October 1, 2023
Heads Down, Eyes Open – Part 2
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Time:
Ephesians 6: 18 - 20
Scripture: 
Topics: 

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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.

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Transcript

Well, let’s take our Bibles and turn to Ephesians 6, Verses 18 to 20. We started to look at this passage last week, a message we called “Heads bowed, eyes open,” right? You tend to hear, “Heads bowed, eyes closed.” The reason I call it “Heads bowed, eyes open,” because here we’re being told to pray, heads bowed. Remember being told to watch, eyes open. Jesus said, didn’t He, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” So that’s where we’re at. We’re almost done with Ephesians. Don’t say, “Hooray,” but it is good to move on to another subject, which we’ll do in a few weeks.
But we’ve got one more message next week in the text of Ephesians Verses 21 to 24. Then the week after that, I’m going to jump ahead to Revelation 2:1-7. One of the letters written at the beginning of the book of Revelation is written to the church at Ephesus. It’s about maybe about 60 years on. We wonder, “Hey, how’s this church doing?” Or maybe 30 years on, sorry. How are they doing since Paul wrote to them? And it’ll be fascinating to find out. And then we’ll be done with our study of Ephesians.
Let’s take some time, read the text. I’m reading from the New King James, a translation of Holy Scripture. Paul says this, “Praying always, with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end, with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints. And 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 ambassador in chains, that in it, I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
When it comes to conventional war, one of the things a army or a country must do is establish in modern warfare what we call air superiority. You got to take control of the skies, because in taking control of the skies, you take control of the war. And having established air superiority, you’ll suffer fewer casualties on the ground. And what’s true of conventional war is true of spiritual war. If you and I want to succeed in spiritual warfare, you and I need to flood Heaven with our prayers. This book in Ephesians begins with Jesus at the right hand of God. And through our relationship with Him, we are indeed seated with Christ in the heavenlies. We are connected to the heavenly spiritual realm through our relationship with Christ. And Christ sits at the right hand of God in the heavenly realm, as one who has triumphed over principalities and powers. He has demonstrated that on the cross. He has evidenced that in His resurrection, and His enthronement at the right hand of God signals that.
And so as we unite ourselves with Christ, we enter into His victory. And as we flood the heavens with prayer through Jesus Christ, we indeed establish air superiority over the principalities and powers we wrestle with, but Jesus has defeated. You get the point? And one of the reasons there are continued casualties on the ground regarding the church is because we have failed to establish air superiority. We have failed to commit ourselves to a vital, ongoing, and effective prayer life. And so when Paul deals with spiritual warfare here in Ephesians 6:18-20, he is calling us to that kind of commitment.
So let’s return to our message, “Heads bowed, eyes open.” Let’s remind ourselves that prayer is a shield to the soul and it is a scourge to Satan. As we quoted the lines from that old hymn, “The devil trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.” You and I fight the spiritual war from a kneeling position. And Paul argues that here. Having talked about putting on the whole armor of God, he immediately says, “Praying always, with all prayer.” Now we noticed last time, this is not the seventh piece of armor. And Paul doesn’t attach a piece of armor or something of the Roman soldier’s uniform to the area of prayer. It’s not the seventh piece of armor, it’s certainly connected to putting on the armor. We established, there’s a grammatical connection in the Greek text between “praying” and “watching” in Verse 18, all the way back to another verb, “standing” in Verse 14.
In other words, prayer is that which frames and formulates the whole Christian soldier’s activity. You could paraphrase it like this: Take your stand, praying. Put on the breastplate of righteousness, praying. Take up the belt of truth, praying. Prayer is the power behind the armor. Prayer is the manner in which the armor is put on and which it is worn. Joel Beeke, a reformed teacher whose books are excellent, says this: “Prayer is critical, because every piece of Christian armor is useless without it. Prayer is like oil. Just as every part of an engine is useless without oil, so every part of Christian warfare is in vain without prayer.” So establishes that it’s not the seventh piece of armor. As we put on those six pieces of armor, we do it with prayer. That’s the power behind the armor.
Now we started to look at three things: the incarceration, the instruction, the invitation. We looked at the incarceration. In Verse 20, Paul describes himself as an ambassador in chains. He speaks with a certain irony, because his chains are not made of gold. His chains are actual chains. This is his first imprisonment. He’s writing a prison epistle, and he sees himself as an ambassador in chains. He’s under house arrest, and he’s being guarded around the clock. Now we saw there’s two aspects to his captivity. One is external, one is internal. On the external side, he’s imprisoned. But he wants to remind us, and we saw it in the letter to the Philippians, Chapter 1, Verse 12-14, that while he’s imprisoned, the Gospel’s spreading, and actually is spreading in Caesar’s household. God has proven himself sovereign. The Gospel is proving itself unstoppable.
