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Watch and Pray - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:18-20


I invite you to turn with me again to Ephesians chapter 6. We are near the end of this great letter. Within the next few weeks, we'll be finishing it up, but we come to a crucial passage today on the issue of our armor and how it's to be put on.

This week I read really a fascinating story, a story about a man by the name of Hiroo Onoda. Hiroo Onoda was born on March 19, 1922. He served as a Japanese officer in their army during World War II. On December of 1944, he was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines and there his orders were to do whatever he could to wreak havoc on the island and to resist the enemy's advance at all cost. His orders specifically stated that under no circumstances was he to surrender or to take his own life. It was about two months later in February of 1945 that U.S. and Philippine forces took Lubang Island. Soon, all but Onoda and three other soldiers had either been killed in the assault or had surrendered. Onoda was a lieutenant, an officer, and so he ordered not only himself, but the three men who remained to head to the hills and to continue their guerrilla activities from there which they did.

The first time they saw a leaflet that claimed the war was over was some eight months later in October of 1945. They saw the leaflet, but they dismissed it as enemy propaganda intended to get them simply to surrender, to give themselves up. They continued to battle. One of the four decided he had had enough of the war, and he abandoned his three friends and surrendered himself to the Philippine forces in 1950. The two other men that were with Onoda eventually died or were killed by shots returned from their own fire against the Philippine army.

One source describes what happens later in this way: "Eventually Onoda met a Japanese college dropout, Norio Suzuki, who was travelling the world and looking for Lieutenant Onoda, a panda and the abominable snowman in that order. Onoda and Suzuki became friends, but Onoda rather still refused to surrender saying that he was waiting for orders from a superior officer. Suzuki returned to Japan with the photographs of himself as proof of their encounter and the Japanese government located Onoda's commanding officer during World War II. They located him. They flew him to Lubang Island and on March the 9, 1974, this officer informed Onoda of the defeat of the Japanese army and ordered him to lay down his arms. Lieutenant Onoda emerged from the jungle wearing his uniform and sword some twenty-nine years after the end of World War II and accepted his commanding officer's order of surrender. He still had with him a rifle in operating condition, five hundred rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades.

There's a man who took his responsibility and reliance on his commanding officers maybe a little too far. He was completely dependent on his commanding officer. He said, "I was ordered to be here and until I hear from a commanding officer that anything has changed, I will be here." So, without that order, he continued to fight for thirty years.

While we don't exercise that lack of judgment because we have a commanding officer who's always present, what struck me about that story is that the very same attitude of complete reliance and dependence on a commanding officer is the attitude that Paul encourages us to have in the spiritual war in which we're engaged in Ephesians chapter 6.

In Ephesians 6, we're studying the paragraph that begins in verse 10 and runs down through verse 20. The theme of this paragraph is in the war of the Christian life, we can only stand firm in the strength of Christ and with the armor of God. Over many weeks now, we've looked at this paragraph. As Paul develops that theme, these eleven verses divide into three parts or three movements. The first movement comes in verses 10 to 13 and we've entitled it "Understand Your Orders." Understand your orders. Just as Onoda had orders, we have orders. Verse 10 says: "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might." How? By putting on (verse 11) the full armor of God. Why? What's the objective? What are we trying to accomplish? Verse 11 says: "Put on the full armor of God, so that [here are our orders] you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil"—against the tactics, the military strategies, of the devil.

He has a lot of different strategies and tactics, but we looked at the three main strategies he uses in our lives: he attacks the Word of God. That's the first one. He attacks the Word of God. He gets us to doubt its truthfulness, to doubt its sufficiency, to simply disobey it. He attacks the Scripture and he's done that from the very beginning in the Garden. Secondly, he intimidates with fear and persecution. We see that across the world today. There are Christians who are being intimidated. That's the image Peter gives to those persecuted believers in Peter when he says in his epistle when he says the devil is like a roaring lion going around seeking whom he may devour—fear and intimidation through persecution. I think the third primary strategy of Satan is the one most of us face most often and that is he tries to seduce us with an endless stream of personal temptations. Yes, not only are we tempted from our own hearts, by our own cravings, James says, but we face external temptations that awaken those cravings, and those external temptations have their ultimate source in Satan himself and in the system, the demonic system he's established—temptations intended to trip us up. The bottom line is Satan knows you. His emissaries know you and they know your weaknesses and they know how to structure your environment in order to tempt you and seduce you into sin.

