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September 24, 2023
Heads Down, Eyes Open – Part 1
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Ephesians 6: 18 - 20

Purchase the CD of this sermon.


This powerful series will challenge you to understand your role in the body of Christ. Through the book of Ephesians, Pastor Philip will remind us of the joy and blessings God intends for believers to experience in the church as they live as a united family in Christ.

More From This Series


Grab your Bible and turn to Ephesians 6. We are on the down slope in our study of the book of Ephesians. I want to begin a two-part sermon on prayer, a message I’ve called Heads Bowed, Eyes Open. Heads bowed, eyes open, because Jesus tells us to watch eyes open, to pray heads bowed. We’ve got that same theme here in Ephesians 6:18-20. We’ll do this for two weeks, then we’ll look at verses 21 to 24 in one message. Then, I’m going to do a closing message on Revelation 2:1-7, because that’s a letter to the church at Ephesus some years after this one was written and we’ll see how they fared and how they were doing.
Here we are. Heads bowed, eyes open, Ephesians 6:18-20. Follow along. I’m reading from my copy of holy scripture, the new King James Version. Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the sins. For me that utterance may be given to me that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains that in it I may speak boldly as I ought to speak.
Many of you know, if not most of you, that I spent some six years in the police service in Northern Ireland. During the troubles in the mid-80s, I worked out of North Belfast. Before we ever headed out on a foot patrol or on a vehicle patrol, we did certain things. We certainly get into our uniform and gathered our equipment from belts and body armor and weapons and all of that. Then, we would make our way to the briefing room, where our sergeant would give us what he wanted us to do and give us the latest intel on any IRA movement in the area.
Then, we would head out and we would go to the weapons bay and load our guns. We were always confronted with a sign on the wall of the weapons bay, “Stay Alert, Stay Alive.” Then, the last thing we would do was get our radios working. We would call into uniform or the RUC headquarters. This is Delta Alpha 208, and then they would let us know that they were receiving us loud and clear, because the last thing we did was a thing of first importance. We needed to know that our comms were working, that if we needed to call for help, if we needed information, that was available.
What’s true of every policeman and soldier in terms of the need of good communication, the ability to call for help or ask for information or connect with other patrols or summons reinforcement, it’s also true of the church on spiritual warfare. We need the lines of communication to be open and working, and prayer is our line of communication. It allows us to stay in touch with the head of the church. It allows us to seek wisdom from above. It allows us to obtain mercy and find grace in a time of trouble.
We’ve been studying this text now for a few weeks and we’ve been looking at the issue of spiritual warfare and I want to tell you according to verses 18, 19 and 20, spiritual warfare is fought from a kneeling position. Let me say that again. Spiritual warfare is fought from a kneeling position. When it comes to spiritual warfare, half the battle is prayer and getting to prayer and praying with all prayer. The fact is that we wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this age and we do it best through wrestling with God in prayer.
Ephesians 6:12 tells us we wrestle with spiritual powers, and Colossians 4:12 tells us that Epaphras wrestled for the Colossians in prayer. While we’re wrestling with our enemy, we need to be wrestling with God in prayer. That’s the secret. If you want to be strong in the Lord, then be strong in prayer because that’s the means of being strengthened.
John Bunion said this, “Pray often for prayer is a shield of the soul, a sacrifice to God and a scourge to Satan.” With that in mind, let’s come to Ephesians 6:18-20 this week and next week, Paul has already demonstrated the importance of prayer. In chapter 1:15-23, and in chapter 3:14-21, he tells them that he has mentioned them often in his prayers. He prays for wisdom, he prays for grace, he prays for mercy. He prays that indeed God would do exceedingly abundantly above all that they could ask or think. He’s reminding us here that when it comes to spiritual warfare, victory is found in the development of a vigorous, varied and vital prayer life.