We see that in the end of the book of Acts 28:30 to 31, which is speaking about the context of the letter to the Ephesians. And Paul says, “Hey, yeah, I’m in Rome. I’m under arrest, but you need to know this: I’m preaching and teaching the Kingdom of God, and no one is hindering me.” So there’s an internal captivity, because back in Chapter 3, Verse 1; Chapter 4, Verse 1, interestingly, Paul says, “I’m a prisoner of Christ.”
“No, you’re not, Paul. You’re a prisoner of Caesar.”
“No, it’s both. I’m a prisoner of Caesar. That’s my external captivity, but I’m a prisoner of Jesus Christ. That’s my internal captivity. I’ve given him my life to him. I’m serving him at whatever it cost it is to me. Right now, it’s imprisonment, and I am bound to loyalty to Jesus Christ. And that’s why I’m going to ask you momentarily that you’d pray for me that utterance may be given to me when I stand before Nero, that I would be unashamed of the Gospel.”
Now before we leave that thought, I did do an extra bit of digging this week. And I want to remind you, Paul was living the truth of Jesus’ words and proving the truth of Jesus’ promise. If we were going to go back to Luke 12, Verse 11 as an example… There’s another example in Luke 21:12 to 15… Here’s what we’ll read. These are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ and Luke 12, Verse 11. “Now when they bring you speaking to his disciples, to synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you shall answer, or what you shall say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
That’s where Paul’s at. He’s asking the Ephesians to pray that he would indeed speak boldly the things he ought to speak. He’s echoing and channeling the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Paul is living the truth of the words of Jesus and proving the promise of Jesus. It made me think of something Elisabeth Elliot said. Elisabeth Elliot, my daughters read her. And many women and men read her. I’ve read her with great prophet. She was the widow of Jim Elliot, the martyred Christian to the Auca Indians in Ecuador. Listen to what she says. She talks about proof texts and proof contexts, as in, and she’ll explain it, “We have a promise from God,” or “We’ve got a text from our Bible that we want God to make real in our lives. Well, that will happen when we are put into a proof context. Into a situation where we have to live the promise, we have to live the truth.”
Listen to what she says: “Repeatedly, I’m asked variations of this question: did the Lord comfort you, or were you sometimes lonely? It’s not an either/or thing. If I had not been lonely and sad at times, how could I have needed and received, and appreciated comfort? It is the sick who need the physician, the thirsty who need the water. That is why Paul not only did not deplore his weaknesses, but also glorified, gloried in them, for they provided the very occasion for his appropriating of divine strength. It was in prison that Joseph knew the presence of the Lord. It was in the lion’s den that Daniel’s faith was proof. It was in the furnace that Daniel’s three friends found that they were accompanied by the fourth. We have plenty of proof texts, but in order to experience their truths, they have to be placed and we have to be placed in proof contexts. The prison, the lion’s den, the furnace is where we come to know the realities.”
I love that. See, here’s Paul. He’s a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s in custody in Rome under Caesar, and he’s living the text of Luke 12:11, and he’s proving it in a context. That’s good stuff. And you know what? If you find yourself in a situation that’s challenging, not to your liking, hurtful, just remind yourself, that’s the context in which you’re going to prove the text. You have to be lonely to be comforted. You have to be sick to be healed. You have to feel insufficient to know his sufficiency. So allow your context to become the proving ground of God’s great love for you. Don’t doubt it, believe it. Live it.
Now here’s the second thought, the instruction. This is Verse 18. Paul instructs them to “Pray with all prayer and supplication at all times, with all perseverance, for all the saints.” We looked at the shape of our prayers, we looked at the season of our prayers. I want to pick up the third thought, what I call the Spirit of our prayers. Okay? If you’ve been sleeping so far, this is the time to wake up, because this is all new. This is stuff you haven’t heard. All right? Now go back to Verse 18. Look at it. “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” What in the world does that mean? Sounds very charismatic.
Now first of all, we know that the Holy Spirit is involved with the Lord Jesus Christ in the arena of prayer. Back in Chapter 2, Verse 18, Paul tells us, “For through Christ, we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” And Paul’s picking up this connection between the Holy Spirit and prayer. Now this idea, prayer in the Spirit, I want you to know it’s not a special category of prayer. I think some of our charismatic and Pentecostal friends tend to give us the impression that you pray, and then you get yourself into this kind of state of praying in the Spirit, as if it’s some kind of altered stet or ecstatic sense of being. I’ll tell you another thing. It’s not speaking in tongues. Some have argued that. There’s nothing in the text that would cause us to draw that from the meaning of these verses. What is praying in the Spirit? It’s just praying, orthodoxly and well.