In verse 12, as Paul goes on to explain our orders, he says you better understand the nature of the war in which you're engaged. He says it's universal—"our." There's nobody excluded. Paul includes himself and all the Ephesians—"our struggle." It's personal. The word "struggle" has to do with hand-to-hand combat, wrestling. It's personal. It happens in the mind. It's a spiritual war. It "is not against flesh and blood" verse 12 says. And it's supernatural. And he goes on to list the spiritual forces that are wicked that are set against us. Paul's big point in verses 10 through 13 is that the enemy we are fighting every day in close hand-to-hand combat, that is, in our minds, that enemy is too powerful for us. It's not just a matter of expending the right amount of human effort. But here's the good news. Christ is able to make us stand by giving us His own strength. And how does He give us His own strength? By letting us use His own personal armor.

That brings us to the second part of the paragraph. The first movement is "Understand Our Orders." The second part or the second movement is "Put on God's Armor." Put on God's armor in verses 14 to 17. And we've been through this in great detail. Let me just remind you of what each piece stands for. The belt of truth is a growing knowledge of Biblical truth. The breastplate of righteousness: the practical application of our justification. The shoes or sandals of the gospel: a growing confidence in the personal implications of the gospel of peace, the gospel that brought peace between God and us. The shield of faith: unwavering trust in God and in His Word. The helmet of salvation: a settled confidence in our salvation. And last week, we looked at the sword of the Spirit: the timely use of the propositions of Scripture to defend against Satan's lies and temptations just as our Lord did in His own temptation. That's the armor we're to put on.

Today we come to the third movement, the third part of this paragraph. And we could entitle this third movement "Develop a Soldier's Mindset." We're supposed to put on the right armor, but then we have to develop the right mindset. We must develop the mindset of a soldier. And we see this in verses 18 to 20. Look at those verses. Paul writes:

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

Now at first glance, it could seem like those verses are completely disconnected from the rest of this armor passage. Instead, they are directly connected. They are directly related to our spiritual war. They emphasize the importance of prayer in resisting Satan's attacks on our souls. How do I know that? Well, in the English text, our translations typically put a period and start a new sentence either at the end of verse 17 as in the NAS or in the middle of verse 18 as in the ESV and some other translations. But in the Greek text, the sentence begins in verse 17, with the beginning of verse 17, and doesn't end until the end of verse 20. And so, this paragraph or these words on prayer are part of the same sentence with putting on the armor.

In fact, there are actually no verbs in the Greek text in verses 18 to 20—no verbs. There are only two participles. In verse 18 in our text, they're translated as "pray" (that's actually "praying" in the Greek text) and "be on the alert" which is really "being on the alert" or "watching," both of them participles. Those are the only verbals in those three verses. They go back and modify the rest of the sentence. Essentially, they go back to the very beginning and say, "stand firm by putting on the armor and praying." That's Paul's point.

Now you can immediately see how these two words, "praying" and "watching," fit well with the theme of being a soldier. After all, as we have already observed with Onoda, a soldier relies completely on his commanding officer for his orders, for his supplies, for everything he needs to wage war. In fact, much of boot camp is essentially teaching the recruits that they must not think on their own, but instead must instinctively respond to their commanding officer. That's why one of the major strategies of war is to disrupt that command structure because it leaves individual soldiers alone and confused. What we're really talking about here is the proper mindset or attitude of a soldier is reliance or dependence on one's commanding officer. That's really what we're talking about—a spirit of dependence.

There's a perfect image of this in the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages when a man had achieved a measure of greatness and was going be knighted by the king, he would spend the night before that ceremony in the castle chapel or church on his face in prayer with his actual pieces of armor spread out in front of him. That's the idea that Paul is saying here. Put on your armor that way. In the words of the old hymn, "Put on the gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer." We are to put on the armor—that is, we are to apply the truth of the gospel to our minds and hearts. We're to resist Satan with the truth. But we are not to put on the armor, we're not to do that, as if we were capable of standing against Satan alone. In fact, the truth is you can talk to yourself all day long about the truths we've learned from the armor, but if you aren't praying, you will certainly fail.

You see, putting on the armor isn't a mechanical process. You put in "A" you get out "B." It doesn't work that way. The armor is not magical. Knowing the truth and even applying the truth is not enough. We must do so with a spirit of dependence and reliance on our commanding officer. And how do we as Christian soldiers show that spirit of dependence or reliance? We do so through prayer. The psalm often comes to my mind that says, "Trust in the Lord, you people. Trust in the Lord." And how do we manifest that trust? The second line says: "Pour out your hearts before Him." That's how we manifest our dependence, our reliance, on our commanding officer—through prayer. We are to pray that God would make the armor—that is, the application of the truth to ourselves—effective.

