Prepare for Battle
Chapter 2 - Spiritual Weapons
Our armor is secure. His truth abides in us. We are clothed in His righteousness. Our feet are ready to go over mountain and valley with His Gospel of Peace. He is our shield, for our faith is firmly placed in Him. He is our salvation. We are protected. The spiritual armor God has provided for us through Jesus Christ is able to withstand any attack of the enemy.
But are we ready for war? No. We are defensively prepared, but because we are to fight an offensive battle, we need some weapons. We would not dare take off any of our armor to use as a weapon. It would leave that part of our spiritual being open and vulnerable to the attack of the enemy.
The weapons of our warfare are numberless. Out of His boundless resources, “He has by His own action given us everything that is necessary for living the truly good life…” 2 Peter 1:3 Sometimes, to our surprise, these weapons are not what we would expect them to be. As God gave Gideon three rather unusual weapons to fight a secular war (See Judges 6 and 7), he may give us some unique weapons for spiritual warfare.
Consider the weapon given in Proverbs 15:1. When a wrathful person is blasting us with every vile verbiage a wrathful person can express, the world teaches us to “fight fire with fire.” So our natural (natural, that is, to our fallen, sinful nature) inclination is to begin railing back. However, the Word says “a soft answer” is the weapon that “will turn away that wrath.”
Another Proverb (Proverbs 25:15) says that “gentle words will break the bones.” Our mind thinks it would take a big hulk of a person to break bones! Not so in spiritual warfare. All that may be needed are “gentle words.”
The consciences of those pious Pharisees was the weapon Jesus used when he said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” John 8:7 As He wrote in the sand, I would not be surprised if He was listing the sins of the men from the oldest to the youngest. For “He knew all men. No one had to tell Him.” John 2:24, 25.
How’s this for an unusual weapon? Another: Would you like your enemies to be at peace with you? Who wouldn’t? Choose God’s weapon: Make sure your ways please the Lord! See Proverbs 16:7. So, out of the abundant arsenal of heaven, God can equip us with weapons suited to any particular situation.
However, in this brief study, I would like us to look at (become familiar with, handle and use) the two main weapons Paul addresses in Ephesians 6:17-18: The Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, and prayer. As we prepare for battle, we need to develop a respect for the tools of war that will allow us to fight an offensive battle—without being offensive. Too many of us offend others too often, James 3:2 tells us. And that offense regularly comes from our improper use of the weapons of war. Let us therefore learn to use them correctly.
The Sword Of The Spirit, Which Is The Word Of God
As we hold the Bible in our hands, I trust we recognize the awesome treasure that is there. I don’t mean the leather and paper and ink, but the very heart of God which has been expressed in human language so that we may know and understand Him. We can read the Word with the assurance that it is Truth. When there is something we don’t understand, the Word is not to be explained away. Instead, we must wait on the Lord for His illumination—whether we receive it today or maybe not until we are in Heaven.
The very first lesson to learn about this most powerful Weapon, the Word of God, is that it is the Spirit’s Sword! “All Scripture,” Paul assured Timothy, “is given by inspiration of God…” 2 Timothy 3:16 Regarding the prophetic passages, Peter (by inspiration of God) tells us, “…holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21 I will belabor this point with one more Scripture, for I believe the proliferation of translations and the popularization of things Christian (e.g. “born again” may be referring to a true regeneration of a man’s spirit or to a car that just got a rebuilt engine!) has produced a casual familiarity which often lacks reverence and respect for an awesome and holy God. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter quoted David, then said, “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke by the mouth of David…” Acts 1:16 It is the Spirit’s Sword! God’s Word!
A second lesson to follow quickly on the heels of the first: He is the ammunition chooser and the guidance system. God is speaking in Isaiah 55:5-11: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts.” That’s a good place to start! We may think, “But, Lord, I used this very Scripture in an almost identical situation yesterday. And it worked! Why shouldn’t I use it again today?”
He continues: “Neither are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” We do not know the hearts of men other than that they are “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9 We must place our full confidence in Him to know the details of every specific situation.
He continues: “…My Word that goes forth out of My mouth shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the things to which I sent it.” Wow! God is saying that He will choose the Words (ammunition) and He will direct them to His target (guidance system). And they will accomplish His purposes!
Why must He be the ammunition chooser? As we flip through the pages of our Bible, our eyes catch familiar passages—promises, exhortations, assurances, commandments. Some may even be underlined or highlighted as we have chosen them to be particularly significant verses or passages. And we revel in them. We meditate on them. They become part of us. Unfortunately, as some people become familiar with the Word they begin thinking it is their sword! “I know what Scriptures to use in this situation,” they think. And they pick up that Sword—it is very sharp—and they begin hacking away, bringing serious injury not to the enemy, but to the very one they were trying to help. Now it is going to take a lot of restoration by other people who are allowing the Holy Spirit to be the ammunition chooser in order to bring healing to that person. Or, more likely, the injured one will remain offended by the misuse of the Word. Solomon said, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city.” Proverbs 18:19.
Why do we need a spiritual guidance system? The work of the Word of God in spiritual warfare is not some light, frivolous whitewashing over surface situations. The work of the Word is “quick and powerful—it is alive and active. It is sharp. It cuts more keenly than] any two–edged sword. It strikes through to the place where the soul and spirit meet, to the innermost intimacies of a man’s being. It exposes the very thoughts and motives of a man’s heart.” Hebrews 4:12.
Scripture chosen and guided by the Holy Spirit gets down to where we really live. For example, it cuts out the root of bitterness rather than just dealing with a surface manifestation of that bitterness. See Acts 8:14-24. Nathan’s “God–breathed” words,“Thou art the man!” to David brought a sincere, penitent change of heart. Not just, “Nathan, now that you know, please help me keep this covered up.” See 2 Samuel 12 and Psalm 51.
As we pick up the Spirit’s Sword and clasp our hand over the handle, feeling its balance, seeing the Light of Life reflect off its sharp blade, sensing the power of its thrust, readying ourselves for the heat of battle, we should always acknowledge that it is a very holy and significant battle we are entering. When we brandish the Sword, whether it is for a specific, “It is written…,” thrust against the enemy, or Scripture that would prick the conscience of the non–Christian, or Words that would do delicate surgery in the heart of a Christian, it is truly a Holy War in which we are engaged.
Use The Word Against The Enemy
No better Biblical example of using the Sword of the Spirit as a weapon against the enemy could be given than that of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded by Matthew. John the Baptist acknowledged Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus came up out of the waters of baptism. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove rested upon His shoulder. A voice from Heaven like thunder said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17.
Then Jesus is led (Mark’s Gospel says “driven”) by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. His public ministry is about to begin. In three brief years His ultimate purpose in life will be accomplished. But now He is in the wilderness being tempted by satan. He is fasting—no food has passed through His lips for forty days and nights. And when those days are ended, He feels hungry again. (Note: After several days of fasting, one loses all sensation of hunger. But when one feels hungry again, it indicates that death by starvation is close.)
It is then at this point that satan begins a trilogy of temptations. He jeers, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” In swift retaliation (though Jesus, fully human, knows that the hunger pangs He is now feeling mean that He is literally starving to death), Jesus wields the Sword of the Spirit with a specific, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God!’” Matthew 4:4, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.
In the context of this story we do not have evidence that the Holy Spirit chose that passage for Him. However, by His own testimony elsewhere He said, “I say nothing of Myself, but that which the Father has told Me.” John 8:28 So even Jesus, while here on earth, the very Wisdom of God, the Living Incarnate Word, in launching His offensive against satan did not just think, “Hmmm! What would be a good Scripture to use against him?” He depended upon God to be the ammunition chooser and the guidance system.
