Prayer as a Way of Life
Prayer As a Way of Life
February 12, 2006
General Stonewall Jackson was one of America's truly great military leaders. General Jackson earned his nickname "Stonewall" at the first battle of Manassas. At a moment in the battle when his soldiers were being badly beaten, Jackson's strong words and unyielding determination to stand firm and win the battle caused one of his generals to call him a "stonewall." One of the secrets of his strength was his prayer life. Stonewall Jackson was a man for whom prayer was a way of life.
In speaking of his prayer habits, Jackson said, "I have so fixed the habit in my mind that I never raise a glass of water to my lips without asking God's blessing, never seal a letter without putting a word of prayer under the seal, never take a letter from the post without a brief sending of my thoughts heavenward, never change classes in the lecture room without a minute's petition for the cadets who co out and for those who come in."
And it is in the context of battle that the apostle Paul urges us to make prayer a way of life. Having warned us in the sixth chapter of Ephesians that the battle we wage is "against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil" (Eph. 6:12), he then encourages us to "be strong in the Lord" and to "stand firm" (6:10, 14). Four times between Ephesians 6:10-14 he challenges us to "stand," to be as stonewalls in the face of the devil's schemes. His challenge is really a challenge to make prayer a way of life.
Scripture – please turn with me to Ephesians, chapter six. Verse 18 is our key verse for today’s message
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. Ephesians 6:18
Constant, many - faceted, wide - ranging prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit is key to spiritual strength and victory.
Before starting my message on Ephesians 6:18, I’d like to share with you some words of wisdom from R. C. Sproul. I’m quoting from his book :”The Place of Prayer”
“What is the goal of the Christian life? Godliness born of obedience to Christ. Obedience unlocks the riches of the Christian experience. Prayer is what prompts and nurtures obedience, putting the heart into the proper “frame of mind” to desire obedience.
Of course, knowledge is also important because without it, we cannot know what God requires. However, knowledge and truth will remain abstract unless we commune with God in prayer. It is the Holy Spirit who teaches, inspires, and illumines God’s Word to us. He mediates the Word of God and assists us in responding to the Father in prayer.
Prayer has a vital place in the life of the Christian. First, it is an absolute prerequisite for salvation. Salvation through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—will come from one source or another, but in the final analysis, a person must humbly pray to God for salvation. The prayer of salvation is the one prayer of the non-believer God has said he will hear.
What do those in heaven have in common? Several things. They have all been justified, having put their faith in the atonement of Christ. They are all praising God. And they have all prayed for salvation. To be without prayer is to be without God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the hope and reality of heaven. So the first sign, according to Sproul, that you are a Christian is prayer. You prayed to be saved and invited Jesus into your life.
Second, Sproul continues, one of the surest marks of the Christian is his prayer life. One might pray and not be a Christian, but one could not possibly be a Christian and not pray. Romans 8:15 tells us that the spiritual adoption that has made us sons of God causes us to cry out in verbal expressions: “Abba! Father.” Prayer is to the Christian what breath is to life, yet no duty of the Christian is so neglected.
Then Sproul adds, prayer, at least private prayer, is difficult to do out of a false motive. One might preach out of a false motive, as do the false prophets; one might be involved in Christian activities out of false motives. Many of the externals of religion might be done from false motives (we call these externals “Christian service”), but it is highly unlikely that anyone would commune with God out of some improper motive. Matthew 7 tells us that in the “last day,” many will stand at the Judgment and tell Christ of their great and noble deeds done in his name, but his response will be that he does not know them. What Sproul is saying is that private, closet prayer is not practiced by the non-believer. It is the mark of a true believer.
Sproul adds, we are invited, even commanded, to pray. Prayer is both a privilege and a duty, and any duty can become laborious. Prayer, like any means of growth for the Christian, requires work. In a sense, prayer is unnatural to us. Though we were created for fellowship and communion with God, the effects of the Fall have left most of us lazy and indifferent toward something as important as prayer. Rebirth quickens a new desire for communion with God, but sin resists the Spirit.
We can take comfort from the fact that God knows our hearts and hears our unspoken petitions more than the words that emanate from our lips. Whenever we are unable to express the deep feelings and emotions of our souls or when we are completely unclear about what it is for which we ought to be praying, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. A couple of weeks ago our message revolved around Romans 8:26-27 which says, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” When we don’t know how to pray or what to pray for, the Holy Spirit assists us. Sproul ventures to conjecture that there is reason to believe from the text that if we pray incorrectly, the Holy Spirit corrects the error in our prayers before he takes them before the Father, for verse 27 tells us that he “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Sproul also says prayer is the secret of holiness—if holiness, indeed, has anything secretive about it. If we examine the lives of the great saints of the church, we find that they were great people of prayer. John Wesley once remarked that he didn’t think much of ministers who didn’t spend at least four hours per day in prayer. Luther said that he prayed regularly for an hour every day except when he experienced a particularly busy day. Then he prayed for two hours.
