“…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”
I was sitting in the barber's chair getting my hair cut when Operation Desert Storm began in 1991. I knew that a war had begun in Iraq because I was watching it on TV. It was that strange combination of razor-sharp scissors and laser-guided bombs. I watched with fascination as cameras on fighter jets and missiles captured the destruction of various targets on the opening night of the war.
Technology has changed the way we experience war, but not war's primary strategies. What were those pilots trying to accomplish at the beginning of the war? The news anchors told us that the first objective was undermining and destroying the Iraqi army's communication system. And the reason is obvious: if units can’t communicate with each other, if soldiers are cut off from their commanding officers, they can’t fight effectively. War is so intense that constant communication is essential. Both sides in a conflict want to cut off their enemy's lines of communication.
In Ephesians 6, Paul makes it clear that we are in a battle. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (6:12). Because of the intensity of this spiritual battle Paul reminds us that our own weapons are not sufficient for the fight. "Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day" (6:13).
But how do we stay aware of this battle? And how do we take up the armor of God? We can easily forget the final words of Paul's battle plan. He writes that Christians should be "praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication" (Eph 6:18). Prayer is not the pastime of some spiritual elite; it is the privilege of every believer in Jesus Christ. And that privilege was hard won: Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that his people would enjoy an unbreakable union with him and perpetual access to him. Prayer is our vital line of communication to the Lord himself. In the midst of the battle of our life, how are these lines of communication holding up?
I recently reread C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters. This fictional work is framed around the concept of an established demon (Screwtape) writing letters to a novice (Wormwood) explaining how to tempt patients (humans) and keep them from the Enemy (God). Not surprisingly, prayer is a theme to which Screwtape often returns. “The best thing," he writes, "where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether." Satan's attacks are like laser-guided bombs aimed at our communion with God in prayer. Should we be surprised that prayer can be more duty than delight, more struggle than strength?
Technology has changed the way we experience spiritual warfare, but not the war's primary strategies. There was a time when smart phones and social media weren't the things keeping us from prayer, and there will be a day when they are replaced with something else. But the struggle is always the same: the Lord invites us to a life of prayer in his presence, and the enemy will do whatever he can to keep us from that life. Samuel Chadwick writes, “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.” Have you ever considered what it might look like or sound like to pray prayers that make the devil tremble?
The good news is that prayerlessness should never get the last word in a Christian's life. The key to the battle is not trying harder to win a fight that’s too big for us. The key is looking to Jesus, who has already lived the perfect life of prayer and defeated the devil decisively. As we look to Jesus, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit indwells believers so that the power and presence of Christ are not just a nice idea, but a lived reality. In Christ, we have everything we need to protect the lines of communication that are essential for the battle of the Christian life. And as we grow in prayer, the Lord intends to bless our communion with him and build his kingdom at the same time.
Where are we in relationship to this battle? Are we oblivious, not even realizing there's a battle raging all around us? Are we sitting in a barber's chair, not sure whether to be entertained or terrified by what's unfolding before our eyes? Or are we engaged, connected to our King through what John Piper has called “the wartime walkie-talkie” of prayer? Are we more and more aware of the Lord’s overarching victory and continuous provision as we wrestle in prayer? Or have we left the front and gone AWOL? "No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him" (2 Timothy 2:4). As the battle rages, do we know the Prince of Peace? Do we know that when we come to him and say, “Lord, teach us to pray,” he gives us an answer, and he even gives us himself?