A Prayer for Boldness

Ephesians 6:18-20

July 11, 2004 | Brian Bill

John Ortberg tells the story about a man who wanders into a small and cluttered antique shop.  In the midst of all the knickknacks and junk, he notices what looks like an ancient Chinese vase lying on the floor.  On closer inspection it turns out to be a priceless relic from the Ming dynasty whose value is beyond calculating.  It’s worth more than anything else in the store put together.  The customer realizes that the owner has no idea about its value, because it’s filled with milk and the cat’s drinking out of it.

The man sees the opportunity for a deal of a lifetime so he cleverly strategizes a method to obtain the vase for a fraction of its worth.  He comes up to the owner and says, “That’s an extraordinary cat you have.  How much would you sell her for?”  The owner responds, “Oh, the cat is not really for sale.  She keeps the store free of mice.”  The man counters by saying, “I really must have her.  Tell you what…I’ll give you a hundred dollars for her.”  The owner laughs and says, “She’s not really worth it, but if you want her that badly, she’s yours.”

The man then says, “I need something to feed her from as well.  Let me throw in another ten dollars for that saucer she’s drinking out of.”  The owner grins and replies, “Oh, I could never do that.  That saucer is actually an ancient Chinese vase from the Ming dynasty.  It is my prized possession, whose worth is beyond calculation.  Funny thing, though; since we’ve had it, I’ve sold seventeen cats!” 

Some of us approach God like that when we try to get Him to give us something we really want.  At times we bargain with God and other times we just don’t bother.  Let’s be honest about something.  While some of us do OK with our prayers, many of us know we need more power when we pray.  Today we’re kicking off a new series called, “Power Prayers” in order to help us pray more…and pray more effectively.  In order to do this, we’ll study some model prayers by some of the Master prayer warriors in the Bible – Paul, Solomon, Jesus, and Moses.

Today we’ll look at Paul’s teaching on prayer from Ephesians 6:18-20.  We’ll begin with verse 18: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”  This primer on prayer comes right after the reminder that we’re in a spiritual war.  Notice verse 12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Because we’re in a cosmic battle, Paul challenges believers to put on the “full armor of God” in verses 13-17.  And in verses 18-20, he describes prayer as the ultimate secret weapon of war.  We won’t be able to use the armor if we’re not empowered by prayer.  

Paul’s Paradigm for Prayer

If we want to know how to pray, this verse gives us six essential elements that can beef up our prayer lives, taking them from mediocre or non-existent to powerful and exciting.  According to Paul’s paradigm, prayer must be:

1. Spirit-directed. 

When we allow the Spirit to direct our prayers we can avoid selfish requests and empty words.

The first thing we must remember is that prayer is not something that is to be rote or repetitious.  Jesus cautioned us against just going through the motions in Matthew 6:7: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”  Paul challenges us to “pray in the Spirit.”  To pray in the spirit means at least two things.  First, we must pray with our heart and soul.  Second, we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us pray.  Romans 8:26 says: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”  There have been times when I’ve simply prayed, “Lord have mercy” or “God do your work here” because I couldn’t pray anything else.  When we allow the Spirit to direct our prayers we can avoid selfish requests and empty words.

2. Life-saturated. 

We are to pray in the Spirit “on all occasions.”  The time to pray is all the time.  Prayer is appropriate in all seasons of life and at all times during the day.  We are to pray when things are good, and when they’re bad; in times of tragedy, and in times of triumph; when we finish well, and when we fail miserably; when God feels close, and when we don’t know where He is.  The early church certainly understood this when we read in Acts 1:14 that they were “continually devoting themselves to prayer.”  1 Thessalonians 5:17 challenges us to “pray without ceasing.” Have you ever wondered how you can pray like this?  How can you pray without ceasing?  The only way I know is by allowing Christ to be at the center of your life so that in every situation and circumstance you will find yourself naturally talking to Him.

3. All-encompassing. 

The Spirit must energize our prayers and we must seek the Lord on all occasions.  Next, we’re to do so “with all kinds of prayers and requests.”  The Greek emphasizes “all types” of prayer.  There is not just one way to pray.  In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian came upon evil forces and found that his weapon was useless.  As he pondered the situation, he was “forced to put up his sword, and betake himself to another weapon called, ‘All-Prayer.’”

The word “prayer” refers to something general and concerns honoring God by bowing in reverence before Him; while a “request” is a specific petition for ourselves or for others.  Prayer can be public or private; social or secret; solemn or sudden.  Our prayers can be written out or they can be spontaneous.  We can think them or we can shout them.  We can weep in brokenness when we pray, or we can be exuberant with praise.  

Shortly after I became a Christian, my roommate taught me something that still helps me today.  He mentioned that its way too easy to just approach God with a shopping list of requests and that we tend to skip over praise.  Perhaps you’ve also profited from the acronym ACTS for the parts of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9 provides a good example of this.

