THE ARMOR OF GOD: PRAYER IN THE SPIRIT
by Ted Schroder
Communication on a battlefield is a key to victory. Without communication between headquarters and a front line unit, direction and support is lacking. Those who are in the midst of battle need to know their mission, from their central command. They also need to know that they can call on central command for the resources they need to give them cover and to enable them to achieve their objective.
God gives us his revelation through the words of Holy Scripture as illuminated by the Holy Spirit. He gives us our orders. He spells out our mission and purpose. He delineates our goals and objectives in life. As we read the scriptures and meditate on their application for our lives, we become familiar with what we are meant to become, and how we are to go about it. But we also need to be in touch with God to seek clarification about our specific mission in life, to talk over the difficulties and challenges we are experiencing, and to request help for ourselves and others when we need it.
Prayer in the Spirit is our communication with central command. It is our response to the revelation we have received. It is the human side of our dialogue with God. If I were to sit down with you and ask you about your communication with God, how would you describe it? What could you tell me about your prayer life? What is the quality of your conversation with God? My understanding is that our success in the conflicts we experience in life depends upon how we communicate with God in prayer. For it is in those communications that we seek and find help for the challenges we face. It is in prayer that we express what resources, cover, and support we need. Absence of such communication means that we have to go it alone, in a battle that we cannot win on our own. We need all the help that we can get. Paul recognizes this by requesting prayers for himself. He knows that he cannot succeed on his own. As able as he is, he knows that he needs the guidance of the Spirit, so that whenever he opens his mouth, "words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel." (Ephesians 6:19)
He calls this ?prayer in the Spirit.' Prayer in the Spirit is prayer inspired by the Spirit. "In the same way the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for us in accordance with God's will." (Romans 8:26,27)
We do not need to know how to pray. All we need is to come into God's presence and seek his help, offering our weakness, our concerns, our loved ones to God, believing that the Spirit will take our concerns and translate them into intercession. The Holy Spirit directs our prayer, creates the prayer within us, and empowers us to offer it and pray it. The Holy Spirit orders our mind, gives the prayer, directs it, and empowers it.
Prayer in the Spirit is the recognition that we have direct access to God through Jesus Christ. "For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." (Ephesians 2:18) Jesus has won that for us in his Cross and Resurrection. He has broken down the barriers that existed because of our unworthiness, our sins. There is no chain of command through which we have to go to get to the Commander-in-chief. We can walk right into his presence. We do not barge in relying on our own merits, but we are invited in by his grace. Therefore we enter in humility, giving thanks for our admission and acceptance in Christ, and for the knowledge that through Christ our prayers are heard.
Prayer in the Spirit is asking for the Spirit's help to know what we are to do to win the battle. We are reassured by the knowledge that both the Spirit and Christ intercede for us as we struggle to pray for rightness in our own lives. God is not far off but near at hand to support us personally in the conflict in which we are engaged. In fact, when we do not know what to ask for, we can be confident that the Spirit knows our need, and can send the support that is in line with God's will for us.
"Prayer in the Spirit is prayer from the heart, springing from awareness of God, of self, of others, of needs, of Christ." (Jim Packer)
The main emphasis in Ephesians 6:18 is on intercessory prayer, prayer for others. St. Paul urges us to pray for all the saints (those who are members of our community of faith). We are all engaged in the same struggle. What happens to us as individuals, what happens to us all together, is but one incident in a battle in a realm much bigger than ours. The ultimate truth is that it is Christ who is engaged in this battle. It is a cosmic battle. The more we think of it in these terms, and the less we think of it in terms of ourselves and our own personal position, the better it will be for us. This is the great battle of the ages - between heaven and hell. That is the real conflict, and the extent to which we realize that we are involved in this great fight of God against evil is the measure of the extent to which we shall be strong. We shall be delivered out of our morbid subjectivity and see exactly what is happening, and so we shall fight with a new spirit and outlook.
We are urged to pray for one another. We are to remember our comrades in the line of battle. We are not to be for ever looking at ourselves and concentrating on ourselves. We are to consider the whole front line and pray that all may stand for good against evil. This is the way to avoid discouragement even for yourself. This is the way to have the assurance that you belong to a victorious army, and that nothing can possibly defeat the cause to which you belong.
Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, "Prayer is the sovereign remedy for many of the ills and diseases of the soul that tend to defeat us all. It is the sovereign remedy for introspection, for morbid self-concern. Self is the last enemy. It is self that causes most of our troubles. We sit thinking of ourselves and what is going to happen to us. We turn in on ourselves and pity ourselves and are sorry for ourselves, and spend our time commiserating with ourselves. One of the best ways of getting rid of such a condition is to pray for other people. Lift up your heads, look away from yourself, and you will forget yourself."
St. Paul urges us to pray at all times with ?all kinds of prayers and requests.' What are all kinds of prayers and requests? I use a method in prayer which ensures that I use all kinds of prayers and requests. It is called by the acronym ACTS: standing for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.
A stands for adoration. Begin by becoming aware of the presence of God. "Be still and know that I am God." (Ps.46)
"The prior act of praying for the awareness of God's presence accomplishes two things. It helps you to focus your attention on God, and it heightens your sensitivity to the things of the Spirit, opening up your consciousness to signs of God's presence. You are on the alert, waiting expectantly, vigilant. So the next step on this journey is to assume an attitude of alert but relaxed attention. Mindfulness. You must cease your frenzied rush from one thing to another. Do one thing at a time, quietly, letting your mind and heart be filled with the gift of the present moment. And begin to be present to - look around for - signs and symptoms of God within and without." (Jane Marie Thibault)
C stands for Confession. Admit your weaknesses, and sins of commission and omission: the things that you have done that you ought not to have done, and the things you have not done that you ought to have done. Come to the Cross in repentance, and seek the cleansing of forgiveness based on the atoning sacrifice of Christ for your sins. Ask that the Holy Spirit would fill you so that you may produce in your life the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
T stands for thanksgiving. Review all of God's blessings in your life and be grateful. We will never appreciate all that we enjoy unless we recall them to mind. Gratitude puts all our needs into perspective. We take so many things for granted in our lives for which we never give thanks. The ability to live and love, to walk and talk, to see and be seen, are gifts of God. Even when we are impaired or handicapped in any way we have so much. "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights." (James 1:17)
S stands for supplication. Pray for yourself, and your needs. I keep a list of personal needs that I review with the Lord every morning. It needs to be continually revised as prayers are answered and new needs arise.
Remember your family and friends, and others who have asked for your prayers. Their names also need to be noted so that you don't forget them. Pray for our nation, for the work of your church, your pastor, and other missionary work. Pray for your fellow-members in the Body of Christ.
Sometimes it is a help to use books of prayers, the prayers of others, or hymns and songs. There are many books on the practice of prayer, including contemplative and centering prayer. Some people find it helpful to write out their prayers each day. It serves to keep their minds from wandering and focuses them. Use the method that suits your personality and need.
I have always been impressed by the words of Samuel to the people of Israel: "As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you." (1 Sam.12:23)
Intercessory prayer is a ministry in itself. "Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you." (Colossians 1:9) Intercession is a test of our unselfishness in prayer. You don't have to know someone personally to pray for them. What we do affects the lives of others. As I pray for others I ask God to put it in their hearts to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and that they may be guided in his Way. Praying in these ways for others is a form of loving your neighbor as yourself. It is a means of proclaiming the Gospel. It is a form of serving.
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