The Priority of Prayer – Ephesians 6:18-20

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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
June 7, 2009

Spiritual Warfare, Pt 19 – “The Priority of Prayer”
Ephesians 6:18-20


We began our study of spiritual warfare last November and this is the 19th message from Ephesians 6:10-20. We have examined what it means to be spiritual (See: Being Spiritual), the general nature of spiritual conflict (See: The Nature of Spiritual Warfare) and our adversary (See: Our Adversary &  Satan’s Subtle Devices) as well as each of the six parts of the armor God has provided us that we might stand firm against Satan and his schemes (See: The Sword of the Spirit). Our armor consists of the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God. There is one more aspect to the armor of God that we need to talk about, and though it is not a piece of equipment per se, it is definitely something that cannot be overlooked, for to do so would be to invite defeat. Turn once again to Eph. 6:10-20.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places.] 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil [one.] 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and [pray] on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in [proclaiming] it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

The Importance of Prayer

Now look back again at verses 18-20. Paul makes a general statement about prayer along with some specific prayer requests in those verses. Too often the priority of prayer in spiritual battle is overlooked. Even in this passage so much emphasis gets placed on the nature of the battle and the different elements of armor that prayer is overlooked. Paul did not see it that way. Notice that verse 18 is not the start of a new paragraph, but rather the conclusion of what precedes it. Remember that the punctuation in your English translation as well as the verse divisions have been added in by men at a much later time as a means of aiding referencing. The original Greek text did not have such punctuation or verse divisions. The meaning here will be a little more clear to you if will change the period at the end of verse 17 into a semicolon to connect it to verse 18. Next pencil in above the word “with” the phrase, “by means of,” for that is the sense in which the preposition is being used. Putting this all together you have, “and take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; by means of all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit . . .” The rest of the verse then transitions to specifics of also praying for all the other saints.

The subject of prayer is in a subordinate phrase to verse 17, but it is not subordinate in its importance in spiritual warfare. Verse 18 actually takes us back and connects with Paul’s command in verse 14 to “Stand firm therefore . . . by means of all prayer and petition.” It is through prayer that we can be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. It is with prayer that we put on the whole armor of God by faith.

The hymn writer, George Duffield, understood this when he wrote Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus. The third stanza reads, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, Stand in His strength alone; The arm of flesh will fail you, Ye dare not trust your own; Put on the gospel armor, Each piece put on with prayer; Where duty calls or danger, Be never wanting there.” We are to put on the panoply of God, but each piece goes on with prayer.

Prayers and Petitions

Paul uses the phrase here, “with [by means of] all prayer and petition.” The word for “prayer” here, proseuch / proseucha , is a general word for prayer with no narrower indication of its content, and it is always used in reference to God. It signifies a worshipful approach to God that includes reverence and adoration. Nicoll says that it “emphasizes prayer as an act of worship or devotion.” We can bring everything to God in prayer. We can come to Him with anything that is on our heart or mind, but we do need to come with the right attitude. God is still God, not a benevolent grandpa or a magic genie who is supposed to give us whatever we want. We come to Him with the recognition that He is “Our Father Who art in Heaven” and whose name is to be “hallowed” (Matthew 6:9-15).

The word for “petition” here, dehsiV / deasis, has an original meaning of “to want,” “to lack”; “to desire,” “to long for”; “to ask, beg.” It is translated as “pray,” “supplication,” and “petition.” It is a general word used in addressing other people or God in asking concerning a need. Cremer notes that it is an asking of a need while Nicoll states that it is “the cry of personal need.” Supplication is often a specific petition for a particular benefit.

We pray in general in talking with God, but we also may make supplication or petition to God to intervene in regards to a specific need. There are those that will only pray generally because they do not want to bother God with their own particular needs, but that is not what God desires from us. Remember that even in the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples in Matthew 6:9-13, often referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer,” He included that they are to make supplication for their needs including their daily bread. God desires to have us ask from Him for those things that are on our hearts both general and specific. We only need to remember that we are not to ask to consume it upon our own lusts as James 4 warns, but rather according to His will as He sees fit to provide for us.

