All of us will face spiritual battles but as believers we haven't been left to fight off the attacks of the evil one on our own.
Christians have been given crucial this section of Ephesians 6, and particularly the matter of spiritual warfare. And now, this morning, here in the eighteenth verse, we look together at what the Spirit of God places in our hands as weaponry against the evil one—namely, prayer. Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. And we'll go on later in our studies to be struck, I think, by the remarkable fact that Paul, although he is a model, if you like, of spiritual prayerfulness, is himself asking for the prayers of those to whom he writes.
I want you to pray for me also, he says. Now, before we actually come to consider this comprehensive call—for you will notice that there are four Als here, which help us, praying at all times, with all prayer, alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints—before we look to that, I want us first of all to acknowledge that there are some, perhaps many, aspects of prayer that we do not understand. I want to consider this morning just under three words, and the first word is the word mystery.
Mystery. If you go to the New Testament, John chapter 11, and the raising of Lazarus—a quite remarkable little incident for all kinds of reasons. We see that God not only ordains the end, but he ordains the mean to the end.
Christopher Ash has been a great help to me in this. John 11. Jesus is deeply moved at the death of his friend Lazarus.
God the Father has chosen to raise Lazarus in answer to Jesus' prayer. And you will notice that Jesus, when he prays, speaks out loud, and he says, Father, I know that you hear me. I know that you always hear me. But I only said this so that those who are around me here will understand exactly what is going on.
That's at the end of 41 and the beginning of 42. I thank you that you've heard me. I knew that you always hear me. I said this on account of the people standing around so that they may believe that you sent me.
And when he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice. And so God the Father chose to raise Lazarus in answer to Jesus' prayer, and in no other way. Had Jesus not prayed for Lazarus to be raised, the Father would not have raised him.
For God had ordained the end—namely, the raising of Lazarus—and the means to that end—namely, the prayers of his Son. Well, you say, I'm not sure. Seems mysterious, doesn't it? Of course it is.
Of course it is. Consider God's eternal purpose. Ephesians begins with the eternal purpose of God, the electing love of God. From eternity, he says, I have planned to save people, to put together a company that nobody can number, which we finally see in its fulfillment, prophetically, in Revelation chapter 7.
And now here is this great company from every tribe and nation and language and people and tongue. That is God's eternal purpose. How has he achieved that purpose? How do the prayers of the people of God intersect with that purpose? Is he simply going to have that company that no one can number, irrespective of anything else?
No. Otherwise, why would Jesus have said to his followers, Pray, therefore, the Lord of the harvest, that he might send out laborers into his harvest? So that the prayers of God's people, that are then raising up the servants of God, who are then declaring the word of God in the hearing of those whom God has made, is the means whereby God fulfills his purpose from all of eternity—to have a people that are his very own. This is a mystery. I don't know all the answers to all my questions about prayer.
And I never will, until I'm finally in the position where prayer is no longer necessary. On that day, we will know, even as we are known. So, because something is a mystery, it doesn't mean that it is to be neglected. In actual fact, although much of this is beyond our comprehension, prayer is also an absolute necessity.
So it's a mystery. Secondly, it's a necessity. The writer of Hebrews tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God. And our prayers are an exercise, are an expression of our faith. You see, when you hear people talking about faith in generic terms, or when you hear people talking about prayer, you have to hear that in light of what the Bible says—that there is one mediator between God and man, and that is the man Christ Jesus. So that God the Father hears the prayers offered in Jesus' name through the merits of Christ, quickened and enabled by the Holy Spirit. And one of the great expressions of the fact that a man or a woman is now in Christ is that they actually pray.
They both listen to God in his Word, and they talk to God in prayer. They may have specific times. They should.
We should. They may, in a very ongoing way throughout the day, acknowledge his presence and so on. It is a remarkable thing, is it not? I've told you in the past—I know I have a vivid imagination—but I sometimes imagine what it would be like to have keys to have access to Buckingham Palace. Or not just to have a card that got me in, but maybe to have Queen Elizabeth's mobile number, so that I could call her. Queen Elizabeth, Your Majesty, may I ask your opinion on this?
Do you have a comment on that? How amazing would it be if, as she got ready to hang up, she said, Alistair, call me anytime? Wow! If I could do that, I'd come in here, and I could impress you, not just imagining it, but telling you it's actually happened. Look!
Look here! You would say, What a person of influence! How amazing to make such contact with such power and such might! Loved ones, that pales before what we're saying here! What a friend we have in Jesus! All our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. Or, in the words of another hymn writer, yet all who know the worth of prayer will long to be more often there.