Our best defense against Satan is not rebuking him. Our defense is not rebuking Satan. Our defense is speaking to God who will rebuke Satan. That’s why prayer is the battle. That’s why it’s a battle to pray. Have you found that? I think we’d all sign up to this thought that prayer is critical to spiritual victory in the midst of spiritual war. But praying is hard. In fact, John stat talks about the battle of the prayer threshold of getting down to praying, of committing yourself to praying, and then finding it real hard to start. He says this. “We need to win the battle of the prayer threshold. To help me persevere in prayer, I sometimes imagine a very high stone wall with the living God on the other side of it. In this walled garden, he is waiting for me to come to him. There is only one way into the garden, a tiny door and outside the door stands the devil with a drawn sword ready to stop me.”
It is at this point that we need to defeat the devil in the name of Jesus. This is the battle of the threshold. I think there are many of us who give up praying before we’ve even tried to fight this battle. The best way to win, in my experience, is to claim the promises of scripture, which the devil cannot undo. But I relate to that. Do you not? That battle at the threshold of prayer because the devil knows that this is the key to victory. Satan trembles when he sees the weakest sin upon his knees. That’s why there’s a bottle at the threshold of prayer, and I hope this text inspires us and instructs us and ignites us to a greater fervor in prayer.
Now, let’s put the text in its context ever so quickly just as a little side note. Colossians 4:3-4 are almost parallel to these verses, they echo one another. Here’s the thing, while this is a call to prayer and it’s connected to spiritual warfare, prayer is not the seventh piece in the Christian armor, because you’ll notice that Paul does not attach any military image or metaphor to prayer. This is not the seventh piece of Christian armor. In fact, prayer is that which makes all the pieces effective in our life. Remember the old hymn writer? Put on each piece with prayer? In fact, grammatically, the verbs here praying and watching in verse 18 are connected to verse 14, standing.
The kind of flavor or the meaning of our verses is this. Take your stand praying. Put on the belt of truth praying. Put on the breastplate of righteousness as you pray. Prayer is the power behind the armor, and that’s where we’re at. Let’s look at the text in its context. There’s three things, the incarceration. Paul is an ambassador in chains. I want to talk about that for a minute. Then, we’ll look at the instruction, verse 18, as Paul instructs him to pray always with all prayer and then we’ll look at the invitation, “Pray for me.” The incarceration, the instruction, the invitation.
Let’s deal with the first thought, verse 20. We’re backing into our text. Paul says this about himself. I am an ambassador in chains. If you go back to chapter 3 in verse 1, he’s already informed them that he’s the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the Gentiles. Chapter 4 verse 1, therefore the prisoner of the Lord. Like all Christians, Paul saw himself as an ambassador. Who or what was an ambassador? An ambassador was the representative of a king or a court or a country or a government, who would be sent, commissioned to go to another country on the behalf of his own country. Often, he was sent into war zones to bring ultimatums or peace treaties and the terms of those peace treaties. He was calling those nations to reconcile with his nation.
Paul takes that metaphor and that image and he said, it’s not a good description of a Christian on Earth that we are here to represent King Jesus and we’re to go out into a world that’s an enmity with him in their mind, who fight the purposes of God, who break his law and try to upturn his will. We are to go to them lovingly but with authority and confidence and call them to be reconciled to the God they have offended. There is peace to be had through the blood of his son being shed on the cross to reconcile God with man. That’s where we’re at.
Now, notice the incongruity, irony and insight in the image. He’s an ambassador in chains. This is a little bit of a play on words because, on most occasions, ambassadors and government officials wore these decorative chains made of gold or silver with some governmental insignia. They were to reveal the riches, the power, and the dignity of the government the ambassador represented.
My father, for a time, had the honor of being the Lord mayor of his city. So proud of him. Left school when he was 14, worked in a factory his whole life and yet God honored him where he was the mayor of a city or a borough of 80,000 people just outside Belfast, and he took great pride in his regalia. There is pictures hanging over the house to this day of him in his robes with my mother and his chains of office. These heavy chains, gold and silver and jewels and maybe the city insignia, and that’s what Paul’s referring to, these chains of office, these chains that represent power and glory.
