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Scripture Reading: Psalm 20

Sermon Title: Pray in the Spirit

Sermon Text: Ephesians 6:18-20

Memory Verse: Psalm 20:6

MAIN IDEA: Pray in the Spirit at all times, alertly, with all perseverance, petition, and for all the Saints.

The Command of Prayer

The Conduct of Prayer

The Content of Prayer

 

NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." This manuscript is provided as a courtesy and is not intended for publication. The audio message will differ because the manuscript is not followed word for word. Thanks for understanding.

 

 

Spiritual Struggle in the Church

In the sixteenth century, 500 years ago, there lived a man by the name of Martin Luther. Martin Luther engaged in a tremendous spiritual battle for the gospel. The enemy sought to deceive the church. Luther fought for truth. He faced many enemies, some of which, were among the most powerful people in the world.

Martin Luther characterized the battle as a struggle against the devil himself. Those who opposed Luther, also thought the battle to be spiritual. In fact, one Catholic thought Martin Luther was a “demon in the appearance of a man.”

In Luther’s battle, he took up the armor of God, and he prayed. In his struggle against the forces of darkness, he found prayer to be vitally important. He said, “Prayer is a strong wall and fortress of the church; it is a goodly Christian weapon.”

Every believer faces a spiritual struggle. Our struggle doesn’t end just because we take up the armor. We also need to pray. After telling the Ephesians to take up the armor of God, he gives them the command to pray:

18With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph. 6:18-20)

The main idea of the message this morning is:

MAIN IDEA: Pray in the Spirit at all times, alertly, with all perseverance, petition, and for all the Saints.

The armor of God is protection for the outside. We pray to God for the strength we need on the inside. We put on Christ’s armor so we may stand firm and we pray for God’s strength in our inner-man.

In these verses we find, the command of prayer, the conduct of prayer, and the content of prayer. First, let’s look at the command of prayer.

The Command of Prayer

The command to pray is that we are to pray at all times in the Spirit.

The NASB translation seeks to be as accurate as possible to the Greek. Sometimes, word for word translation becomes a bit difficult to read. A simpler translation reads, “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere (NLT).”

The command we are to follow is:

… pray at all times in the Spirit, (Eph. 5:18)

At all times

When we pray at all times, prayer is an attitude. We are to pray without ceasing (1 The. 5:18). In praying always, we demonstrate our continual need for God’s help.

We are called to humble ourselves and admit we need God’s help all the time. The moment we think, “I got this” is the moment we are in serious trouble. We are to humbly admit, “I still need You, Jesus, this moment just as much as the first day You saved me.”

In the first chapter of Acts, the disciples gathered with one mind and were continually devoting themselves to prayer. All the church members knew the importance of prayer. Acts 2:42 says that they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer.

When the busyness of church became too much for the Apostles, they appointed deacons so that they could keep prayer as a primary ministry, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).”

It is no surprise the Apostles practiced the importance of prayer. They saw Jesus pray daily and He taught them to pray daily by asking God to, “give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3).

Think about why we ought to pray.

God commands us to do that which is absolutely impossible. Our inability to accomplish the commands of God should weigh heavy on our conscience.

To the universe, God says, “Stars shine brightly and move exactly as I tell you. Raindrop fall. Earthquake, shake. Mountain, be lifted up. Lioness give birth. Sparrow fall.”

God looks at us and says, “saint: have a heart of compassion, be kind, humble, gentle and patient; forgive each other, love your enemy, love your wife as Christ loves the church, preach the gospel in season and out of season; pick up your cross daily, be holy as I am Holy.”

Do we hear these commands and think, “No problem!” The commands of God’s word should drive us to our knees. If they don’t, then we aren’t thinking, are we? We have a serious, need for help in carrying out God’s commands.

We are to obey all the time, so we need to pray all the time, “Help me Lord!”

… pray at all times in the Spirit, (Eph. 5:18)

In the Spirit

Praying in the Spirit is to pray with the influence of the Spirit. The easiest way to think of how we are to pray in the Spirit is to think of the contrast, the opposite of praying in the Spirit. The opposite of being in the Spirit is to be in the flesh. The Bible might just as easily say, “Pray at all times, but don’t pray in the flesh.”

We pray in the Spirit we pray according to God’s will. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Praying for God’s will is praying in the Spirit. Praying for our will is to pray in the flesh.