In his second attack, the tempter again taunts Jesus about His position, but adds Scripture to support his temptation: “If you are the Son of God, cast Yourself down: For it is written, ‘He shall give His angels charge concerning you; and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.’” Matthew 4:6, quoting Psalm 91:11-12 How dare the enemy use the Word of God to attempt to support his position. Yet he did! And he does—even today!
But again, using Words chosen by God and those Words being guided by Him, Jesus thrusts a death blow to that temptation: “It is also written, ‘You must not tempt the Lord your God.’” Matthew 4:7, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16 Deuteronomy had been penned by Moses by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, when satan would use Scripture to support his temptations of us, we must be familiar with the Whole Counsel of God. It is the perspective of every Word of God that enables us to combat the enemy.
And to the tempter’s third attack, Jesus rebukes him—“Be gone!”—and cuts short any contemplation of satan’s temptation with a quick thrust of the Sword: “It is written, ‘You must worship the Lord your God, and Him only must you serve.’” Matthew 4:10, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13.
Then the devil left Jesus—“until his next opportunity.” Luke 4:13 “And angels came and ministered to Him.” Matthew 4:11
In our warfare against the enemy, not only do we want to have a specific “It is written” for the specific temptation he is apt to use, but we want that passage to be brief, so that the thrust can be quick and accurate. We do not want to spend undue time in lengthy conversation with him. The more quickly we’re in and out of there, the better.
Let me illustrate: The thrust was a simple four–word statement. The speaker was Michael, the archangel. It is recorded in Jude 9. To catch the significance of this, however, let’s fill in some background.
I believe Lucifer was one of the top three angels before he fell. If so, he, Michael and Gabriel were in a pretty close working relationship. They knew each other well. He might have even tried to persuade them to join him in his rebellion against God.
And then it happens. Lucifer, Star of the Morning, Anointed Cherub, makes his move. He draws a third of the angels of heaven with him in a revolt. Michael and Gabriel are probably standing there and saying, “No! Lucifer! No! Let God be God!” But in five rebellious assaults, he exercises his will against God. Therefore, he is cut down to the ground. See Isaiah 14:12-14.
He is next seen in the Garden of Eden doing his destructive work, and all of mankind as well as the plant and animal kingdom…the very earth itself—falls under a curse. The world gets continually worse and worse until all people are doing what is right in their own eyes. And God destroys the earth with a flood, saving only Noah and his family. But again, sin raises its ugly head. Through the stories of Abram, Lot, Jacob, Esau, Judah, Potiphar’s wife, and even Moses, Aaron and Miriam, we see the deceit and treachery of the enemy, and mankind so often falling into his temptations.
And now Moses is dead on Mount Nebo. Michael has been given the task of retrieving the body of Moses. God has decided to bury his body in a valley in the land of Moab so he cannot be found. But satan wants the body, probably thinking that if he can bring it to the children of Israel, they will enshrine and worship it.
So Michael has the body. And satan is trying to snatch it away. They are fighting—contending—battling it out! Now, think of all that Michael could have said in truthful accusation against this once anointed cherub who has wreaked such havoc in the earth. Yet, “He did not dare to condemn him with mockery nor bring a single railing accusation against him, but simply said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” Jude 9 That’s all! That’s it! Four simple words did the job, for Scripture says, “No man knows of his sepulchre even until today.” Deuteronomy 34:6 We are not to give satan more time than he deserves. And all he deserves is a quick, sharp slash of that two–edged Sword, “It is written…”
From whom did Michael take his cue? Probably from God, Himself. For, though recorded years later, we hear God using the same four words. The story is found in Zechariah 3. Joshua (not the one who followed Moses, but a High Priest) is standing before the angel of the Lord. God is about to do a great thing for Joshua. And satan is at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord says, “The Lord rebuke you!” Zechariah 3:2
Let’s learn our lessons. If the Lord Himself uses quick, powerful, brief and accurate words to destroy the work of the enemy, how about us? May we have a stockpile of specific, “It is written’s…!” that go to the heart of the matter, cutting him down to the ground.
Stockpile an Arsenal of Ammunition
Before we study how to wield His Sword with Christians and non–Christans, let’s learn how to build a stockpile of useful “It is written’s…” Jesus assured His disciples that the Holy Spirit would bring back to their remembrance those things that He had said to them. John 14:26 I believe that we can share in that assurance. See John 16:13; 1 John 2:20. But the Holy Spirit can’t bring to our remembrance that which we have not studied. And since, in the heat of battle we do not have the time (nor probably the resources) to sit down and look for an effective, “It is written…,” we need to build a cache of ammunition. We need to give the Holy Spirit an arsenal of artillery from which to choose.
If we go off to war with three favorite Scriptures, we might be able to get into the battle and be of some good. But pretty soon we are going to run into a situation that isn’t covered by those three Scriptures. We need to know more of the Word of God. David said, “Your Word have I hid in my heart so that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11 And again, “In Your Law do I meditate both day and night.” Psalm 1:2.
By what process do we build this stockpile? By a process called meditation. Moses said we are to meditate in the morning when we get up, at night when we go to bed, as we are sitting around and while we are driving down the freeway. Wait a minute! They didn’t know anything about freeways in those days. OK, the KJV says, “While you are walking by the way.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7 Well, how many of us walk “by the way” today? I think we more often get from here to there on the freeway. So slip a cassette or CD of Scripture into your stereo system and begin the process of meditation.
The process of meditation involves several steps:
1) Selecting the “It is written…” passage we will use. Remember Joel? In the last chapter we left him in the closet, “hidden” under a pile of clothes. Remember also that our spirit is the candle of the Lord. Proverbs 20:27 As our spirit and the Lord are walking through the rooms of our soul and discussing one or another issue, we come to an area that we sense (or that He prompts us to recognize) needs some real work.
We open the closet door on which He is gently but insistently knocking. (For, though we are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” it is “God who is working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13 And we talk about Joel.
Jesus knows our feelings about him. As God, He made those feelings; as Man, he experienced those feelings. Thus, “by virtue of His own suffering under temptation He is able to help those who are exposed to temptation.” Hebrews 2:18; Also see Hebrews 4:15.
In our regular reading of the Word, then, we become sensitive to the Holy Spirit as He would choose to “neon–light” a particular “It is written…” for us to use against the enemy when he would dare to tempt us in that area. In this very personal time with the Holy Spirit, we ask Him to reveal to us what Scripture(s) He wants us to build into that stockpile of ammunition. It might be a verse, a paragraph, a chapter or Book.
2) Understanding the specific “It is written…” passage chosen by the Holy Spirit. Now we take that verse or passage and make it as personal as possible. We read it from many translations. We get the meaning of every word. We let them speak to us very personally. We study the cultural significance of the passage. We learn the symbolism if it is figurative language. We take out the “thee’s and thou’s” (all references to other people) and put in “I” and “me” and “my”. We write the passage out in a new personal translation; not changing the content, of course, but in modern English that really speaks to our heart.
(I read and I teach from the King James translation and I like it. I’ve been in it a good number of years. It is very comfortable to me. However, some of the King James English just doesn’t come through the way a more modern translation can. In developing my personal meditation translations, I usually use a mixture of King James, New King James, Phillips and the New Testament from 26 Translations. As you have been looking up the Scriptures in this study, you have probably noticed that many of them have been a paraphrase of my own rather than a direct translation. Yet, I trust you have also noted that in no case do I violate the context of Scripture.)
3) Memorizing the personalized “It is written…” that is to become a part of our arsenal. Using any number of memorization techniques, we need to get the passage clearly in our mind. We must think about it, remember the significance of each word and phrase, be able to re-cite the Scripture without struggling through it. However, the Bible does not say, “Your Word have I hid in my mind so that I won’t sin against You.” But the Word is to be hidden deep in our heart! See Psalm 119:11.
4) Meditating on the specific “It is written…” that will be used by us in spiritual warfare.