But the irony is, the incongruity is that Paul is a representative of the crucified king and his chains are altogether different. He’s the follower of the suffering savior and he himself is suffering to preach that savior and his chains are imprisonment, literal chains. Now, let’s just run with this for a couple of minutes. Let’s think about Paul’s captivity for a minute. Remember, this is a prison letter. Paul wrote this during his first imprisonment alongside Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. He’s under house arrest. He may be bound to a Roman soldier. He lives in confinement. Although he tells us in Acts 28 that while he is chained, the word of God is not chained and he’s preaching the gospel and the kingdom of God without hindrance. He’s got an external captivity, he’s a prisoner. But he’s got an internal captivity, he’s bound to the will of God and obedience to Jesus Christ no matter what it costs him.
I thought about that. I’ve come up with two thoughts here as we think about the incarceration. I want you to notice number one, God’s sovereignty and number two, gospel service. See chapter 3 in verse 1, chapter 4, in verse 1, are very interesting. On one level, Paul is a prisoner of Nero. He’s under custody of the Roman authorities in Rome. He’s under house arrest. He’s got limited freedom. He’s got an expectation that he will survive this imprisonment, but still the sword of execution hung over his head.
But at another level, Paul sees himself as a prisoner there for Jesus Christ and for the Gentiles. Isn’t that beautiful? See, Paul never saw himself as a victim of tough circumstances. Paul didn’t believe that cold and indifferent fate had dealt him a bad hand. No, Paul believed that he was where God wanted him to be. Let me just say that. In Rome, under house arrest, during imprisonment, Paul believes he is where God wanted him to be. I’m a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m under his lordship and his providence is working in this situation. There’s no move that man can make that God that will check me at a sovereign God.
In fact, Paul in the letter to the Philippians and other prison epistle around this time during these events, he tells us in chapter 1 verse 12, but I want you to know, brethren, that the things that have happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel. See, they’re anxious, they’re worried. How is Paul faring? He’s under imprisonment. Will he survive? We can’t afford to lose our star player. He writes, “Hey, you need to know that these things are working out for the furtherance of the gospel.” The word furtherance is a military term. It speaks of a spearhead battalion of soldiers who will break through barriers, impediment, so that the army can follow through to victory, and that’s what Paul is saying. “Hey, I’m punching right into Caesar’s household. The gospel is now penetrating the upper levels of the Roman government.”
In fact, when you get to chapter 4 verse 22 of this letter, all the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household, isn’t that amazing? I’m a prisoner of Jesus Christ while I’m a prisoner of Caesar, and I want you to know who’s winning. Jesus is winning. The gospel is spreading right here in Imperial Rome, in Caesar’s house. I want to be challenged by that. I want you and I to be challenged by … I’ll guarantee you that many of us here this morning are imprisoned in a set of circumstances not of our choosing. Limited health, failing finances, challenging circumstances, being persecuted in the office or in your industry because you’re a born again Bible-believing Christian.
But you need to remind yourself, you need to make sure you’re taking a double take, because on the one hand, those circumstances are not very inviting and it might seem to the eye that God has lost control of your life, but he hasn’t. You need to take a double take and realize that you’re a prisoner of Jesus Christ in the middle of whatever’s imprisoning you, and God wants you to live victoriously. God will supply the grace for you to do that. He will give you a peace that passes all understanding and he wants you to turn that problem into a platform for the preaching of the gospel as Paul did.
Chuck Obremski was the founding pastor of this church. For those that don’t know his story, in the middle of this church’s founding and flourishing, he contracts cancer and dies at a fairly young age in the middle of a growing ministry. He was the chaplain to the Rams and the Ducks. God had given him many things to do and many areas of influence. In the middle of his cancer and the diagnosis wasn’t good and eventually took his life, he was interviewed on TBN and the interviewer asked him, “Chuck, do you ever ask why? Why does God allow this? Why doesn’t God heal you? Why would God take someone from the battlefield that’s doing some damage to the enemy?”
Chuck, very wise, I watched the video. Chuck very wisely says, “I don’t ask the question why. Who am I to understand the mind of God? But I do ask the question, what? Lord, what do you want me to do in the middle of these harrowing circumstances?” That’s the question. See, Paul didn’t get hung up on the why, he got hung up on the what, and he understood the what, “I’m here as an ambassador in chains. I’m turning my problem into a platform to preach the gospel.”
