Prayer: The Soldier’s Walkie-Talkie
A sermon on Ephesians 6:18-19 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 4/6/03
Imagine yourself as a member of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, 64th Armored regiment. The time: early yesterday morning. Your commander calls your unit together and asks, “How many of you would like to go on a little sightseeing tour of Baghdad – virtually to the city center.” Volunteers abound. He turns to you and says, “Sorry, Lieutenant, I have other plans for you. You’re to conduct aerial reconnaissance for this force from a helicopter. Keep in constant touch with me. Let me know if there are any signs of enemy troops or armor gathering along the route. Tell me if I need to call in air support. Send me encouraging words to relay to the troops regarding their impact on the city. I know you would like to be on the ground – but this task is vital to the success of the mission. Do it well!”
How do you fulfill your task?
Do you think, “Oh, I’m not down in the streets, so what I do isn’t really important. I’ll take this helicopter to another part of the city and see what’s going on.”
Do you think, “Well, I’d better stay close by in case anything happens, but the commander has other sources of information; I can relax and read the latest Baghdad Times while all this is going on.”
Do you think after the first hour, “I didn’t get much sleep last night, and staring down into this dust is a bit hard on the eyes. I’ll take a little nap for a while.”
How do you fulfill your task?
This soldier’s task is very similar to one God gives us: prayer.
How will we fulfill that task?
With Easter coming up, we’ve received several flyers from churches in the last week. One church wants to be known as “a place your family can unwind.” Another advertises itself as “The church where every child feels welcome.” Clearly, those churches hope the community associates those phrases with them. What phrases do we want our community to associate with Desiring God Community Church? I hope one of those phrases is “A church of prayer for all the nations.”
Wednesday night we began to look at prayer. We saw that the purpose of prayer is to glorify God. We accomplish this by calling on him in the day of trouble, holding up our cup of salvation and asking God for more and more – that itself is worship.
We also asked ourselves the question: Is prayer selfish? How is true prayer different from the old song, “Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz”? And we saw, based on James 4, that prayer can be selfish – IF we value the gift more than giver. In that case we are acting like an adulteress asking her husband for money so she can spend it on another lover. But we also saw that asking God to give to us need not be selfish. As John Piper says,
if created things are seen and handled as gifts of God and as mirrors of his glory, they need not be occasions of idolatry—if our delight in them is always also a delight in their Maker.
We also discussed how we should pray rightly. We must lack confidence in ourselves, and pray for the advance of kingdom forces, not our own personal comforts. Even when we pray for personal needs, we should be asking in the context of God enabling us to serve Him better, so that we might be more effective in advancing the kingdom. This is the prayer of God’s soldier. In Piper’s memorable phrase, prayer is a wartime walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom.
This morning we will expand on that walkie-talkie image as we consider Ephesians 6:18.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that “everything we do in the Christian life is easier than prayer,” and that “our ultimate position as Christians is tested by the character of our prayer life. It is more important than knowledge and understanding.”
Lloyd-Jones is speaking about individuals, but this is also true of churches. Prayer as a church is difficult – but prayer life of a church is an excellent thermometer, testing its spiritual health.
What will be the character of the prayer life at Desiring God Community Church? As vital as knowledge and understanding are, and as committed as we all are to preaching and teaching the whole counsel of the Word of God, our joint prayer life will best indicator of whether or not we are becoming what God intends us to be.
So I pray that this teaching will be first step of many in drawing us together into a deep life of corporate prayer.
As we turn to our text, recall that Ephesians is a book about the church. Our early discussions of the purpose of the church (first, second) were based on texts in this book. So we are right to consider Ephesians 6:10-18 in that light. As individualistic Americans, our tendency as we read these verses is to think, “You, Coty, put on whole armor of God. You, Beth, pray on all occasions.”
But the commands here are plural commands. Paul is saying, “You all put on the whole armor of God. You all pray on all occasions.” Certainly Paul is not here opposed to individual prayer, but in context the greater emphasis is on corporate prayer. Consider that as we read today’s text:
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:18)
Our outline comes directly from the verse as we consider Paul’s instructions about how to pray:
Throughout we’ll note how these commands apply to our soldier in the helicopter.