You see how important it is that we don't allow the mystery to tie us up. Well, how much do you need to know to go to your father and ask him for something? That he is your father, that he loves you, that he hears you, and he's happy to provide for you.
That's all you need to know. In the same way—in a remarkable way—the necessity of prayer removes it from the realm of luxury. It is a privilege, but it is not a luxury. One of the ways to handle these kinds of questions, I find, is to ask myself of a certain area, How does this function in the life of Christ? Would it be an overstatement for us to say that Jesus understood the necessity of prayer? You see, it makes perfect sense, because there is… Every other aspect of the Christian life depends upon prayer. That's why, when we've done these pieces of the armor, we've been keeping in mind the phrase from the hymn again, Put on the gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer. So that every dimension of our lives is dependent upon our prayers. It's a necessity. Well, you can do your own study.
I'll just get you started. But I'm suggesting to you that Jesus understood perfectly prayer to be a necessity. Beginning of Mark's Gospel, Mark 1, and we read, And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
Wow! Jesus got up early in the morning to pray. Didn't he know what his Father was planning to do?
Yes. John 17, in his high priestly prayer, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and he said, Father, holy Father, keep them in your name, righteous Father, even though the world doesn't know you, I know you. Amazingly, in the garden of Gethsemane, and he withdrew from the disciples about a stone's throw and knelt down and prayed, saying, Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Tell me that you're not there in the realm of both mystery and necessity.
Oh, yes, you are. The writer to the Hebrew summarizes it perfectly for us. During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death. Surely, it cannot be that prayer was a necessity for Jesus and simply an unexplored activity for me. A necessity for Christ and an option for me.
Can it be? The third word, and the final word, is the word activity. Activity.
There is something that is taking place here. This is not some kind of emotional dimension. The alls are going to make that clear to us when we come to them. That covers, if you like, the what of our praying. But we need to end by focusing on the how of our praying. And we have something of that in this little phrase, in the Spirit. Praying at all times in the Spirit. Now, instead of viewing this as a certain way to pray, as one option amongst many, I think we would be better to think of it as the only way to pray.
If you look around, if you check in different places, you will find that people have all kinds of ideas on this. Some want to tie it to 1 Corinthians 12 and the notion of speaking in tongues and so on. It's not for us now to enter into a debate concerning these things. Suffice it to say, I do not believe that that is what Paul is talking about here.
Your sensible people, consider these things. No, it is to pray in the Spirit. It is the only way to pray. In this sense—you remember in John chapter 4, where Jesus is talking with the lady at the well? And in the course of their dialogue, the issue is raised about Gerizim and Jerusalem as a place of public worship. And remember, Jesus says, the hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Now, what does Jesus mean by that? It is quite common for people to suggest that what Jesus is saying there is this. Anyone can worship anywhere just as long as they are sincere.
But he's not saying that. What he is saying is this—that only those who receive the Holy Spirit can worship God at all. It is only in the Spirit, by the Spirit, through the Spirit, that both worship and prayer as a constituent part of worship then takes place. If you add to that what Paul says concerning our union with Christ in Romans chapter 8—in a wonderful, helpful chapter in this regard—I think you will begin to follow along with me. Romans chapter 8, verse 6. To set the mind on the flesh is death. To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, it doesn't submit to God's law, it cannot—those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Verse 9. You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not of the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Now, what Paul is teaching there is that our adoption into God's family—and he uses this phraseology down there in, what, verse 15—you didn't receive the spirit of slavery, you received the spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba Father, the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.
This is what happens to us in Christ, so that we're not trying to engage with a deity that is up and out and beyond and who knows where. But we are actually in our very being saying, Father, you are my Father. I can call upon you today because you have adopted me as your child. You have placed your Spirit within me.
And it is because you have come and done this for me and made me your own that I may approach you in this way. What are we saying? We're saying this—that our adoption into the family of God is the foundation of our prayer and is the basis for our asking. It's one of the reasons that unbelievers, although they may call out to God, they never call him Father. You'll never hear an unbeliever referring to God as Father, except perhaps in a perfunctory working of the Lord's Prayer.
But in terms of personal discourse, no. It is unique to the believer. Other religions do not address God in that way.
Why? Because they do not know God as he has revealed himself savingly in the person of Jesus. And Jesus is the one who used this as the very basis of his encouragement to them. He says, If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?
He's arguing from the lesser to the greater. So, in other words, what are we saying? We're saying at least this—that this prayer, then, is not mechanical. Rather, it is spiritual.
