working hard at prayer

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

Ephesians 6

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Colossians 4

I love the times when the Spirit seems to help me pray. Feeling the love, and the blessed empowering of the Spirit as a complete, sheer gift from God. And I want to know more of those times, and engage in prayer during such times. It can seem as if the Spirit is taking our spirit to be with someone else, with their spirit, and in their circumstance.

But more often than not, and for the most part, prayer can seem like drudgery more than delight. I am doubtful that we can blame our spiritual lack on that. It might be more in line with human weakness and living within the realm of the world, the flesh and the devil, even when in and through Christ by the Spirit we are no longer in any of those realms ourselves. Check out the New Testament, if you doubt me on that latter point.

I believe the Spirit can help us through and out of those difficult times of praying, when it seems all is uphill. And then we can experience the empowerment of praying in the Holy Spirit. But one of the all kinds of praying in the Spirit surely must be a kind of wrestling in prayer in which much of our own effort in the midst of all kinds of weakness is given. To struggle to pray, and actually pray in that way is surely not only underrated, but looked at as less than spiritual. But that surely is a mistake.

To live in the realm of the world, the flesh, and the devil -in Christ, is surely to be up against resistance on every side. And dependency on God in our humanity is something Jesus himself experienced on earth as he looked in prayer to the Father. We should neither think we ought to be immune to it, nor be discouraged by it. In fact that sense can be a wake up call for us to get on our feet, more like on our knees so to speak, and pray, and keep on praying. Something I want to keep working on and continue to grow in, in and through Jesus.

dialing down expectations

One of the greatest problems of society, and of us in our lives is the problem of unrealized expectations, or probably more accurately and helpfully put, unrealistic expectations. One of the most in your face and crudest kind out there is that of the health and wealth, prosperity gospel preachers. They are a dime a dozen, and not worth any of it. I would not mince my words to one, whose letters and whatever it was he sent back, was aimed at a poor man who was grasping on to whatever hope he had to recover from the dementia which was setting in, sending in x number of dollars to get this or that blessing from someone who is (or was) exceedingly wealthy himself.

I am not referring here, I hope, to lack of faith, so that we don’t expect God to fulfill his promises, and rather than shoots six or seven or more arrows out there, we only shoot three like that faithless king of Israel of old. Not at all. We ought to trust in God and in God’s promises to us in Jesus, even literally. So that we do expect nothing less than the righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit promised to us in the kingdom now present in Jesus (Romans 14). Yes, we do ourselves and no one else any favor, when we don’t believe God’s promises to us.

But we need to read the entire Bible, not just the precious promise part. There’s plenty in there which you’re either not likely to find, or never would see in a precious promise book, whatever good such books might actually do. Yes, we need the “very great and precious promises” of God (2 Peter 1) for sure, and we need to hold on to them for dear life. But we need to see them in the context of taking up our cross and following, and being ready for “the dark night of the soul,” as well as arming ourselves for the spiritual warfare by being willing to suffer as Christ did (1 Peter 4).

I don’t care for that kind of message, myself, or at least there’s a large part of me which doesn’t. On the other hand, there’s another part of me which does, I suppose the inherent skeptical part, and for the good of me and others, it is best that I swallow the entire revelation of God given to us in the word, and through Christ, not just the parts that I like. The parts which may not taste as well at first, anyhow, may be the most nourishing and good for the soul, but we need it all. We need to really take in, and perhaps dwell at length on sections we might, left to ourselves, ignore, like the book of Lamentations, to name just one book among many other such parts of scripture.

Dialing down expectations might help us sift the wheat from the chaff, as we learn the way and freedom of self-restriction in place of the lie of unlimited freedom (Alexander Solzhenitsyn), the way of Jesus, and as we embrace that way both outwardly and inwardly, the way of the cross. And then find the true love of God and abundant eternal life as we look forward to the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, in and through Jesus.

focused praying

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

James 5:16b; NLT

Exactly how to translate this verse is up for grabs. I like the point that the NLT rendering, along with other translations (see link, and other translations on Bible Gateway) makes. Real prayer is focused, whereas simply praying a prayer is not necessarily so, akin to when Isaiah (quoted by the Lord) says that people can praise God with their lips, while their hearts are far from him.