We must study the Scriptures to pray in the Spirit. The Bible is the spoken words of the Holy Spirit. When we pray according to the Bible, we pray according to God’s will and the Spirit.

This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)

It is God’s will for me to be a good husband. When I pray for God to help me be a better husband, I am praying in the Spirit. God commands us to be strong in the Lord and to take up His armor. Praying for God to help us take up His armor is praying in the Spirit.

We are told to set our mind on things above, not things on the earth. Don’t pray according to our flesh, but pray according to things above, which are of God.

We need to pray, “God, please open Your heavenly storehouses and pour out Your blessings upon the church.”

Let’s ask ourselves, when we pray, bless us Lord from heaven, what comes to mind? What do we picture God will provide?

Do we picture, “holiness, righteousness, and goodness in abundance,” or does our mind picture fleshly indulgences? God provides for us from His storehouses in heaven. The storehouses don’t contain earthly things which will satisfy the flesh. Hopefully, we have a hard time picturing I-Pads, toaster-ovens, and Lamborghinis in God’s heavenly storehouses.

We need that which is in short supply. Our supply of love, compassion, forgiveness, grace, and humility is not overflowing on the shelves of our life. “God will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” God wants to bless us abundantly with stuff we really need. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Our flesh desires convenience and not holiness. Too often we pray for our fleshly passions and comfort more than we pray for our spiritual need. We are more likely to pray for safety on the road than pray for God to provide an opportunity to share the gospel when we travel.

Sometimes we work with difficult people on the job. Our flesh will want us to pray and ask God to move those people far away. Does our heavenly Father care that when our job has difficult people? Yes. Does God believe the right solution is to remove us from the presence of difficult people? No. The difficult person at work is there for our sanctification. Don’t allow the flesh to pray for the difficult person to go away, pray in the Spirit to be more like Christ because of that difficult person.

When we are sick, our flesh wants us to we get well so we can go about life as normal, eating and having fun. Praying in the Spirit is to pray, “Lord I have a headache. If it is Your will to remove my headache, please help me in that way. I will be thankful if You will. But, if You don’t, help me not sin by grumbling and complaining. Help me not to be a grouch to my family. Help me to be like Christ despite my headache. Help me to be like Christ in His suffering.”

We are in a spiritual struggle with enemies. Our prayer ought not to be that God removes the rulers, powers, the world forces of darkness, or the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Instead, our prayer ought to be that, in the struggle, we remain confident in God’s Word, our faith is deepened, we trust in the work of Christ on the cross, and we stand firm as a testimony to the saving work of Christ. We need to pray Christ is glorified in our struggle.

Praying in the Spirit may sound something like this, “Lord, I believe this prayer request will help me in my walk with You. I can list off several ways why I think Your answer may be useful. But, I am not the wisest, you are. You alone are wise. Please grant this request or give me the wisdom to see why You may not answer according to my desire.”

Do not allow the fleshly, materialistic, earthly aspect of life influence our prayers. Pray for the spiritual life God has commanded us to live.

Praying in Jesus Name

While we are on the topic of prayer and asking God for spiritual things, it is also important to understand what it means to ask God according to the name of Jesus.

Context is very important to understanding the Bible. When the Bible speaks about praying in Jesus name, we need to know the audience and their situation.

Praying in Jesus’ name is spoken of in one place in the Bible. It is mentioned three times in the same teaching. The occasion is after the Last Supper, right before Jesus goes to pray in the Garden. It is taught during Jesus’ final teaching to the eleven Apostles in the upper room (Judas left).

Jesus tells the Apostles that He is going away. There will be a time soon they will no longer see Him (John 14:1-6; 16:16-17). Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the Apostles. They spent three years with Jesus. He is their Rabbi and Teacher. He provides food when there is no food. He calms storms to prevent death on the sea. Imagine how frightful it must be for them to imagine life without Jesus.

Jesus tells them not to worry because He is going away. He will send the Helper. He also tells them to abide in Him and to obey His commands. As long as they do that, they will bear fruit. He tells them to love one another. He warns them not to stumble, but stand strong.

During the upper room teaching, He tells them three times if they pray in His name, their prayer will be answered (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24). Jesus knows these men are going to travel across the world to plant churches. He knows they will face great, challenging struggles. They will need to call upon Jesus like never before.

