists.
(2) We have confidence that the kingdom of God is highly significant and that it directly affects our lives. Events in the visible realm are secretly motivated and driven by forces in the unseen realm. So--and here is a key point! --if you want to change the visibilities, you must start with the invisibilities. That is why prayer is so crucial. We are engaged in spiritual warfare. So we must conduct that warfare in the spiritual realm, in the realm of God, in the realm of prayer.
(3) Prayer is an essential part of bringing God's invisible power to bear on life in the visible realm. The devil and his forces are fiercely dedicated to keeping human beings in the dark on this fact. The devil does not want you to know or believe that God truly does answer prayer. So it is crucial that we underscore this fact: Prayer is purposeful and powerful, because God is purposeful and powerful. God answers prayer.
The devil has been very effective in blunting and obliterating this truth from the minds of people today. We often hear such phrases as, "He doesn't have a prayer." Or, "There's nothing we can do now but pray." In other words, prayer is a last resort, a last ditch, a hopeless gesture, the last gasp when all other possibilities have been exhausted. Satan laughs whenever prayer is depicted in that way! He loves it when people think of prayer as a pitiful, pathetic, pointless gesture and he hates it when people discover that prayer is direct access to the limitless power of the one who formed the planets and hurled the stars through space!
What an exhilarating thought: When we pray, God listens! When we make our requests, God acts! Prayer is an essential link to God's active involvement in the world today. Without prayer, God often does not work--He is a perfect Gentleman, and He does not go where He is not invited. But with prayer, He always works.
Praying according to the promises
We must immediately add and underscore this biblical truth: God answers prayer according to His promises. There is a false concept of prayer held by many which suggests God answers any kind of prayer, no matter what you want or how you ask for it. This false teaching results in bitter disappointments and gives rise to the widespread belief that prayer is ineffectual. But God answers every prayer that is based upon His promises.
Prayer does not start with us; it starts with God. God must say He will do something before we are free to ask Him to do it. If God were to say yes to all of our demands, He would not be God. He would be our slave, a mere genie in a bottle. Instead of answering our prayers, He would be granting our wishes. That is neither a biblical nor a truthful description of how God works at all.
The God of the Bible is both the sovereign Creator and Lord of the universe, and He is a loving Father, and that is how we must approach Him. We should not presume to boss around the Creator of the universe. And we should understand how a healthy father-child relationship works. No loving parent commits himself to giving his children anything they want or demand. Rather, a loving parent makes it clear that he will do certain things for his children and not do other things. Within the scope of these parental promises and limits, a loving parent will commit himself to answer his children's requests.
For example, a loving parent may say, "I will grant your request for wholesome, nutritional snacks after school, but I will not grant your request for ice cream sundaes five times a day--I love you too much to grant a request that would harm your health." So it is with God. He has given promises, and they form the only proper basis for answered prayer. You and I may think that the request we have made of God is perfectly reasonable. We may imagine that if He were truly loving He would grant us the success, or healing, or blessing we ask for. But God sees more clearly than we do, and God may see (as He did when Paul prayed to be healed of a physical ailment, a "thorn in the flesh") that even something as seemingly beneficial as a physical healing may not be God's best for our lives.
This is what Paul means when he reminds us, "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests." What does that mean to "pray in the Spirit"? This is an area of great misunderstanding. Many take this phrase to describe the emotions we should have when we pray. They think it is necessary to be greatly moved before prayer can be effectual, that we should pray with great emotionalism. Of course, God is involved with us on an emotional level, and deep feelings are often a part of a vital prayer life. But emotionalism is not necessary to effective prayer, nor is emotionalism what Paul means when he urges us to "pray in the Spirit."
Quite simply, what Paul means is this: To "pray in the Spirit" is to pray according to the promises the Spirit has given, and it is based on the character of God which the Spirit has made known. God has never promised to grant our wishes, demands, beggings, pleadings, or cravings. He has only promised to answer prayers that are prayed in the way that He has outlined for us in His promises. He answers such prayers invariably and without partiality. He is no respecter of persons and He shows no favoritism in the matter of prayer.
In the realm of our personal needs--those needs that call forth most of our prayers, such as the need for wisdom, or patience, or grace, or strength, or endurance--God's promises to answer immediately and abundantly. He always answers that type of prayer to the full extent of our need, and in precisely the time-frame we need it (which is not necessarily the same thing as the time-frame we want or expect!). Jesus has made this promise to us: "Ask and it will be given to you" (Luke 11:9).
The apostle Paul confronts us with the fact that we must take this matter of prayer seriously and learn what God has promised. In other words, master this subject as you would master any other course of study you undertake. Scientists have mastered various areas in the realm of science. Teachers have become proficient at the art of teaching. Artisans give time and study to their trade. In the same way, we must learn to master the art of prayer. Though prayer is the simplest thing in the world merely a conversation with God it can also become the deepest and most profound experience in your life. As you grow in the practice and experience of prayer, you'll find that God is utterly serious about prayer. Through this two-way communication between ourselves and God, He makes His omnipotence and omniscience available to limited human beings, to you and me, in terms of specific promises He has made to us.
