“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes… And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:10 & 18 (NIV)
As we continue in our study based on the church theme of ‘Equip Holistically, Serve Faithfully’, I envisaged being equipped with the armour of God as Paul illustrates in Ephesians. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, feet fitted with the gospel of peace, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit. At the end, Paul finishes off with the command ‘praying at all times in the Spirit,’. Why does Paul finish off the armour of God with the exhortation to pray at all times? There did not seem to be a particular piece of equipment delegated to prayer – so what function does prayer serve in our battle against the spiritual forces of this world?
What is prayer?
Personally, I often struggled in my prayer life and could not understand the role of prayer. Is it a means by which we request things or wants to God? Is it an incantation by which we get God to listen to us? If God is sovereign and does everything according to His will anyway, why do we still pray?
As I studied and meditated on the topic, I began to see that as Christians, our purpose of prayer differs from other religions, or what people in the world perceive of as prayer. For them, prayer is usually self-centred – it centres on their wants and needs, and involves begging or bargaining with their gods in order to have their wishes fulfilled. Jesus however, taught us a very different purpose and way by which we should pray.
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matt 6:7-8
God is not impressed with flowery and pious language. Prayer is not a spell that we chant using specific words or phrases or tone of voice to be more ‘effective’. In fact, our Father already knows our needs before we ask! God delights in simple, honest prayer from us that do not try to impress Him or others with our language – He simply wants us to come to Him humbly, acknowledging His sovereignty and trusting in His will.
The prayer that our Lord Jesus taught us is in fact one of the simplest and shortest prayers that we can learn to pray often. As I meditated on it, I began to see God’s purpose for prayer:
- “Our Father in heaven,”
- We acknowledge that He is divine, and we are merely human.
- “Hallowed be Thy Name,”
- We seek His name to be revered and glorified in all things
- “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
- First and foremost, we seek His will, not our will, to be done.
- “Give us this day our daily bread,”
- We ask for nothing more, nothing less than what we need daily – trusting that our Father knows our needs best and that His provision is sufficient.
- “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
- The prayer pre-supposes that we have already forgiven our debtors before we ask for forgiveness ourselves. We should not dare to ask for forgiveness when we have an unforgiving spirit!
- “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
- Now, we know that God does not tempt us as James says “he himself tempts no one”, so this sentence is instead a dependence on God to keep us from sin that we are so apt to fall into.
Hence, we can see that prayer is not merely words, but involves the right attitudes of our hearts towards God. It requires us to acknowledge His divinity, to seek His glory and will. It requires us to exercise trust and dependence in Him, and forgiveness on our part towards others. Prayer requires faith in God! When we pray, our prayers should reflect what we know and believe about God. Do our prayers recognise that He is all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful? Do we pray as if we know better than Him what is best for us?
Prayer is not merely a means of sending requests to God – it is a posture of dependence and faith in Him and acknowledgement of who He is.
Hence, when we come back to Paul’s exhortation to “…pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”, we realise that it is not simply telling God a list of needs and wants, but acknowledging our dependence on Him in every aspect of our lives. God is pleased when we put our faith not in our own strength, but in Him.
“With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Every day, we are involved not in a physical battle, but an invisible battle in the spiritual realms. Prayer keeps us alert and aware of the spiritual realities going on behind the scenes. As we equip ourselves for service and ministry, we must not neglect the crucial aspect of prayer that turns our eyes away from the to-do list and the earthly distractions to refocus our gaze on our Heavenly Father whom we seek to please.
Yes, we do need to make sure that the planning and logistics are done well – but unless we come together to pray and seek the Lord’s blessing earnestly, we are merely running a show by the strength of our own hands. Do we sometimes feel weary or burdened in our service to Him? Let us come to Him in a posture of humility, through prayer, to renew our hearts and minds to depend and put our faith in Him.