“Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit–which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
For much of the last week now we have been unpacking Paul’s description of the armor of God together. This is the protection afforded us as followers of Jesus in the great spiritual battle we are engaged in with the powers of this world. We first clarified that the battle is not against the people around us. They are never our enemies. We’ve also settled the fact that our primary task is resistance to the enemy’s attacks. Then, for the past couple of days, we have examined each of the pieces of armor themselves. We are covered from head to toe by the various spiritual blessings available to us when we are found in Christ. We even have an offensive tool in God’s Spirit which is accessed through His word. This is all well and good, but if we are in a battle, that implies we are occasionally going to have to do some fighting. We are tasked with advancing God’s kingdom which means moving forward into enemy held territory. The enemy is not going to simply give up the ground it is holding and walk away. The question that has been hanging over the top of all of the conversation we’ve been having is this: How do we actually fight? This morning as we wrap up this short series, I’m going to seek to answer that question for you. Let’s dig into it.
As Paul finishes describing all of the various pieces of armor we have in Christ to engage in the spiritual battle for the world, there are a number of things he could have said as a kind of tag to wrap up the conversation. He could have said something like, “Fully clothed in the armor God provides us in Christ, go out now and stand firm as the kingdom is advanced.” He could have given instructions for keeping the armor polished and ready for use. He could have said something about our going into battle. What he actually says is somewhat unexpected, but incredibly important for us to take into account as we puzzle out what we should do with our armor.
Look again at what Paul said right at the end of our passage in v. 18. “Pray at all times in the Spirit…” That’s it. That’s Paul’s grand parting advice. Pray. Of everything Paul could have said, why this? Why did Paul consider this one command to be of such utter importance that he put it ahead of everything else he could have said here? Well, to put it rather directly, because it is more important than anything else he could have said.
Here’s why. Prayer is our weapon. But wait, wasn’t the last part of our armament a sword? Why isn’t that our weapon? Why aren’t we advancing behind the terror of our fierce blade of the Spirit? Because that’s not what that sword is for. Just like the rest of the armor, while the sword of the Spirit is an implement of offense, it is one to be used primarily in resisting the enemy’s efforts against us. Remember what I said about the sword Paul’s audience would have called to mind? It was a short sword intended for close-range combat. That’s the weapon we use when we are attacked. In that sense, while it is an implement offense, it is a defensive tool in our arsenal. If we want to advance God’s kingdom in any kind of an active sense, this last thing is the weapon with which we will find the most success.
Think about why this is for a minute. I’ve said all along that any advances for the sake of the kingdom must come behind the banner of our God. We cannot launch out on our own and start trying to take ground that He hasn’t moved to claim. Whenever we try to operate on our own, we are going to make a mess of things. We will use the tactics that are most natural to us and those simply do not lend themselves to the expansion of God’s kingdom. A church might use them to grow its own ministry, but that growth won’t be kingdom growth. It’ll be fiefdom growth. But that fiefdom won’t really enjoy the protection of the King because it is operating independently of Him. As soon as the enemy figures that out, it will move to eliminate this rogue threat.
Similarly, if we try to advance God’s kingdom using our power, we are doomed to failure. The simple reason for that is we don’t have any power on our own. There is no power in the world apart from God’s power. One person may be spectacularly charismatic and able to generate and maintain a large following. I heard a story the other day about a traveling preacher in the charismatic tradition who lost his faith. After spending a few years not really knowing what to do, he went back out on the preaching circuit he was riding before. He would schedule huge rallies, deliver fiery sermons, slay people in the Spirit, pronounce people healed, engineer enormous altar calls…and he didn’t believe a word of it. Not a single word. But he knew how to put on the show. He was really good at putting on the show. And people responded to the show. That’s a ministry operating apart from God’s blessing and power, and it was doomed to failure.
If we are going to advance God’s kingdom using God’s power, there is but one way to access that power: prayer. And so we pray. We pray at all times in the Spirit. We pray with every prayer and request. We stay alert in prayer with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. We pray diligently and fervently. We pray without ceasing. There is no situation we are in where prayer is not appropriate to the circumstances. How we pray will vary depending on the precise needs of the moment, but prayer can be happening in our heads and hearts without a single word escaping our lips. If we want to advance the kingdom, though, prayer will be the grease in the engine, the fuel in the tank, and even the engine itself. Because the battles we are in are primarily spiritual battles, we must fight them with spiritual weapons. Prayer is the first of these.
So then, when the battle comes, turn to prayer. When you are seeking to advance God’s kingdom into a place you’ve never been, lead with prayer. When you want to see hearts changed and spirits lifted and captives freed and the downtrodden encouraged and the persecuted protected and communities transformed and so on and so forth, prayer is the key. When the enemy is looming large and threatening to overwhelm everything you hold dear, prayer will drive him back. Prayer will lift your flagging sails and strengthen your weary bones. It will enliven your heart and unleash joy into your life once again. Its power is the very power of God. Use it well.
Two last things for you. First, you may be asking at this point exactly how you can use it well. We’ll talk more about that next week, Lord willing. Second, all of this got me thinking about a song by Phil Wickham that really captures the heart of what I’m trying to say. It’s called “Battle Belongs,” and I hope it is a blessing to you today. Here it is for your enjoyment.