Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
A few moments ago I drew your attention to the title of Psalm 142, which tells us that it is a prayer of David “when he was in the cave.” And Charles Spurgeon makes the following comments about this Psalm. He says, “David did pray when he was in the cave. If he had prayed half as much when he was in the palace as he did when he was in the cave, things would have been better for him. But alas, when he was king, we find him rising from his bed in the evening, looking from the roof of his house, and falling into temptation. If he had been looking up to heaven, if his heart had been in communion with God, he might never have committed that great crime that has so deeply stained his whole character.”
And for any of you who do not know what Spurgeon is referring to, it is the time that King David committed adultery.
But if we summarize what Spurgeon is saying, it is this: The more you pray, the less likely you are to sin.
But of course, prayer is not only important in terms of resisting temptation. There are many reasons why prayer is important. But while we all might agree that prayer is important, the sad truth for many of us is that nothing is more difficult to establish and maintain than a regular and meaningful prayer life. There may be seasons of prayerfulness but they are usually the exception rather than the rule. Is that how it is for you? It is for me.
So when we come to a verse like the one in front of us, which says, “Praying at all times,” we silently groan because the truth is that large parts our days go by when we simply do not pray.
So what does it mean to pray at all times? And what else do we learn about prayer here that might help us to better understand the importance of prayer, and be more motivated to pray more often than we do now?
Well, the first thing we need to take note of is where we are in the Book of Ephesians.
- And in terms of the wide-angle perspective, the first three chapters of the book explain the riches of the undeserved salvation that is ours in the Lord Jesus Christ. So everything that is said in the last three chapters about the Christian life is built on the foundation of our undeserved salvation.
So we are to pray because God has chosen us and adopted us and forgiven us in the Lord Jesus. We pray because we are thankful to God for His many mercies to us in Christ.
And while we have only made these few brief comments on this point, it is foundational for everything else we shall say about prayer. Indeed, this is the reason why the answer of the Catechism that we just read speaks of prayer as “the chief part of the thankfulness that God requires of us.” Prayer is the response of a thankful heart. So that is what we learn about prayer already from the wide-angle perspective of the context of this verse.
- But if we switch lenses now to the zoom lens, we see that these words about prayer come at the tail end of that very familiar passage of Scripture we call the Armour of God. In vv10-12 believers are told whom they are to battle and then about the armour that they must wear. And in v18 we read these words about prayer. So there is clearly an important connection being made between prayer and the armour and the battle. And exactly what that connection is, as we shall see, is also a very important part of our consideration of prayer.
So in this verse, Thankful believers are called to the discipline of prayer.
- And we use the word discipline very deliberately. We shall see that prayer is not a habit that we naturally fall into; it is something we must strive to do and work at.
- And we are going to consider the discipline of prayer in both of our services today. This morning we will spend a bit more time thinking about what the context of this verse reveals about prayer and then what it means to pray “at all times.” So our two major points will be the context of the call to disciplined prayer and then the call to the discipline of constant
- And then this afternoon we will consider the rest of v18 before we finish with some practical lessons from the school of prayer.
- So first of all, the context of the call to disciplined prayer.
- I said a moment ago that we would have to consider the connection between prayer and the armour, because this in and of itself already forms a very important part of how we are to think about prayer. So we see that beginning at v13 the Apostle begins to list the different pieces of the full armour of God.
And I am sure that you boys and girls have made yourself a suit of this armour at home or at Sunday school or a Cadet camp at some time. If not, what a lovely thing to do with you parents on a Sunday afternoon sometime.
And as we come to v17, we read of “the helmet of salvation,” and then “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” But v18 begins to talk about prayer. The question is then what is the relationship between prayer and what the Apostle has thus far described?
Well the first thing we can say is that prayer is not an additional piece of the armour.
Some think that it is. Some think that prayer is the last piece of armour that the Christian soldier needs to put on.
- But you will note that no reference is made to a part of the body or a piece of armour, as is the case with every previous reference.
- In addition, the armour Paul has described is the typical armour of a Roman soldier. And there are no more bits of armour left for him to use – the belt, the breastplate, the shoes, the shield, the helmet, and the sword are the whole armour!
So prayer is not an additional piece of armour.