Ray Pritchard, who’s preached here at [inaudible 00:19:50], is a wonderful man of God, tells of a friend of his by the name of John Warren who said to him one day many years ago, “When hard times come, be a student, not a victim. Be a student, not a victim.” He goes on to say this. “A victim says, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ A student says, ‘What can I learn from this?'” A victim complains he is being unfairly treated. A student thanks God that he’s being treated not as badly as he deserves. A victim tries to get even with those who have heard him, a student seeks to serve others in the midst of difficulty. A victim believes the game of life is stacked against him. A student believes God is at work even in the worst of circumstances.
Question. In your circumstances this morning, are you a student or a victim? Are you rolling over as life piles on top of you or are you standing up in the midst of your circumstances because you know Jesus is Lord and you’re asking, “Lord, what?” Not? Why? What do you want me to do? How do you want me to live? Who do you want me to reach? God’s sovereignty. Secondly, gospel service. We’re still on this thought of the incarceration, taking a big picture look at these verses.
We’ve talked about the external captivity. Paul is a prisoner of Caesar, but he reminds himself he’s always a prisoner of Christ. But then, you’ve got the internal captivity. See, we can see the physical chains on Paul’s ankles and wrists, but you must see the invisible chains that bind his heart to Jesus Christ, the will of God and the advancement of the kingdom of God. You see, Paul’s chains refer not only to his incarceration under the Romans, but they testify symbolically to his calling as a minister of the mystery of the gospel.
In Acts 9:15, Ananias is told of Saul who has now become Paul, “He’s a chosen vessel and he’s going to preach to the Gentiles and he’s going to suffer a ton of stuff.” That was Paul’s calling. He was a chosen vessel to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. He was a man under gospel obligation and he senses it. “I’m an ambassador in chains. I’m bound to God’s will for me, which right now means I’m imprisonment for the sake of the gospel. Despite my circumstances, despite my challenges, it’s my obligation to take the gospel to the world.”
In fact, look at the end of verse 20, we’ll come back to this next week. He prays that indeed that he would be bold in his speech and he would speak as he ought. The word ought is not strong enough. It’s a Greek word that can be translated, obliged. I pray that I will speak boldly because I’m obliged to speak. The gospel is not an act as much as it’s a declaration of Jesus’ act upon the cross and pray that I would be bold enough to verbalize, open my mouth and make utterance of the gospel. I’m obliged to do it. I’m bound to do it for the glory of God, for the advancement of the church, for the saving of lost, hell-bound souls. I’m obligated to do this out of love for God and love for my neighbor.
What about Acts 20:22? He says, “You know what? I’m going to go to Jerusalem bound in the spirit, although chains and suffering await me.” I hope that you’re the kind of Christian that feels bound and obligated to share the gospel and to fulfill your commission. The policeman is obligated to read you your rights when you’re being arrested. The doctor is obligated to live by the Hippocratic oath of first doing no harm. The pilot is obligated to go through his pre-check flight list before taking off or trundling down the runway. The Christian is obligated to share the gospel to the lost at a cost to themselves.
Let me give you one more example, this would be 1st Corinthians 9:16. Listen to the language of the apostle Paul and it helps put our context in a proper perspective. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast for necessity. Another word there could be obligation for obligation is led on me. Yes, woe is me if I preach not the gospel. You see, friends, woe to us if we preach not the gospel, because if we preach not the gospel, our neighbors, our family, our children will endure an everlasting woe separated from the presence of God.
There’s a little more than meets the eye isn’t there and this I’m an ambassador in chains. He not only speaks to his external captivity but to his internal captivity. He’s a captive to Christ and the gospel and the great commission. If you haven’t read it, read it, Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand. It’s a great story of a very faithful Romanian pastor. In fact, some of our congregation knew him personally and met him personally, those who left Roman Romania and communism behind. In his book, he talks about being in prison like the apostle Paul and he said this. It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms, we agreed with the communists. It was a deal, we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everybody was happy.
Isn’t that amazing? That’s an amazing story. “We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us. Everybody was happy.” See, those men understood their obligation. A glorious, joyful, but even costly obligation, to share the gospel even in prison not unlike Paul. Okay, that’s the incarceration. Let’s make a start with what I call the instruction and we’ll pick this up next week. Heads bowed, eyes open.