When you learn to pray on that basis, you will discover that exciting and unexpected things are constantly happening, that there is a quiet but mighty power at work in your life--a power on which you can rely. And as you learn to pray in this way, you'll find that a tremendous weapon, a mighty power to influence your own life and the lives of others, is put at your disposal.
Open their eyes, Lord
We are not alone in this battle--this spiritual conflict with the unseen forces of evil. No, there are others around us who are weaker and younger in Christ than we are, and there are still others who are stronger and more mature than we. All of us are in this mighty army of God, fighting this battle shoulder to shoulder and side by side.
We cannot put on the armor of God for another person, but we can pray for that other person. We can call in reinforcements when we find a Christian brother or sister engaged in a struggle greater than themselves. We can share with them about the full armor of God, and help them to understand how to think through the panoply of armor God has equipped us with. We can be aware of other people's problems and trials, and we can pray for them. We are to pray that God will embolden their hearts, strengthen their bodies, clear their minds, and open their eyes to the danger that swirls around them. We can pray that God will supply them with the specific help and insight they need for the trial they are undergoing.
Notice how Paul asks this for himself in this very passage. "Pray also for me," he writes, "that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should" (Ephesians 6:19-20). Even this mighty apostle has a deep sense of his need for prayer!
You find another notable example of Paul's desire for prayer in the closing verses of Romans 15, where he asks the Christians to pray for three specific needs: physical safety when he visits Jerusalem; a sensitive, tactful spirit when he speaks to Christians there; and an ultimate opportunity to visit the city of Rome (see Romans 15:3032). Let me underscore this: Paul makes three specific requests, and the record of Scripture is that everyone of those requests was answered exactly as Paul asked.
In reading through the prayers of Paul, I find that he deals with many matters. But one theme recurs again and again throughout his prayers: a request that the understanding of his fellow Christians would be enlightened. He repeatedly asks that the eyes of their minds--their intelligence--might be opened. This repetition in the apostle's prayers indicates the importance of intelligently understanding life distinguishing what is true from what is false, what is real from what is phony. It also illustrates the power of the devil to blind and confuse us and to make things look very different from the way they really are. So the repeated prayer of the apostle is, "Lord, open their eyes that their understanding may be enlightened, that their intelligence may be clarified, that they may see things as they are."
In the letter of James, the importance of praying for others is forcefully underlined: "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20). The prayer of another person can change the whole atmosphere of one person's life--oftentimes overnight.
One Christmas eve my family and I were in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, in a little Gold Rush town called Twain Harte. When the sun went down, the landscape around us was dry and barren. A few brown leaves swirled down from the trees; it was a typically bleak winter landscape. But when we awoke the next morning it was transformed into a wonderland of beauty. Every harsh line was softened, every blot was covered. A five-inch snowfall had fallen during the night and the whole landscape was quietly and marvelously transformed into a fairyland of delight.
I have seen this same thing happen in the life of an individual with a stubborn, hardened, self-willed attitude toward the things of God and His invisible reality. I have seen that person's heart softened and changed by prayer alone, performed secretly in the prayer closet of a faithful Christian. No words needed to be spoken, and would never have been received, by the person with the hardened heart. Prayer alone--the mysterious link between a faithful believer and the limitless power of our awesome God--was all that was required to perform the transformation.
At times, such transformations can take place virtually overnight--but at other times it takes much longer. I know of people whose lives were changed only after some faithful prayer warrior persevered on his or her knees for decades! But the change does come. Time is a factor that God alone controls, and he never puts a time limit on his instruction concerning prayer. He calls us to be faithful and constant in this ministry of prayer, both for ourselves and for one another. When we learn to pray as God teaches us to pray, we release in our own lives and in the lives of others the immense resources of God. We invite God to reach down into our lives and our world, supplying His strength, His power, His wisdom, His insight to heal the hurts, resolve the problems of this life, and win the battles of this life.
Father, I know so little about this mighty ministry of prayer. Lord, teach me to pray. Forgive me for the way I have often looked at prayer as though it were unimportant, insignificant, an optional religious exercise, a last resort. Help me to see prayer as my vital lifeline to You and Your mighty power. Help me to see reality clearly, especially the reality of prayer. Thank You, Lord, that You are not only infinitely powerful, You are also intimately involved in my life. I stand amazed that the Creator-God of the universe is also my Father, and that You invite me to climb into Your lap and call you "Daddy." What grace You give me! What a privilege You offer me! What a wonderful and exhilarating gift it is to be able to converse with You.
In the name of Jesus, our great model of prayer, amen.