Unlike Israel, who fought with an army and God went before them to defeat the enemies, these men will only fight with the Gospel. They will face great persecution. These are the men Jesus chose to establish His church. The onslaught of the enemy will be fierce. Jesus says, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” He wants them to know, they have a great task to accomplish, they are the founders of the church. In His absence, they may rely upon Christ in prayer as they set out to accomplish their mission.

Now, considering the context and knowing Jesus is preparing the Apostles to plant churches all throughout the world and that they will all face persecution and death, do we think these men will pray according to their flesh, or according to the Spirit? Will they pray for life to be cozy with safe travels and that the weather will be good? Will they pray for a new house? Will they pray for their cousin’s pregnancy? Or, will they pray for the Kingdom of God to go forth, for churches to be planted, and for the Gospel to be advanced? (I am not saying God is unconcerned about the ordinary cares of life.)

The Apostles will accomplish great things because they are advancing the Kingdom. They will not ask selfishly, to make life, but they will ask God in Jesus name for the church to build and grow.

Praying in Jesus name is having a piece of paper with His royal signet stamped in wax. We have the authority Christ has given us to ask in His name. By the blood of Christ, we enter into the holy of holies. It is a right and a privilege. We need to be very careful how we use the privilege of Christ’s name and not use it for selfish gain.

People who ask for foolish things to satisfy their flesh are insulting the spent blood of Christ. We are to ask in His name for the advancement of the Kingdom.

We need to pray at all times in the Spirit.

The Conduct of Prayer

and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition (Eph. 5:18)

While we are keeping in mind praying in the Spirit at all times, we are to be on the alert.

Alert

To be alert means we are to be on the watch, not sleepy, but awake and ready. Our enemy does not rest. So, we may not rest either.

Picture an alert soldier wearing armor during a struggle. We have a picture of someone who is aware of their surroundings. Being on alert in enemy territory requires paying attention.

If we are in that situation, and need a person to be on watch, what would we expect? We expect we wouldn’t have to say, “You didn’t see the bushes moving before the ambush?” And have them respond, “No, I was on my phone checking Facebook.”

A person who is alert will watch for battleships on the on the horizon; look for things that are different on the landscape, and they will be wary of the tactics of the enemy.

When we are alert in prayer, we pay attention to details going on around us.  We need to recognize the day is evil. We have an enemy seeking to devour the weak among us. We need to pray for protection for people in the flock who don’t know their Bible very well and are susceptible to deception. We need to pray for our friends, and ourselves, so we do not enter into temptation. We must be watching, looking, and aware.

“Father, I’ve seen these circumstances before, and the last time I was in this circumstance, stuff jumped out of my heart that wasn’t good and I sinned. Will you help me Lord in this circumstance to be more like Christ? Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil.”

Father, I haven’t slept well. When I don’t sleep well, I am unloving, impatient, unkind, and difficult to be around. Father, can you help me to be more like Christ?

Be alert. Be alert for the circumstances and situations you encounter.

Father, I’ve noticed my neighbor seems to be struggling … help me to be alert for needs.

Father, I notice a new person in the break room at work. I’ve been praying for an opportunity to share the Gospel. Help me be alert and know what to say.

We need to walk through life being alert to what God is doing. Jesus was alert. He was always looking to see what the Father was doing, and he participated in that. We need to be alert paying attention to what God is doing and participating in that, being aware.

Father, I read in Your Word how I am to be compassionate, help me be alert for opportunities to be compassionate.

Father, it seems my boss at work is edgy about something, would You give me wisdom, and a door of opportunity, to talk about having peace and knowing about the love of Christ?

We need to discipline ourselves to be alert, rather than be oblivious to what is going on around us spiritually.

Be alert to pray during the everyday tasks of life. As we put wood on the campfire, pray. “Lord as I add wood to the flames of this fire, will You work in my heart to stoke the flames for Christ?” As we wash, pray, “Lord, will You cleanse me on the inside as I wash the outside?” “Lord, as I drive and direct the steering of the car, will You direct my heart and steer me in the ways of righteousness for Your name sake.”

Be on the alert and pray with all perseverance.

All Perseverance

Jesus taught two parables about perseverance in prayer.

The first is in Luke 11. It is the parable of the man who knocks on his neighbor's door asking for bread. The man keeps knocking, but the neighbor says go away. Eventually, the man got up to give him bread. Jesus said, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs (Luke 11:8). Because he was persistent, he got out of bed. God is not a lazy man who doesn’t want to get out of bed! Jesus wants us to learn from the parable that we are to be persistent in our prayer.

The second parable about persevering in prayer is in Luke 18.