Paul instructs the Ephesians to go all-in on prayer. Look at verse 18, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.” We’ve already established, this prayer is the key. Prayer is half the battle in spiritual warfare, that’s why we’ve got to win the battle at the threshold of prayer. Because it’s the key to victory over temptation. It’s the key to enjoying confidence in the peace of God in the face of danger. It’s the key to spiritual empowerment in the presence of the powers of darkness in this evil age. The church ought to pray at all times with all prayer and supplication, with all perseverance for all the saints. There’s a lot of alls there. Paul’s all-in on prayer and so ought you and I to be. We need to devote ourselves to prayer.
Acts 2:42, the early church emerges out of the birth canal of the day of Pentecost and the preaching of Peter and the coming of the Holy Spirit, and we read and they remained steadfastly committed to the Apostles’ doctrine, to fellowship, the Lord’s prayer table on prayer. Get the same thought in Romans 12:12 and you get it in the other prison epistle, Colossians. I’ll read Colossians 4:2, “Continue earnestly in prayer being vigilant in it.”
Just this week, I was reading a writer who talked about going all-in on prayer. I love what he says here. “Give yourself holy to prayer. Pray with your body with a head bowed, eyes closed, hands clasped, knees bent, voice loud.” There’s something to those old traditions of kneeling and closing your eyes, because you’re physically demonstrating where your heart is. Pray with your body. Pray with your mind, focusing your thoughts upon God and allowing no mental intruders to distract you or block your spiritual vision and pray with all your heart and soul as if you really wanted God to hear and answer you. Wasn’t that John Bunion? Better to pray for your heart to be without words than your words to be without heart. We need to pray with heart.
Psalm 42:4, “I pour out my soul in me.” Let’s be all-in on prayer. Now, there’s several things, just going to cover one or two of them this morning and leave it there. We’re going to look at the shape of our prayers and the season of our prayers. What about the shape? You’ll notice in verse 18 that prayer is not monolithic. It’s not monochrome. You can pray different kinds of prayers. Prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of lament, prayers of supplication. You can pray in private, you can pray in public, you can pray in words, you can pray in thought, all kinds of prayers.
Our prayers come in different shapes. Remember, they had old acts, acrostic, adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. There are different elements that ought to make up our prayers. Our prayer should never just be one thing, all worship and no supplication, all supplication and no worship. If you look at the prayer that Jesus taught us in Matthew 6, there are different elements. There is a nice broad shape to that prayer.
You’ll notice there are two things mentioned here, prayer and supplication. Verse 18, praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit. The first word, prayer, is a Greek word that simply means in general terms, the cry to the deity. It speaks of general requests to God. Then, you’ve got supplication or it might be translated petition, that in our requesting to God, we can get specific about our needs, our health. We can get specific about that. Our children, we can get specific about that. We can name them, we can talk about them individually. We can get specific, that’s the word supplication. It carries the idea of asking, begging, petitioning, asking God to do something that we can’t do, do something he’s promised to do, to do something in the face of what others are doing to us, and we should do that without pause or embarrassment or doubt.
I hope you’re quick to go and ask God for something and not be embarrassed by it or feel guilty about that. Jesus taught us, didn’t he, in Matthew 6, in the Lord’s prayer? Certainly taught us to worship and ask for God’s kingdom to come first. But he does transition, he says, you can ask God for your bread, for your daily needs. You can ask God for deliverance from evil. You can ask God for the gift of forgiveness as you extend that to others. Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.”
I hope you’re quick to ask. God wants you to ask. I love Jeremiah 33:3, “Call on me and I will answer you.” You’ll always find God on the other end of the phone and he won’t hang up, he’ll listen. We ought to lay hold of the feet of the throne of grace and not let go until God blesses us with what we need. Asking God for your need is not a low form of prayer. It is prayer. You don’t need to feel guilty. I’ve said it, hopefully I’ve qualified it, but you’ll hear, don’t go to God with a shopping list. Go to God with a song sheet. That’s true. Let’s go and worship him and thank him for what he’s already given, and when we thank him for what he’s already given, let’s ask him for other stuff because he invites us to do it. He invites us to do it.