Hiding His Word in our heart is accomplished through meditation. (We won’t let satan’s misuse of this word “scare” us away from this Biblical process.) The word meditate comes from the same root word as ruminate
which is the technical term for a cow chewing her cud! And that’s a good picture of meditating: “Chewing” on the Word—drawing all the nutritious, life–giving and life–sustaining “protein,” “carbohydrates” and “enzymes” as we can—to develop the “innermost man.” The nutrition goes into every cell of our spiritual being not at all unlike the action of physical food to our physical body.
With each new verse and paragraph and chapter, we are building our stockpile—that arsenal of spiritual ammunition to use in spiritual warfare—in our inward battle as well as in the battle for the lost.
Let me give a specific and personal illustration. In my “flesh,” my tongue is every bit as vicious as James describes it. See James 3:2-12. After many personally painful and hurtful–to–others situations where my tongue wagged when it should have been dumb with silence, I began asking the Lord for help. I asked for a real concise “It is written…,” for the tongue moves very quickly to destroy—even as a spark of fire. After some time, in the normal course of my Bible reading, I sensed that He was giving me Ephesians 4:29. (James gives a good description of how bad the tongue is, but he doesn’t really say a lot about how to control it.)
Next, I began reading Ephesians 4:29 in a number of translations. That passage isn’t too complicated. In fact, like most of His instruction, it is very simple—so simple that our “sophisticated” façcades often miss the childlike relationship He desires us to enjoy with Him. I made it personal. Only five simple phrases—easy to memorize. But getting it deep in my heart that I might not sin against God took (is taking) a bit more doing.
But now, more often than not, the Holy Spirit flashes that Scripture through my mind more quickly than I can say it out loud or read it. Like the keen two–edged Sword it is, it cuts off those thoughts from the enemy that would prompt me to use unkind words; second, it gives me good words instead; third, the words are suitable for the occasion; fourth, I focus on words that God can use; and fifth, they are words that will help other people. And there are the five phrases of Ephesians 4:29: “Let there be no more foul language, but good words instead; words suitable for the occasion, that God can use to help other people.”
A critical lesson to learn as we are selecting our “It is written…” is to carefully study Scripture in its context so that we do not wield a sword of “half‒scriptures.” (The words “sword” and “scriptures” are intentionally left uncapitalized because “a text without a context is a pretext!” In other words, it is without value. Or worse, it becomes a distortion or perversion of Scripture, possibly leading many astray.)
Though I grew up in a Christian church, somehow I came to believe in phrases that suited a particular doctrine. One such “half‒scripture” was, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Period. Exclamation mark! And so there was a lot of fear and trembling in my youthful relationship with God. Not until I was an adult and began reading my Bible more carefully did I come to know there was more to that thought, “…for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13.
Another example is Psalm 46:10. For years I “knew” it said, “Be still and know that I am God.” Of course, it does. We have written songs with those words. We have beautiful plaques that inscribe it. But, again, as I came to understand the necessity to more carefully study the Word of God, I saw that God has three things He wants us to know in that verse as we become still—as we quiet our souls—before Him: 1) I am God; 2) I will be exalted among the peoples; 3) I will be exalted in all the earth. It is a verse speaking of God’s sovereignty—that He will be exalted among the peoples in all the earth.
Corollary to “half‒scriptures” is the dangerous practice of out–of–context–scriptures. I work with a lot of pastors in the area of missions. We strongly encourage churches to work alongside of and with the nationals. There is no doubt that it is easier to go in and do your own thing, but Biblical models and historical records prove the former to be more effective in the long run. One particular pastor was struggling with that issue when he came upon a passage in Proverbs. It convinced him that he was not to work anymore with the nationals. It is found in Chapter 5:16-17 [Proverbs 5:16-17], “Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad and rivers of water in the streets. Let them be only thine own, and not strangers with thee.” From this passage, he determined to do his own thing in missions. It only takes a little reading before and after those verses to realize that this whole chapter is talking about loving your wife, not about missions!
Paul instructs Timothy (and thus, God instructs us): “Be diligent, concentrating on winning God’s approval that you may emerge as a workman unashamed in rightly understanding and using the Word of Truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15.
Use The Word With non–Christians
Having (and using) our growing stockpile of ammunition against the enemy, we also must be looking for an “It is written…” in each of our dealings with a non–Christian friend. As we are agonizing in intercessory prayer for him, “God, I know You must judge sin and unrighteousness, but hold off a little longer with Bill. You know how I desire for him to become Your child. And Your Word says You want him as your child, as well.” 2 Peter 3:9 (It is good to remind God of His Word. Many times men of Scripture did just that.)
In such a time of intercession for our friend, our natural inclination may be to look for a Scripture that will “really wake him up”—a real “hit–him–up–side–of–the–head” type! Something like the bumper sticker: “Get right or get left!” But in that quiet time with the Lord, He says, “No, I want you to deal kindly, deal gently. After all (and now He is reminding us of His Word), It is the goodness of the Lord that leads to repentance.” Romans 2:4 And again, He chooses a weapon and ammunition for us that this world knows nothing about.
Let’s look at some Biblical examples. Peter, in Acts 2:16, is given an audience of thousands of people. They have come from “every nation under the sun.” They are in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost. Many of them are still here from Passover. Some are, no doubt, sightseeing—remembering when they were here two years before. “Oh, look!” someone says. “They’ve built a new taco stand!” OK! I don’t know what they said. They were looking for excitement. And as they congregated around 120 followers of Christ, they found it! Somebody shouted, “Hey, they’re all drunk with wine.”
Peter hears that and capitalizes on it as he gets the crowd’s attention. “These men are not drunk with wine as you suppose, after all, it is only nine o‘clock in the morning.” His audience, being Hebrew (or Jewish proselytes), knowing and loving God, know the Word. So Peter begins quoting Joel. He adds a few words of explanation. Then he’s quoting Jesus. Then Joel again. Then David. A few words of his own. Then David again! Whew! This man Peter knows the Word. And the Holy Spirit is helping him, empowering him and guiding those words, for we read in Acts 2:37: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said, ‘What must we do?’” Wow! 3,000 of them get saved!
The Sword of the Spirit with these God–fearing non‒Christians has done its work. The work has taken place in their heart, not in their emotions. No one says, “Hey, man, that Peter is a right–on dude. A great speaker. I like that guy. He’s got such a smooth way with words.” Talk like that would indicate that they had been tantalized in their emotions. No one says, “Oh, this is a studied man; he certainly is well–versed in the Scriptures. I wonder what degrees he has.” No, they haven’t been affected in their minds. The Word of God has touched their hearts, causing them to ask, “What must we do?”
Stephen in Acts 7 finds a listening audience of non‒Christians in the gathered Sanhedrin. Stephen, as opposed to Saul (who is also in the room), has not been trained at the feet of Gameliel. Yet he has so hidden God’s Word in his heart that he just starts quoting passage after passage of Jewish history. Then Acts 7:54 tells us the result: “They were cut to the heart!” Their consciences have been sensitized. The truth of his words, “You have betrayed and murdered the Just One” has hit the mark.
Now unfortunately, they don’t say, “What must we do to be saved?” Instead, they stone him! So it isn’t always going to happen when you rightly use God’s Sword of the Spirit with non‒Christians that you’re going to have 3,000 trust in Christ as Savior. They might stone you—figuratively or literally! But it is still the Word of God—ammunition that the Holy Spirit chooses and guides to their hearts.
Without being too speculative, I believe that when Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus saying, “Isn’t it hard to kick against the goads?” He was referring back to, and including all the struggles Saul had experienced since that day of Stephen’s martyrdom. For on that day he had heard the message of salvation for Israel, but would not yield to it.
