This afternoon we will finish our little study on the panoply of the Christian – the armor of God. Paul has been painting a picture of the best-dressed soldier of Christ. His medium as been watercolors, rather than crisp, clean oils or even pastels. I say “watercolors” because the picture is metaphorical – allegorical. While generally accurate, the details of each piece have been left to our own eye and the light in which we are currently standing. We could probably study this same scripture again in a year’s time and come up with things we haven’t considered yet. It’s not because the scripture has changed, but the darkness of the day of battle changes.
So we’ve looked at the breastplate of righteous, the girdle of truth, the shoes, the helmet of salvation, the shield and the sword of the spirit. Notice that our translators have not put a full stop at the end of verse 17. They have used a colon rather than a period, telling us it was Paul’s intent to add verse 18 to the rest of the armor. But he doesn’t explain what part of the panoply or what role prayer plays in all of this. At first glance prayer seems to me to be out of place in the context of the armor. It’s certainly NOT out of place in the larger context of our wrestling match against principalities and powers, but is prayer our night-vision goggles or a sniper’s rifle?
I have never read of any Christian author using it this way, but I have a suggested explanation. Most commentators simply explain the importance of prayer without suggesting how it is a part of our armor. My idea is this – if there is not a trained arm and hand, that sword is not going to be very effective. If there isn’t strength in that arm; if there isn’t a burst of energy, adrenalin, or a living nervous system within that soldier’s body, he is not going to be a good soldier. Isn’t prayer the means by which the Christian soldier accesses the omnipotence of the Lord? This soldier is trained to be ready at all times to face the enemy. He must be ready to drop whatever he is doing – resting, studying, even worshiping – He must be ready at all times to pull out the Sword of the Spirit, because the enemy is at hand.
Doesn’t Paul emphasize the word “always”?
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” The word “always” might suggest a number of things, but let’s start with “AT all times.” “Praying at all times with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” Knowing my own heart – knowing a little about human nature and seeing the condition of our church… It appears that Paul’s exhortation is as needed today as much as it ever has been needed before.
Unless I am mistaken, to pray “always” means to pray daily, hourly and with each passing minute. Have you ever watched the electrical meter assigned to your house? It likely never stops spinning, spinning, spinning …. constantly whirling. Inside your house are lots of things that call for power – such as clocks – if nothing else. Maybe you have a night-light which while the sun is shining doubles as a day-light. But then come the heavy-use periods – supper time, computer time, evening. And that constant spinning is reflected on your electric bill. Similarly, we are supposed to be in constant fellowship with our Lord – in unbroken communion. Our enemy, as a roaring lion, walketh about at any time of day or night seeking whom he may devour. So our prayer wheel should ever be spinning round and around. We constantly need the Lord, and our love for Him keeps us thinking about Him. Sure there are peak periods; high demand times; but they are above and beyond our constant need.
Why didn’t the Lord Jesus tell us to pray for our weekly or monthly bread? Because we are never without our dependance upon Him. Why were the Israelites to sacrifice every morning and every evening? Because of their need. Why didn’t God send a truck load of manna to the grocery store once a week just before the Israelites got paid? I have heard that since the days of Viet Nam, many American soldiers have been hooked on drugs. I’m sure that some of that started out as recreational – a serious hindrance to soldierly performance. But some drug dependence on the battlefield has been to stimulate the senses, heighten the strength and empower the decision-making ability. Some soldiers come back from the battle-front addicted to stimulants which were acknowledged, if not encouraged, by their leaders. Christian solders do not need that kind of help, but we do need the stimulant of prayer.
“Always” means in all seasons and in every situation. Why is that some people put their seat belt on only when traffic suggests that their might be needed? Most people snap on their seat belt when they know they will be on the Interstate or going across town. But some refuse to buckle up to drive four blocks to the store. That safety belt, to some people, is like their prayer life. Many people only commit themselves to the Lord if they are facing a known enemy – a big problem. But I think it is still true – most accidents occur within ten blocks of home. And additionally, almost all other kinds of accidents actually occur right INSIDE our homes. But rarely do we pray about safety within our own homes. I think that Paul would take exception to that practice.
We need to pray about everything that touches our lives, because the enemy can be lurking anywhere. Many little things about you, even the things most common to you, could be used as temptations. David walked on the roof of his house, just as we might be sitting on the back porch. Did he ask God to protect him and help him to control his eyes that day? Joseph was sent by his father to look for his brothers and the family sheep. That was a bad day, and most of the trouble was not of his initiation. Job’s family was slain in an instant, hurtling that man into unfamiliar territory. Oh, how we need to pray always.
The word also implies in all conditions. We must not forget to pray when things are going really well, because that won’t go on for ever. The Lord’s enemy doesn’t want the Lord’s people to be happy, “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God that ye may be able to stand” – even in the good days. Prayer is not a down-filled winter coat to be placed in storage during the summer. It is a part of our armor – and it was never designed to be ceremonial. Christians who don’t pray when all is well will find their spiritual muscles shriveled when they need them. If you won’t pray and praise the Lord in good days, you prove yourself to be an unhealthy and unworthy citizen not to mention an untrained soldier. Furthermore, the person who isn’t close to the Lord in days of prosperity will often be angry with the Captain when the days of adversity come.