Jude 20-21 says, “Keep yourself in the love of God, and remain unspotted from the world, and pray in the Holy Spirit.” This is praying as we ought. This isn’t some special category of prayer. Praying in the Spirit is not another way to pray. It’s the only way to pray. If you’re not praying in the Spirit, you’re not praying. Because praying in the Spirit is simply reminding us to live in the Spirit, to be filled by the Spirit, to operate in the Spirit, not in the flesh. It’s the normal Christian life. We once lived carnally. Sometimes we lapse into that again, but as a lifestyle, we don’t live carnally. We live spiritually. We don’t live as men or women apart from Christ. We live as men or women in Christ. And so in the broadest, simplest sense, praying in the Holy Spirit is praying under the influence and insight of the Holy Spirit. It’s praying with his assistance, and with an assurance and confidence that he gives us.
I like what Harry Ironside says, “If I would pray in the Spirit, I must live in the Spirit. And so I am to watch against anything that would come into my life to grieve the Spirit, and thus hinder real prayer.” See, sin is static on the communication lines of prayer. That’s why back in Chapter 4, Verse 30, we’re told, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, clamor, anger, evil speaking be put away from you with all malice. And then be kind, be tenderhearted, be forgiving.”
But there’s another angle I don’t want you to miss. Let’s tie Verse 18 and this thought of praying in the Spirit to Verse 17, where we are told to take up the sword of the Spirit. He’s just been speaking about the Spirit. So when he speaks again about the Spirit, we need to be listening to what he’s already said about the Spirit. So here’s what I would say. And what is the sword of the Spirit? The word of God. So I would say this: praying in the Spirit is praying with Scripture in mind. Praying the promises of God back to God. Taking the language and theology of the Bible, and using that in conversation with God.
You don’t ever need to be lost for words when it comes to praying. You have a whole Bible full of words that tells you about the character of God, and what he has committed himself to doing on behalf of his people, and his nature and the grounds upon which he acts. And the means through which that grace comes to us, the mediation of Jesus Christ. Like worship as a whole, prayer is to be in Spirit and in truth. Capital T, Capital S. John 4:23.
So what am I saying? I’m saying this: To pray in the Spirit is to pray independence upon the Spirit, and in conformity to the desires that he has outlined in Scripture. One writer puts it like this, I like the wording of this, “To pray in the power of the Spirit is to let God within us speak to God above us. It is to pray from a mind filled with the thoughts of God, a voice that can utter the words of God.” Our most tangible source of God’s thoughts and words is the Bible, which Paul called the sword of the Spirit. So if you want to talk to God, talk in the language that God talks in, Bible language. And take his promises, and pray them back to him.
Can I give you a couple examples of this? What about Daniel 9:1-3. Daniel’s in captivity in Babylon. He’s longing to return to the Jewish homeland, and he prays this in Daniel 9:1-3: “In the first year of Darius, son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel understood from the scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given by the prophet Jeremiah, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last 70 years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting.” So I read the word of God. I learned that Jeremiah promised that we would be released after 70 years. You know what I did? I prayed to God to keep his promise.
Give you another example would be Exodus 32:12-13. This would be the situation where the nation of Israel is in the wilderness. They have built the golden calf, they have apostatized, they have failed God, they are worshiping false images. And God is angry, and he’s thinking of destroying them. And Moses intervenes and intercedes. And he goes before God, he said, “God, just hold on.” Exodus 32. “Turn from your fierce anger, relent and do not bring destruction on your people. Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and I will give your descendants all this land I promised. And it will be theirs for inheritance.’ Lord, I know you want to kill them but you can’t kill them. Because you said you wouldn’t kill them, and you would give them that land forever.”
This is another example. I think that’s praying in the Spirit. Taking the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and praying it under the influence, recollection, and insight of the Holy Spirit to God, that God would be faithful to what he has promised to do. One last example would be Nehemiah 1 Verses 8 to 9. “Don’t be frightened.” This is going to sound rather coarse. It’s not. I say in the right spirit. “Don’t be frightened to take the promises of God’s word and throw them in God’s face, and call Him to act according to his covenant, and pray down the blessing of God based on what he is promised to do with confidence.” Nehemiah does it. Nehemiah 1 Verses 8 to 9, right? He’s heard about that first wave of refugees that have gone back under Ezra. The temple hasn’t been rebuilt, the walls are still down, the gates are unhung. Nehemiah’s burdened about this. You read about his prayer in Chapter 1.
