I can’t believe it. I did an eleven-part series on prayer earlier this year, and I never talked about this passage?
In most of the translations I’ve looked at, vss. 18-20 are clustered in with 10-17 (the “Armor of God” passage). There are pretty good reasons for this, even though he never uses an armor or weaponry metaphor in discussing prayer here. In the Greek there’s no “And” (as in the NIV and other translations), but the language structure makes it clear that “pray” modifies “Put on the whole armor of God” way back in vs. 11. In other words, one of the main ways that we put on God’s armor is by praying. Even if it’s not officially part of our “armor,” it’s desperately needed in any confrontation with our Enemy.
Here are my notes:
· We’re supposed to pray in the Spirit. What does that mean? It means we pray in the way his word instructs us. It means that we allow the Holy Spirit to search out our hearts. It means we submit ourselves to his authority and thus tap into his power.
· We’re supposed to pray on all occasions. There is no such thing as the wrong time to pray—well, I guess if you kept praying for someone after God told you to stop (like he did with Jeremiah), but that’s not a very common situation. Obviously we need to pray when we’re about to face down the Enemy or his representatives. But we need to make a habit of listening and talking to our Father no matter what our circumstances are at any given moment.
· We’re supposed to pray with all kinds of prayers and requests. If you’re interested, I just mentioned a series I did on the types of prayer, but here’s an abbreviated list: adoration, thanksgiving, confession, and petition (and it’s usually best to go somewhat in that order).
· We’re supposed to always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. God’s people need to pray for each other. This is a grand and glorious privilege, for the Lord to invite me into his good plans for a fellow believer. You don’t need to know someone personally: If you hear about believers being persecuted in another country, pray for them.
· Then we come to the jaw-dropping verses 19 and 20. Please forgive me as I quote myself:
Let’s ponder that for a moment, shall we? Paul—the apostle Paul, who’s been visited personally by Jesus and who’s writing Scripture at this very moment—is asking them to pray for him. And he wants to see them, so that he could be refreshed (encouraged, strengthened) by them. By ordinary believers, just like you and me.
My friend, I can only dream of being as close to Christ, as spiritually mature, as bold in proclaiming the Message as this man was. But he wanted and needed prayers and intimate encouragement from ordinary believers. That tells me that no matter how far along you are in your walk with Christ, you still need prayers from others. You still need encouragement from others. In this life, you’re never “past” this. The Lord designed his Body so that each of us needs the other. As we say in the IT world, it’s a feature, not a bug.
Let me just focus on vss. 19-20 for emphasis. Paul is asking them to pray for him to be able to fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. . . [and] that he could declare it fearlessly, as he was supposed to. Paul. Surely in the history of the Church there’s been no one who’s been more courageous or bold or unrelenting as he in presenting the Good News. But he needed prayer to keep this up in the face of opposition. This just reinforces my point earlier: We all need each other to pray for us.
· Here’s something to ponder. When the Ephesian believers and others prayed for Paul as he requested, they had a part in his success. The Lord used their prayers to make him the incredible evangelist/missionary he was. Yes, we need to support missionary work and evangelistic efforts with our money. That’s important. But even more important is prayer: Asking the Father to bless the preaching of the word, asking him to give boldness and courage to the ones proclaiming it, and that the Enemy’s efforts to hinder it would fail.
God doesn’t need your prayers, just like he doesn’t really need anything from you at all in order to accomplish his purposes. But in his condescending grace, he invites ordinary and flawed believers like you and me to take part in his grand and glorious plan to invade the Adversary’s kingdom. Are you in?