‘Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints’ (Ephesians 6:18)
All of God’s children look for answers to their prayers, but do they always pray ‘in the Spirit’? This must be their goal, but how to attain it is their challenge.
Prayer is a spiritual weapon that is more powerful than the sword, bomb or pen. It is more effective than the worldwide internet and all other modes of communication in moving people to action.
Martin Luther said, ‘This little word “Father”, lisped forth in prayer by a child of God, exceeds the eloquence of Demosthenes, Cicero and all others so famed orators in the world’ (William Gurnall, The Christian in complete armour, Vol. 2, p.297). This is because the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, teaches effective and powerful prayer prevails with God and moves his hand.
Prayer is at the forefront of the work of God. It is not a supplement to God’s work; it is God’s work and an important and essential part of every spiritual ministry. Whatever is begun for God must first begin with prayer and then be carried out through prayer (Acts 13:1-3).
It was the Methodist Samuel Chadwick who said, ‘Prayer is the mightiest force in the universe of God’ (Samuel Chadwick, The path of prayer, Hodder and Stoughton, p.45). Tertullian said, ‘We knock at heaven and the merciful heart of God flies open, for the holy violence we offer to him in prayer is very pleasing to him’ (Gurnall, Ibid., p.297).
When our Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force [‘forceful men lay hold of it’, NIV]’ (Matthew 11:12), he was speaking about prayer.
Prayers of supplication are full of strong crying and tears because they come from a heart that will not accept ‘no’ for an answer (1 Samuel 1; Luke 11:5-12; 18:1-8). Prayer is not passive, but active, and so requires time, spiritual energy and a seeking after God.
Our Saviour taught us about prayer saying, ‘When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly’ (Matthew 6:6).
John Calvin comments: ‘The main purpose of this verse is to correct the desire of self-glorification. When Christ says, “your Father will award you”, he plainly declares that the reward that is promised to us … is not paid as a debt, but is a free gift’ (365 days with Calvin, Day One, 16 June).
Serious prayer has to do with the secret place, with being alone with God. It is the place of tears and faith, and it provides joy in God himself. Busy pastors must make sure they are found there.
They are daily in their studies with the Word, or at committee meetings, or doing hospital visitation, or at ministry — all legitimate, of course. However, there are answers to prayer that the people of God will not have if pastors fail to ask God, or if they are too busy to be on their knees in earnest supplication, with the door shut.
It is pertinent to say, as E. J. Alexander did, that prayer is, not an alibi for doing nothing; nor simply (or mainly) asking God for things we need; nor a mechanical recitation of a form of words that we have learned; and definitely not the preserve of the ‘elite’ or confined to certain holy places (E. J. Alexander, Prayer, a biblical perspective, Banner of Truth, pp. 5-6).
And it is certainly not helped by the use of beads, wheels or candles. Rather, it is fellowship with ‘Our Father in heaven’, through the Son, aided by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
True prayer requires prayer with one’s mind and an understanding that flows from spiritual communion with God. Paul said, ‘If I pray … I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding’ (1 Corinthians 14:12). This is because effective prayer is not only desired from the heart, but articulated from the head also.
When the apostles asked Jesus to, ‘Teach us to pray’, they were putting themselves into a school of prayer that was to last their lifetime.
He taught them the Lord’s Prayer, whose sections embrace relationship (‘Our Father in heaven’), respect and reverential fear (‘Hallowed be your name’), petition (‘Your kingdom come’), desire (‘Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven’) and intercession (‘Give us this day our daily bread’, etc.).
In all this, our Saviour teaches us to engage with God through the mind as well as the heart. Emotion is not the whole content of powerful prayer, although a required element. Prayer requires head, heart and hope (born of faith) before God.
Was this why the psalmist whispered, ‘Teach me your way, O Lord; I will walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name’ (Psalm 86:11)? He was seeking a unity of heart, mind and will flowing from a clear conscience.
When our heart and will are not at one; when the mind knows that God is worthy of adoration but the heart is jaded and reluctant to offer praise and thanksgiving, we must cry for a fresh unity of mind and emotions, with a willingness to accept all God’s providences.
Prayer is not an extra piece of armour, but it ‘keeps the armour bright’ and must not be neglected. The Holy Spirit calls us to true piety and to a prayer life that will be powerful before God. This every Christian can attain by praying always, in the Spirit.
The author is a retired FIEC pastor, the writer of several books including, Opening up Job (Day One) and a member of Hoylake Evangelical Church, Wirral