Isn't that what the sixth petition of the Lord's Prayer urges us to do? You remember it? Our Lord says you're to pray like this. And He gives us this list of petitions. The last petition says pray this: "And lead us not into temptation." Now obviously God doesn't tempt anyone to evil. James says that. So, what He means is: Lord, don't allow us to be led into a temptation in which we'll fall. That's what He's saying. Don't allow us to be led into a temptation in which we will fall and the second part of it says this: "and deliver us from [literally] the evil one." We are to pray, "God, deliver my soul from the enemies that would destroy me." We are to pray and that's to be a regular part of our prayer. Deliver us from the evil one. John Calvin in commenting on that sixth petition says, "We conclude from this petition that we have no strength for living a holy life except so far as we obtain it from God. Whoever implores the assistance of God to overcome temptations acknowledges that unless God deliver him, he will be constantly falling." Amen and amen.

This is what our Lord did. You remember in Luke 22 with Peter, He said Peter, "Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat [Satan wants to destroy you, Peter, destroy your faith]; but I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not." Even our Lord prayed for protection for His own from the evil one, from Satan.

By the way, He prayed the same thing in John 17, the High Priestly Prayer, John 17:15. Listen to what He says. "I do not ask You to take them out of the world [talking about His disciples], but to keep them [Father] from the evil one." Guard them. Protect them from the enemies of their souls. That's exactly what you and I are to be praying for ourselves and others. We are to put on the armor, but we're to ask God to make that armor effective in resisting Satan's attacks. Deliver me, O God, from the evil one.

Now returning to Ephesians chapter 6, the emphasis in verses 18 to 20 lies on the participle "praying." It's translated "pray" in our translations—"praying." Everything else in these verses really modifies that. So, in these three verses, Paul explains how we should pray so that our souls are guarded and protected. And he explains how we should pray in a series of prepositional phrases. You see, there's one prepositional phrase after another and each prepositional phrase tells us more about how we should pray. Let's look at them, see if we can unpack some of what is condensed in verse 18.

Notice first of all, we are to pray with all kinds of prayer and petition, with all kinds of prayer and petition. Notice how verse 18 begins: "[praying] with all prayer and petition." "With all prayer"—in other words, with all kinds of prayer is what he's saying. The Greek word "prayer" is a general word. It's just a word that implies simply talking to or communicating with God regardless of the content of what is said. It's like the Puritans used to define it, it's opening up of our heart before God. That's all prayer is. It's opening up your heart up before God. That's this word, very general word.

Here Paul says with all kinds of prayers, be praying. There are many different kinds of prayers. There's private prayer and public prayer. There's individual prayer and corporate prayer. There's spoken prayer out loud and then there's prayer that just occurs in the mind and heart. There's prayer that's planned and there's prayer that's informal. There's prayer that's lengthy, our Lord prayed for long periods of time at a time, and then there are prayers that are what theologians call ejaculatory—that is, they're just on the spur of the moment. Sometimes the most effective prayer is one word—"help." I have prayed that, and you probably have as well. All kinds of prayer but notice the assumption here behind what Paul is saying is that a Christian will pray. Why? Well, because we're now children of a Father. What do children do when they find themselves in trouble or when they need something? What do children do? They find a parent. "Dad! Mom!" That's what Paul says in Romans. We've been given the spirit of adoption. We understand now who our Father is and so what happens when we need something or when we're in trouble? We cry out, "Abba!" That's natural.

It's also commanded. The Bible commands us to pray. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus says, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." We're to ask and we're to seek and we're to knock. Philippians 4:6, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Pray and ask God. It's a command. It's what Christians do. In fact, Martin Luther wrote: "Let the man who fails to pray not imagine that he is a Christian. You cannot find a Christian without prayer just as you cannot find a living man without a pulse." It's natural. Prayer is to the Christian life what breathing is to the spiritual life. It is essential. It is natural. It happens, but it doesn't happen enough. Sometimes we have unhealthy spiritual lungs that don't breathe enough, are unexercised.

Perhaps nowhere do we see firsthand the importance of prayer than we do in the life of our Lord. His life was a life of prayer. Look back at Hebrews—Hebrews chapter 5, verse 7. The writer of Hebrews, talking about Christ, says: "In the days of His flesh [that is, during His earthly life], He offered up both prayers and supplications [by the way, those are two words that come from Ephesians as well; they're there. He offered up both prayers and supplications] with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered." Did you notice that? In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears.