Here’s what he says: “Remember the instruction you give your servants, Moses.” Like, “Lord, do I need to remind you what you said through Moses? ‘If you’re unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations.’ Lord, you’ve kept that side of your promise, but the other side of your promise, ‘If you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are in the furthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I’ve chosen to put my name.'” That’s Jerusalem, and that’s what Nehemiah begins to pray. And the rest of the book of Nehemiah is God answering that prayer. And in 52 days, the walls are rebuilt, and God’s name is being glorified once again among the nations. John 1 5:14. “This is your confidence in approaching God. If you ask anything according to His will, He hears you.” Don’t you love that? Praying in the Spirit is letting the God within us speak to the God above us, based on the language of the Scriptures which the Spirit wrote.
Look, let me say this and we’ll move on. Write this down, think about it or remember it, and meditate on it. Prayer does not start with us. It starts with God. God must say, “These are the things I’m willing to do, and this is the way I’m going to do it.” And then we’re free to ask Him how to do it or to do it. It’s the same with our children. And if you’re a parent, no parent in their right mind commits themselves to give their children anything they want and any request they make. No, what you’ll do as a father or as a mother, you’ll sit down with that son and that daughter, and you’ll say, “You know what? Here’s I’m going to do. Here’s what I’m willing to do. Here’s the boundaries. Here’s the parameters we want to live within.”
And once the child learns that, the smart child will come back with those promises in mind that they heard first from the parent themselves. And they’ll say, “God, remember you said? Mom, remember you said? It’s time to deliver. It’s time to do.” So prayer doesn’t start with us, it starts with God and what He said. Then when we listen to what He said He would do, we can go and talk to Him about doing it. That’s what prayer is, and the word of God is the fuel on the fire of prayer.
Here’s another thought, what I call the steadfastness of prayers. The steadfastness of our prayers. Let’s go to Verse 18. “Praying always, with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end,” notice, “with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.” So with one eye, we’re to take heed to ourselves and watch over our prayer life. And with another eye, we’re to constantly look to God and persevering and prayer for an answer. I may put it like this: we’re to persevere, we’re to be steadfast in protecting our prayer life and then practicing our prayer life. Let’s stay with the first thought. We’re to be steadfast in protecting our prayer life. This is what we call watchfulness or vigilance, right? We’re told here to “Watch to this end with all perseverance.” Luke 21, Verses 34 to 36 and 1 Peter 4:7 or other examples, where you and I are called to act with vigilance over our spiritual life, which includes our prayer life.
Prayer must never be a spare tire, but a steering wheel, something we watch over on a continual basis. We must be wide awake to the nature of prayer. What makes for good praying, what God has prescribed as good praying, and then we must be wide awake to our need for prayer. Without Christ, we can do nothing. While prayer sends the peace of God to stand guard over our lives, Philippians 4:6-7, we have got to stand guard over the thing that sends the peace of God, which is prayer. So we’re to be vigilant, we’ve got to guard our prayer lives. We need to watch over our prayer life privately and publicly, as a matter of first importance. 1st Timothy 2, Verse 1. Now what do we do? What will we fight against? Distraction. You ever get distracted in prayer? Very easily. You got to fight that. You got to be vigilant regarding that busyness, laziness, unbelief, self-reliance, and misplaced priorities.
When we complain that we do not have time to pray in the morning or go to the small group or church prayer meeting, it’s not because we have less time than the people who do. See, the funny thing is, you don’t have enough time to pray, but other people seem to find time to pray. And you don’t turn up to the small group, but other people turn up to the small group, and they have no more or less time than you do. So what’s the issue? Choices, isn’t it? Priorities, making other things more important than the importance of prayer? A concert violinist was once asked the secret of her success, to which she replied, “Planned neglect.” So if you want to make a success, if I can use that term, of your prayer life, if you want to be a man or a woman who’s righteous and fervent and effective in your praying, it’s only going to happen with planned neglect, or you’re going to have to decide that’s so important you’re going to neglect the other things that scream at you for attention.
