This is the first post in a series on fighting the spiritual battle in prayer based on a sermon I preached on Ephesians 6:18–20 (download mp3). Read the first post below. Read the rest of the series: Praying in the Spirit, Praying at all times, One Way to Fight Anxiety in Prayer, Praying with all perseverance, Praying for all the saints, Praying to advance the gospel, The Greatest Discouragement for My Prayer Life.
One time a colleague who trains pastors in Africa told me a surprising story.
People all over the world generally commend our organization‘s training and say it gives them a deeper understanding of God’s Word and practically equips to proclaim it.
When my colleague told me Africans were disappointed after one training session, my ears perked up.
It was in our training on Ephesians. We always end each training with a sermon on the last passage of the book we study. In Ephesians, it is the famous armor of God passage (Ephesians 6:10–20).
I can only imagine that these African leaders were expecting great insights on how to fight spiritual warfare. In their context, they may have wanted to learn how to call down fire from heaven on the local witch doctor, cast out demons, or raise the dead.
They wanted easy spiritual power like we often do.
I don’t share this illustration to talk bad of our beloved African brothers. I share it because many times we seek power for ourselves instead of realizing how spiritual power is from God (Ephesians 6:10) and that most of the time warfare is fought by very ordinary means.
The structure of Ephesians reveals the ordinary means by which we battle:
- Chapters 1–3 focus on our new identity in Christ. We are saved by grace and made part of the body of Christ, the church.
- Chapters 4-6, describe how a redeemed person lives worthy of the gospel in the church, the world, in marriage, in the family, and at work.
- The last passage, 6:10-20, the armor of God passage, says that we fight the spiritual battle with weapons that seem so ordinary: truth, faith, righteousness—which is living in a way that pleases God, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer.
It doesn’t mention special powers that we sometimes seek. Doing ordinary spiritual battle looks like:
- Remembering who we are in Christ when the devil whispers lies in our ears.
- Working for unity in the church when there are disputes.
- Living as children of light in a world of sin and darkness.
- Living faithfully to our spouses and by raising our kids up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
This was disappointing for these African pastors as it is for many Christians today. We want a spiritual “easy button” that God simply doesn’t offer.
But should the truth of God’s Word ever be disappointing? Or is it possible that we understand wrong what God is saying about spiritual warfare?
Spiritual warfare may seem farfetched to our secular world that believes in what it sees. Even so, we all can see that there are major struggles between good and evil in the world. We long for justice when injustice occurs. We long for violence and oppression to stop. We long for people to stop embracing dangerous ideologies and to treat each other fairly. There are spiritual forces at work and often we only see the results.
This spiritual war started before the creation of the world when the devil rebelled against God. From this event and forward, the devil has desired to destroy the plans of God. In Genesis 3, he tempted the first humans to rebel against God by eating the forbidden fruit, a sin that has changed the entire world and expanded to every human being, including you and me. Our sin deserves punishment, and Scripture says that the penalty of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
It appeared in the garden that Satan derailed God’s purposes for His creation, but nothing could be further from the truth. God always had a plan to send His Son Jesus to the cross to pay our penalty for sin and rise from the dead to prove His power over the enemy and victory in the spiritual war (Acts 2:31–36; Ephesians 1:19–23).
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Romans 5:8–9
When we believe in Christ, we realize that we have always been in a spiritual war—a spiritual war against the devil and his demons that hate God and His life-giving gospel. Christ proclaimed ultimate victory at the cross, but we still battle as we await His return.
It’s crucial to realize that the last few verses in the armor of God passage focus on prayer. Most parts of the armor of God have just a few words but prayer has three whole verses (Ephesians 6:18-20). Even though it doesn’t have a visual image as part of the armor, prayer is integral in spiritual warfare and the way we wear the armor of God.
We can’t fight spiritually if we don’t pray.
In the following posts, I will unpack what Ephesians 6:18–20 can teach us doing battle in prayer. We’ll look at characteristics of warfare prayer that seem simple but prove powerful. God has greatly encouraged me through this text and I pray He’ll do the same with you.