You know, maybe you've been tempted to think that Jesus prayed a lot because you know, after all, for eternity He had enjoyed communion with the Father and now He wasn't with the Father and so He just wanted to spend some time with the Father. That's really what His praying was all about. Listen, that wasn't why Jesus prayed because Jesus' humanity didn't change the reality of His deity. His divine nature didn't change when He took on humanity. Though His human nature was bound to a body and one place at a time, His divine nature continued as it had before the incarnation to fill all of time and space. The communion that the Son had enjoyed with the Father from all eternity continued throughout His earthly life with the exception of those six hours on the cross when He cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Listen, Jesus didn't pray because He was God missing His Father. He prayed because He was a human being and acknowledged His reliance and dependence on the Father as a human being. And in that, He becomes a perfect model and example for us. We should, as our Lord did, offer up all kinds, as Hebrews says here, of prayers and petitions.

Now back in Ephesians chapter 6, notice Paul adds all kinds of prayers and petitions. In classical Greek, that word "petition" originally meant "a need" or "a lack." So eventually, it came to mean the request for somebody to meet that need or to meet that lack. It comes from a verb that means "to plead" or "to beg." It refers specifically, the word "petition" does, to requests from God to do something, requests for God, I should say, to do something. "I want you to do this. God, please do this." It is a request for God. That's a petition. So here Paul says I want you as a believer to have a life of prayer that includes all kinds of prayers and petition.

You say what does that look like? Well, let me give you a little helpful resource that I learned many years ago. Many of you may, maybe know as well. Some of you may not and you'll find it very helpful, I think. It's the acronym ACTS, A-C-T-S, A-C-T-S. Each of those letters stands for something that should be a part of our prayer life. "A" is for adoration, adoration. And the Psalms do this all the time. They adore God for who He is and what He's done. They praise Him and exalt Him and rejoice in who He is. That's adoration and that's really where our prayers begin.

The second letter, "C" stands for confession, confession of sin. We adore God. We praise Him. We bless Him for who He is and what He's done. And we confess our sin to Him. This is part of our prayer. It's a crucial part of prayer. You see this in many of the psalms: Psalm 32, Psalm 51, other penitential psalms. You see it throughout the Bible—confession. This becomes absolutely crucial because if we don't confess our sins and we get to our petitions, to our requests of God, listen, God doesn't have to hear and in fact, He won't. Isaiah 59 says, "The Lord's hand is not so short that it can't save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear [God can hear just fine]. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear." Listen, if you don't confess your sin, God isn't going to hear your request. So, we do what 1 John 1:9 tells us to do. The Greek word there by the way for confess is "homo" from which we get the word "same," "homosexual," etc. Homologeo—it means "to say the same." It means "I say the same thing in judgment about my sin that God would say in judgment about my sin." I own it the way He would cause me to own it if He were judging me for that sin. I confess it. I judge my own sin before God. That's what it means to confess it. And when I do that, He's faithful and just to forgive me my sin, to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. There's adoration. There's confession.

Thirdly, that "T" stands for thanksgiving, thanksgiving. Again, many of the psalms begin and end with thanksgiving—expressing thanks to God for all that He does, for all of His benefits, for all of His blessings, temporal and spiritual. I'll tell you myself, I don't do it in exactly this order, but it messes up the acronym. I typically combine adoration and thanksgiving so, you know, it kind of messes up the word, but whatever. The point is to get these elements in.

And then the last, the "S" is supplication—not a word we use a lot, but it makes the acronym work. Supplication—it means making requests for ourselves and interceding for others, requests for ourselves and others. And by the way, we can ask God for physical needs. One of the six petitions in the Lord's Prayer is about physical needs, but don't stop there. There are five other requests, five other petitions, in the Lord's Prayer—three of them about us and only one is about physical needs. So, ask God's intervention for others. By the way, read Ephesians chapter 1, verses 18 to 23. See Paul's prayer. Look at Ephesians 3, verses 14 to 21. That's how we're to intercede or request God to intervene in the lives of others as well as in our own lives.

ACTS—it's a great acronym. Use that—many kinds of prayer and petition, all kinds. That's how we're to pray.

There's a second prepositional phrase back in Ephesians 6 that tells us how to pray. Notice verse 18 says: "pray at all times," praying at all times. The Greek word for "times" there may imply on all occasions, meaning in all different kinds of circumstances, whatever the circumstances are. Pray when it's necessary and boy, there are times when prayer is necessary, aren't there? You ever had those times when your world comes crashing in and what do you do? You pray. Pray when it's necessary and pray when it isn't. Pray at all times. Pray when everything is going great and life looks wonderful and you're sailing along—a constant devotion to prayer regardless of the circumstances.