As Sproul has already mentioned, prayer is neglected by many Christians, and he goes on to say the neglect of prayer is a major cause of stagnation in the Christian life. Consider the example of Peter in Luke 22:39-62. Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to pray as was his custom and told his disciples, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” The disciples fell asleep instead. The next thing Peter did was try to take on the Roman army with a sword; then he denied Christ. Peter did not pray and as a result fell into temptation. What is true of Peter is also true of all of us: we fall in private before we ever fall in public.
Sproul asks is there a right and wrong time for prayer? Isaiah 50:4 talks about the morning as the time when God gives the desire to pray on a daily basis and about renewed confidence in God. But there are other passages that give times of prayer during all times of the day. No part of the day is set apart as being more sanctified than another. Jesus prayed in the morning, during the day, and sometimes all night long. There is evidence that he had a time set aside for prayer; however, considering the relationship Jesus had with the Father, we know that communion between them never stopped.
First Thessalonians 5:17 commands us to pray without ceasing. It means that we are to be in a continual state of communion with our Father.”
I hope this lengthy passage, in some way, clarifies what a life of prayer is all about. Now let’s move on to our message for today:
1. Praying "In the Spirit"
Our key verse again is: “And pray in the Spirit with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”
· Ephesians 6:18 tells us to pray in the Spirit. To pray "in the Spirit" means to pray as enabled by the Holy Spirit.
- Remember what Romans 8:26 says, “Since we do not know what to pray for, the Father gives the Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness”
- The Spirit, from his position within our hearts, gives birth to prayers in our hearts. He teaches us both what to pray and how to pray. True prayer is always prayer enabled by the Spirit.
· Improving our prayer lives is not simply a matter of trying harder.
- Better praying does not simply mean better methods, longer lists, or spending more time in prayer.
- God's way of overcoming weakness in prayer is not simply a command; it's an offer of grace. It's the gift of his Spirit to help us.
2. Praying "On All Occasions"
The next part of our key verse tells us to pray on all occasions.
· Praying "on all occasions" means bringing all of life to God and bringing God into all of life.
_ God is always conscious of us, always involved, and always eager to
help. He wants us to be conscious of him no matter what is
God wants to share his life with us, wants us to think his thoughts.
God wants us to share our lives with him. Praying "on all occasions" means sharing our thoughts, our feelings, and our experiences with God.
• There are no times in life when prayer is inappropriate.
Whether we are happy or sad, content or challenged, at work or on vacation, spending time with friends or dealing with enemies, prayer is fitting.
Jesus modeled this for us. He prayed at every major moment of his life — at his baptism, when tempted in the wilderness, before and after feeding over five thousand people, when parents brought children to him, before he raised Lazarus, at the Lord' Supper, in Gethsemane, on the cross—and many other times not recorded in Scripture (Luke 5:16 says: “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” ).
4. Praying "With All Kinds of Prayers and Requests"
The third part of our key verse tells us to pray with all kinds of prayers and requests.
· All the elements of prayer are meant to be part of our prayer lives.
- I’ve mentioned before that the acronym ACTS is often used to identify the major elements of prayer. A stands for adoration, C for confession, T for thanksgiving, and S for supplication. Supplication for ourselves is usually identified as petition. Supplication for others is called intercession. Praying "with all kinds of prayers" means that prayer is not just asking for our needs. It is multi-faceted. It includes all the above – adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and asking for needs to be met.
· "All kinds of prayer" makes for a balanced relationship with God.
Prayer is essentially a relationship. I mentioned before that it can be defined as "the conversational part of the most important love relationship in our lives." Good relationships include praise, thanks, confession (admission of wrong), and supplication (asking for help).
Relationships that are missing one or more of the above elements are imbalanced and don't work very well. Try going a week without thanking your wife and you’ll soon find your relationship out of whack! Right, men? God wants to be adored. God wants to hear our confession; God wants us to be thankful.
There is something seriously wrong in a relationship with a friend ora spouse that is characterized mainly by asking. Imagine it! No praise, no thanks, only requests. Now imagine how God feels when you only come to Him with your lists of needs.
5. Praying with "Alertness"
The next part of our key verse tells us to pray with alertness.
· Praying with alertness means praying with an awareness that the Christian life is war.
· We need to pray with an alertness to the "devil's schemes" (v.10).
The word for "alert" was used to describe a sentry — a person posted to stand watch while comrades slept. The lives of others depended on the sentry to be awake and alert to danger.
- By using this word, the Holy Spirit is reminding us that we have a very dangerous and crafty enemy who will do us spiritual harm if we are not alert.
· Did you know, prayer is lethal to the cause of Satan
The anonymous author of The Kneeling Christian writes, "There is nothing the devil dreads so much as prayer. . . . Satan laughs at our toilings, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray."
Satan can deal with most everything we humans may hatch in order to pre-vent his success, but the one thing he cannot deal with is the hand of almighty God moved through our prayers.
6. Praying "Always for All the Saints"
The last part of our key verse tells us to always pray for all the saints – believers everywhere.
· "Praying for all the saints" requires selfless intercessory prayer for other Christians
Intercession, we learned last week, is prayer for others. It is given to us not only to remedy the problems that develop in people's lives but, even more important, to bless them and to release God's grace and power into their lives.
