Chapter III The Secret Of The Sacred Struggle For Prayer
-The Lord's Own Continuously In Practice, (vv. 12-13.)
-The Lord's Own Courageously In Preparation, (vv. 14-17.)
-The Lord's Own Competently In Place. (vv. 18-19.)
Paul takes the illustration of battle and applies it at once to what goes on in a saint's life; the whole meaning of taking the armour of God is for prayer. Prayer is the position the devil is struggling for; the struggle is around the position of prayer and the simplicity of prayer. Prayer is easy to us because of what it cost God to enable us to pray. It is the Redemption of God, the agony of our Lord, that has made our salvation so easy and prayer so simple. When we put the emphasis on the line of prayer being a cost to us, we are wrong. The cost to us is nothing, it is a supreme and superb privilege marked by supernatural ease because of what it cost God. The tendency nowadays is to worship prayer, stress is put on nights of prayer and the difficulty and cost of prayer. It is not prayer that is strenuous, but the overcoming of our own laziness. If we make the basis of prayer our effort and agony and nights of prayer, we mistake the basis of prayer. The basis of prayer is not what it costs us, but what it cost God to enable us to pray.
The Lord's Own Continuously In Practice, (vv. 12-13.)
It is all very well to have vision, but we must be in continual practice so that when we find ourselves in a tight place we are perfectly fit to meet the emergency. One of the greatest difficulties in time of war is to find a man who can keep his head when everyone else is losing theirs. It is only done by steady practice. "Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God"—not to fight, but to stand. We are not told to attack, to storm the forts of darkness; we are told to stand, unpanicky and unbudged, more than conquerors. A conqueror is one who fights and wins, a 'more than conqueror' is one who easily and powerfully overcomes. The struggle is not against flesh and blood, it is against principalities and powers. We cannot touch them by intellect or organisation, by courage or foresight or forethought, we cannot touch them at all unless we are based on the Redemption.
"Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God." It is not given, we have to take it; it is there for us to put it on, understanding what we are doing. We have the idea that prayer is for special times, but we have to put on the armour of God for the continual practice of prayer, so that any struggling onslaught of the powers of darkness cannot touch the position of prayer. When we pray easily it is because Satan is completely defeated in his onslaughts; when we pray difficultly it is because Satan is gaining a victory. We have not been continuously practising, we have not been facing things courageously, we have not been taking our orders from our Lord. Our Lord did not say, 'Go' or 'Do'; He said, "Watch and pray."
If we struggle in prayer it is because the enemy is gaining ground. If prayer is simple to us, it is because we have the victory. There is no such thing as a holiday for the beating of your heart. If there is, the grave conies next. And there is no such thing as a moral or spiritual holiday. If we attempt to take a holiday, the next time we want to pray it is a struggle because the enemy has gained a victory all round, darkness has come down and spiritual wickedness in high places has enfolded us. If we have to fight, it is because we have disobeyed; we ought to be more than conquerors.
"... and having done all, to stand"—a mental state as regards confidence, no panic. What is it puts us into a panic? The devil is a bully, but he cannot stand for a second before God. When we stand in the armour o£ God he pays no attention to us, but if we tackle the devil in our own strength we are done for. If we stand in God's armour with the strength and courage of God, he cannot gain one inch of way, and the position of prayer is held, as far as we are concerned, untouched by his wiles. Confidence in the natural world is self- reliance, in the spiritual world it is God-reliance. We run away when we have not been practising, when we have not been doing anything in private, then when there is a new onslaught of the wiles of the devil we lose heart instantly. Instead of standing we scuttle, and others have to fill the gap until we are sufficiently ashamed to come back. We cannot stand against the wiles of the devil by our wits. The devil only comes along the lines that God understands, not along the lines we understand, and the only way we can be prepared for him is to do what God tells us, stand complete in His armour, indwelt by His Spirit, in complete obedience to Him. We have not to wait for some great onslaught of the enemy, he is here all the time and he is wily. The secret of the sacred struggle for prayer lies in the fact that we must stand in the armour of God, practising what God would have us do, then we can hold the position of prayer against all the attacks of the devil.
If we are struggling in prayer it is because the wiles of the enemy are getting the upper hand, and we must look for the cause of it in the lack of discipline in ourselves. There are some things we have not been strenuously practising—we used to pray in the morning, do we now? We used to commune with God over the Bible, do we now? We used to be in contact with God wherever we went, are we now? Put on the whole armour of God and keep continuously practising, then the wiles of the devil cannot get you unawares.