By the way, that was the pattern of the early church. Look at Acts chapter 1. Acts chapter 1, verse 14—the hundred and twenty that are gathered in the upper room. Verse 14 says: "These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer." You say well yeah, well that's because they were praying for Pentecost to come. They were praying for the coming of the Spirit. Okay, let's go after Pentecost. Look at Acts 2, verse 42. Verse 41 says about three thousand were added to the church that day on Pentecost. And those who believed, "They were continually devoting themselves to [four things] the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread [the Lord's Table] and to prayer." They were devoting themselves continually to prayer.

This was the example of the apostle Paul. In Colossians 1:9, he says: "we have not ceased to pray for you." First Thessalonians 3:10, "night and day [we] keep praying most earnestly." Second Timothy 1:3, "I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day." You say, well yeah, but that's the apostle Paul. Well, we're commanded to do the same thing. Romans chapter 12, verse 12: "[be] devoted to prayer." Colossians 4:2, "Devote yourselves to prayer." First Thessalonians 5:17, "pray without ceasing." Our kids love that verse. It's one of the easiest to memorize, but it says something profound. Pray without ceasing. Paul doesn't mean every moment of every day you're to have your head bowed and be in prayer. That's not what he's saying. He's saying prayer is to be a constant, daily pattern of life. You're to be devoted to it. Listen, can you honestly say you are devoted to a regular pattern of prayer in your life? Is prayer a consistent, daily pattern? That's the command. Pray at all times.

There's a third prepositional phrase. Verse 18 says "praying in the Spirit." What does that mean, praying in the Spirit? Paul's commentary on that little expression is in Romans chapter 8. Look at Romans 8. I love this. Romans chapter 8—very encouraging passage, one you're familiar with. He's just described our battle with sin in Romans chapter 7. In chapter 8, he's talked about the fact that we're not yet all that we want to be. We groan to be like Jesus Christ. We long to be completely redeemed body and soul and we hope and wait for it, verse 25. But in the meantime, that isn't true. What do we do now? Verse 26, Romans 8:26, "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness [how?]; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." And verse 27 says and He knows how to communicate with God because He is in fact God. What is this saying? This is saying that there are times when you and I don't know how to pray or what to pray for. You ever experience that? If you're a believer, I think you probably have. I certainly have. What do I ask? How do I pray? I don't know where to begin. What Paul is saying is the Holy Spirit that indwells you, in that time when you don't know how to pray or what to say, the Holy Spirit knows your heart and the Holy Spirit in a kind of inter-Trinitarian communication explains to the Father all that you desire and need. He intercedes on your behalf just as the Son, the second member of the Trinity, intercedes for us. That's praying in the Spirit.

Jude 20 says we're to "pray in the Holy Spirit." What does that mean? It means the Holy Spirit is the One who directs our prayers. John Calvin writes: "God gives us the Spirit to be the director of our prayers." The Spirit directs your prayer. Martin Luther writes: "The presence of the Spirit of grace grants us the privilege, creates in us the ability, nay the necessity to begin to pray." So, the Spirit not only directs our prayer. The Spirit energizes our prayer, motivates our prayer, pushes us to our knees as it were. And then He empowers our prayers. He enables us to know what to pray for. And when we don't know what to pray for, He intercedes on our behalf with an inter-Trinitarian communication that makes all that clear to God. That's praying in the Spirit.

You say, well how do I do that? How do I pray in the Spirit? Well, when you pray, remind yourself of your complete dependence on the Spirit to even pray. You see, we think we can do some things, right? I mean, we think we have the effort and energy and capacity to do certain things. I can pray. No, you can't. That's the point. Even our prayers need to have a spirit of dependence on the Spirit of God. And ask Him to help.

You know, when I sit down here on Sunday mornings and it's about time for me to come up and preach, a prayer that often comes into my mind and heart comes to me from Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who we're told that every time he mounted a step into his pulpit (he had a high pulpit at that large congregation), every time he mounted a step, he would say to himself, "I believe in the Spirit. I believe in the Spirit." You know what he was doing? He was praying for the Spirit's help to preach. I sit down here and do that. "Spirit, take my feeble efforts and use them in people's hearts. Illumine their understanding. Help them to see beyond my own ability to communicate and grip their soul with it so that it changes them." The same thing needs to happen with our prayers. We need to begin our prayers, in a sense, with the acknowledgment that I don't know how to pray. "Spirit, help me to express my soul to the Father." That's praying in the Spirit.