It is interesting that in Acts 13, Paul gives an almost identical sermon as Stephen’s. And the following Sabbath almost the whole city came out to hear the “eloquence of Paul?” No! That is not what Scripture says. That does not sound like God. Rather, “…they came to hear the Word of God!” Acts 13:44 When the Word of God is properly taught or preached, the focus will be on the Message, not on the messenger.
Paul instructs, “The keynote (the bottom line; the focus) of our conversation—our lifestyle—should not be nastiness or silliness or flippancy, but a sense of thanks to God.” Ephesians 5:4.
In Colossians 4:6, he says that in all our conversations we are to season our words with salt. Our very lifestyle, Jesus said, is to be salt that whets people’s appetites for hearing more. Matthew 5:13 Then Peter says that once their appetites have been whetted, and they are coming to us with questions, we should have “a quiet and reverent answer for the reason of the hope that lies within us.” 1 Peter 3:15.
One day I was attending a backyard wedding reception. It had rained furiously for the previous several days, and rain was forecasted for this day. But the bride had so wanted the backyard reception, and we had been praying for a clear day….Anyway, a non–Christian friend also came. In an attempt to whet his appetite for the things of the Lord, I told him we had prayed for this beautiful day. To my chagrin, in true New Age fashion, he turned to me and said, “Yes, we did bring this day into being, didn’t we!” I realize that God isn’t finished with him yet. But at the time it seemed to me that my words did nothing to whet his appetite for the things of the Lord! Rather, it gave him opportunity to espouse his current religion.
Let’s look at two Biblical illustrations: We find that Jesus’ dealings with those seriously seeking the Savior were very gentle. He didn’t drop any “atomic bombs” on them. One is found in John 3: The seeker was a most highly respected teacher in Israel, a man named Nicodemus. For fear of the Jews, he asked Jesus for a midnight meeting. Jesus obliged. His very first words whetted Nic’s appetite! And then came the questions. And couched in this discourse is the most–used salvation Scripture, “For God so loved the world…” Nicodemus remained a “secret” follower of Jesus (we presume) until His death. Then boldly, with Joseph of Arimathaea, he brought spices for the burial. See John 19:38-39.
A second illustration is found in John 4. We find Jesus in a whole different setting, for sure. He is among the Samaritans, the people Jews despised above all others. Yet, again, Jesus whets the woman’s appetite by asking her for a drink of water. Even when she seeks answers to theological questions not germane to the issue (John 4:19-20), Jesus masterfully brings her back to her need for the Christ.
Model your dealings with those who are seriously seeking the Savior after the example of Christ. He spent more time talking with individuals than with crowds. (At least we have more Record of personal conversations.) Read and study these conversations. Let His Spirit guide you, giving you the “It is written’s…” that will whet your friends’ appetites so you can give them the “quiet and reverent answers” that will lead them to the Lord. See also 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
When you realize that your non–Christian friend doesn’t know the Word or has decided to ignore or despise the Word, your words will have to be very well seasoned with “salt” to make him thirsty. Maybe you won’t even quote Scripture to him, lest you “cast your pearls before swine.” Matthew 7:6 Or, the Scripture God has given you may be couched in the vernacular, showing from current events how the Truth of the Word has always been there.
For example, the media declared with great hurrah that (at the government expense of several hundred thousand dollars) a study showed that when thieves were rehabilitated into jobs that required the constant use of their hands, they were less likely to go back to a life of robbery. You could say, “Yes, a fellow by the name of Paul knew that 2000 years ago. He wrote to some friends in the city of Ephesus and said, ‘If you used to be a thief you must not only give up stealing, but you must learn to make an honest living with your hands.’” Ephesians 4:28
Or, if you’re looking at a map showing the ocean currents—or in some way talking about ocean currents—you can say, “You know, the sea captain who discovered ocean currents got the idea when he was laying in a hospital bed. The nurse was reading to him some poetry of an ancient writer. The poet was talking about man’s dominion over all the earth. He said, ‘You have put all things under his feet: sheep, oxen…and everything which passes through the paths of the sea.’ Psalm 8:7-8 The captain said, ‘Read that again!’ When he was well, he went out and discovered ocean currents.”
No matter into what arena of conversation you venture (Government and taxes are a couple of good ones!), you can find a cultural bridge to draw your friend to the truth of the Word.
Use The Word With Christians
You are becoming familiar with your use of the Word against the enemy. You are using His “It is written…” as you try to lead your non–Christian friends to Christ. And now in your dealing with a Christian who is flirting with sin, you need God’s wisdom. This friend may be older in the Lord than you, yet blatantly “playing with fire.” As you pray, you say, “Lord, this is my mentor, the one who brought me to You. How can I say anything to him?” And the Lord firmly assures you that you must rebuke him—in love, of course. You are to be His instrument of chastisement and He directs you to Scripture that clearly exposes his actions as sin. And He says, “Here is My ‘It is written…’ for you in this situation.”
This same Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God now becomes a delicate surgical instrument. Solomon, in his wisdom wrote: “Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Proverbs 27:5-6.
James talks about the degeneration of sin in a Christian’s life. Man’s “flesh” gives a fertile womb for the alluring enticements of the world with which satan tempts him. When man’s lusts (evil desires, passions) unite with the enticements of the world, sin is conceived. In those secret moments, hours, days or years of gestation, the “wicked imaginations” (Proverbs 6:18) grow and develop. And as suddenly as the birth pangs of labor hit, the evil passions and desires give birth to sin. And the degenerative spiral continues: When sin is fully matured, it ends in spiritual death. Just in case we did not take careful note of that, James adds, “Make no mistake about that, brothers of mine.” James 1:14-16.
We are dealing with “joint and marrow” stuff here. So any “open rebuke” we are going to use needs the careful choosing and guiding of the Holy Spirit. Paul instructed, “Brothers, if a man is overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.” Galatians 6:1.
Again, let’s go to the Master restorer of broken lives for our example. No one could have been in deeper agony of heart than Peter when the cock crowed! Here was Peter, the big fisherman, with a personality equal to that hard profession. Considering earlier incidents in his life, we can see that he was not perfect. But Jesus was forming him and changing him into a fisher of men.
It is now the night of His betrayal. Peter has sworn that he will never deny the Lord. He has slept through three hours of Christ’s agony. He has cut off the servant’s ear. And now he is warming his hands in the courtyard. Once, twice, he denies association with his Master. The third time he curses and swears that he never even knew the Man! “Cock–a–doodle–doo!” And it’s all over. His remorse is accompanied by bitter weeping.
Our first clue that Jesus is going to deal gently with him is in His words, “Go tell the disciples—and Peter—that I go before them into Galilee.” Mark 16:7 And in that early morning light, along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus says, “Peter, do you love Me?”
“Yes, Lord you know that I am your friend.” After such devastation, he couldn’t bring himself to make so bold a statement of love.
A second time Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love Me?”
Again, “Yes Lord, You know that I am your friend.”
And the third time Jesus asked, “Peter, are you My friend?”
Peter was grieved. “Yes Lord, you know everything. You know I am Your friend.” John 21:15-17.
I believe this trilogy of restoration (I am sure more words than just those recorded were spoken) parallels the triple denial. And we see that big fisherman go on in ministry unto the Lord.
You, too, can be His instruments of restoration for your Christian friends. A beautiful testimony I enjoy telling (It stills gives me “goose bumps” to tell it.) is of a young sailor:
A number of years ago I was one of twelve elders at a church. On Sunday evening we would be at the altar to meet and minister among those who came forward. On one occasion, two Navy couples came to me. By their haircuts they were obviously new recruits.
“What can we pray about?” I queried.