I might add here quickly a third element of prayer that Paul points out in Philippians 4:6 that we pray and make our petitions with thanksgiving which is an acknowledgment of grace received. It is thanks given to God for physical provision, spiritual provision, people, and Himself. Thanksgiving is an indicator of the attitude expressed in Hebrews 13:15,16 to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.”

I cannot stress enough the importance of thanksgiving in prayer because it is the overflow of having a proper understanding of God’s character and recognition of His work. Those who pray without thanksgiving make themselves the center of the universe with God existing for their good pleasure instead of the other way around. They want God to be their servant instead of themselves being slaves of God. The specifics of Paul’s requests make it clear he wanted to be a useful slave who brought God glory by doing God’s will.

Prayer with petition and thanksgiving means we ask God in both general and specific terms with a heart of gratitude for what He has already done. For example, we ask God in general to help us serve Him today, while petitioning Him regarding a specific task at hand with gratitude for the opportunity. We pray to God in general that we may be witnesses for Him while petitioning Him concerning particular individuals with thankfulness for the opportunities to proclaim the gospel to others. We ask God in general that we might be more godly in our treatment of others while petitioning Him specifically about being gracious to a particularly irritating person and being thankful that we are more like Christ today than last year.

Praying in the Spirit

Paul also says here that we are to “pray at all times in the Spirit.” All prayer is to be made in accordance with the Holy Spirit for we cannot pray and know that it is within the will of God unless we pray by His Spirit. The Spirit of God indwells every believer so He will prompt and guide us in our prayers according to the will of the Father. While there is a certain mystical element within that, as I said last week, the Holy Spirit will always be in conformity with the word of God so that we always have a means to determine whether we are following the Holy Spirit or some other spirit.

Though I would prefer not to digress, the charismatic movement has caused a lot of confusion about praying in the Spirit so let me quickly dispel their teaching that this is either speaking in tongues or some private prayer language. First, speaking in tongues is not “ecstatic utterances of glossolalia,” or in laymen’s terms, babbling or gibberish. Acts 2:8-11 could not be more clear that those filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in other tongues were speaking other languages known to those who heard them for the specific languages and dialects are listed in the text. They spoke in a tongue that was unknown to them, but a tongue that was known to the hearer.

Second, speaking in tongues was for the benefit of Jewish unbelievers and not believers for Paul states in 1 Corinthians 14:21,22 “In the Law it is written, ‘By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,’ says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy is not to unbelievers, but to those who believe.” Paul’s quote is from Isaiah 28:11 in which the Lord pronounces a curse against Israel and gives them a sign of His condemnation of them. That sign would be them hearing people from other nations speaking in other languages coming to them with God’s message. The speaking in tongues was a sign of God’s condemnation of the nation of Israel.

Third, speaking in tongues is not a private prayer language. I have heard people twist the early part of 1 Corinthians 14, especially verses 2 & 4, trying to show that praying in the spirit is to pray in a private prayer language for the purpose of self edification. Such interpretation demonstrates a great lack of basic Bible study skills. The context of the immediate passage as well as that of the whole book of 1 Corinthians is a correction of their selfishness. Every spiritual gift is for the purpose of the common good of the whole body and not for yourself (1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:1-16). Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 14:4 that “One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church,” is one of condemnation, not commendation. Their practice was wrong. Paul’s statement in verse 2 that only God would know what they were saying is again, not one of commendation, but one of sarcastic condemnation that they have not given any consideration to the other believers around them (see also verses 3 & 16). What they were doing was not good. Their practice of praying apart from their minds was even leading to blasphemy instead of prayer while claiming to be doing it by the Holy Spirit (See 1 Corinthians 12:2-3). Paul specifically instructs them in 1 Corinthians 14:15 to pray with both the mind and the Spirit.

Others have tried to use Romans 8:26 as the basis for claiming that praying in the spirit is to pray in an unknown tongue. Again such argument shows a lack of basic Bible study skills. The verse states, “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words, And He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” This is the Holy Spirit interceding on our behalf, not us praying. And if the groanings are too deep for words, how can that then be claimed to be the prayer language of the man? Something that is too deep for words is something that is left unspoken.

