When I think of the Apostle Paul, the man who wrote most of the New Testament epistles, I think of a guy who had a bucket-load of boldness, a man who did not sidestep or try and step out of situations, but who fearlessly stepped into the world with the good news of God’s grace in Christ. Maybe Paul was that way because of prayer and the prayers of God’s people (Ephesians 6:18-20). Maybe what stands in the way of people coming to know Jesus and the church maturing in the faith is not a lack of resources or programming, but a profound lack of intense, consistent, and sustained prayer. Maybe too many of God’s people have been duped by the enemy of our souls to retreat in a bubble of fear, unable to effectively engage God’s big world and Christ’s church with confidence.
The truth is that there is an unseen world all around us that cannot be observed with our physical eyes. We serve an invisible God, and we have an invisible enemy (Ephesians 6:10-12). Satan and his wicked spirits actually exist and they are organized for war with schemes, methods, and devious strategies designed to blunt our spiritual development and the expansion of God’s kingdom. The devil seeks to render us ineffective in our walk with Christ, be unproductive for God, and be all knotted up inside in a broken mess so that we are weak, not strong.
The names of our invisible enemy in Scripture tells us the kind of diabolical and methodical work he is doing to snare us: Satan, the adversary; Lucifer, the shining one who comes looking like the light but only delivers darkness; Beelzebub, the lord of the flies, who is a false god promising protection and help apart from the one true God; the evil one, who seeks to have us engage in sin instead of righteousness; the tempter; the accuser; and, the prince of this world. The unseen wicked spirits of this dark world pull out whatever technique they can to turn us from knowing who we are in Christ and how we are to really live. They seek to distract us from our mission, to keep us busy fighting among ourselves, and to put our confidence in anything (i.e. particular ministries; certain people; good ideas) but Jesus Christ.
Prayer is to undergird everything we do. The early church was effective and successful in many ways through prayer. They all joined together constantly in prayer (Acts 1:14). They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42). After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31). The early apostles re-arranged their busy schedules so that they could give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). Everywhere we go in the book of Acts, believers in Jesus are praying.
As Christians, we might think of ourselves as people of prayer, but compared to our spiritual ancestors we are not engaging in the same kind of intense, sustained, and strategic prayer that pushes back the enemy and graciously talks about the good news of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. If you do not believe this, just call a prayer meeting and see how few people show up. We are too afraid to pray in front of others. We are too fearful of saying the wrong thing or looking unspiritual. Let me ask: who wants you to think that way?
The business of Christ’s church and all its leadership is prayer, and we need to re-arrange our lives to make it happen so that we give God our focused attention. When prayer takes a back seat to everything else, we end up fighting the wrong battles and the result is a lot of friendly fire where people get spiritually and emotionally hurt because we are not in touch with God. Our battle is not with flesh and blood human beings; it is with Satan and his wicked spirits (Ephesians 6:12). Fight them, not each other!