One of the men said he would have to board ship the next morning, but he was scared to death of water. There was no way he was going to be able to walk up that gangplank. (Right at this point my “natural” inclination was to ask him, “Why in the world did you join the Navy?” Fortunately, it was also at this time that the Holy Spirit quickly brought to my memory His “It is written…” for the control of my tongue, Ephesians 4:29.) So, instead, I encouraged him to recall what might have caused such a fear of water. He readily began:
When I was ten years old, my extended family was at an outing at a lake. I had swum out alone, and too far. In trying to return to shore, I yelled out, but no one heard me. Panic and exhaustion overtook me. I sank. The bottom was a mucky mud that sucked on my feet rather than giving me some propulsion toward shore. I fought my way to the surface several times. Without an ounce of energy left, I went down again, thinking this is it—this is the last time. I have no more energy.
But this time my foot landed on a big rock. I kicked off that solid substance with just enough force to make it to shore. To seal the fear of this incident in my consciousness, the next month at the same lake, my cousin did drown.
How many times he had rehearsed that story in his mind, I do not know. But at this crisis moment, we went to prayer. The Lord brought to my mind a number of Scriptures referring to Himself as the Rock. I just quoted them in a prayer of thanksgiving. While we were still in prayer—the five of us holding hands in a circle—he began jumping up and down, up and down, shouting, “I’m free! I’m free!”
In yet another illustration, from the Word, we walk along with two disciples, returning to Emmaus. They had followed Jesus. They had been sure He was the Messiah. But now their hopes and dreams are shattered. Not only has He suffered the most brutal execution known to man, but someone has desecrated His grave and stolen His body.
Jesus comes alongside and walks with them. He doesn’t strut around and say, “Hey, guys, look at me! Don’t you know who I am?” He hides His identity from them. This is a point to be well–taken. Too often (once is too often), when we are going to share the Word with someone, it just comes out (in action or word): “Hey, you guys, notice me! I read through the Bible twice every year, and I’ve got a word from the Lord for you.”
Not so our Lord. He does not reveal His identity to them. He encourages them to tell their whole story of sorrow and disappointment. Then He lets the Word of God do its work. Beginning with Moses, going the through the Psalms and continuing through the Prophets, He weaves the most phenomenal prophecy lesson ever taught! He stays for dinner. He breaks the bread.
After they realize Who He is and He disappears, what do they say to each other? “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He talked with us on the way?” Luke 24:13-35 That’s what the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit should do to your Christian friends after you leave. They should be able to say, “Wow! He shared the Word in such a way that my heart has come back alive. It is burning with the fire and power of the Holy Spirit.”
The two disciples were alive! They ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem, shouting, “He’s risen! He’s risen! The Messiah is risen!” Now, the other disciples didn’t believe them. But the witnesses had delivered the message of their hearts. As with Stephen (Acts 7) and these two disciples, your sharing may not always bring the positive results you desire. Yet, led by the Spirit, you still must share what He puts in your heart.
The Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God is the most powerful of weapons in our hands. We must recognize that it is His Sword. As we build a stockpile of ammunition, we will have specific, brief, quick, accurate “It is written’s…” to use against the enemy at the Spirit’s choosing and guidance. We will have words seasoned with salt for non–Christans who show no apparent interest in spiritual things. And quiet and reverent answers for non–Christans seriously seeking the Savior. For our dealings with Christians, we will have the most delicate of surgical instruments—aborting, if you will, that conceived sin. Or (to change the analogy), if it has spread like cancer, we must build up his immune system (help him build a stockpile of ammunition) to fight the sin at its root cause. Telling him to “stop lusting” is no more than trying to cut off a tumor. It doesn’t give him victory over of the “disease” of sin.
Use The Word With Hypocrites
There is yet one category of people to consider—the hypocrite! Jesus was merciless with the hypocrites. He was obviously following the declaration of the Lord in Jeremiah 23:29, “Is not My Word as a fire? And like a hammer?” He certainly brought down His heavy, torch–like words on the fake—the play–actors. In Luke 13:32 He called Herod a fox! In Matthew 23, He blasted the scribes and Pharisees calling them, “Hypocrites, blind guides, fools, serpents, generation of vipers, white–washed tombs, full of dead men’s bones!” Matthew 23:13-33.
Jesus made no apology. Nor should we—if we are sure we are speaking to a hypocrite! And there is the catch. It is not so easy to identify one. Many struggling Christians are wrongly labeled “hypocrite,” but they are not. They are struggling Christians. So I am very hesitant to use the words of Jesus in Matthew 23—unless, of course, He clearly directs me to them.
Using the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, wisely in all situations is the number one goal for the Christian warrior.
Praying Always With All Prayers And Supplications In The Spirit
The second of the two weapons Paul mentions in Ephesians 6 is prayer. Most of us are aware of the significance of prayer in God’s global plan. We have powerful articles and books on the topic: An Army of Intercessors; A Concert of Prayer; Seven Minutes with God; Mountain Movers; Praying the Four Ways Christ Taught; Power in Prayer; Destined for the Throne; Effective Prayer Life; Touch the World through Prayer; With Christ in the School of Prayer.
What is the sum of their message? In the words of Augustine, “Without God, we cannot; but without us, God will not.”
In His sovereignty, God has voluntarily linked Himself to human cooperation. He has inextricably bound Himself to the prayer of faith of His children. He merges His working with man’s praying.
Though this is a deep mystery, it is clearly revealed in the Word and throughout history. Joshua’s day in battle would have gone poorly without Moses’ prayer. Exodus 17 Jacob’s place in Israel’s history would not have been the same without his wrestling with the angel of the Lord at Peniel. Genesis 32 The cross would have been intolerable without Gethsemane. Luke 22.
The Spirit through James assures us that even today “the fervent prayers of a righteous person yield tremendous power.” James 5:16 Jesus taught us to go into our closet, shut the door and pray to our Father in secret…” Matthew 6:6 Paul encourages us to “pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
And modern science is “researching” the efficacy of prayer! In “double blind” tests, with the prayer warriors in lead–lined rooms (so no “psychic energy” could escape), they are documenting decisive results of healings, leading them to conclude, “If comparable statistical results had been obtained through drugs, the news would have made medical headlines.” (It is exciting to read news of this world’s science “catching up” with the Bible.)
As a missionary of the first century, Paul was continually calling on the churches for prayer support. “Brethren, pray for us,” he simply stated in I and 2 Thessalonians and Hebrews. His appeal to the Christians in Rome seemed a bit more pressing, “I beseech you, brethren…that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” Romans 15:30 Paul assumed Philemon was on his prayer support team. Philemon 1:22 To the church in Philippi, he stated his confidence that what he was experiencing would turn out well because of their prayers and the resources of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:19)—indicating again that insoluble cooperation of God and man in prayer.
Paul Billheimer said, “In spite of all of her lamentable weaknesses, appalling failures and indefensible shortcomings, the Church is the mightiest—the only—force that is contesting satan’s rule in human affairs!” And that Church on her knees is the purifying and preserving influence which has kept the fabric of all we call civilization from total disintegration, decay and despair.
Samuel Chadwick said, “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 trembles when we pray!”
Paul Billheimer, again: “Prayer is not begging God to do something He loathes to do. It is not overcoming God’s reluctance to act. It is, rather, enforcing Christ’s victory over satan.” It is the effective, fervent communication with the Creator of the Universe—in line with His will—which controls the balance of power in this world.
Prayer transcends the dimensions of time and space and ushers us into the very throne room of God, worshipping, petitioning and interceding in that spiritual realm of His presence. The Psalmist says we are to approach His throne by entering into His gates with thanksgiving, by walking through His courts with praise, and by coming into His presence with singing. Psalm 100:4,2 The writer of Hebrews says we are (because of Christ our High Priest) “to come boldly to His throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16.
Spiritual battles are won in prayer. The first and decisive battle in prayer is won when we decide to pray. Prayer is sometimes shouting alleluia. Psalm 150 It is sometimes telling God the details of our needs. Philippians 4:6 It is sometimes laboring in unutterable groans of intercession. Romans 8:26.