What is praying in the Spirit? It in praying under the control of the Holy Spirit for God’s will to be done. A person who prays in the Spirit is seeking out God’s will and glory above all else. What they may suffer is secondary to God being glorified by their life. It is Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethesemane, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done” (Matthew 26: 42). It is Paul praying and striving to go to Bythinia and being sensitive to the leading of the Spirit to see that the Lord wanted Him to go to Macedonia instead (Acts 16:7-10). It is Paul praying three times to have the thorn in his flesh removed, but being satisfied with the answer from God that the Lord’s grace was sufficient for him (2 Corinthians 12:9).

As I have already pointed out from 1 Corinthians 14:14,15, to pray in the spirit is not to leave out the mind. Certainly there are times, as noted in Romans 8:26, when we just do not know what to pray and there is a deep groaning within us, but that does not mean that our mind has been cast aside.

I think of Paul’s dilemma in Philippians 1 where he recounts his longing to depart and be with Christ but at the same time desiring to remain and be with them that he might still be used of God in their lives. Don’t you ever feel that way? I get tired and weary and this sinful world gets to me. I long so much to cast aside all the cares of this life and be in heaven with my Savior. But at the same time, I have a great yearning to remain with my wife and see the lives of my sons progress. I long to continue laboring here as long as the Lord will find me useful. There is a conflict within and I don’t know what to pray. So I leave it with the Lord. He knows my heart and he knows what is best for his kingdom. This is conflict that I have seen often in senior saints who have an increasing longing for heaven, especially as their bodies fail them, but they also desire to stay as useful as possible here as long as they can. How do you pray in such a situation? Sometimes it is very difficult, but there is comfort to know that the Spirit intercedes Himself on our behalf right then.

As I pray and petition the Lord for my own life to serve Him faithfully and walk in holiness with all my armor on, I also pray for fellow saints, their service and their walk. I am not the only one involved in a spiritual battle. So are all my brothers and sisters in Christ, so as Paul says in the conclusion of verse 18, “with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.”

Warfare Praying

Paul’s call for payer here at the end of Ephesians 6 has been called “warfare praying.” I don’t really care for the term because of its abuse and false ideas that have been passed around about it, but the essence of it is that I take part in the spiritual battles other people are involved in through my prayers and petitions to the Lord on their behalf. Those who abuse the term tend to apply it only to those sensational manifestations of spiritual conflict. There is certainly a heightened awareness of the need for payer in such situations. I was very glad to have it arranged for many people to be praying for me when some years ago I had to deal with a woman who came to my office and was outwardly manifesting being demonized. I could sense the peace of God filling me even though these demons were threatening me. That was a sensational manifestation of the spiritual battle, but those kinds of outwardly manifested open conflicts are not the most dangerous spiritual battles. We need to pray for each other on a regular basis for even the more common spiritual conflicts in life, for those are the ones we face daily and where we most often stumble. How then are we to pray for each other? Here are some suggestions based on each piece of armor.

Girded with the belt of truth: Pray for one another to know and be controlled and directed by truth as well as for Satan’s lies to be exposed and that his slanders against God would be revealed.

Having put on the breastplate of righteousness: Pray for one another that we would not be carried away by our emotions but would instead be seeking after holiness in all things regardless of how we might feel. That we would deal with other people with grace and mercy instead of anger and revenge. That marriage relationships would be kept pure and that parents would be modeling godliness to their children. That honesty would control us in all our business dealings and that each of us keep the priorities God has set for us rather than what our flesh and pride might seek after.

Feet shod with the gospel of peace: Pray that God’s peace would control us regardless of circumstances. That we would seek out and rejoice in our relationship with God and would not neglect it in anyway. That each person would grow in the knowledge of God and His love for us.

Taking up the shield of faith: Pray for one another that each would become stronger in faith having it tested and proven to be true, and that the flames of each of the devil’s fiery darts would be extinguished by a trust in God thoroughly grounded in His character and promises.