There's another prepositional phrase, a fourth one, in verse 18. He says: "praying with this in view, being on the alert"—with this in view, being on the alert or watching, literally. We're to pray with alertness. There's only one Greek word for what is translated "be on the alert." We have four words. There's only one Greek word. It literally means "to keep watch like a soldier who keeps watch on the city wall." In fact, it's used that way in the Septuagint in Psalm 127, verse 1: "Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps watch in vain." It means to stay awake and be on guard for danger. That's what it means. Stay awake and be on guard for danger. It's what our Lord meant when He said to His disciples on several occasions, "Watch and pray." Stay alert, there is spiritual danger in the vicinity, and pray. That's what Paul is saying. In our praying, we need to stay constantly on the alert. There is danger around us all the time.

Look back in Mark chapter 14. Mark chapter 14 and look at verse 34. Jesus and His disciples are in the Garden of Gethsemane. I've had the opportunity, as have a number of you, to be in that garden. It's a large garden and He left the disciples in one place, took Peter and James and John with Him a little further, verse 33 says. And then He left them and went a little further Himself alone. Verse 34: "He said to them, 'My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.' [What does that mean? That's our word. Keep watch. Be on the alert.] And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. [In other words, He's not praying that He cannot have the physical suffering. Many martyrs face physical death with joy and eagerness. Instead, He's praying that that separation that happened on the cross, if it's possible for Him to do what He needs to do without that, then let that pass. Verse 36.] He was saying, 'Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.'"

And then He comes back, and He finds the three disciples, Peter, James and John, sleeping. "And He said to Peter, 'Simon, are you asleep? Could you not [here's our word] keep watch for one hour? [Now watch what our Lord says. This makes it all clear, verse 38.] Keep watching and praying [stay on your alert for danger and praying—why? —in order] that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.'" Jesus says listen, there is terrible spiritual danger present. You better stand guard. You better be on the alert and pray.

And that's exactly what Paul is telling us in Ephesians 6. Listen, you may think everything's going great. You may not realize this is happening, but every single day of your life, Satan and his demonic forces are out to destroy your soul. They are trying to bring temptations into your life that will destroy you. They are trying to bring trials and difficulties that will trip you up and make you stumble. They want to destroy you and every day is a day of danger. You can't go on spiritual vacation, Paul's saying. Understand you better stay alert—there is true spiritual danger, your soul is at stake—and do that praying. Don't allow yourself to fall into spiritual complacency or carelessness. Stay awake and alert to the spiritual danger around you every day. And keep praying that God will not lead you into temptation, that He will not allow you to be led into a temptation that'll cause you to fall.

By the way, it was exactly the disciples' failure to do that, to watch and pray, to stay on spiritual guard and pray, that caused them to fail just a few minutes later. The moment of temptation comes, and they were not on watch with prayer, and they failed. Verse 50 of Mark 14 says: "they all left Him and fled." The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. And they ran and fled because they weren't spiritually alert to the danger and praying that God would guard their souls. We must be on the guard, all the time praying.

There's a fifth way we're to pray— "with all perseverance and petition." Perseverance is not a word we use a lot. The Greek word here though simply means "to be obstinate." I can understand that. My wife sometimes accuses me of being, she asks me, "So, you know, what's the good word for stubborn?" "It's persistent, honey. It's persistent. That's the word you mean to use." Perseverance—it means to continue to pray with intensity and to keep on doing so even when there's no answer.

Our Lord taught us this. You remember Matthew 18, the parable He tells? I'm sorry, Luke 18. I said Matthew. Luke 18, verse 1: "Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying [and then He gives His parable], 'In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God, and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, 'Give me legal protection from my opponent.' For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, 'Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.' And the Lord said, 'Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?'" You know what Jesus is saying? If an unrighteous judge will finally relent and give in simply because over and over and over again this lady comes and asks, God is nothing like that, Jesus says. And so, God, surely God will respond to His elect, those He loves. God isn't going be like that. Now He has His own time to answer and His own way and it may not be on our timeframe, but He will respond when we persevere in prayer.

By the way, our persistence doesn't earn a response from God. It's not like God says, "Okay, on the two hundredth time she asks, I'm going give her what she asks." That's not it. Listen, God has simply chosen to answer prayer when it's persistent because it honors Him. And when He answers it, the answer is still unearned. It is still grace, but we're to pray with perseverance. Keep on praying even when you don't see any response.

There are a lot of illustrations of that. My personal favorite illustration comes from my own dad's salvation. Before his conversion, he played the bass fiddle for a night club act. He was almost fifty when I was born and so he actually played music during the big band era. And he played the bass fiddle in this night club act that travelled all over—night after night partying, coming in at the wee hours of the morning. My dad would come home and find my mom asleep. And he told this story often. I have it on tape of his sharing his testimony. He said he'd come in and look down at the bed and see my mom there, knowing that that night earlier, before she'd put the kids to bed, she and the kids that were alive at the time gathered around and prayed for his soul every night, praying that God would save him. To the day of his death, he said he's convinced that it was those persistent prayers that God used to bring him to Christ. I stand before you today because of persistent prayers. Don't give up on God.