Paul says, “Pray in the Spirit.” What does he mean by this? Is he saying, “there are many ways to pray, and the one I want you to focus on now is praying in the Spirit.”?
No. Note that he has used the same construction in verse 10 when he says, “Be strong in the Lord.” Here there are not many ways to be strong, with “in the Lord” being one option among many. Rather, there is only one way to be truly strong – and that is to be strong in the Lord. Paul is explaining how to be truly strong.
Similarly, in John 4:24 Jesus says to the woman at the well,
God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth
Once again, worshiping “in spirit and in truth” is not one out of many possible ways to worship. Jesus here is defining true worship.
Just so with Ephesians 6:18. Paul here defines true prayer. True prayer is “in the Spirit.” This is the only way to pray effectively.
In the context of verses 10-17, Paul is saying that we cannot use the armor of God via our own strength – all power is from God, and all power from God comes through prayer. As he says elsewhere (Romans 8:27), the Spirit aids our prayers especially when we do not know what to pray for – He intercedes, groaning with us, pleading according to the will of God.
(We have interpreted “in the Spirit” as if the word “Spirit” is capitalized. This is the most likely understanding of the verse; Jude verse 20 explicitly says “praying in the Holy Spirit.” But the Greek text could be understood in the sense of John 4:24: praying “in spirit”, in our own spirit. In that case, the contrast would be with praying “in mouth”; we are to pray not externally, not just vocally, but we must pray with our whole being, from the heart.)
In terms of the walkie-talkie analogy: The Spirit is the equivalent of using a walkie-talkie with charged batteries. Without batteries, the soldier may as well be speaking into the wind – the words are not communicated anywhere. He is going through the motions of talking with his commander, he may appear to an embedded reporter as if he is performing his duty – but in fact he is accomplishing nothing at all. Just so with us. If we are not praying in the Spirit, we are not praying at all.
Paul tells the Ephesians to pray “at all times.” This might mean “always” – as he says elsewhere, “pray without ceasing,” – or it more likely means “at all types of times.” Thus, pray regardless of how you are feeling:
In the walkie-talkie analogy: The soldier is to communicate with his commander whether the troops are under attack or all is peaceful; when it seems as if the commander doesn’t know what he’s doing or all seems to be in order; whether the ground is covered with dust or perfectly clear; during the day and during the night. He is instructed to communicate, and to continue to perform that task no matter what the circumstances.
Here “all” clearly means “all kinds” of prayer and petition. We are to use many types of prayer. In a recent sermon, John Piper lists five contrasting pairs of types of prayer, suggesting that we use all of them at appropriate times (the acronym spells FADES):
An earlier sermon of mine lists a different typology of prayer. This morning, I only want to mention one type, biblical prayers. Praying through a portion of Scripture is particularly effective. Often the prayers that most easily role off our tongues become trite, as we repeat the same phrases over and over. Praying through a passage of Scripture forces us to think biblically about our concern, and deepens the content of our prayers. And when we have prayed through many passages of Scripture, our spontaneous prayers become deeper and richer, as we begin to incorporate the phrases of Paul, Peter, and Jesus Himself into our own prayers.
This entire book of Ephesians is a wonderful source of prayers. Here are only a few of the many possible sources:
And these examples are only from one book! I encourage you to use the Word as the source of your prayers – the source of prayers of praise, of confession, of thanksgiving, and of intercession.
In terms of our walkie-talkie analogy, using all kinds of prayer corresponds to the wide variety of communication the soldier uses: he thanks his commander, he asks for help for some soldiers under attack, he sees troops that are underutilized and makes suggestions for their deployment, he receives instructions on where to proceed.
Two different Greek words are often translated “perseverance” in the New Testament. The one used most often with this meaning connotes “bearing up under,” and is also translated “endurance”. Usually this word is used when the believer is facing a trial or problem and he must stay the course, continuing to bear up under this difficulty. One example: Revelation 13:10:
If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.