Whatever the correct way to translate this passage (and that seems up for grabs, or interpretation, but might be a good further study), I think the idea of earnestness or fervency, wholeheartedness in praying, is certainly apt and commendable. We are so good at doing religious things half heartedly, going through the motions. But faith, especially in difficult matters, but really in anything in this life wants to take hold of God, like Jacob of old, who wrestled with the angel of God (Genesis 32).

It’s not like in all of our weakness, we shouldn’t feebly utter a prayer. We should; we should pray all kinds of prayers. I think in part so that we make sure we’re not merely going through the motions, it is good to give at least some of our prayers the strong expression they deserve, sort of like making our words bold in print. It seems like in our human weakness, this helps me to be focused, and cut through my own denseness, or ineptitude, and through the spiritual resistance of the devil, and hopefully pray in the Spirit.

Prayer requires effort, and is part of the fight of faith we are in for the good of others, was well as for our own good in this life. In and through Jesus.

becoming stronger through the fight

Like it or not, we in Jesus are involved in spiritual warfare. To be quite honest, I can’t say I entirely like it, because it seems to me that some of the arrows from the evil one get through to me at times. If that’s the case, and to some extent I suspect it is, that can be the Lord’s mercy in helping me to shore up my position through becoming stronger for the fight, that strength being in the Lord, and in his mighty power. And learning to better put on the full armor of God. All topped off with the necessary ongoing prayer. Once again, that classic passage, Ephesians 6:10-20:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, 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.

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 Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, 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.

Ephesians 6:10-20

A simple key here which is probably underrated is “in Christ.” Or in the passage itself, “in the Lord.” The popular evangelical speak in teaching (and not just evangelical), one’s position in Christ, or identity in him, is of vital importance, to be sure. And the rest of the book of Ephesians is key in helping us understand that. In the apt summary of Watchman Nee: “Sit, Walk, Stand.” In other words, we have to learn through our identity in Christ how we are seated with him in the heavenly realm (or places), and learn to walk in the conduct of our lives accordingly, and from that, we will be able to stand well in the battle against the spiritual entities we face.

Through all of this, and related to the past two posts, we can become stronger. The danger lies in giving up, giving in, or not persevering so as to break through. Of course it ultimately doesn’t depend on us; it depends on the Lord, and the power and truth of the gospel. We have to do what we’re called to do, knowing that it is he who will see us through, and that actually we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8, a good passage to meditate on in regard to this entire subject).

And so, though I seemed to take some strong body blows, and even a good smack or two on the head yesterday (of course metaphorically), I look forward to something good to come out of even the worst. As I hang in there, and seek to understand and better live in the faith which is ours in and through Jesus.

spiritual warfare praying

The latter part of the book of Daniel (7-12), though full of apocalyptic visions, contains a prayer of Daniel’s (9) at the heart of it. He understood from scripture that the time for God’s people in exile to be restored to the land was imminent, so he set himself to fasting and prayer.

When one prays, really prays and continues to pray, there’s inevitably an element of spiritual warfare going on. At the end of the great passage on spiritual warfare, God’s people are called to pray (Ephesians 6:10-20).

I really like it when I feel inspired to pray, when the Spirit seems to be very much present, and it seems easy to pray. When that happens, I try to take advantage and really keep after it, praying for this and that, and something else.

But by and large for me, prayer seems to be an uphill battle. Part of it is surely myself in some way, in my lack of faith along with the human element involved in the heaviness which the baggage of life inevitably brings. But a major part of it is surely in the resistance that the spiritual forces arrayed against God, bring. There’s a saying somewhere that the only thing the devil fears is a weak praying saint on their knees. I believe the spiritual enemy will do anything to keep us from praying, including pleasant distractions.

If we want to feel good and enjoy life, then we should avoid this kind of praying, in fact prayer of any kind. But if we want the joy of the Holy Spirit, along with much resistance and pain, and perhaps some persecution for good measure added, then we will try to pray, and remain in prayer, and seek to grow in our prayer life.

In closing I quote one of the passages on prayer, marking the importance of our regular practice of it:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

Colossians 4:2-4

spiritual warfare

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, 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.

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 Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, 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.