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. “There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ “For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said*; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

The point Jesus makes is that if an ungodly man is unwilling to help a poor widow, but her perseverance finally wore him out, imagine how much more our loving Father will help us when we persistently cry out to Him. Jesus links faith and with persevering in our prayer. “When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

When Jesus comes, will He find us persevering in our prayers because we are full of faith; believing God will help?

be on the alert with all perseverance and petition (Eph. 5:18)

Petition

A petition is a list. God expects us to come to Him with a list of needs. When we truly want something from God, we will make a list, and get on our knees.

God is sovereign and will accomplish His purposes. God chose the Bible as the means to communicate the Gospel. God chose people and not angels to communicate the gospel to other people. God chose prayer as a means to accomplish His will through us.

The Bible clearly teaches us to pray and make our requests to God. Scripture passages imply our failure to bring our petitions to God deprives us of what God would otherwise have given to us. We may not deny that Jesus says, “Ask and you shall receive.”

If prayer doesn’t somehow change the way God acts, then God’s command to ask in prayer is a sham. If prayer doesn’t change the way God acts, then verses about prayer mean nothing. They shouldn’t be in the Bible.

The Bible tells us to pray because it changes the way God acts. I don’t know how that works.  I don’t think anybody does. But it does. Moses prayed for God to show His glory, and He did. Paul asked for prayer because He believed prayer makes a difference. God doesn’t have us pray because He thinks it’s a waste of our time to ask for something He is not going to do. He commands us to ask for His help.

If we truly believe: God loves us, He has good for us, He can help, and He listens to our prayer, then we will pray.

The conduct of our prayer is that we are to

be on the alert with all perseverance and petition (Eph. 5:18)

The Content of Prayer

The first content of our prayer is that we are to pray for all the saints.

… for all the saints, (Eph. 5:18)

Pray for All the Saints

When we pray, do we just think of ourselves, or do we pray for the church? Do we pray for only our friends or do we also pray for those we don’t know well?

We need to broaden the people on our prayer list. We need to pray for our church and the other churches in the Upper Valley. We need to pray for the churches in our nation. We need to pray for the persecuted churches throughout the world. We need to pray for the Saints of India, NYC, Canada, Serbia, South Africa, Greece, Jordan, and Niger.

We need to pray for our missionaries across the globe. As we read the news about bombing in Manchester, England, the situation in North Korea, or trouble in the Middle East, we need to pray for the Saints in those areas and their struggle against the enemy. Pray they glorify Christ and the gospel during the times of trouble.

As we pray for all the saints, we also need to pray for the Gospel.

Pray for the Gospel

and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph. 5:19-20)

Earlier in the letter, Paul spoke about being a prisoner for the gospel. He told he Ephesians that he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus “for the sake of you Gentiles” (Eph. 3:1).

Paul is writing this letter from a prison in Rome. He is in prison, because while in Jerusalem, he preached God is saving Gentiles. We can read the entire story in Acts 21-26.

A great summary of what happened is in Acts 26:15-23. When Paul is before King Agrippa, he tells of his vision of seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus and how Jesus is sending Him as a minister of Christ to both the Jews and Gentiles.

“to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.  For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:18-23)

Paul wants to be sure, as he stands before Nero, he explains salvation is for the Jews and the Gentiles. The mystery he desires to make clear is that Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Eph. 3:1-13). Paul is in jail facing trial before Nero because he preaches salvation is also for the Gentiles.

Paul is asking them to pray for him in the spirit and not the flesh. He knows the Ephesians are concerned about him being in jail (a fleshly concern), but Paul is more concerned about his being faithful to the gospel. He wants to proclaim it as he ought, with clarity and boldness. Being on trial in Rome is very intimidating. Paul wants to be sure the gospel is clear despite the circumstances.

We need not pray for Paul. But, today, we need to pray for all the saints and the advancement of the gospel. Every day, there are people out sharing the gospel. There are people in jail and on trial for preaching the gospel in countries where it is illegal.

Closing

God’s people need to pray all the time, alertly, persistently, and in the Spirit. We face an enemy, and he seeks our destruction.

We began talking about Martin Luther and his struggle with the enemy. He penned a beautiful hymn describing the struggle, (#151), A Mighty Fortress is our God. Let’s read the third stanza,

 

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

 

MAIN IDEA: Pray in the Spirit at all times, alertly, with all perseverance, petition, and for all the Saints.