Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:18c “. . .with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit. . .”
“All prayer” denotes prayer in all its many facets. We pray “always,” in all circumstances, and must pray “with all prayer,” in many different ways. Variety in situations requires variety in prayer. As our interaction with people has variety–it is not all asking, all telling, all laughing, all crying, all verbal–thus it is with God.
Since prayer is effective in many forms, use every approach. Some prayers are spoken or sung. Others are silent, being desires or thoughts of love directed to God. Solomon offered a long prayer (39 verses) to dedicate the temple (2 CH 6), Nehemiah a short prayer before the king (NH 2:4). Cry in panic, as in Peter’s, “Lord, save me!” Talk solely for pleasure, as in, “Lord, I love you. I enjoy you.”
Be versatile, use “all prayer.” Thanksgivings have to be offered; pray often, “Thank you, Lord.” Confessions need to be made; say often, “I have sinned.”
“All prayer” covers all settings. Public prayers in corporate worship teach and inspire others to pray. We pray in our social lives, enhancing fellowship we enjoy with other Christians. We pray in our home lives at the family altar and at meals. We have private prayer, prayers of the closet, when we are alone with God.
These times of secret prayer will make or break our over all prayer life. I have learned the best time for me to have private prayer time is at night, before falling asleep, in preparation for the next day. As Jews did in Bible times, I view my day as beginning at evening rather than morning. God receives my best in the night time hours. I urge you, find what works best for you, and then stay with it.
People always wanted access to Hudson Taylor. It was hard for him to have private time with God in prayer and Bible reading, but he knew it was vital. People who worked with him said they would hear a match struck at 2 a.m. and then long see the flicker of candlelight. However weary he was, Hudson Taylor’s time with God was from 2 to 4 a.m., for only then could he be undisturbed before God.
Develop an effective private prayer time. Without it, all else in preparation for Christian living is vain. In the private place of prayer, in the garden, Christ prayed while Peter slept. Later, in the palace, Christ was faithful and Peter fell. Private prayer is the most vital element of, and the reservoir for, “all prayer.”
Eph. 6:18d “. . .and watching thereunto. . .”
All armor in the world cannot protect a soldier who is asleep. “Watching,” being attentive and vigilant, bespeaks prayer by intent, the result of effort and inconvenience to self, “the sort of prayer about which trouble is taken” (Gore). Keep watch, even to the loss of sleep if necessary. Our conflict with temptation is lifelong. The necessity for constant vigilance in prayer never ceases. Never be careless. “Watching,” take every opportunity, and improve every chance, to pray.
Watch not only for occasions to pray, but also for the answer, as we do when we send a letter to someone we love. If we lose interest in the response to our prayer, do not expect God to be overly concerned about it.
Eph. 6:18e “. . .with all perseverance. . .”
God delights in persistence. It shows we are serious, mean business; we are not dabbling, but in earnest. God answers our requests with either yes, no, or wait. The latter draws “perseverance” into play. “Yes” excites and encourages us. As God grants specific requests, we are uplifted. “No” develops in us a submissive spirit. Often, the greatest miracles in prayer are those wrought in the hearts of the ones praying. Prayer changes not only things, but also the one who prays.
“Wait” spurs “perseverance,” keeps us depending on, and thus focused on, Him. In “wait,” God conveys a priceless blessing, His very self, to His children.
God often denies us the burning desire of our heart because He knows this is the only way He can keep us close to Himself, thereby sparing us much worse pain. The pain and burden that keeps us focused on God may actually be sparing us from much greater pains and burdens that would come if we ever backslide.
Persist in prayer. Never give up or be depressed when the yes or no answers are long in coming. Only God knows when the time is right to respond yea or nay to a request. Our duty is to keep praying. Trust God’s timing and God’s ways.
A lady in our church once handed me a written prayer request, asking me to join her in praying her children would return to God. She wrote at the end of her request, “I will never give up.” This perfectly illustrates “with all perseverance.”
Eph. 6:18f “. . .and supplication for all saints;. . .”
Making specific requests for ourselves is okay, but often we fall into the trap of asking only for ourselves. When this happens, our prayers become but the breath of selfishness. Prayer must be unselfish, for it is the language of God’s kingdom, which is a community, a brotherhood. Prayer is the communication link of a society whose life-blood is sociableness. Christians are not only individuals, but members of a body. We belong to, and should give ourselves to, one another. The bond among believers is never stronger than when we pray for each other.
As your pastor, I plead with us all, pray for one another, for three reasons. First, intercede because prayer works. It alters lives, changes circumstances, and heals the sick. At some point, we Christians must all deep down confront our own inner selves, do we really believe in the power of prayer? We are often like the saints who gathered to pray for Peter’s release from prison. When Rhoda told them Peter was at the gate, they said, “You are out of your mind!” (AC 12:15). They did not believe God had answered them, nor were they expecting Him to.
Get gut-level honest, do we really think God wants to move in people’s lives? As a result of our prayers, can a fellow saint overcome temptation, a student be made to stand, a businessman be kept from cheating, or a politician be given clear vision? Yes, but we must truly believe it, or we will not intercede.
Second, intercede because you care. Let the hurts and needs of others get under your skin. Paul taught us, “weep with them that weep” (RM 12:15b).
When we see someone bearing a large load, we immediately stop and offer to help carry it. Seeing an obvious need impresses itself upon our compassion. Well, everyone we will see today is carrying a heavy load, bearing a burden, but since it is unseen, we often forget to help them bear them. Find the load on those we meet, and use intercessory prayer to help lift it. Have a heart tender for others.
When we harden our hearts toward others, we stifle the very feeling of pain which can drive us to effective prayer. As we choke out sensitivity toward others, we cheat ourselves by suffocating what could be the impetus for many wonderful prayers. Some who could be among our church’s most powerful prayer warriors are yet undiscovered, their potential prayers lying dormant under the crust of a hardened heart. How sad to stand someday before God and hear Him say we were meant to be one of His most powerful prayer warriors, but it all went for naught because we refused to hurt. If we have hardened our hearts due to awful pain, the very fact itself indicates we are capable of strong feeling, God gave us a sensitive spirit. Don’t squelch sympathy, for if we refuse to feel, we lose a choice blessing.
Intercessory prayer is not a burden to aggravate us, but rather a precious blessing from God, given to draw us out of our own selves. Preoccupation with self is the root of much mental sadness. Intercessory prayer is a God-given aid, to help relieve mental illness. When sad, turning in on ourselves in unbounded pity worsens our plight. Praying for others helps lift us from the sad mire of ourselves.
Third, intercede because Jesus does. Believers are to imitate Jesus, the ultimate interceder. In Heaven, Jesus “ever liveth to make intercession” (HB 7:25b). To be like Jesus, we must pray for others. C. D. Meigs expressed it well:
Lord, help me live from day to day in such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray, my prayer shall be for others.
Others, Lord, yes, others, let this my motto be,
Help me to live for others, that I may live like Thee.