I mean, even in a simple form, ladies, you read the life of Susanna Wesley. In the midst of raising more than a dozen children, she sat in a certain part of the house, and the children knew this. On a particular point in the end, she just threw her apron over her head. “I need space. I need a moment. I need to pray.” So whatever form it takes, you need to find space, you need to take time. You need to make prayer a priority through planned neglect. But we’re not only to be steadfast in protecting our prayer life, we’re to be steadfast in practicing it. This word, “perseverance” here in Verse 18 is a word, almost obstinacy. You’re obstinate in your praying. You’re not letting the issue go. You’re not going to fall short of an answer. You’re obstinate in your praying. It’s a word that means “holding fast to.”
And so we’re being alerted to the essential nature of prayer and the prevailing demands of prayer. Our forefathers and some of the men and women I heard pray in the prayer meeting at Rathkeale Baptist Church who helped mentor me, the language they would use would be, “We’re to prevail in prayer. We’re to travail in prayer. We’re to struggle, to lay hold of all that God has promised us, and not give up.” Romans 12:12, Colossians 4:2, Acts 2:42 talks about that. Continuing in prayer, devoting ourselves to prayer. Now persevering in prayer is not an easy thing to do. I don’t find it easy. I assume you don’t find it easy, but we’ve got to pray. When we don’t feel like praying, when we’re exhausted and we’re tired, we’ve got to pray until we pray. I remember picking that little phrase up from some of the writings of AW Tozer. “Pray until you pray.” And I kind of, “What does he mean by that?”
And then I go, “I think I know what he means.” It’s a bit like when you go to the gym, you got to exercise until you exercise. The first 10 minutes is hard. It’s a cold start. You’re dragging your body to the treadmill or whatever you’re doing. And you look out the big bay windows, and Starbucks is just over there, and there’s strawberries and cream just waiting for you there with 500 calories. And you just feel like surrendering and go, “What’s the use?” But you exercise until you exercise. Then all of a sudden, your body starts to heat up from the cold start, and your heart starts pumping, and all kinds of chemicals get released into your body. And you begin to enjoy it, and you may even stay longer than you expected and run a little harder than you thought. That’s what we’re talking about. Don’t be put off by a cold start in prayer. Pray until you pray. Pray through exhaustion, pray past discouragement. Pray beyond the Satanic lie that God’s not listening.
That’s another one you have to fight. “Hey, you’ve been praying for this for months, years. God’s not listening. He’s certainly not listening to you. Remember what you did last night?” That’s all the stuff we got to fight through and persevere beyond. Look, quitting takes no effort, does it? Quitting takes no effort. But prayers work. I said about Colossians 4:12, where it talks about Epaphras. And Paul says, “He labors for you in prayer.” That’s a Greek word that meant “to wrestle, to struggle.” He’s constantly struggling for you in prayer. God responds to our persistence in prayer. Jesus gave us a couple of parables, didn’t he, to that end?
What about Luke 11:5-13 or Luke 18:1-8? The one in Chapter 11’s the one about the neighbor who comes at nighttime. Now you need to understand, they didn’t have homes with upstairs, downstairs. They had a little, I don’t know what, let’s say a little 700 or a thousand-foot apartment. And it took a lot of work to get the kids done, because they’re all living in the same room. It’s not like the kids are in the bedroom. The kids are over in a little elevated part of the home, with the blankets over them. Now they’re asleep. And you know what? Maybe even the goats and stuff are inside, and they’re lying, and it’s taking a ton of time. And all of a sudden, pretty late at night, and the neighbors go, “Hey, someone just dropped in. I’m out of milk, butter, and bread. Have you got any?”
They go, “Shh, kids are sleeping. Don’t waken the goat, whatever you do.” But the person doesn’t go away, and they keep knocking. And you just have to get up, and give them the milk and the bread and the butter to get rid of them. And so that’s the story Jesus tells. And he says, “It’s a bit like prayer.” And you go, “You mean God’s like that? We got to wake Him up, arouse Him, let Him know what’s happening and overcome His reluctance to love us?”
Of course not. The point is, hey, if the neighbor can arise the neighbor through persistence, think about what persistence is going to do in the context of a loving relationship with a God, who’s only too eager to answer. And if there’s a delay, there’s reasons, which we won’t get into right now. I like what one writer said this, or let me change the metaphor from the neighbor to the salesman. With the parable of Luke 11:5-13, let’s change the metaphor from a shameless neighbor to a brash salesman. Too often, we pray like a shy salesman who knocks once on the front door of a house or a business, and if no one answers right away, walks off instead of waiting on the doorstep, knocking several times, revisiting that place often until the householder opens the door, or the business owner sits down and listens to your pitch. Or as one writer put it better, “We should pray like a salesman with a foot wedged in the open door.” You’re not going anywhere until you’ve got your point across.