It’s not a low form of prayer. You don’t need to feel guilty for having a case of the gimmies. Lord, I need this. Would you give me this? I need it now. I need it in this form. I need it in this size. Asking is the rule of heaven says Spurgeon. Heaven’s rule is you’re going to get what heaven wants to bless you with. You got to ask for it, God will give you it, but you got to ask. That’s why James says what? You have not because God’s not willing to give. No you have not because you ask not. You don’t believe in prayer. You don’t believe in the generous heart of God. You don’t believe you can do exceedingly, abundantly above all that you can ask or think. You just about stick your foot in the door of prayer. That’s about it. You haven’t come fully through. You’re not all-in on prayer.
I love what David Jeremiah says about this. Some Christians think petitioning prayer is a low form of prayer, one that is sometimes necessary, but on the whole it’s a bit unworthy of a mature, truly spiritual Christian. They need it as they see it as centered on self making us like needy or even greedy children pestering God with our continual expanding want list. But the New Testament encourages us to offer petitionary prayers. You’re not immature if you keep asking God for something. It’s not an unworthy use of prayer. It’s why prayer exists. Prayer fundamentally is asking.
I like the story by Adrian Rogers who was a student pastor in Indian River County in an area in Florida. It was an area known for its citrus farms and citrus growers. One day one of his kind deacons give him a big bag or a crate of juicy, luscious Florida oranges more than he could eat, so he stuck a couple in the bowl in the kitchen and then he heaved the rest of them into a cupboard for a future day.
Adrian Rogers tells us that while this was going on, within a day or so, he spied a young boy who was one of his neighbors trying to steal an orange from his lonely orange tree in the backyard. He decided to let him because he knew full well that it was a sour orange tree. In Florida, these trees are beautiful to look at, but the fruit is bitter. He wanted that young man to learn that crime doesn’t pay. He got himself an orange, but it was a sour orange that left an awful taste in the young man’s mouth.
Adrian Rogers says this. If that little fellow had simply asked me for an orange, he would’ve got more than he could have imagined because They were in the cupboard. He would’ve been loaded down with the best oranges in River County from my ample stash. Instead, he left with a bitter taste in his mouth. He had not because he asked not. Is that not true of you and me? If any man lacks wisdom, James says in chapter one, having told us about asking in chapter 4, if any man lacks wisdom, what does he say? Let him ask of God who gives liberally. God won’t scold you for coming like I did when my girls were teenagers. No, no more. You’ve had enough, not you again.
God never says that. I had limited resources. Okay, I had to steward that and the girls got, I think, plenty of good things, but they wanted more as do all teenagers, and they love to stick their hand in your left pocket, your right pocket, your back pocket. But God will never abrade you. God will never say not you again. No more, I’ve given you enough. I like the story of the little fellow who had eaten his chocolate chip cookie before bed and drank his glass of milk and he was leaving the kitchen to go upstairs to bed when he poked his head in the family den and he said to his mom and dad, “I’m going upstairs to say my prayers. Do you want anything?”
I like that. Really, that’s not bad. That’s not a bad theology of prayer. You say to your loved ones or your friends, “Hey, I’m going to pray. You want anything? I want to pray for you to get it, because God told us to call on him and he’ll answer. Told us to ask and we’ll receive.” That’s what we might call the shape of our prayers.
Finally, the season of our prayers. Just quickly. What’s the season for our prayers? All seasons because prayer is never out of season, because we’re never out of need and our enemy is relentlessly on our tail, and we’re constantly living behind enemy lines. No wonder Paul says in the context of spiritual warfare, praying always. The word always can be translated at every opportunity or on all occasions or at all times.
Luke 18:1, Jesus said what? “Man ought always to pray and not to faint,” because if you don’t pray, you’ll faint, because you’ll be without grace, and if you don’t faint in praying, you won’t faint in living, because grace will be given. It’s understandable that he would say pray always, given the fact that we’re never out of the enemy’s sight. Sights are never out of firing range, therefore, we should never be long without prayer. Remember back to our understanding of those verbs and participles in verse 18 tied into verse 14? Stand by praying and put on the belt of truth with prayer and put on the breastplate of righteousness with vigilance. That’s our context.