But you might be looking at the verse and wondering if prayer is another part of the sword of the Spirit, perhaps? Could it be that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God and praying at all times… ?
- The problem with that idea though is that prayer would then be limited to the use of Scripture and not the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness, etc. And surely prayer is just as important with truth and faith and righteousness and salvation?
The answer to our question about how prayer relates to the armour of God arises from what is said about prayer, which is that we are to pray “at all times.” For those words reveal that prayer is just as important when the Christian soldier is putting on the armour as it in the midst of battle. And this truth was recognized by the authors of that well-known hymn, Stand up, stand up, for Jesus, in the line: “Put on the Gospel armour, each piece put on with prayer.”
You see, you cannot properly fasten on the belt of truth or the shield of faith or the helmet of salvation without prayer. We need the wisdom of God to know that we need this armour and how to put it on in a way that honours Him and that makes us most useful to Him. So the command to be praying at all times means we must be at prayer already as we put the armour on.
And once on, it must then be used with prayer. If we borrow the language of 1 Cor. 13 and adapt it to prayer instead of love, it would sound something like this: If I have the belt of truth but I use it without prayer, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, without prayer, I am nothing. And if I take up the shield of faith, without prayer, I gain nothing.
So prayer is not an additional part of the armour that we put on. Prayer is not one more thing alongside of things like faith and truth and the Word of God. Prayer is the power that begins and accompanies everything we do as Christians.
Brothers and sisters, young people and boys and girls, in John 15:5, Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” And understanding what Jesus meant with those words and the implications of those words for prayer is the thing that will most dramatically affect your prayer-life. “Apart from me you can do nothing.”
Think firstly about those words in relation to the Lord Jesus and the example He set for us during His time on earth. For consider this:
- Was there ever anyone who knew more about the word of God than Jesus?
- Was there ever anyone with a stronger faith than Jesus?
- Was there ever anyone more accustomed to speaking the truth than Jesus? No
- Was there ever anyone more righteous than Jesus?
But what are we repeatedly told that Jesus spent time doing? He prayed. He prayed to His Father in heaven! Jesus knew that apart from His Father He could do nothing.
So if Jesus prayed at all times, if Jesus depended on the wisdom and power of His Father, how much more must we pray at all times?
Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” And until we as individuals realize that apart from Christ we can do nothing, we will always be furiously running around doing something. But the truth is that we can do more than pray after we have prayed, but we can do no more than pray until we pray. The armour of God will be useful after we have prayed and as we pray, but the armour of God will be useless until we pray.
Let me borrow an illustration I recently heard that will hopefully help us understand this point:
In Acts 8 we read about Phillip being sent to the city of Samaria. And in Samaria was a man named Simon who practised magic and amazed the people. We are told that “they all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest.”
So we can imagine Mrs Phillip, if there was one, saying to her husband as they got ready for bed one night, “Philip dear, what are you planning to do about Simon? He is very influential here in Samaria.”
And Phillip’s reply? “Nothing.” But then he says to Mrs Phillip, “Let’s pray.” And he prays, “Dear Father in heaven, you have blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Open the eyes of our hearts that we might know the hope to which you have called us and the riches of the glorious inheritance that is ours in Christ Jesus. Help us to know the immeasurable greatness of the resurrection power you worked in Christ and in all those whom you have bought to faith in Him. Help us to know that apart from Christ we can do nothing and be pleased to work the power of Christ in and through us. Amen.”
And as they climb into bed and Mrs Phillip tries to pull half the duvet over to her side of the bed, she says, “Ah, I see what you mean by nothing.”
Acts 8:5 tells us that Phillip proclaimed Christ in Samaria. And we read later that Simon believed and was baptized.
You see, Phillip knew and understood and believed that apart from Christ we can do nothing. And Phillip put this into practise by praying and then preaching. And Christ was pleased to work through Phillip’s prayer and preaching.
People of God, do you see how even the context of what is said about prayer in v18 already forms a very important part of how we are to think about prayer? Understanding that prayer must be at the forefront of all that we do as Christians is the truth that will most dramatically affect your prayer-life. We will be more eager to pray when we truly understand that apart from Christ we can do nothing.
- So, do you want to grow in godliness? Then pray.