The Lord's Own Courageously In Preparation, (vv. 14-17.)
"Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth"—all active, sensible work is symbolised by girt loins—"and having on the breastplate of righteousness"; no inordinate fear, no questionable affinities, no tampering with winsomeness; all that breaks the armour down. Righteousness means 'rightness' in my relationship to other people and their best interests.
"... and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace." What kind of shoes do you wear? How many can say of us, 'As soon as I heard your step I felt better? Or do they say, 'It was when your step came into my life that all went wrong; it was when the step of your friendship began with me that I began to lose out with God? Put on the armour of God, keep the heart right with God, and wherever you go, you will shed the preparation of the gospel of peace. Wherever the saint goes there is the shedding of the benediction of the blessing of God, or there is the coming of the conviction of the Spirit of God.
"Above all, taking the shield of faith." Faith is unbreakable confidence in the Personality of God, not in His power. There are some things over which we may lose faith if we have confidence in God's power only. There is so much that looks like the mighty power of God that is not. We must have confidence in God over and above everything He may do, and stand in confidence that His character is unsullied. Faith stands under all tests— "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." When we take the shield over-all of faith, none of these things can get through without breaking the shield, we are protected by the covering shield.
"And take ... the sword of the Spirit." The Spirit brings to our remembrance what the Lord Jesus has said. In every onslaught of the enemy around us, that is the position he is struggling for. In order to be able to wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, we must obey, and it takes the courageous heart to obey. If we try to apply the teaching of our Lord apart from the imparted nature of our Lord to our souls, we will make a muddle. It is not that we take the Sermon on the Mount as precepts and try to live up to them, but that when the Spirit of God. brings some word of God back to our remembrance in certain circumstances—will we obey it? It will take courage, but as we obey, the wiles of the devil are withstood all the time and we stand.
The Lord's Own Competently In Place. (vv. 18-19.)
That is, the place where God puts His soldiers, clad in His armour, and indwelt by His Spirit. Can we pray in prayer, or are we being beguiled by the devil? Have we been lured into a judicious winsomeness? Are we not quite so intense as we used to be? Have black and white become a neutral grey? Are we no longer so intense about sin as we used to be? Then we are out of place, we are exactly in the relationship of traitors, we can make known the position that can easily be taken by the devil unawares.
"Watch and pray," said Jesus in the centre of His own agony. If we don't, we shall slip into the lure of wrong roads without knowing it. The only way to keep right is to watch and pray. Prayer on any other basis than that on which it is placed in the New Testament is stupid, and the basis of prayer is not human earnestness, not human need, not the human will, it is Redemption, and its living centre is a personal Holy Ghost. A child can pray. Through His own agony in Redemption, God has made it as easy to pray as it sounds. There is nothing a rationally-minded being can ridicule more easily than prayer. "Praying always"—the unutterable simplicity of it! No panic, no flurry, always at leisure from ourselves on the inside.
"... watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." It is all very well to have prayer meetings, but are we continually practising in the armour of God, keeping our hearts stout in the courage of God's Spirit and taking our orders from Him? Or are we making an ingenious compromise? There is only one service that has no snares, and that is prayer. Preaching has snares to the natural heart; so has public service. Prayer has no snare because it is based on the Redemption of the Lord Jesus Christ made efficacious all the time by the Holy Spirit. ". . . and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, . . ." We naturally suppose it is no use praying for 'Paul,' for prominent people, God will look after them all right. The prominent people for God are marked for the wiles of the devil, and we must pray for them all the time; God gives us every now and again an alarming exhibition of what happens if we don't.
Lord God Omnipotent, how my soul delights to know that Thou dost care for sparrows and numberest the hairs of our head! Lord, breathe on me till I am in the frame of mind and body to worship Thee.
O Lord, I would seek Thy face now, but what avail is my seeking if Thou revealest not Thyself? Show me Thy face, O Lord. Keep me ever seeing Thee.
O Lord, to praise Thee aright is a great desire of mine, created and fostered by Thy Spirit and grace. This morning, O Lord, I praise Thee for all the past—so wayward on my part, so wonderful and gracious and long-suffering and forgiving and tender and inspiring on Thine.