My own daughter, Laura, our middle daughter is in medical sales. And we often ask her, how does she continue to deal with rejection and having to keep going until maybe you win over that business? And she’ll always say, “Dad, it’s always a no until it’s a yes.” And in some sense, you can carry that over into our prayer life. It’s always a no until it’s a yes. And we have confidence of the yes, given the promises of God. And if God has us waiting and persevering, maybe it’s because He wants our faith to grow. Maybe it’s because He’s shifting and sifting our desires. And maybe it’s because when we actually do get the answer, our level of gratefulness will be far greater. Because things that are hard-won are better prized; isn’t that true?
What about the scope of our prayers, quickly? Scope of our prayers. This frees all the saints. Pray for all the saints. That’s challenging. Does your prayer list, does your prayers, does your prayer time have all the saints in mind? Or is it me, my, and mine? Just focused on your family? Maybe you can get to an aspect of God’s family, your church. But what about all the saints? You and I never pray, are never meant to pray as an individual. You know this morning you’re not an only child. You’re not. You’re part of a family. Back in Ephesians 3:14-15, we have got one father. See them again in Chapter 4, Verse 5. The act of praying must be an act of fellowship. It must be, has to be, because we are part of a family. And when you love your family, you pray for your siblings, and you pray for your parents. And you pray for your children, and you pray for your aunts and you pray for your uncles.
And we are not just part of our own physical families. We’re now part of this worldwide spiritual family, we call the church, made up of all the saints. So our prayers ought to be common, broad, balanced. I mean, just even look at the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. It begins with, “Our Father. Forgive us our trespasses. Give us our daily bread.” And we’ll get to it here momentarily, Verses 19 and 20, ever so quickly. Paul invites, he concludes himself, “Hey, pray for all the saints. And they’ll say, pray for me.” Pray for Christians you do know.
Philippians 1:3-11, Paul writes to him, “Hey, I thank God for every remembrance of you, and I pray for you often.” Pray for saints and Christians you don’t know. Colossians 1:3. In Colossians 1:3 and Verse 9 and 7, Paul prayed for the Colossians. But do you know Paul never visited Colossae? That I think the church was planted by Epaphras? Verse 7. Yet Paul’s praying for them like he knows them, but he really doesn’t know them. He knows of them through a second party or a third party. And although he’s not been to Colossae, he still prays for it.
So pray for Christians you don’t know. Pray for the church worldwide. Say, “Pastor, how do you pray for all the saints?” Well, why don’t you start with a group? Why don’t you pray for a particular part of the world maybe your ancestors or forefathers are from? I mean, given up the makeup of this church, we have got Romanians, Ukrainians, British, Germans, Egyptians. I mean, if you’re here in the United States, pray for this nation. Why don’t you pray for your own nation and the church there, and for all the saints? Those that are free, those that are imprisoned. Those that we know, those that we don’t know. And here’s another thing: pray for Christians you do know, pray for Christians you don’t know, and pray for Christians you can’t know. What am I talking about? The elect, those who are yet to come to faith. In John 17:20, Jesus said, “I pray not only for them, Father, for my disciples, my apostles. I pray for those who will believe through them.”
So let’s pray for Christians we can’t know. But for the unsaved and the lost in our family and in our neighborhood, and in our workplaces. Some years ago, I took two of our young men, Reed Shearer, and Mason up to visit Dr. Jim Rosscup. Some of you, you know that name. You knew him when he was a member here. He’s a sweet man of God. He taught at Talbot. He got a degree out of Aberdeen and Dallas Theological Seminary. He was my professor at the Masters Seminary. He was a man of prayer, and he taught prayer. He wrote four volumes called An Exposition on Prayer. And he’d lost his wife at this stage. He’s in a care facility off the 71 freeway in Chino Hills. And I wanted these two young men to meet one of my heroes. It was a wonderful thing on a Sunday morning to have him sit here and to preach to him.
It was scary, too. Almost imagine him sitting in the back going, “Oh, Philip, did you listen?” But he was very kind, and loved me back. And when we were in his little room, where he was working on a commentary, in all of his weakness and age, I noticed 30 or 40 leather journals on a little bookshelf. I said, “Jim, are those your prayer journals?”
He said, “They are.”
I said, “Jim, am I in there?”
He says, “Yes, you are.” It’s powerful. That man had 30 journals where he’d written down prayers for all the saints. Men in the classroom, their wives, their children. He’d always ask us for prayer requests, his own prayer requests. And then he would be praying for the church worldwide, for expositional centers that the Masters was setting up that would further the church. I mean, he exemplified this. Let’s pray for all the saints.