Prayer is the weapon of our warfare that can be utilized no matter where we are or in what circumstances. It can be as quick and brief as “God!” when that out–of–control car is hitting us on the freeway. Or it can be a continual spirit–relationship that we enjoy with the Father. For though our lives are lived on a conscious level within this physical world, we also are alive spiritually and can be in union with our Father by the simple acknowledgement that God is.
A Model Prayer
Jo Shetler had completed the translation of the Balangao New Testament. A flourishing church had been established. She was now called back to the Philippines to be a speaker at the Balangao Bible Conference. Her subject was prayer.
She said that her prayer life had consisted of “…all we ask God to do, such as heal our sicknesses, provide money to put children through school, give the ability to learn a language, translate Scripture and interact well with people.
“Then I decided to pray the prayers of Paul, David, and others in the Bible. I copied them out and started in. Wow, did I ever get a surprise! Those people weren’t asking God for the same things I was! These ‘model prayers’ from Scripture seemed to center more directly on God and His program, rather than on people and their plans.”
Read all the articles on prayer, if you will. Read all the books about prayer, if you must, but when you are done, read, study and pray the prayers of the Bible!
For example, let’s go back to the issue of the tongue! I have admitted I have a problem with mine! (James said we all do!) Do you remember the Ephesians 4:29 “It is written…” God has given me? Well, I also—often—pray the prayer of Psalm 39.
Now, Record has it that David did not always achieve this level of control as Psalm 41:5 would indicate. (He had trouble with his tongue, also!) Psalm 39, however, is clearly a model prayer. In this situation he did it right: The wicked were before him. We do not know what they were saying, but by David’s reaction it must have been intense. “My sorrow was stirred; my heart was hot within me; while I was musing, the fire burned. But I had determined that I would not sin with my tongue; I will keep my mouth bridled. I was dumb with silence. I held my peace—even from saying good words. But after they were gone, I opened my mouth and spoke.”
At this point, a very human tendency would be to yell at somebody—spouse, friend, neighbor, roommate. Or, kick the cat, slam the door, dent the fender. But in this model prayer, David addresses the Lord. So he’s going to pray. Does he then blast his enemies to the Lord? “Lord, you were there. Why didn’t you strike them dead? Why didn’t you confound their speech? Why did You keep me quiet?” (For Psalm 39:9 says it was the Lord who kept his mouth shut.) No! to all of this. Rather, he says, “Lord, teach me to know my end, the measure of my days and how weak I am.” (Psalm 39:4) And the prayer goes on to the end of the chapter. There is a powerful lesson for us in this prayer on the control of our tongue. Read it. Study it. Pray it.
We find in David’s prayer of penitence in Psalm 51 a beautiful restoration. Though adultery and murder might not be the sins that have broken our relationship with God and man, when we find ourself caught in sin and we need to be forgiven that the joy of His salvation may be full in our lives again, this prayer might provide a model for us.
The Psalms are full of prayers of adoration and praise and thanksgiving and exultation. They form excellent models for us, living in a world with so little good news.
Prayers of confession are critical to all other prayer, for, the Lord’s “ear is not heavy, that He cannot hear. But it is your iniquities that have caused the separation between you and your God, and your sins have made Him hide His face from you, that He will not hear.” Isaiah 59:1-2 A prayer of confession may be as brief and simple as, “God, be merciful to me—a sinner.” Luke 18:13 Or, it may be modeled after Nehemiah’s prayer of confession for Israel. See Nehemiah 1:4-11.
An excellent model prayer of intercession is Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9-13. He is praying for a group of Christians whom he had never even met. He had only heard of them from Epaphras who is now in prison with him, but who is “always striving fervently for you in his prayers as well.” Colossians 4:12 When you study this prayer, look for the eight points of intercession. And use them as a model when praying for your friends. You may be amazed at how they focus on God and how we fit into His plans rather than “me and what my God can do for me!”
Solomon’s prayer of personal petition in 1 Kings 3 is a “mind–blower.” His prayer definitely “pleased the Lord.” He could have asked for anything in all the world. But he asks for an understanding heart. And God answers him, “Because you didn’t ask for a long life, nor personal riches, nor death to your enemies, but for a wise and understanding heart, I am going to do according to your word. And I will also give you what you didn’t ask for—both riches and honor!” 1 Kings 3:10-12 James emphasizes this principle in the negative: “You ask and don’t receive because you ask amiss, that you may consume it on your lusts.” James 4:3
In our prayers of petition, do we ask for the communion and fellowship expressed in Psalm 42:1: “As the heart pants for the water brook so my soul longs for You, 0 God?” Or do we ask Him for the glittering trinkets of life? Do we ask Him to search our hearts as in Psalm 139:23-24? “Search me, 0 God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me.” Or do we ask Him to look the other way when we take a break today. When we come boldly into His throne room of grace, do we ask for “mercy and grace in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 Or do we ask Him to keep problems away from us?
Prayer is easy to talk about. Like motherhood, everybody believes in it. Books and articles and seminars abound on the subject. And there can be a lot learned by such studies. There is value in coming to understand to a greater measure the breadth and depth of our communication with God.
However, for all of our learning—whether our words are “right,” our physical position is “right,” our tone of voice is “right,” what all we include in our prayer is “right”—the irreducible element is, “Is our heart ‘right’ with God?” Scripture says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Psalm 66:18
Our hearts being “right,” then, before the Lord, we have even this promise: “The Spirit…helps us in our present limitations. For example, we do not know how to pray as we should, but His Spirit within us is actually making intercession for us in those agonizing groanings which cannot find words. And God who knows the heart’s secrets understands, of course, the Spirit’s intention, for He intercedes according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27.
Therefore, prayer is not theory; prayer is action. It may seem like a mere play on words, but when the disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus did not answer with a discourse on prayer theory, but said, “After this manner, therefore pray…” Luke 11:2 And He gave us a model prayer.
Though the Lord’s Prayer (really the disciple’s prayer) is often prayed or sung verbatim, my encouragement is for us to use this prayer, and all the prayers of the Bible as patterns of prayer rather than rote, word–for–word recitations.
When we say, “Our Father…,” we can relish in the awesome family plan He established: That out of every kindred, tongue, tribe and people we have brothers and sisters. We can meditate on the mind–boggling concept that God in Christ Jesus became (and is) our Elder Brother. We can appreciate the fact that our Father is perfect in wisdom and understanding—that God is love. We can marvel at the creativity of our Father’s universe.
We might even find ourselves spending a whole hour in fellowship with Him without ever getting beyond that first phrase. You can see, I trust, that this is an activity far beyond the scope of printed prayers to read. Prayer is the dynamic communication link with God!
In this brief study we have considered a number of types of prayers: Praise, personal petition, confession, intercession, worship, thanksgiving, and penitence. I would like us to look at two more thoughts which speak of an intensity in prayer: Wrestling with God and In–the–Gap Praying.
Wrestling with God
Many of the model prayers of the Bible indicate a fervor that would suggest that the people really meant business with God. This level of prayer can give way to much theological debate. However, I intend to stick to the Word with illustrations from the lives of four people.
Jacob: His very name betrays him. Supplanter, cheat, conniver. And he had certainly lived up to it! And now he has devised another plot, this time to appease his brother from whom he has stolen the birthright. All of his servants and livestock and wives and children have been sent ahead with their instructions. Jacob is alone. And he wrestles in prayer with a Man until daybreak. He ends up with a hip joint out of place. But victory in prayer is his. His name is now Israel: Prince of God. See Genesis 32.
Hannah: Childless. Not a good thing for a wife in those days. And the adversary also provoked her mercilessly. She fretted, she was in bitterness of soul and she wept uncontrollably. She went to the temple to pray. So intense was her prayer that her lips moved but no sounds came. To Eli she confessed, “I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit. I have poured out my soul to the Lord.” But victory in prayer was hers. She gave birth to Samuel. See 1 Samuel 1.
