“With 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, 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.” (Ephesians 6:18–20, NASB95)
Frequently when people speak of the Christian armor of Ephesians chapter 6 they end with the Word of God being the final piece, and essentially it is. But looking to our passage we quickly observe that Paul immediately moves from this last piece to the subject of prayer. And, if you were to think of this in a military sense, especially understanding that the battle we are engaged in is not one of flesh and blood, but of the spirit, this transition makes perfect sense. What soldier would go out into battle on his own against an enemy that he could not see? This is a sure formula for defeat. But recognizing that our success in battle is totally dependent on our standing firm in Christ, then it makes sense that we need to be in close touch with Him as we engage the enemy.
The way we do this is through prayer, and prayer is nothing more that communicating with God. We are told in these verses, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times….” Twice we see here the word “all.” We see all in the subject of our prayer and we see all in the time of our prayer. We are told to pray about all things at all times. The converse of the is that there is nothing that we cannot bring to Him and there is no time that He is too busy to be bothered. There is nothing too big or too small. There is no waking Him up in the middle of the night and there is no excuse for us when we are woken up in the middle of the night. There is no situation too intense for Him, and there is no situation too rushed or intense for us when we also cannot look and pray to Him. We may not have an hour to run away to a closet, but we have that moment to look to Him and plead for His help and guidance. We truly can and we truly are intended to pray to Him at all times and in all things.
We see what might seem to be two forms or classifications of prayer here. We have the word “prayer” and the word “petition.” Prayer is the broader, all-inclusive, form of prayer. It includes absolutely everything. It includes our adoration of God, our worship of Him, our praises, our confession, and our thanksgiving. There is nothing which is to be excluded from our prayer. It even includes this second aspect—petition. Petition is when we bring specific requests to Him, and possibly mentioning it separately we are reminded that going to God is more than asking things of Him, but also going to Him means that we can ask things of Him. When we are engaged in battle we need to communicate with the commander, and this is God. When we are engaged in battle we have needs, and it is right and appropriate to lift those needs to Him. It is right for us to prayer for ourselves and to pray for others. This is part of prayer, and Paul tells us here to bring all of our prayers to God. There is nothing that He does not know and nothing that He cannot do, but He wants to hear from us. This is how He works. We look to Him and He answers. What an incredible gift He has given to us to have a relationship with Himself. He truly does care and He is powerful to answer.
We also read that we are to pray “in the Spirit.” This does not mean that we have to be in some special state in order to pray such that God hears and responds. We do not have to get right first. In fact, the very process of getting right involves our confessing our wrong, thanking Him for His forgiveness, and agreeing with Him on moving forward right. What praying in the Spirit does include is the understanding of with whom and to whom we pray. Our prayers are not empty wishes thrown up into space, but they are communication with the Living God with whom we have been brought into an eternal relationship through His Son and through whom we have been eternally sealed by the Spirit. This phrase reminds us of the respectful attitude that we are to have recognizing with whom we are communicating. We are talking through the Holy Spirit to the sovereign, all-powerful God, and in so remembering this we don’t come to him with a flip, indifferent or even haughty attitude. We have been privileged to be able to speak to God through the Spirit of God who unites us with God in the Son.
Praying in the Spirit also means that we come before God seeking and submitting to God’s will for our lives. Our prayers are to be laid before Him in such a way that we are seeking to align our wills for our desires with His will for His plans. We aren’t to come to Him asking Him to do things that are contrary to His will especially when we know from His Word that what we are asking is specifically prohibited by Him. And when we do come to Him asking things that we are not certain about, we do so with attitudes that are willingly submitted to Him responding according to His own counsel or will.
We also are told to “be on the alert” in regard to our prayer. In 1 Peter 5:8 we read, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NASB95) We have a very active enemy and he is an opportunist, looking for every opportunity to attack. Recognizing that our battle is largely an unseen one, we need to be on the alert to those signs that something might be going on and we need to be prayerful concerning those things. We need to be constantly mindful, recognizing that the battle is real and that we need to be continually in contact with the only One who can truly see what is going on and knows how to respond to it. Oftentimes, these attacks come in the form of an off look or a misplaced response. Maybe someone was a bit harsh, and we respond with angrily in some way. James 1:19 tells us to be quick to hear, slow to listen and slow to anger. Being alert in this situation means not taking the bait and biting back. It means stopping to look to God and seeking His right way to respond or even put aside. The battle might even be more extreme leading to us or someone close to us climbing into a dark hole or depression. We need to be alert to these things and bring them to God so that the path can be cut short and a new and stable stance be taken. Being alert is how we do this.
The way we do this alertly is with “perseverance and petition….” This is the second time that petition is mentioned, but it is also the second time, in a sense, that perseverance is mentioned. We read that we are to do this at all times. Praying at all times is persevering in prayer. It is not throwing something at God and them ignoring, it is being constantly aware of the situation and being constantly attuned to bringing it to the hands of God. The devil is persistent, and we are told to persevere and to persevere with specific requests (petitions) of God. As these things are on our minds, our continually being in prayer at all times for all things is bringing these continual things continually to God trusting Him to hear and respond. It is not begging or pestering, but it is the continual recognition of our need and the needs of others and His ability to meet those needs. Persevering and petitioning keeps us mindful that God is God and it is in Him that we are to trust and to stand.
Then we read that we are to do this for “all the saints.” Every single believer is united with one another in Christ. We are made one in Him and we all have the same enemy. We are not in this battle alone, and Paul reminds us that we are to be in prayer for all of those around us so that we might mutually support one another in Christ as we look to God to hear and meet their needs as well as ours. Not only do we have opportunities to speak truth and encouragement to others, but we have been given the incredible privilege and responsibility to bring one another before the God who draws us to Him and who holds us securely in His hands.
Praying for others takes our focus off of the hurt they may have caused us, and turns our hearts toward God tenderly caring for them remembering that He is the one that makes us righteous with the righteousness of His own Son. Just think about how relationships might be changed if rather than harboring hurts we turn to our God and pray His blessings and help instead. Praying for others also brings us on board with them as they are engaged in the work given to them by God. We may not be able to go on the mission field or to walk in the shoes of other believers, but we surely can join with them in prayer as we come before our God who works all things in all His people.
In the next couple of verses Paul gives his readers specifics concerning how they might prayer as he turns his attention to himself and how they might pray for him. “…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.” Encouraging them to get specific in their prayers and petitions, Paul gave them specifics asking that they pray that he might not only have opportunities to speak, but that he might also have boldness in those opportunities to speak the truth with which we have all been entrusted, and that he might do so in just the right way.
“Prayer is definitely the final piece of the Christian's strategy in living a successful life amidst the spiritual attacks one faces in this world. Its importance should not be overlooked. This is the way to put on the full armor of God, for God is the one who teaches us the ways of war and fights the battle through our hands and feet. It is in communion with Christ that the armor is set and reset for battle. We must allow him to cinch up the belt of truth tightly and to lower over us His breastplate of righteousness and tie on His sandals of his peace with God and the peace of God, if we want to be victorious. Thus armed, through prayer and dependence upon the Lord, and the confidence we have through being in Christ, we can take our stand for Jesus Christ. The choice is ours.” [Spiritual Warfare, Calvary Crossroads Church]