Now, praying always, what does that mean? That you find a closet to pray in and you never come out and your wife wraps the door and serves you your breakfast. You never go to bed, you don’t turn up at work, and if you turn up at work, you’re not really listening to your boss, you’re muttering to God in prayer because you’re praying always. Well, of course it can’t be read that way. The verse doesn’t speak of a constant act of praying, but a constant attitude of prayer. What I mean by that is a disposition of dependence upon God, an attitude of prayerful reliance upon God for your very breath.
David Jeremiah again on spiritual warfare. This doesn’t mean we constantly mutter prayers all day. It means that we are, as soldiers, we keep our two-way radios constantly on. We must keep the line open, so that we can contact headquarters at a moment’s notice. We’re to be in continual communication with our commander-in-chief. Prayer isn’t just something we do for a few minutes in the morning or evening. Instead, people of prayer talk to God all day and all night as needs and thoughts arise.
1st Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” Again, to read that, you’d go, “Pray without ceasing? I’m constantly be praying?” No, you’re to be constantly in a disposition of dependence, praying or on the verge of praying. In fact, that word on ceasing was used in a Greek manuscript outside the New Testament for someone that had a cough that was unceasing. We’ve all had that at one point. A hacking cough. When you have a hacking cough, what are you doing? You’re either coughing or catching a breath in between coughing again. You’re either coughing or about to cough. I think that’s the meaning. We live life praying and on the verge of always praying given at a moment’s notice and a present need. I like that. Prayer is not something we do exclusively, it’s something we are exclusively. We’re in a spirit of prayer.
Sometimes we pray and our prayers are protracted and scheduled and long and, at other times, they’re quick. Sometimes they’re not even words, they’re a desire, an aspiration, we just turn heaven. You see that in Nehemiah, don’t you? In chapter 1, hears about the city all broken down, and if we do our math, he prays for four months on a regular basis, on a scheduled basis for the city of Jerusalem and perhaps a role he might play in bringing that to a better place. Then, in chapter two, he’s before the king, the king notices this sullen, sod state and he asks Nehemiah why he is sad. Nehemiah tells him at a great risk to himself. You weren’t allowed to be sad in the king’s presence, but he says, “Well, my king lived forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my father’s tombs lies waste and its gates are burned with fire.”
The king said to me, what do you request? And so I prayed to the God of heaven and I said to the king, it says not that Nehemiah got down on his knees with his window open towards Jerusalem in a set specified period of prayer. This is him before the king. This is him praying on the hop. While he’s talking to the king verbally, he’s talking to God in spirit and he’s like, “Lord, this is a moment. Help me not to mess it up.”
The Bible says that as the farmer turns the water channels, so you turn the king’s heart, turn his heart. Nehemiah gives him some requests and the king ticks every box. But I love that. Look at Nehemiah, protracted prayer and then ejaculatory prayer. Long prayers and then email prayers, like letter prayers and email prayers.
I think it was HB Charles who said, God answered Nehemiah’s emergency prayer because Nehemiah had spent extended prayer before the emergency. That’s the rhythm. It should be specified, time-appointed prayer seasons in our life. Then, out of that will come these just spontaneous cries to God and desires towards God that God hears, because he sees the seriousness of our short prayers in the context of the seriousness of our long prayers.
In fact, HB Charles tells a story, as we head to a close, the soldier was court marshaled after his superiors found him apparently sleeping at his post. But his defense was that he was not asleep, he was actually praying. Of course, the authorities boohooed that, didn’t buy the story, so he was in trouble. He was brought before a military tribunal, and the prosecutor mocked the young soldier and his supposed excuse. He said this. “Since you are such a praying person, offer a prayer for us now.” There was a muffled giggling across the courtroom, but the soldier took his challenge seriously and right there in the midst of the entire court, the young man offered a sincere, informed, devout and heartfelt prayer to God. Stunned the prosecutor, silenced the court, and then the prosecutors concluded that he never would’ve been able to pray like that under pressure if he hadn’t been practicing that kind of prayer before the pressure, and he was convinced that he was a man of prayer, which gave substance to the fact that he said, “I was praying when it seemed I was sleeping.”