- Do you want to be more able to resist this or that temptation?
- Do you want to make the most of the opportunities to share the gospel with others that the Lord brings into your day?
- Do you wish that you could give better answers to the questions and objections of non-Christians?
- Do you wish to have a better control over the use of your tongue and your responses to others?
- Do you want to be a better teacher of the truths of God?
- Do you want to be a better husband or wife and/or to have a marriage that better reflects what Christ calls you to in Ephesians 5?
- Do you want your children to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?
- Do you want more people to become a part of this congregation?
- Do you want the plans of evil men and women in government to come to nothing?
Pray because apart from Christ you can do nothing.
Pray so that you can use the armour of God in the strength and power of Christ.
And pray so that when the things you seek do come about you will be quick to thank the Lord for what He has done!
- Thankful believers are called to the discipline of prayer. And we learn the most important lesson about the discipline of prayer already from the context of the call to disciplined prayer. But secondly and more briefly this means we need to understand what it means to pray “at all times” as we consider the discipline of constant
- It stands to reason that if prayer is so important and necessary and foundational to everything else in the Christian life that we would pray at all times. But I expect that many of us are wondering how we can pray at all times? How you are supposed to fold your hands and close your eyes when you have to drive or teach a class or operate a chainsaw or a cake-mixer, for example?
- Well, there will be times when we close our eyes and fold our hands to pray out loud or silently. It might be done with others or it might be done in private. It includes what we call the congregational prayer, it includes our prayer meetings, it includes our times of prayer when we are gathered for Bible study, it includes the prayers we pray when we are enjoying fellowship with other believers, it includes our prayers at meal times and our prayers in the morning and before we go to sleep, and it includes those times when we go into the inner-room or the closet to pray in secret that Jesus calls us to do in Matthew 6.
- But you know, to see something beautiful and to say in your mind, “Praise you, Lord!”, or to think about someone while you are busy at a task and to say in your mind, “Thank you, Lord,” or to silently cry out, “Help me, Lord,” when temptation comes, is also prayer. Just to silently say, “Amen!’ when you hear something that you agree with is also prayer.
- But we pray at all times also by cultivating a ‘prayerful attitude.’
- One author describes this attitude this way: “There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we can be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer.”
- And John Wesley described the prayerful attitude of a man in this way: “His heart is ever lifted up to God at all times and in all places. In this he is never hindered, much less interrupted, by any person or thing In retirement or company, in leisure, business, or conversation, his heart is ever with the Lord. Whether he lie down or rise up, God is in all his thoughts; he walks with God continually, having the loving eye of his mind still fixed upon Him, and everywhere ‘seeing Him that is invisible.”
- And James Montgomery’s beautiful hymn describes the prayerful attitude this way: “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, unuttered or expressed; the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast. Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear, the upward glancing of an eye, when none but God is near.”
So there is what we can call formal prayer of the eyes closed and hands folded variety, and there is what we can call the informal prayer of the word or phrase that is fired off to heaven in response to any and every circumstance, and there is what we can call the prayerful attitude that can be a tear or a sigh because God is always in our thoughts. And it is by a mixture of these three things that we can be “praying at all times.”
Well, there is more for us to learn about prayer as we gather again this afternoon. Our understanding of prayer and our desire to pray more will be aided as we also consider what it means to pray in the Spirit, and to pray with all prayer and supplication, and to persevere in prayer, and to make supplication for all the saints.
But brothers and sisters, young people and boys and girls, are you praying at all times? There are bound to be many matters that trouble you and things that need changing, and rightly so. And you might be busy doing lots of things in relation to those matters. But are you praying at all times?
You will be if you understand that the armour of God can only be put on with prayer and rightly used with prayer.
You will be if you understand that apart from Jesus you can do nothing. Shortly we will sing the hymn, Fight the Good Fight. It contains these words:
Christ is thy strength and Christ thy right … Christ is the path and Christ the prize …
Christ is its life and Christ its love … Faint not, nor fear, His arms are near; He changeth not,
and thou art dear; only believe, and thou shalt see that Christ is all in all to Thee.”
For it is only knowing these truths about Christ, or more accurately the Christ of these truths that will lead you to pray at all times. Amen.