I had a man in my church in Northern Ireland, Bobby Graham, one of our deacons. We called him Billy Graham, because he loved the lost, and he was always evangelizing. And he would always pray. If you go to a small group, or you’re in the company of people for a long time, you begin to pick up the way they pray. There’s often some aspect of repetition, something they always praying about and burdened about. He always prayed two things, always, amidst many others, was number one, “Lord, make me a link in the chain.” He just wanted, “Lord, I don’t know where I fit in on someone’s salvation, but I want to be a link in the chain. Help me to move someone further to Jesus.”
And then his other prayer was always, always, 1st Samuel 12:23. As he prayed about someone, he would then remind himself of the need to pray about that person, because according to 1 Samuel 12:23, the prophet said this: “God forbid that I should sin in ceasing to pray for you.” So when Bobby Graham prayed on a Wednesday night at our prayer meeting for six saints, shut-in saints, missionaries, men in the military, men in the police, he remind us, “I’ve got to pray for all the saints, because it’s a sin to cease praying for them.”
Let’s get to the last thought and squeeze this in, the invitation. The invitation. Paul now invites them to pray for him, Verses 19 to 20. Just let me read it and make two quick comments, and we’ll get to the Lord’s table. “And for me,” since we’re talking about all the saints, don’t forget 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.”
This isn’t the first time Paul has asked churches to pray for him. He was no superman. He was a man in need of grace, and he believed prayer was the means of grace. And so he invited the church at Rome in Chapter 15:30-32 of that letter to pray for him, the church in Colossae, Chapter 4, Verse 3 to 4, to pray for him. The church in Thessalonica, Chapter 5, Verse 25, to pray for him. Preachers must pray. Amen. They must be men given to the word in prayer, but preachers must be prayed for. And Paul invites them to do that.
John Piper says in his book, Desiring God, “Prayer is a walkie-talkie for warfare, not a domestic intercom for increasing our conveniences.” I love that. And that’s where we’re at here. We’re in the context of spiritual warfare, and one of God’s servants is in need. And he says to the Ephesians, “Hey, prayer isn’t an intercom for you to get a pillow in the living room to be more comfortable. It’s a walkie-talkie to pray for those in the front lines and in the trenches.”
He prays for two things. He prays for clarity and he prays for courage. We’ll squeeze this in. Look at what he says, “That utterance may be given to me. That I may open my mouth and make known the mystery of the Gospel. This given to me as a divine passive,” meaning may God give me. Paul was not typically short of words. He was a good speaker. So what’s he asking for here? “May my mouth open and may utterance be given.” I think he’s asking for clear, cogent, compelling, convicting words that exalt Christ when he’s speaking to man about Christ, or I think in this context, when he’s hauled before Nero. Remember, Paul appeals to meet Nero as a Roman citizen to make his case.
And so imagine him standing before Nero. According to the Romans, Christianity is just a subset of Judaism. Or according to Judaism, Christianity is a heresy. So he’s going to make a defense that Christianity’s neither. In fact, he uses the phrase here, “Mystery of the Gospel.” You go back to Chapter 3. We know that that mystery is the uniqueness of the church apart from Israel, made up of Jew and Gentile, who have an equal standing before God. And he’s going to be able to go before Nero and say, “Hey, you’re wrong, and the Jews are wrong. We’re not a subset of Judaism, and we’re not a heresy. We’re a mystery that now is being revealed. The church is unique in this dispensation.”
And he’s saying, “Hey, pray for me that when I stand before Nero, that I’ll have the right words to make a good defense of the uniqueness of the church.” And I think that’s what we need to pray for, just generally, don’t we? “God, make us sharp, make us wise and willing communicators of the Gospel.” I don’t know, maybe you’ve got an unbelieving husband who’s pulled the shutters down in terms of the Gospel. Maybe you’ve got an arrogant workmate or a cruel boss. Or maybe you’re a young person on a school campus in the public arena, and you’re finding fierce opposition and all these arguments in the classroom for abortion rather than against it. And for gender dysphoria rather than against it. “Hey, what do I say? How do I say it?” That’s where we’re at.
See, we want God to give us righteous words, Biblical words, truthful words, but we’ve got to not only ask God for righteous words, right words, that are sharp and appropriate to the moment. Sometimes that’s hard. I didn’t fit this in first service. I’m going to squeeze it in here. 1647, a hundred or more of Britain’s most learned ministers, theologians and scholars are meeting at Westminster Abbey in London. They want to write down and codify in a confession some of the great doctrines of the Protestant Reformation, what ultimately will become the Westminster Confession. Now they’re stuck in, how do you describe God? What would you write by way of a definition or a Catechal understanding of God? And they were stumbling at a suitable definition. And so a little discouraged, someone suggested that they spend a season in prayer.