Taking up the helmet of salvation: Pray for one another that each would live according to the new nature given to us at salvation and would live with salvation’s hope moving us forward toward increasing holiness, and that each would view life from eternity’s perspective and no longer live for the pleasures of the moment, and that each mind would be renewed and every thought would be taken captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

The sword of the Spirit: Pray that each one would handle it with accuracy in both it defensive and offensive uses. Defensively, pray that each would become mature and firm in understanding and convictions based solidly on the Scriptures and be adept to apply the appropriate passage to each of Satan’s slanders and enticements, and that each would remain strong against both the winds of doctrine that would seek to blow us off course and our own desires that would move us to seek our own will instead of the Lord’s. Offensively, pray that each would know the Bible well enough to proclaim Jesus and His gospel accurately and be able to bring down the fortresses of philosophy and speculations of the unbelieving and bring them captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

These are brief examples, but I trust you get the idea of how we can pray for one other and at the same time remind ourselves to keep our own armor on. In contrast to this are the methods advocated by those caught up on what is often referred to as spiritual deliverance ministries that reduce prayer to incantations that will supposedly defeat the devil. These are the more prevalent ones.

“Bind Satan.” This is supposedly based on Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 in which Jesus states first to Peter and then to all the apostles, “whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Many in “spiritual warfare ministries” talk about “binding Satan” in order to clear up problems. I have even found this used among what are otherwise conservative fundamental groups (CBFMS).

What is wrong with this concept? First, scripture does not talk about men “binding Satan or demons.” Revelation talks about God having some demons bound in a pit currently and that He will bind Satan during Christ’s millennial reign, but men are never presented as “binding” him. In fact Jude even warns us not to “revile angelic majesties” or “pronounce against him a railing judgment.” Second, the phrase is a Jewish idiom referring to what is forbidden or permitted by God’s Word. The contexts of the passages are related to the authority of believers to declare based on the Word of God what is sinful and what is not, what sins are forgiven and what sins are not as in John 20:23. There is nothing in these passages about putting restrictions on Satan or demons. Third, If these people are supposedly binding Satan and demons all the time, then why do they keep letting him go?

“Plead the blood.” This is another phrase used in an incantational manner. It is supposed to be based on what occurred in Exodus 12:13, “And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” The idea promoted in this is that when you “plead the blood,” i.e. claim the blood of Jesus as a covering, God will give you special protection from Satan, the demonic and evil.

What is wrong with this? Again, the basic problem is that it makes prayer a magical incantation of making things okay by just saying the correct words. This results in trust being put in the prayer itself instead of the one to whom you are praying. In addition, it distorts what has already been done for us. I do not need to plead the blood as a covering of protection. I just need to recognize it and make use of it. The apostle John put it succinctly in 1 John 1:7-9, “but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “Pleading the blood” will do me no good. I need to walk in righteousness and when I fail at that I need to confess my sins. My protection from Satan comes by submitting to God first and then resisting the devil for he will then flee from me (James 4:7).

Praying for One Another

How are we to pray? I have already given some suggestions, but in addition to those, look at what Paul says in Ephesians 6:19 as a request for himself. “and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

Think about that for a moment. The apostle Paul is asking people to pray that he would be bold. Paul who began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues of Damascus only a few days after he was saved (Acts. 9:20), who then a few weeks or months later is boldly doing the same thing in Jerusalem (Acts 9:28), who also went on a missionary journey through Asia Minor to places where the gospel had not been preached before, and then did it again not long after getting back from that adventure, but this time also going to Macedonia and Greece, who stood up in the midst of the Areopagus in Athens to proclaim Jesus to the philosophers (Acts 17:22), who proclaims Christ without hesitation to the mobs that try to kill him (Acts 21). This Paul asks people to pray that he would be bold? Yes, and so we should pray for one another.

We are in a spiritual battle and we cannot rely on our own strength, either physical or mental, even if it is an area that we normally do well in. We are up against a cunning adversary and must be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might (Ephesians 6:10). Don’t get into “binding Satan” and “pleading the blood.” Instead pray diligently with perseverance for one another to live fully for Jesus Christ in every area, in every way, at every moment. Pray for one another to be bold in faith, diligent in service, righteous in action, humble in character and submissive to God’s will.

The tragedy of prayer for most people is that they request it and do it only when something has gone wrong. We need to pray before that. Pray for the good marriages as well as the shaky ones. Pray for the good kids as well as those with problems. Pray for those who walk boldly in faith as well as those who falter. Pray in the spirit for all the saints.