Don't forget the context of this passage. We're to pray. Why? The context is standing against Satan and his attacks. The armor is applying the truth of God and we are to accompany that armor with prayer. The two weapons the Spirit has given us to defend against Satan's attacks in our lives are the Word of God—that's the armor, the application of the Word of God to us and our souls—and prayer. The Word of God and prayer—those are our effective weapons. It seems simplistic to say it, but when there are significant spiritual problems in my own life or in the lives of the people I counsel, invariably one or both of these will be missing. There will either not be a serious commitment to the Word of God and applying it in their lives or there will not be a serious commitment to prayer.

We've talked over the last month or two about, or last month rather, how to use God's Word in your own life. Let me give you a couple of practical ideas about prayer as we finish our time, just a couple of thoughts. How do you incorporate prayer into your Christian life? We all know we should. How? Number one: schedule regular times each day to pray. You don't have to pray for an hour each time, but schedule regular times to pray. Listen, every Christian knows he needs to pray. So, what's the difference between those who do and those who don't? The answer is very simple. Those who do pray schedule time to pray. They plan to do it. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't pray on the spur of the moment or that we shouldn't stop in response to something that's happening in our lives. We should. But it means that it is helpful to have regular times each day when we plan to pray.

Jesus did that. You can see in the gospels. He prayed early in the morning often. He prayed late in the evening often. When you look at the lives of the saints, they invariably set aside time to pray. David in Psalm 55:17 said, "Morning and noon and evening . . . God will hear my voice." Daniel in Daniel 6:10 prayed three times each day. The apostles prayed according to Acts. They prayed at the sixth hour, Peter was found praying, the ninth hour they prayed often, so noon and three o'clock. There were times scheduled to pray.

Do you do that? Do you set aside deliberate times each day to pray? John Calvin in The Institutes of the Christian Religion recommends a pattern of daily prayer that I would encourage you to consider. He says: "Commit to pray first of all when you first wake up in the morning, when you're about to begin your day's work, before your meals and as the last thing before you go to sleep at night." He says the reason that is important is "unless we fix certain hours in the day for prayer, it easily slips from our memory." Ever experience that? So, schedule daily times for prayer.

Number two: listen to the series that I preached several years ago on the Lord's Prayer. Recently, I had the opportunity to go back through that myself and was just reminded of so many truths. The Lord gave us a pattern of prayer. His disciples said teach us to pray and the Lord's Prayer was His response. You want to know how to pray? Go through the Lord's Prayer.

Thirdly, thoughtfully once a day pray using the Lord's Prayer as a model. Don't just recite it without any meaning. Use it as a pattern and model your own prayer after it. Work your way through it because in that way, you'll be sure to cover everything God commanded us to pray about. Next week, Lord willing, we'll look at what to pray for. Let's pray together.

Father, I pray that You would make me and our elders and each of us individually and our church corporately to be people who are known for being devoted to prayer. Father, forgive us for not acknowledging our total reliance and dependence on You, by thinking we can apply the Scripture ourselves, we are capable of doing, putting on the armor ourselves without Your help and assistance. Father, I pray that You would remind us that prayer is absolutely essential to win the spiritual war for our souls.

Lord, I pray that You would help us now to resolve by Your grace and by the strength of Your Spirit, to have resolve and to carry out scheduling times in our lives when we will pray intentionally, purposefully, expressing our dependence on You for everything, not for our sakes, O God, but for the glory of Your Son and Your Spirit and Your great name. For we pray in the name of Christ. Amen.


The Sword of the Spirit

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:17b

Watch and Pray - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:18-20

Watch and Pray - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:18-20

More from this Series



The Ephesians Overture - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:1-2

The Ephesians Overture - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:1-2

God's Blueprint for Time & Eternity

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed Beyond Measure

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:3-14

In Christ

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:3

Sovereign (S)election - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:4

Sovereign (S)election - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:4

Sovereign (S)election - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:4-6

Sovereign (S)election - Part 4

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:4-6

Sovereign (S)election - Part 5

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:4-6

Sovereign (S)election - Part 6

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:4-6

Christ's Role in the Drama of Redemption - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:7-12

Still Amazed by Grace

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:8

Christ's Role in the Drama of Redemption - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:7-12

Christ's Role in the Drama of Redemption - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:7-12