And a young Scotsman by the name of George Gillespie stood up, and here’s what he prayed. “Oh God, Thou are the Spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable in thy being. Wisdom, power, holiness and justice, goodness and truth.” At that point, someone interrupted and said, “Wait a minute. Somebody write that down, because that’s a good definition of who God is.” I love that story, because in many ways, it seems to come close to what we’re dealing with here. God gave George Gillespie utterance, right words for the moment through prayer. Paul’s asking the same. Finally, he prays not only for Gospel clarity, he prays for Gospel courage, bravery. He wants to be a stout defender of the faith. Look twice in Verse 19 and 20, “That I may open my mouth boldly.” By the way, that little phrase “opening my mouth” is often used in the Old Testament of a prophet.
And Paul says, “Hey, God, speak through me boldly, and help me to speak boldly” look at the end of Verse 20, “that I may speak boldly.” This is a Greek word that means to speak openly. It was used of freedom of speech. And here’s what Paul is concerned about. Will he speak freely when he stands before Nero, or will his knees give way? Will he fear prison? Will he fear Nero, who’s a megalomaniac, who might just snuff his life out before he gets a sentence finished? Or will his temporary imprisonment become permanent imprisonment, leading to execution like his second imprisonment?
And so he says, “Would you pray for me? I want to be faithful. I want to speak boldly. I want to make a good confession before Nero, like the Lord Jesus made a good confession before Pilate.” So as we close, God give us apostolic boldness. Amen. Born of the Holy Spirit, rooted in the fear of God, driven by the reality of hell, inspired by the blood of the martyrs. Let’s not play chicken. And some of God’s people, men and women, shed their blood for our freedoms, that we might have the word of God in our hand. And they’re a great cloud of witnesses asking us in our generation, not to back down, not to bow down. And we need it for this moment.
In his book, Impossible People, Os Guinness says this about what’s going on. There’s a clarifying moment taking place in Western culture. The tide is turning, folks. I think you know that. And we’ve gone from darkness to light because of the Reformation. And as RC Sproul said at the Shepherds Conference, we’re going from light back into darkness. We need to be bold. We’re going to be censored, canceled, mocked, left out. Here’s what he says about this moment. “Christians in the West are living in a grand clarifying moment. The gap between Christians and the wider culture is widening, and many formerly nominal Christians are becoming religious nuns. In many ways, we are in the Tuesday evening of Holy Week. The cock has not yet crowed, but the angry crowd who would like to see the end of our Lord in the Western world has already seen and heard enough of our early betrayals to believe that it can count on more and hurry us towards ignominious surrender.” So this is no time for cowards, for fence sitters, or for those who wish to hedge their bets until they hear the judge’s verdict on the contest.
Don’t you agree with that? Isn’t that where we’re at? Let’s not surrender. Let’s not betray the Lord Jesus. As Farid gets ready to come up and lead us towards the Lord’s table, you’ve heard the phrase, “Give me your John Hancock.” You know the story behind that? John Hancock was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. And when he had signed the Declaration of Independence, one of his comrades turned and said, “John, for some reasons, yours is the biggest signature.”
To which he replied, “I don’t want the king to have any problems finding my name.” Give me your John Hancock. I love it. I love his brashness. I love his commitment. I love his courage. “I’m not frightened. King George can see it’s John Hancock signed this. I’m not afraid. I believe the cause of American independence.” Do you believe the cause of Gospel freedom? You believe in the glory of Jesus Christ? And don’t be afraid that your professor finds that out, or your family finds that out, or your neighbors learn that. Amen. Lord, we pray for Gospel clarity and Gospel courage this day like the Apostle Paul. It is Thursday night and the Holy Week historically.
Our enemies have increased. The ground of acceptance culturally has shrunk. We seem to be on the wrong side of the argument for so many people. Lord, we pray that this would be a day where we would stand in the midst of the evil, having done all the stand. Help us remember the importance of air superiority. Help us to link our lives with the risen Christ, and remind ourselves we’re seated in the heavenlies, we’re on the side of the one who has broken principalities and powers, and can give us victory in the midst of the ground war. Lord, help us to be steadfast, and help us to be broad in our praying for the church. Help us, indeed, to ask you for the grace necessary to live victoriously. Help us to pray back your promises with great confidence. So we ask and pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.