The final sermon in this series is: Spiritual Warfare, Part 20: Resisting the Devil)

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – 1) Count how many times prayer mentioned. 2) Talk with your parents about the importance of praying properly before bad things happen.

Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the relationship of Ephesians 6:18-20 to the verses before them? What does this relationship communicate about the importance of prayer and spiritual warfare? What is the meaning of the word “prayer”? What does it emphasize? What is the meaning of the word “petition”? What does it emphasize? What is the relationship between the two words and what do they tell us about our communication with God? Why is thanksgiving an important part of prayer? What does it indicate or reveal? What does it mean to “pray at all times in the Spirit”? Why is this not speaking in tongues? What was speaking in tongues and what was its purpose? Why is this not a private prayer language? What are some scriptural examples of praying in the Spirit? How has this been done in your own life – or if you have not been doing it, how can it be done? We are to intercede for others in their spiritual battles. Give an example of how you can do that in relationship to each of the pieces of armor of God. What is wrong with praying to “bind Satan”? What does it mean to “bind and lose” in Matthew 16 & 18? What is wrong with “pleading the blood”? What is the difference between an incantation and true prayer? What are Paul’s specific prayer requests in Ephesians 6:19-20? Do those requests surprise you? Why or why not? What do they indicate about how we should pray for others and our requests for them to pray for us? Why is it important to pray pro-actively – before things happen – rather than as a reaction to what has happened?

Sermon Notes – 6/7/2009
Spiritual Warfare, Pt. 19: The Priority of Prayer – Ephesians 6:18-20

The Importance of Prayer

Verse 18 ______________ what precedes it and can be translated “by means of all prayer . . .”

Verse 18 ___________ back to verse 14 – “Stand firm therefore . . . by means of all prayer and petition.”

We are to put on the panoply of God, but each piece is to be put on with ___________.

Prayers and Petitions

proseuch / proseucha – general word for prayer and always used in reference to ____________

Nicoll says that it “emphasizes prayer as an act of _____________ or devotion.”

dehsiV / deasis – petition / supplication is general word for asking concerning a _____________

Nicoll states that it is “the cry of ____________ need.”

God __________to have us ask from Him for those things that are on our hearts both general and specific

We ask with ______________ (Phil. 4:6) – an indicator of our worldview & ________(Hebrews 13:15-16)

Praying in the Spirit

All prayer is to be made in accordance with the ___________________

Praying in the ____________ is not “speaking in tongues”

The tongues spoken in Acts 2 were ___________ languages and dialects, not ecstatic utterances

Speaking in tongues was for the benefit of unbelieving ________- 1 Corinthians 14:21-22; Isaiah 28:11

Speaking in tongues is not a _____________ prayer language

All gifts are for _________ good of the body, not self edification – 1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:1-16

Speaking without their minds was resulting in _____________ – 1 Corinthians 12:2-3

Paul specifically instructed that prayer was to be with ______________and spirit – 1 Corinthians 14:15

Romans 8:26 is the Spirits intercession which is groanings too deep for words – there is no __________

This is praying under the control of the Holy Spirit for God’s ____to be done and His name to be glorified

Examples of praying in the Spirit include Matthew 26:42; Acts 16:7-10; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Phil. 1:21-26

Warfare Praying

Taking part in the spiritual battles of others through my prayers and petitions to the Lord on their behalf

Girded with the belt of truth:

Having put on the breastplate of righteousness:

Feet shod with the gospel of peace

Taking up the shield of faith

Taking up the helmet of salvation

The sword of the Spirit

Improper Prayer – reducing it to incantations

Binding Satan – Matthew 16:19; 18:18

There are no scriptural examples of _________ binding Satan or demons.

Bind and loose is a Jewish __________ referring to what is forbidden or permitted

If Satan has been “bound” so many times, why is he still __________ and roaming around?

Plead the blood – Exodus 12:13 – Claiming Jesus’ ___________ as a covering of protection

This makes prayer a magical _____________ of making things okay by just saying the correct words.

It distorts what has ____________ been done – 1 John 1:7-9

Praying for One Another

Ephesians 6:19 – Paul requests intercession so that he would speak the gospel with _______________.

We must be strong in the _________ and the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10) and not our own strength

We must be praying pro-actively – __________ things go wrong.

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