You and I shuttle between these banks of protracted prayer and emergency prayer and quick prayer as God calls us to pray all the time. One more thought very quickly. All the time or at every occasion or at every opportunity, in fact, the word here for always is a Greek word kairos. That maybe should ring a bell to our study in Ephesians 5:16, where we are to redeem the time because the days are evil. We need to discover what the will of God is and do it. The word time there is kairos. I said there’s two Greek words for time, chronos from which you get chronology, chronometer, your watch. That’s linear time. That’s minutes turning into hours, turning into days, turning into weeks, it’s linear, it’s unfolding, it’s life unraveling and unfolding before us.
Kairos time is those special moments within Chronos time. Those are the moments that are opportune, that the right decision, putting your best foot forward at that moment could really determine the quality of your life. A kairos moment, when you seek God and seek him with the sincerity that brings about the blessing, or a door of opportunity that God has set before you can’t sleep in on. That’s the word Paul’s using here, Kairos. Harold Hoehner, in his magisterial commentary in Ephesians, he taught for many years at Dallas Theological Assembly. He says, “You could read this, it could be rendered praying at critical times.”
You see, there are everyday prayers aren’t there? Where you and I pray in the morning, maybe the noon or the night, often we have morning and evening prayers, many of us do that. Those are the everyday prayers, set times of prayer when you go before God. Those sacred appointments. Then, there’s through-the-day prayers, where you’re just sending these emails up to God while you’re in the office, around the home, out in the community. That’s a disposition. It’s a heart habit and you’re just in a constant conversation with God. Then there are D-Day prayers at critical times. That’s what this word can be translated. Critical times.
Like King Hezekiah during the Assyrian invasion, 2nd Kings 19:14-19, Hannah, in her barrenness, 1st Samuel 1:10-18 or Peter sinking beneath the waves, “Lord, save me.” Matthew 14:30. Those are those D-Day prayers. Those emergency prayers at critical times and God invites us to pray them. As the time comes up, if you’ve got a crippling sickness an intense temptation, if you’re going through a broken relationship, if you’re sitting under the shadow of death, if you’re facing a tough decision, if you’re experiencing political persecution, financial pressure or you’re going through a dry season, if you’re going through a critical time like that, pray. Pray always with prayer and supplication.
In a book, Touch and Live, George Vandeman wrote about a young climber who was scaling the Alps for the first time. It was a challenging climb, but he was protected by a seasoned climber and guide to his front and one to his rear who secured him and appointed the best path up the cliff face. Up and up, they went carefully making their way to the top and they were near the summit, they could see the rock piercing through the snow. Young man was breathless with excitement. The guy who was ahead of him wished him to enjoy the moment, so he kind of stepped aside and wanted the young man to get to the summit, enjoy that glorious view of heaven and Earth. But forgetting the crosswinds and the gales that blow across summits, the young man was about to leap to his faith in a moment of exhilaration when the guy grabbed him by the ankle and pulled him down and said, “On your knees, sir. You’ll never see of here except on your knees.”
I think I could take that phrase and put it over Ephesians 6, where’s the here for you and me? It’s an evil edge. It’s a world in rebellion to God. That’s our here and we’re never safe here except on our knees. As the old second World War poster said, knees don’t knock when you’re kneeling on them, and I hope that’s true of you.
Father, we thank you for our time in the word this morning. Thank you for this congregation of hungry saints who understand the words of Jesus. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Lord, we pray that indeed we would digest these emergency rations, these military rations for us. We hear this call to prayer. We realize that every policeman needs a working radio, every soldier needs a satellite phone, so that they can receive information, so that they can ask for help, so that they can connect with other forces, so that they can be reinforced in the midst of a hot zone. Lord, this is a hot zone, we’re under fire. Help us to take up the armor of God while praying and watching. Help us to engage in spiritual warfare from a kneeling position.
Help us to embrace this invitation to come and ask for our heart’s desire. Help us, Lord, to realize we’re not safe except when we’re in union with you and in constant conversation with you through prayer, so that we might enjoy all the means of grace, so that we might stand in the evil day. We ask and pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.