Elijah: Quite a story! Under King Ahab and Queen Jezebel the nation of Israel had forsaken the commandments of the Lord and is now following Baalim. At this point Elijah says to Ahab, “Let’s have a showdown!” Thus, all of Israel climbs Mount Carmel. Elijah throws down the gauntlet: “How long will you halt between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.” You know the story: Two altars. The 450 prophets of Baal pray first—from morning til noon. At noon Elijah mocks them. “Cry louder! Maybe he’s meditating or going to the bathroom. Or maybe he’s on a journey. Or sleeping!” They cry until evening, cutting themselves. No answer.
The altar of the Lord is repaired. The sacrifice is laid on it. Water drenches the bullock and the wood and fills the trench around the altar. And at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah prays: “Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and of Israel, let it be known this day that You are God…Hear me, 0 Lord, hear me…” Then victory in prayer is his. The fire of the Lord falls. See 1 Kings 18:17-40.
What a powerful answer to prayer. Yet it is interesting that the next day God did not answer Elijah’s prayer after the manner of his request, “Lord, let me die,” he requested, “for I am no better than my fathers.” See 1 Kings 19:4.
Jesus: His hour had come and He knew it. “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.” And in those terrifying three hours, the most critical battle of the ages raged as all of Jesus’ humanness rose up to shout, “No! Father, there’s got to be another way to redeem man back to You. I can’t drink this cup. It is too bitter.” We don’t know all that was said in that time. We do know that after one hour He had wrestled His will into submission to the Father. Yet, it rose up in a second, and third hour. So great was the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual trauma that He suffered hematidrosis, also called the bloody sweat. Under such duress as Jesus experienced in His time of prayer, the capillaries in His forehead burst. And the blood came out through the sweat glands. But victory in prayer was His. He paid the price for our salvation on Calvary. See Luke 22:39-46.
In each of these four illustrations from Scripture, it is obvious that a level of intensity was expressed that communicated to God (and should communicate to us) a seriousness of purpose unparalleled in normal conversation. May our fervor for righteousness be so expressed as we wrestle in prayer with God.
In–the–gap praying also speaks of an intensity of prayer that is awesome to consider. “And I sought for a man among them that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.” Ezekiel 22:30
The “gap” mentioned in Ezekiel has been used to express a number of concepts. Prophetically, Jesus came to bridge the chasm between God and man. As an appeal for people to go to the mission fields of the world, filling in the “gap” with front–line workers is critical. There are cultural “gaps” between the missionary and the people group he is trying to reach. And training is good to help fill in the gaps.
But in the context of Ezekiel, standing “in the gap” speaks directly of the role of an intercessor—one who forms a barrier (a hedge) between God (who is speaking) and “the land that I should not destroy it.”
Stop! Back up! Run that through again. Is that really what God is saying? Yes! He is angry. In His justice, He is saying, “I have had enough! I am going to destroy the land (the people of the land). But I am a God who is longsuffering and kind, patient and easy to be entreated. I am looking for someone to hold Me back—to slow Me down—to give the people a little more time to repent. But I have found none!” Psalm 103:8.
“I looked for a man…” Abraham became that man: “God, will you not spare the city for fifty righteous men? Forty–five? Forty? Thirty? Twenty? Ten? Far be it from Thee to slay the righteous with the wicked…Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” See Genesis 18. Those are powerful words for one who had “taken upon himself to speak to the Lord, seeing he was but dust and ashes!” He stood in the gap.
“I looked for a man…” Moses became that man: “And Moses besought the face of the Lord his God, and said, ‘Lord, why does Your wrath wax hot against Your people?” Just four verses earlier, in His anger God had called them Moses’ people! After two more verses of intercession, “the Lord repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people.” Exodus 32:11-14.
Another time Moses even more boldly said: “Yet now, if you will forgive their sin…; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Your book which You have written!” Exodus 32:32 Read Deuteronomy Chapter 9 for a review of the many times Moses stood in the gap for God’s people. The Psalmist also remembered Moses as a man who “stood before Him in the breach to turn away His wrath, lest He should destroy them.” Psalm 106:23 Moses was definitely an “in–the–gap” intercessor!
“I looked for a man…” Aaron became that man. Numbers 16 Nehemiah became that man. Nehemiah became that man (The whole book!) Jesus became that Man. John 17 Paul became that man. Romans 9 Others through the generations of time have become that man, that woman who stood in the gap.
And today Scripture still declares the voice of God—which perhaps is speaking to us, “I am looking for you to make up the hedge, to stand in the gap!”
Two excellent novels, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti, give thought–provoking possibilities to the subtleties of this war. They give a glimpse of what might be going on behind the scenes.
But let’s look into the book of Job. Here we have been given some Scriptural insight into the spiritual realm from which this war emanates and the hedge of protection we are talking about. Job had arrived! He was rich. He was famous. He was perfect and upright. He feared God and hated evil. This is what the world could see.
But behind the scenes of this visible world is the invisible, yet real world. And satan sees the hedge complete—not only around Job, but “about his house, and about all that he has on every side.” See Job 1:1-10.
The “accuser of the brethren, day and night” (Revelation 12:10) is “going to and fro in the earth, and is walking up and down in it seeking whom he may devour.” 1 Peter 5:8 When he sees the breach in the hedge, the broken–down walls, the secret thoughts of sin, he enters the minds of men with ease. When he sees the hedge complete, he presents himself before God and taunts, “Does ‘Job’ (Put your name in here.) reverently fear You for nothing?”
A battle is raging for the souls of mankind. Many are on the fields of battle, warning men and women of impending doom. The anger of the Lord is kindled against the filthy unrighteousness in every avenue of life: “I must destroy the earth.” But He “is not willing that any perish, but that all come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 Will we step forward? Will we with lifted hands hold back His anger and intercede for the lost of the world, saying, “God, be patient a little longer.”
Yes, the prayers spoken of in the Word of God are a bit more rigorous than “Now I lay me down to sleep…!” Indeed, God has said that nothing lies beyond the potential of prayer. See John 14:13-14.
Lord, teach us to pray!
This has not been an exhaustive study on the two main weapons of our warfare. But it has “covered some ground.” In summary, therefore, I would say:
1) The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, is a powerful weapon, not to be reckoned with lightly. Read it. Study it. Meditate on it. Let all of the spiritual nutrition of its life–giving words strengthen you for battle. And then let it be in your hand the mighty Weapon it is as you go out to fight for right, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the ammunition chooser and the guidance system.
2) Prayer, for all that can be written about it, is simply communication with God. Because the dialogues we have with people are so often tainted with our human limitations, reading, studying and using the prayers of the Bible as models for our communication with God will more readily put us in touch with His world. Whether we use a one–word cry for help or enjoy a continual spirit–dialogue with our Maker, His lines are never busy or out of service. And there is never a charge.
WHEN SATAN HASSLES CHRISTIANS
I have observed that many of satan’s strongest attacks come at particular times. As we look at these experiences you will recognize that they are times when we are especially vulnerable. Think of the times when you are especially vulnerable.
Problem The enemy tries to hassle me in the days or hours preceding any kind of ministry, such as teaching or counseling. And most likely the attack will be on the very point on which I am planning to minister.
Maybe you have been asked to organize an outreach, or you are going to lead a group study, or you are planning to share your testimony with your new neighbor. In each of these situations, it is the enemy’s determined purpose to stop you. He will do whatever is necessary to: 1) bring feelings of condemnation on you; 2) to cause you to feel like a failure; 3) to believe you are inadequate for the task; or 4) just plain get you upset! How about an unjustified speeding ticket as you are on your way to teach about “all civil authority is established by God?” Or, you are “yelling” at the kids just as your new neighbor is at your door? You had planned to share with her about the peace Jesus brings.