A second consideration must be whether or not Paul is talking about “all KINDS” of prayer.
For example, shouldn’t we learn to prayer suddenly, or instantly? I hope that you know the importance of regular eating – good food at the right times. But there are occasions when a quick snack between the regular meals is also quite important. I’ve never had any of today’s modern “energy drinks,” but I have experienced the power of the old one – coffee. Sometimes it can be really helpful in the middle of the day. Some of you know personally, and others by observation, what it is to have a blood-sugar problem. Sometimes the only way to correct an attack is with some instantaneous nutrition. Similarly, we all get into spiritual anemia, and the only answer is immediate prayer.
Israel was joyfully exiting Egypt, until they found themselves standing on the shores of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army running up on their heels. In Exodus 14:15 God said to Moses, “Wherefore criest thou unto me?” I have searched for years to find any prayer that Moses uttered; he didn’t have the time; no words. The prayer was apparently an unvocalized “help” – away down in the depths of his soul. That is the kind of prayer that I’m talking about here.
Nehemiah was really burdened about his old homeland; he had been praying; he had been miserable. And the king saw this and asked Nehemiah what his problem was. When despotic kings ask questions, petitioners and servants are not given time to mull over their reply. Immediately Nehemiah reached out to Jehovah with an unspoken “help,” and it was answered. In that moment of battle, he gave an intelligent answer and the king blessed with a gracious response. It is these sudden communiques with Heaven that enable us to pray “always.”
God has not created us as snakes or lizards with our bellies and eyes only on the ground. Have you every gone for a walk with your family and the family dog? As you stroll along, you may be seeing things which your dog may never consider. Dog’s hardly lift their eyes above the level of their nose. Do they see the clouds, the birds, the tops of the trees? You and I have been created erect with an opportunity to have our heads constantly pointed toward Heaven. We should take advantage of that in prayer and praise to the Creator.
Another kind of prayer is the private and more time-consuming variety. Every major servant of God in the Bible was an expert in private or secret prayer. We see the Lord Jesus dismissing the disciples and multitudes in order to spend the night with His Father. That sort of thing is the foundation for the structure of our daily Christian life. If we neglect this, we may be a well-equipped soldier, but one with no strength in our arm and no sight in our eye.
A third kind of prayer is the public or social prayer. It includes prayer with our family, public prayer in Church and our participation in prayer meetings. We have public and corporate blessings which deserve public and corporate thanksgiving. When God’s kingdom is blessed, then the kingdom needs to be full of praise. When the army, or just a small company of soldiers, like us, are given a victory, there needs to be company thanksgiving. We have needs which the whole company must unite around, in order to pray about it properly. There are times when we need to surround a wounded soldier protecting him from enemy assault. It should be our motto – “Never leave a man behind.” Scriptural, public prayer shows our united allegiance to our Captain. I read somewhere that God created man just before the first sabbath. This was so that he might immediately go into a worship service with his Creator.
Something else hidden in this scripture is the “all REASONS” for prayer.
There are occasions full of soul-crushing problems which demand our prayers. These may be times of major decisions, medical problems, financial problems, family problems. There are times when we seem to be in thick darkness – as Israel was while still in Egypt. There are times when temptation is excruciatingly strong, and sin doth abound in our neighborhood. These are reasons to be in prayer. There are times when we ought to call on others to help us in our prayers. Not that we should always give our brothers and sisters every detail – or even any detail. Is it that we little trust others that we will not let them pray with us? Do we despise others so much that we will rob them of the blessing of helping to bear our infirmities? Will we take from them the joy of seeing the mysterious moving of God in answering prayer? Everything ought to be a matter of prayer, especially the major things. And much ought to be shared.
But we cannot forget the minor things in our prayers. Military training in the 21st century involves attention to detail. Should it be anything less in our spiritual lives? We are quick to use our tongues in battle, why can’t we better engage our hearts and minds?
Certainly we need not pray about everything publically, lest we just stir up gossip. But there are a lot of things about which we should pray, and yet we don’t.
And finally there is the “all THINGS” aspect to our prayers.
We try to teach our children to say “please” and “thank you.” There are things which are simply right. And woe to that soldier who neglects to salute a senior officer. Our thanksgiving might be considered a part of the respect we show to our Commander. We should even try to learn to thank the Lord by faith. “Thank you, Captain for the victory which are you are going to give us today.” We must give continual thanks for the blessing that the Lord has given to us.
But there is another – thanksgiving for the things which we can’t directly call “blessings.” Things like the sickness that the family seems to be passing around. Things like the glitch in our personal cash flow. We can thank the Lord, for His overseeing hand, even when we can’t understand the details.
We know that God keeps exact books, even to the bottling of the tears of His saints. Just as He keeps exact books, perhaps we should to do the same. Jehovah who keeps His debts – and keeps His promises – expects us to pay our debts as well. And a simple, heart-felt “Thank you, Lord” is sure a small sum to repay the Lord some of His mighty kindnesses.
Out of each piece in the panoply of the Christian, which is the least or which might be omitted? Obviously, each piece is important. Each piece should be put on with prayer. And each piece should be governed with prayer, because without the Lord’s blessings we are going to be defeated. We are worthless soldiers if we are not well-prepared, well-trained and well-empowered.