  • Adoration.  While God loves to hear our requests, He is honored when we begin with praise.  When Daniel prays for his nation, he starts with worship in verse 4: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands.” Instead of rushing into your requests, first slow down and praise God for who He is.
  • Confession.  After adoring the Almighty, Daniel immediately goes into a time of confession in verse 5: “we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws.” Daniel couldn’t help but confess because his invocation led to introspection and he quickly realized all the ways that he and his people fell short.  Actually, if you read this chapter, you’ll see that the majority of his prayer is spent in confession.
  • Thanksgiving.  After worshipping and owning his sin, Daniel remembers to give thanks for all that God has done in verse 15: “Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day…” What is it that you can thank God for today?
  • Supplication.  When we put our requests at the end, we’re in a better position to acknowledge that God’s will is what we really want.  By adoring, confessing and thanking, it’s harder to be selfish.  Daniel, who is obviously praying “in the Spirit,” pleads in verse 17: “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant.  For your sake, O Lord, look with favor upon your desolate sanctuary.”  He concludes his prayer in verse 19 with a sense of urgency: “O lord, listen!  O Lord, forgive.  O Lord, hear and act!” When you pray, don’t hold back.  You don’t have to be meek or hesitant as Hebrews 4:16 states: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence…”  James 4:2 in the New King James puts it clearly: “You do not have because you do not ask.”

4. Clear-minded. 

Next, we’re to be alert when we pray.  The word used here literally means, “sleepless” or “not drowsy.”  Paul is returning to a military image to help us see that we are on guard duty and must therefore not go AWOL.  The phrase, “watch and pray” is used often in the Bible.  Have you ever noticed how prayer can make you start yawning?  Peter went to sleep when he should have been watching (Matthew 26:40); Saul had his spear taken when he fell asleep (1 Samuel 26:12); Samson’s hair was whacked off when he was snoring (Judges 16:19); and Sisera’s head was nailed to the ground while he took a siesta (Judges 4:21).  Now, that’s not to say we shouldn’t sleep, but we must guard against snoozing when we should be interceding.  There are at least three things we should watch out for when we’re praying:

  • Be aware of the evil around you and Satan’s desire to keep you from prayer.  Don’t let him win!  Work through your sleepiness.  
  • Watch your propensity to doze and space out while you’re praying.  Stay alert.  1 Peter 4:7 says: “Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” One way I keep my mind clear is by writing down stray thoughts that come my way when I’m getting ready to pray.  Another way to stay focused is to write out your prayers in a journal.
  • Be attentive to God’s answers to your prayers.  Look for them during the day.  Expect Him to respond and keep praying until He does.  

5. Persistently-devoted. 

The fifth element of prayer is to “always keep on praying.”  To keep on praying means to serve constantly.  Some of you have been praying for a family member for years.  Don’t stop.  Warren Wiersbe says that most of us quit praying just before God is about to give the victory.  Keep on praying until the Spirit stops you or the Father answers you.

Jesus encouraged us to be persistent in prayer when He said in Matthew 7:7: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  These three verbs are present imperatives so it could read: “Ask, and keep on asking; seek, and keep on seeking; knock, and keep on knocking.”  There’s also an ascending order of intensity.  We begin by asking and then we seek by going after it and finally we pound on the door.  George Mueller prayed for two friends for over fifty years.  Someone asked him if he really believed that God would convert them.  I love his response: “Do you think God would have kept me praying all these years if He did not intend to save them?”  Both of these men eventually came to Christ, one right before Mueller died; the other shortly after his death.

6. Others-focused. 

The final element of prayer is to make sure we are praying for others, not just for ourselves: “keep on praying for all the saints.” Remember that when Jesus taught His followers to pray, He began with the phrase, Our Father.”  We are to pray in the plural, not just the singular.  Our prayers have the ability to impact lives around the world as we pray for our summer missionaries and our full-time missionaries.  And we can cover our families with protection as we pray for them.  This church needs your prayers and I need your prayers.  Paul modeled the importance of praying for others and now he urges people to pray for him.

Paul’s Passion for Proclamation

I’m challenged by Paul’s prayer request.  Here he is, chained to a prison guard, locked up in a Roman prison and he doesn’t ask believers to pray for his release.  He doesn’t cry out for comfort.  He’s not asking for prayers for his health.  Amazingly, even though he has been incredibly bold throughout his ministry, some thirty years after his conversion, he still pleads for courage to communicate the gospel message.  Look at verses 19-20: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.  Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”  Paul is in prison as a direct result of preaching the gospel and all he can think about is preaching the gospel some more!