Solution Be prepared. Pray ahead of time for the protection needed to prevent you from falling prey to his attacks. Learn to recognize what is happening at the very starting point of a situation going wrong, and that will diffuse the power of what is happening. Refuse to get caught in such a snare.
This type of attack was so consistent with me when I started teaching. Whatever the subject I was preparing to teach, I would be attacked in that very area the preceding week. And I fell for it week after week after week! I would be so disgusted with myself for blindly falling for it again and again. Finally, after it had happened enough times and I had experienced enough pain, I began to recognize what was going on. Then I would try to remember to pray for protection and awareness at the beginning of the preparation time and to be on my spiritual guard, so I would not fall for his tricks.
Allow time to be quiet before the Lord as a critical part of your preparation to minister. Find that quiet time early in your preparation.
Problem The enemy attempts to “rob” me after a spiritual “high”; a personal victory over a temptation; a valuable lesson learned; a refreshing week end retreat; a particularly meaningful time with my husband; after leading a person to the Lord; having taught a challenging class or seminar—a time when I am feeling real good within myself!
(Are you recognizing yourself in any of these situations?)
Solution Be on guard. After any kind of victory it is our natural tendency to relax because everything is so good. After all, we have just reached a spiritual mountain top. But the enemy is relentless in his attacks, and we are particularly vulnerable at those times of victory.
Jesus is our example: It must have been a real spiritual high for Him. He had lived in relative obscurity for 30 years. Then, John’s strong declaration, “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world…I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained on Him.” And His Father’s voice from Heaven, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.”
Then Jesus is driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil. He did not let His guard down. Using the Word, He drove off every attack of satan. See Matthew 3 and 4. Use the Word—be in the Word!
As you think about those times of victory—they are often a result of taking extra time in fellowship, prayer and the Word—take time to be quiet. Rather than concentrating on “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works…,” focus on “…and glorify your Father Who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16.
Problem The enemy takes advantage of me when I am sick or tired or pressured—under too much stress, over–committed, sleep–deprived or when I’ve left everything to the last minute!
Solution We need to take responsibility for ourselves. It is not spiritual to “burn out"—even to burn out for God! We must learn how to say “no” to everything that is not His will so we have enough of what it takes to do His will!
There are people who believe it is not spiritual to think about their own well–being. They may equate their body with the flesh of the Bible. For most of us, the weaker the condition we are in physically, the more vulnerable we are to attack and the less we can accomplish for God. We must take the responsibility to get enough sleep, enough exercise, to eat right—to live a balanced lifestyle. (Do you hear me talking to myself?)
Prevention is better than cure. It is quicker and easier to stay healthy than to regain health. But, if you get to that “burn out” stage—too tired, too run down, too…, then take the cure! Take a break; take a rest; get away. It is not selfish; it is necessary! “And Jesus said to them, ‘Come away to the solitude of a quiet place and rest a while,’ for there were so many people coming and going they had no time to even eat a meal.” Mark 6:31.
Problem The enemy preys on me when I am “alone.” This aloneness could mean physically alone. An extreme case would be the example of a Bible translator out in a tribal village where there are no Christians—no one with whom to fellowship, no church to attend—really alone in a physical setting.
But we can also be “alone” in a crowd—alone emotionally, or spiritually withdrawn from the Body of Christ. Like the little lamb, a straggler always hanging out on the edge of the flock is easy prey for the wild animals. When we allow ourselves to be isolated, we are easy targets for the enemy’s attack.
Solution To be alone in a physical setting where there is no opportunity for fellowship is very unusual. If we find ourselves in such a unique situation, we must think of creative ways to communicate with the outside world: Letters, short wave radio, music and Bible study tapes, e–mail! If those means are not available, God will sustain us, as we depend on Him, alone. See Philippians 4:19. Be sure to read it carefully in its context!
However, most of us have many opportunities for fellowship. Maybe it is not your personality to reach out to people or to initiate friendships. Maybe you are a very private person, or it is your nature to prefer to be alone a great deal of the time. But being without fellowship, is like being the straggling lamb on the edge of the flock. It is a very vulnerable position.
If you don’t have anyone you can share with on a heart level, or pray with, ask God to bring someone into your life with whom you can have spiritual fellowship. At the same time take the initiative of reaching out to people and also be approachable yourself. Don’t expect God to plop someone into your path who says, “I’m here to share with you.” We need to work at relationships. Whether we like it or not, whether we are comfortable with it or not, whether it comes naturally or not—it is necessary. Solomon said, “A person who wants friends needs to be friendly.” Proverbs 18:24.
Building a relationship takes time and work. Patience in communication over a period of time will give you a strong friend with whom to relate. “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep waters, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” Proverbs 20:5
Also, we need to be willing to take risks. Deep, accountable relationships always carry with them the risk of getting hurt. But it is worth the risk to have an open, honest relationship with a person who can admonish you—in love—as you listen to them. Equally, then, they can listen and receive admonishment from you—in love. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Proverbs 27:6.
Another part of this solution is group fellowship. To be a participant in a group for social activities, mutual sharing, Bible study and prayer, protects you from that unsafe, vulnerable position of “straggler.” It’s called being part of His Body, and being part of the family of God.
Problem The enemy subtly attacks when I think I am “strong.” Paul warned, “Take heed, you who think you stand, lest you fall.” 1 Corinthians 10:12 Sometimes we think we are strong. Maybe we are even proud of being strong. So we think we can skip a few days of reading the Word or praying. “I can stand by myself! I don’t need to be accountable to anybody! I can handle this situation on my own!” To have that attitude is to walk into a ready made trap!
Solution Humility must replace pride. Paul told the Christians at Ephesus (Ephesians 5:4) that the whole focus of their lifestyle should be with a sense of thanksgiving to God! When we realize that even our breath is under His control, there is no room for pride. A disciplined, reasonable, interesting, enjoyable, regular reading and studying of His Word will keep us spiritually fed. Regular two–way communication with God (prayer) will keep our spiritual fellowship with Him open and accountable.
But there is another area I want to mention here: sex. Many good men and women—strong, committed Christians—have been drawn into immoral relationships because they thought they were so strong that they just couldn’t fall.
It takes very little time to cross from spiritual oneness to emotional oneness. And then just a bit longer to go from emotional oneness to a physical relationship. It can happen in a counseling session or even when two people are just praying alone together. And don’t think this happens only in heterosexual situations.
The misuse of sex is one of satan’s primary traps, and though he has used it generation after generation, many people remain naive and think they don’t need to be on guard. We must realize that satan can drop an idea into anyone’s head—anytime! There is no one above that trick of his. No one! We need to recognize the source of the idea when it comes, and rebuke him. Refuse to walk into his setup.
The solutions are so simple they are often over–looked: Don’t counsel in a private place, such as your house or theirs. Get together where you can be “alone” in a crowd—a coffee shop or sitting in the back of a church after service. Pray in three’s. As a general rule, men should counsel men, women counsel women. Don’t make a practice of working and/or traveling in two’s with the opposite sex unless, of course, you are married to that person!
Beyond these practical safeguards there may be a need to deal with issues on a heart level. We can probe the underlying causes for moral failure in this area—emotional deprivation, unhealed areas of childhood trauma, or maybe it just happened because they found themselves in a lonely isolated location when they were in need of affection. The point is, they never thought it could happen to them. They were not aware and thus were not on guard.
In the final analysis, it comes back to Scripture. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek…” Matthew 5:5 Meekness is defined as “strength of character under control.” Nehemiah encouraged the people, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 There is only good when we deal with our strength in terms of meekness and the joy of the Lord. There is only bad when we think we stand (strong in our own strength), because then we are setup for a fall!