But that is NOT the word used here concerning prayer. Prayer is not a burden that we must bear up under. Instead, the word for “perseverance” means “to attend to constantly” or “to serve with careful devotion.” This word is used, for example, in Acts 10:7, where Luke tells us that the Roman centurion Cornelius had soldiers who "persevered" with him -they waited on him constantly, were devoted to him, were anticipating his needs and trying to meet those needs even before he asked.
This word is used several times in the New Testament with respect to prayer. Romans 12:12 is particularly enlightening in this regard, for both words for “perseverance” are used in the same verse:
rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer
Tribulation requires us to “bear up under” the problem; prayer requires our constant attendance.
What does Paul mean by “ALL perseverance”? He could mean extent in terms of time: “be devoted to prayer until the end, throughout your life.” Alternately, he could mean the engagement of the entire person: “devote your mind, your heart, and your soul to prayer; make this your first priority.”
In either case, the very fact that Paul commands our devotion to prayer implies that it is not automatic, it is not something that just happens. Like doing well in school, like building a strong marriage, we must work at being devoted to prayer. When you have an exam coming up, do you say, “I won’t worry about studying right now. I’ll learn when I feel like it, when it’s convenient.”? If that is your attitude, how will you do on the test? Similarly, in marriage we husbands cannot say, “Oh, I won’t worry about spending time with my wife this day/week/month/year. I can build her up and spend some time with year in 2004.” If you say that, what kind of a marriage will you have?
Just so with prayer. If we let everything else that is going on in our lives determine when and how much we pray, we will never be devoted to prayer, we will never pray with all perseverance. We must plan, we must schedule time to pray, we must be creative, thinking of ways to work prayer into our lives.
We’ll look at all perseverance in terms of the walkie-talkie analogy in conjunction with the Walkie talkie image: combine with the next, last topic:
Who are “the saints” for whom we are supposed to pray?
We have a special obligation to those in our local fellowship. Hebrews 3:12-13 says:
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is called "Today," so that not one of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Certainly part of the way we take care for each other, part of the way we encourage one another is through our prayers.
Within the local fellowship, we have a special obligation to pray for those who are ministers of the Word, as Paul says in verses 19 and 20 of our present chapter:
and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
But our prayers for all the saints do not end with those in our local body. Believers outside our local congregation, all around world, deserve our prayers, especially those suffering and in prison. As Hebrews 13:3 says:
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.
How does our walkie-talkie analogy apply to the words, “with all perseverance, for all the saints, be on the alert”? Imagine that a battle develops on the outskirts of the Baghdad while you are in your helicopter. You do not let anything distract you, you pay close attention and think carefully about what you should communicate to your commander. You can see enemy troops massing to the north; you can see the 101st Airborne under attack by heavy forces to the west; you can see a column of the 3rd Infantry Division marching up from the south, heading in exactly the right direction to outflank and surprise a Republican Guard unit. You call the general and say, “Sir, the 101st needs reinforcements right way; the 3rd Infantry is right on course to destroy an enemy unit – encourage them; be aware that the enemy is massing 3 miles due north.” You survey the entire battlefield, and are always alert for all the army.
In the analogy, the general needs the information from the helicopter in order to know where to send in troops. God, on the other hand, doesn’t need our reconnaissance; he already knows more of what is going on than we do. But God chooses to work through our prayers to accomplish is foreordained purposes. So this is our great privilege. Our prayers have an impact on our fellow believers. Your prayer has an impact on ME.
So let us pray:
How will we do this?
We are in a war – a war of far greater importance than the one in Iraq. God has given us an assignment – He has given us an opportunity to aid our fellow soldiers, to advance our cause through calling on His Name.
How will we use this privilege?
Will you be faithful to your assigned task?
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 4/6/03, during the Iraq War. The quote from John Piper is from his 12/29/02 sermon on Romans 12:12, “Be Devoted to Prayer.” The Martyn Lloyd-Jones quote is found on page 342 of The Christian Soldier (Baker, 1977).
Copyright © 2003, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, posted on the internet, copied for resale or incorporated in any products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, email@example.com, c/o Community Bible Church, 45 Harrison Ave, Williamstown, MA 01267.