Paul’s passion is for the proclamation of the message.  When a different guard is chained to him during the day as they rotate their shifts, Paul wants to have the right words to say.  When he receives visitors, he doesn’t want fear to paralyze him.  Even though he is in chains, he knows that he is God’s ambassador and he needs the prayers of God’s people so that he can fulfill his calling.  This word is used only one other time in the New Testament when Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

Communicating to Our Culture Today

In our remaining moments, I want to illustrate how we can follow Paul’s example as we communicate Christ in light of the events taking place in our society.  Today has been declared “Marriage Protection Sunday,” as churches all over the country stand up for the biblical definition of marriage as a covenant commitment made between one man and one woman before a holy God for life.  This is His plan for the good and the glory of the human race and manmade substitutes will not work.

In his new book called, “Marriage Under Fire,” James Dobson quotes Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”  He then states: “God announced the ordination of the family, long before He established the two other great human institutions, the church and the government…a revolution of striking proportions now looms before us…the movement has become a tsunami—a tidal wave that threatens to overwhelm anyone who stands in its way.” 

Friends, we must pray for boldness as we declare God’s truth in a spirit of love and grace.  As many of you know, we lived in Oak Park for many years.  Oak Park is famous for Frank Lloyd Wright architecture but is also infamous for homosexual activism.  I was deeply saddened a couple weeks ago when I learned that a well-known mainline church in Oak Park hosted a service of “confession and absolution” asking forgiveness of the LGBT  people for the “perception of homosexuality as something sinful or evil.”  The leaders also confessed the sin of “doctrinal rigidity.”  My pastor friend Ray Pritchard, who ministers in Oak Park, responded this way: “If you think about it, this is what…these leaders were saying: ‘We confess the sin of believing homosexuality is sinful.  And we repent of not having rejected the biblical teaching sooner’…the words of Isaiah 5:20 come to mind: ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil…’”

Putting Pedals to Prayer

Beth and I are experiencing a final parenting transition as our youngest daughter Megan is learning to ride her bike without training wheels.  This is exciting for us and a bit sad as well.  While she’s not ready for the Tour de France, she does pretty well.  She’s learning that if she wants to get down the sidewalk without falling, she has to keep pedaling because when she coasts she loses her balance.  Friend, have you been coasting in prayer?  If so, my guess is that you feel out of balance.  Let me mention some ways we can take the training wheels off and pedal with power.

1. Pray Believingly. 

Prayer is where the battle begins and where the war is won

Prayer is where the battle begins and where the war is won. In Dobson’s April 2004 newsletter, he writes that he cannot recall a time since the beginning of Focus on the Family 27 years ago, when the institution of marriage faced such peril.  He is calling for concerted prayer, divine wisdom, and greater courage than we have ever been called upon to exercise.  This may sound alarmist, but he’s calling the church to awaken and pray for five minutes a day for five centers of power.  This is called the “Freedom Five” (Education, Media, Church, Family, and Government).

On a personal level, put Paul’s paradigm for prayer into practice by making sure your prayers are:

  • Spirit-directed
  • Life-saturated
  • All-encompassing
  • Clear-minded
  • Persistently-devoted
  • Others-focused

One suggestion is to pray Scripture back to God.  Just this week when I was with someone who was dying, I used Psalm 23 as a guide and turned it into a prayer.  This is a great way to keep your mind focused and because you’re using God’s Word, you know that you are praying according to His will.

2. Proclaim Christ Boldly. 

Ask the Lord to give you courage to communicate Christ in natural ways throughout your day.  When the opportunity comes, and it will, take a breath and pray for boldness, and then open your mouth.  He will give you the right words.  Let’s remember that our country will only change as people’s hearts change.  And hearts will only change as we pray and proclaim the gospel message.  One Christian leader, when asked about our current cultural confusion about marriage, said this: “There’s nothing wrong in America for which evangelism is not the answer.”  People are lost without Christ and we must live out what it means to be an ambassador in a world that is looking for answers.

3. Promote Biblical Values. 

After making sure we are praying and proclaiming, as American believers living in a democracy, we have the responsibility and opportunity to promote and protect biblical values.  In fact, it’s part of our witness as salt and light.  Here are some ways we can do that.

  • Wait until marriage to be intimate.  If you’re living together, and are willing to make an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person, separate from each other, and make plans to get married.  If you’re not willing to get married, then one of you needs to move out anyway.
  • Work on the quality of your marriage.  Be faithful to your spouse and live out your biblical responsibilities to each other.  It doesn’t make much sense for us to protest the declining view of marriage in our culture if the relationship with our own spouse is rupturing.
  • Value marriage by standing up for truth in a spirit of love.  It’s helpful to remember that we have at least two roles in our society today – in a sense we’re called to be prophets and priests.  As prophets, we speak the truth about what is right and what is wrong.  And as priests, we lovingly come alongside those who are hurting and in bondage to sin.

Let’s do what we can to promote godly values in our country and let’s pray until the switchboard of heaven smokes!  Here’s the good news.  We don’t have to trick God into giving us what we want.  He simply longs to hear His children pray, proclaim and promote.  The rest is up to Him.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?