Ephesians 6:10-20

There was a morning last week when I got up late, and could hardly make my way around, a pall hanging over me. It wasn’t like I wasn’t able to do what I had to do, but that I seemed to be aware of a sinister presence, probably at least once removed from reality. I had remembered a dream from that night, which itself seemed pretty obviously almost as if evil itself was directed at me, at my wife, and really the entire family and I.

Finally at work the need to meditate on this passage, Ephesians 6:10-20 dawned on me. And as I began to do that, the pall lifted.

I’m wondering how many of us are aware of the spiritual warfare we in Jesus are in. I’m not talking about the idea of seeing a demon behind every tree, and in everything, along with a good number of people, so that we (mistakenly, in my view) begin to cast demons out of people. That, by the way, is a real phenomena, but thankfully seems confined only to a few. Those in ministry who are trained to deal with that kind of thing should be involved in that work. The rest of us can help others, and help in that in more indirect ways. Actually not that different from how we help ourselves when plagued with something of a choking, numbing darkness.

Ephesians 6:10-20 is not just about actual physical rulers and authorities as some Bible scholars have maintained. A straightforward reading of the text makes it clear that it’s not against humans at all, but the spiritual entitities which are behind humans, as well as those who are opposed to us. So that we are in a struggle.

What is given to us for this struggle is no less than the mighty power of God along with the full armor of God. “Put on the gospel armor, each part put on by prayer,” is from a hymn which is an apt summary of how this passage can be applied. Every part of the armor given to us in Christ, is related to the gospel, or good news, by which we stand. And stand is the right way to put it, we’re to stand firm and resist in the evil day. Whether we see evil day as in some sense including all of this time before our Lord’s return, or we see it as particularly some days along that space. I think both is a good way to take it.

Too often we’re too slipshod in our application of God’s inscripturated word through the Word, Jesus, so that when we’re having ongoing issues, or problems, we may well ask ourselves if we’re really doing what we’re hearing (James 1). It’s certainly not the word itself which is deficient.

And so that’s my goal right now: to seek to better understand, to hear more fully, so that I may better apply, and do what this passage is telling us to do. Familiarity might not breed contempt at every turn, but it may lend itself to the deception that just because we know certain concepts, that we actually understand them, and are putting that into practice.

It’s not like there’s one perfect way to put something into practice, in fact the Spirit will help each of us to do this according to our particular bent and circumstances, and in the will of an all wise God. And the point of Ephesians 6:10-20, in the fire, and after all the smoke has cleared, is to stand, to stand firm in the Lord, and in the gospel.

May God grant us the grace and wisdom from the Spirit to do this in and through the Lord Jesus.

remaining in the hard place

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12

I keep returning to a theme which is recurrent with me. If there’s anything we humans don’t care for, it’s living a life that seems to fall short of its potential. We don’t like handicaps, today called challenges, and we will do what is necessary to find our way back to normalcy. That was true for Paul, who pleaded with the Lord three times to remove the thorn in the flesh which was tormenting him, even a messenger from Satan. It is interesting in Paul’s case that this thorn was “given” not by Satan, but seemingly through Satan by the Lord, to keep Paul from being conceited because of the greatness of the revelations he had received, far beyond that of others.

In my case it seems that there’s some relationship between mistakes of the past, and what troubles me in the present. What I’m thinking of is not great sin, but lack in wisdom, as well as the limitations inherent in living as a broken (or, fallen) human in a broken world. Because of the gaffes we might make, completely unknowingly, acting on the best we think we know, even if there are other motives which ought to slow us down, and even stop us in our tracks, we sometimes suffer.

In Paul’s case, again, the thorn was given to keep him humble. While I certainly never have had anything near the great revelations Paul had, I surely am more prone to pride than he was, so that even a little bit of “success” can easily go to my head. I know that all too sadly to be the case. Therefore I need to learn to live well in the hard place, in the place I would escape from in a day, in an hour, immediately, if I could. Instead I need to settle in, so that I can begin to perceive and see the benefit of the hard place. And beyond what I could possibly appreciate on my own, even learn to rejoice in such a hard place, and the limitations and debilitations present in them, since Christ’s strength is made known in ways which otherwise would be lost.

And so that is my assignment, so to speak right now. To learn to live better, even well, in the midst of consternation and difficulty. While at the same time praying to the Lord for his mercy, while we look forward to the day when such difficulty will be no more.