My old boss, in a wonderful sentence, sounds out an amazing challenge. He says, As my pulse is one of the primary indications of my physical life, so my praying is one of the principal proofs of my spiritual life. As my pulse is one of the key indications of my physical life, so my praying is one of the primary proofs of my spiritual life. You see how challenging that is? It's not you're taking cookies over to your grandmother and putting a rug over her knees. It's not me standing up here preaching.
It's not whatever else it is that we like to think we can take credit for. No, he says, the real issue is the prayers. What a challenge. Our ultimate position as Christians is tested by the character of our prayer life.
Let's broaden it. Our ultimate position as a church is tested by the character of our prayer life. Says Lord Jones, if all my knowledge of God does not lead to prayer, there is something wrong somewhere.
Even the putting on of the armor. I understand about righteousness. I understand about the shoes. I understand about everything.
Well, what does all that knowledge mean to you, Begg? Have you found that you've bowed your knees more before the Father in relationship to this? Prayed more for the concerns of the congregation, for the needs of our society, for the tragic circumstances of an immoral world in which we live?
Well, we need to draw to a close. But instead of viewing this, then, in the Spirit, instead of viewing it as something ecstatic and emotional, as we might be tempted to do, I suggest to you we ought to think of it as something very basic and very spiritual—in this, that to pray in the Spirit is to be prompted, enabled, and guided by the Word of God. The way it appears here in English, you will notice it doesn't start with the Spirit and then go to prayer. The picture is not of waiting for the enabling of the Spirit in order that we might pray, but it is rather praying and discovering his assistance as we do so. I think we have to tie this back to 518 being filled with the Holy Spirit, with Colossians 3 16, where the Word of Christ, in the filling of the Spirit, works in us richly. So that in this way, our prayers are both fueled by the outpouring of the Spirit and framed by the Word of God. Says Calvin, We're not to ask God for more than he allows. For even though he bids us pour out our hearts before him, he still does not slacken the reins to stupid and wicked emotions.
Praying in the Spirit, we ask God for what we know is pleasing to him and for the things he has promised to do. Again, if you argue from the lesser to the greater, it makes sense. That's why Jesus says, Which if your son asked for a fish would give him a stone? Or would give him a serpent?
One final observation. Let's tie this in with praying in Jesus' name. It's one of the other questions that always emerges. Why is it that we say, In Jesus' name? Why is it that we pray for Jesus' sake? What are we actually doing when we say that? Is it just a sort of little formula, a nice way to close things off? Is it a sort of magical code that you tack it on to the end of your prayers, and if you say it, then you're pretty well guaranteed success?
Well, some I think may feel so, but no, it's not at all. To pray in Jesus' name is to be in the Spirit. To be in the Spirit is to be trusting the Lord Jesus' saving work as the sole ground of our access to God. The hymn writers have got it perfectly well. Approach my soul, the mercy seat, Where Jesus answers prayer, And humbly fall before his feet.
For none can perish there. Your promise is my only plea. To you alone I cry, For burdened souls in you are free, And such, O Lord, am I. We come to him with our burdens, with our fears, with our failures, with our expectations, with our hopes and our dreams, and we come to him and say, Father, by the Holy Spirit, in the name of your dearly beloved Son, I ask you, would you give me good gifts? Would you pour out your Spirit upon me? Would you pour out your Spirit upon our church?
Would you honor the prayer of the followers of Jesus as we make it our own? Lord, teach us to pray. We've been looking at the mystery, the necessity, and the activity of prayer today. Alistair Begg has been challenging each one of us to become people who pray as God intends.
This is Truth for Life with another Encore 2022 message from Alistair Begg. The more we understand who God is and what he's done for his people, the more natural it becomes for us to pray to him and to trust in his promises. That's one of the reasons why we teach the Bible and only the Bible every day here on Truth for Life. It's also why we recommend a book titled God Is, a devotional guide to the attributes of God. As you read this book, you will find it easier to pray to a God who is, among other things, good and patient and merciful and wise.
The author shows us how these characteristics are revealed in Jesus and he also gives us practical suggestions for how we can apply this knowledge to our everyday lives. Request your copy of the book God Is when you give a donation today. Tap the picture in the app or visit us online at truthforlife.org slash donate. Of course you can always call us if you'd like. Our number is 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for joining us today. Most people would agree we live in a fallen world, a broken world, and there's a lot of debate about how to fix it. But the real question is, is there a solution that works? Join us tomorrow to find out. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-06 09:59:41 / 2023-03-06 10:07:55 / 8