Christ's Role in the Drama of Redemption - Part 4

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:7-12

Sealed By the Spirit

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:13-14

Praying For the Person Who Has Everything - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:15-23

Praying For the Person Who Has Everything - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:15-23

Praying For the Person Who Has Everything - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:15-23

Praying For the Person Who Has Everything - Part 4

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:15-23

Praying For the Person Who Has Everything - Part 5

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:15-23

Praying For the Person Who Has Everything - Part 6

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:15-23

This Is Your Life - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:1-10

This Is Your Life - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:1-10

This Is Your Life - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:1-10

This Is Your Life - Part 4

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:1-10

This Is Your Life - Part 5

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:1-10

This Is Your Life - Part 6

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:1-10

This Is Your Life - Part 7

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:1-10

This Is Your Life - Part 8

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:1-10

This Is Your Life - Part 9

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:1-10

Foreigners to God & His People

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:11-13

He Himself Is Our Peace - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:14-18

He Himself Is Our Peace - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:14-18

He Himself Is Our Peace - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:14-18

Our Union with Christ: Three Compelling Illustrations - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:19-22

Our Union with Christ: Three Compelling Illustrations - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:19-22

Our Union with Christ: Three Compelling Illustrations - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 2:19-22

God's Great Secret - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 3:1-13

God's Great Secret - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 3:1-13

God's Great Secret - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 3:1-13

How to Pray for This Church - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 3:14-21

How to Pray for This Church - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 3:14-21

How to Pray for This Church - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 3:14-21

How to Pray for This Church - Part 4

Tom Pennington Ephesians 3:14-21

How to Pray for This Church - Part 5

Tom Pennington Ephesians 3:14-21

How to Pray for This Church - Part 6

Tom Pennington Ephesians 3:14-21

How to Pray for This Church - Part 7

Tom Pennington Ephesians 3:14-21

Walk Worthy!

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:1

Preserving the Unity of the Church

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:2-16

Attitudes: the Petri Dish of Unity

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:2

The Ties that Bind

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:4-6

Our God & General

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:7-10

Church by the Book - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:7, 11-12

Church by the Book - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:7,11-12

Christ's Goal for His Church

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:13

The Implications of Christ's Plan for His Church - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:14-16

The Implications of Christ's Plan for His Church - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:14-16

The Implications of Christ's Plan for His Church - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:14-16

How to Live Like a Pagan - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:17-19

How to Live Like a Pagan - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:17-19

How to Live Like a Pagan - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:17-19

How to Live Like a Pagan - Part 4

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:17-19

Real Change From the Inside Out - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:20-24

Real Change From the Inside Out - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:20-24

Real Change From the Inside Out - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:20-24

Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 4

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 5

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 6

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 7

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Free from the Slavery of Sexual Sin

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:3-14

God's Standard of Sexual Purity

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:3-4a

How to Pursue Sexual Purity - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:4b

How to Pursue Sexual Purity - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:4b

Don't Be Deceived!

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:5-6

Walk As Children of Light

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:7-10

Let Your Light Shine

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:11-14

Watch Where You Step! - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:15-18

Watch Where You Step! - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:15-18

Watch Where You Step! - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:15-18

Watch Where You Step! - Part 4

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:15-18

Three Primary Effects of the Spirit's Influence - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:19-21

Three Primary Effects of the Spirit's Influence - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:19-21

Three Primary Effects of the Spirit's Influence - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:19-21

Three Primary Effects of the Spirit's Influence - Part 4

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:19-21

Three Primary Effects of the Spirit's Influence - Part 5

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:19-21

A Wife's Submission to Her Husband

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:22-24

Husband, Love Your Wife - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:25-33

The Bride of Christ

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:25-27

Husband, Love Your Wife - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:25-33

Husband, Love Your Wife - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:25-33

Husband, Love Your Wife - Part 4

Tom Pennington Ephesians 5:25-33

God's Text to Children

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:1-3

Parenting For Life

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:4

Don't Forget Who You Work For

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:5-9

Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:10-17

Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:10-17

Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 3

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:10-17

Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 4

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:10-17

Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 5

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:10-17

Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 6

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:10-17

Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 7

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:10-17

Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 8

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:10-17

The Belt of Truth

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:14a

The Breastplate of Righteousness

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:14b

The Right Shoes for Battle

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:15

The Shield of Faith

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:16

The Helmet of Salvation

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:17a

The Sword of the Spirit

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:17b

Watch and Pray - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:18-20

Watch and Pray - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:18-20

Do You Love Jesus Christ?

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:24


Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:21-24

The Book of Ephesians

Tom Pennington Ephesians