· One of the main reasons we should be interceding for our brothers and sisters in Christ is for their safety. Prayer is God's way of providing spiritual protection to believers.
- Believers in our families, our church, and in the orbits of our lives need our prayers for their well-being and protection.
Jesus apparently thought prayer was important to protection. In his high-priestly prayer recorded in John 17, beginning at verse 5: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
"I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name--the name you gave me--so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me” Did you hear that? In verse 11 and again in verse 15, Jesus prayed that the Father would protect his disciples after he left. He says: “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name--the name you gave me--so that they may be one as we are one.” Protect them from what? Disunity. We are to be one. And in verse 15 He prays, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Who causes disunity within the body of believers? The evil one! He also prayed specifically for the protection of Peter in Luke 22:32 where He says: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.
.Jesus prayed for our protection – the protection of his chosen ones. That’s us. If He prayed for our safety from the evil one, surely we should pray likewise. Oh Lord deliver us from the evil one. Oh Lord keep us one as you are one.
Our key verse tells us to always pray for each other – the saints (for that is what we are)
· "Always" means being faithful and persistent in prayer for others.
Satan loves it when, assuming all is well, we lighten up on persistent prayer for the protection and spiritual well-being of other believers. Don’t give him opportunity to mess with the lives of your brothers and sisters in Christ..
Jesus encouraged us to be persistent in prayer (in Luke 11:5-8. Through the parable of the friend-in0the-middle which we studied last week. Let me remind you how that parable of the midnight friend ends. “The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.” ; and in chapter 18:1-8 He adds another parable about persistent prayer: “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' "For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.). In 1 Samuel 12:23 Samuel declared that failing to pray for his people was a sin: “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you.
This excerpt by Robert Murray McChetne is found in E. M Bounds book “Power Through Prayer emphasizes our need to start our day prayerfully. It is entitled:
Begin the Day with Prayer
I ought to pray before seeing any one. Often when I sleep long, or meet with others early, it is eleven or twelve o’clock before I begin secret prayer. This is a wretched system. It is unscriptural. Christ arose before day and went into a solitary place. David says: “Early will I seek thee”; “Thou shalt early hear my voice.” Family prayer loses much of its power and sweetness, and I can do no good to those who come to seek from me. The conscience feels guilty, the soul unfed, the lamp not trimmed. Then when in secret prayer the soul is often out of tune, I feel it is far better to begin with God—to see his face first, to get my soul near him before it is near another.
THE men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees. He who fritters away the early morning will make poor headway seeking God the rest of the day. If God is not first in our thoughts and efforts in the morning, he will be in the last place the remainder of the day.
Behind this early rising and early praying is the ardent desire which presses us into this pursuit after God. Morning listlessness is the index to a listless heart. The heart which is behindhand in seeking God in the morning has lost its relish for God. David’s heart was ardent after God. He hungered and thirsted after God, and so he sought God early, before daylight. Mc Cheyne continues, Christ longed for communion with God; and so, rising a great while before day, he would go out into the mountain to pray. We might go through the list of men who have mightily impressed the world for God, and we would find them early after God.
It is not simply the getting up that put these mighty men to the front. But the getting up gives vent, increase, and strength to their desire to be with God. If they had lain in bed and indulged themselves, the desire would have been quenched. The desire aroused them and their heeding and acting on the call gave their faith its grasp on God and gave to their hearts the sweetest and fullest revelation of God, and this strength of faith and fullness of revelation made them saints of eminence.
And the halo of their sainthood has come down to us, and we have entered the enjoyment and blessing of their conquests. But we take our fill in enjoyment, and not in productions. We build their tombs and write their epitaphs, but are careful not to follow their examples.
We need a generation who seek God and seek him early, who give the freshness and dew of effort to God, and secure in return the freshness and fullness of his power that he may be as the dew to them, full of gladness and strength, through all the heat and labor of the day. Our laziness after God is our crying sin. We do not seek God with ardor and diligence. No man gets God who does not follow hard after him, and no soul follows hard after God who is not after him in early morn. Do you want a powerful prayer life?
What must you do to achieve it?
The life of prayer begins first thing every morning and continues through to the end of the day.
· Let me encourage you to memorize Ephesians 6:18 and hold it before yourself as God's standard for your prayer life. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Be alert and always pray for all the saints.”
· Pray from early morn to the close of your day, by the help of the Holy Spirit, and you may be able to live up to this standard. Be assured that God will help you. 2 Corinthians tells us that: “Our great power is from God, not from ourselves” And that power will help as make prayer a way of life.
Finally, let’s close with this poem by an unknown author:
I got up early one morning
And rushed right into the day:
I had so much to accomplish
That I didn’t have time to pray.
Problems just tumbled about me,
And heavier came each task.
“Why doesn’t God help me?” I wondered
He answered, “You didn’t ask.”
I wanted to see joy and beauty,
But the day toiled on, gray and bleak;
I wondered why God didn’t show me,
He said, “But you didn’t ask.”
I tried to come into God’s presence;
I used all my keys at the lock.
God gently and lovingly chided,
“My child, you didn’t knock.”
I woke early this morning,
And paused before entering the day;
I had so much to accomplish
That I had to take time to pray.