Sermon preached on June 6, 2010 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
This past week wasn't a good week for baseball. On Wednesday Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was working on a perfect game. With two outs in the 9th inning he was picture to Cleveland Indian's Jason Donald. Donald made contact and bounced the ball to the right of first basemen Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera fielded it and threw it to Galarrago, who was covering first. The throw was in time and the game should have been over and Galarraga would have been the 21st pitcher to throw a perfect game. But 1st base umpire Jim Joyce called the runner safe. So the game continued and the perfect game was lost. Replays confirmed that the runner was out, but it was too late. The umpire later realized his mistake and apologized to Galarrago. He said to the press,
"I just cost that kid a perfect game. … I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay."
That call was doubly sad. It was sad because it did cost Galarrago the prefect game. It was also sad that umpire Jim Joyce's career as an umpire will be forever defined by that call.
I also feel sorry for the pitcher. From what I know he handled it graciously. He accepted Joyce's apology—but it would be hard not to be bitter in that situation. He will probably never again pitch a perfect game. A lost perfect game—he will struggle with that the rest of his life.
Now a controversy over a perfect game doesn't happen every day. Yet what you should realize is that every day there are things in your life that can have implications like that. You are in a great battle and there are spiritual realities around you that you don't even see. At the beginning of this section of Scripture Paul spoke about how our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against spiritual wickedness in high places. After urging us to put on the whole armor of God, Paul tells us that we need to be constantly praying so that our armor will be effective, that we may be able to stand as we face the assaults of the devil and his minions.
One little call on Wednesday changed umpire Jim Joyce's career forever. He gets one call wrong and it will haunt him for the rest of his life. I'm sure he wishes he could make that call over.
You can be sure that every day that Satan or one of his minions is trying to change your life forever. They're plotting and planning to try to have something happen to you or to get you to do something that will change your life for the worst. The only way that you can prevent that is through prayer. Thus the apostle Paul writes,
"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 saints."
There are great things about prayer here. Sinclair Ferguson tells us that this is perhaps, (Ephesians, p. 185)
"Scripture's most comprehensive single sentence on how we are to pray."
We need to pay close attention to these words because they are the key to using the armor of God effectively. John Calvin writes,
"To call upon God is the chief exercise of faith and hope; and it is in this way that we obtain from God every blessing."
Thus we must know how to pray. Sinclair Ferguson suggests that prayer is not here included as another weapon, but as something that, (p. 184)
"describes the manner in which the armor is to be put on and worn."
John Stott tells us that prayer (p. 283)
"is to pervade all our spiritual warfare. Equipping ourselves with God's armor is not a mechanical operation; it is itself an expression of our dependence on God…"
Well, then what does Paul teach us about prayer here?
The first thing is that
you are to pray at all times.
Paul tells us to pray in the Spirit 'on all occasions', or 'at all times' (HCSB). What Paul says here reminds us of his words in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 where he told Christians to,
One of the very sad things about many of us is that we don't pray as often as we should.
In Luke 18:1ff Jesus told the Parable of the Unjust Judge to show His disciples,
"that they should always pray
and not give up."
Unseen dangers are often all around you. We don't see the spiritual world and the dangers that are out there. Just like Balaam didn't see the angel of the Lord when he was on the path ready to kill him—so we don't see the demons and the traps that they have set for us. Remember what Jesus said to Peter, (Luke 22:31)
"Simon, Simon, behold,
Satan demanded to have you,
that he might sift you like wheat,"
We also know from chapter 10 of the book of Daniel that the earthly kingdoms of old had spiritual forces of wickedness behind them. In Daniel 10:12–13 we read how an angel came to Daniel and said,
"Do not be afraid, Daniel.
Since the first day that you set your mind
to gain understanding
and to humble yourself
before your God,
your words were heard,
and I have come in response to them.
But the prince of the Persian kingdom
resisted me twenty-one days.
Then Michael, one of the chief princes,
came to help me, because I was detained
there with the king of Persia."
And in verses 20-21 another helper said to Daniel,
"Do you know why I have come to you?
Soon I will return to fight
against the prince of Persia,
and when I go,
the prince of Greece will come;
but first I will tell you what is written
in the Book of Truth.
(No one supports me against them
except Michael, your prince.
And in the first year of Darius the Mede,
I took my stand to support
and protect him.)
Christian, you need to be constantly praying. There are traps and dangers all around you. The only way you can escape them and stand is through prayer.
Let me illustrate. I have a favorite fishing spot that I like to spend time at every summer. It's a little brook way back in the woods. There are no paths on the side of it or anything like that. It's very remote and one could say that parts of it are almost inaccessible. As one travels down the brook there are two or three places where you have to be very careful. At those places you can't stay in the brook because it's either too deep or the way is blocked with alder trees. So you have to leave the brook and go through the brush. One of the problems is that there are beaver there and they cut the alders to make their dams and you have these sharp sticks sticking up that you could impale yourself on if you fell on one of them. In one place they are hidden by tall grass. So I have to be really careful that I don't trip and fall when I'm in that area. You could really hurt yourself. In the same place there are also deep holes in the ground—old trees have fallen and you really have to be careful round them because there are deep holes and they are often hidden by the tall grass. If you stepped in one you could break your leg. In some places there are bee's and wasp's nests—you really don't want to step on one of them. So I have to go very slowly through that part. I have to move the tall grass aside with one of my feet to see if it's safe to step forward. Then in other places in the brook there are deep mud pits. I've never gotten totally stuck in one, but I've worried about getting stuck. I've also seen a bear near that brook, and although that's not a great danger, it's sometimes at the back of my mind.
You see my point. In certain places around that brook there are dangers all around. The only way to walk there is to do it very carefully.
That's the way that it is with our lives here. There are dangers all around. The only way to live your life as a Christian is to live it in prayer. We are to be in constant prayer because we are always in need of the Lord's help. The powers of darkness never rest. The devil never stops going around like a roaring lion. Peter T. O'Brien writes,
"Believers are to pray continually because their struggle with the powers of darkness is never ending."
The second thing our text tells us about prayer is that
you are to pray in the Spirit.
What does this mean? The first thing we should be clear on is that this does not refer to speaking in tongues. I am of the opinion that speaking in tongues is not for this age, that it was a gift that God gave to the early church and was withdrawn in the early decades of the church.
But that's not the only reason why I don't think this section of Scripture refers to speaking in tongues. Even if someone believes that speaking in tongues is for this age, he should see that this passage is not about that. Why? Because the context here Paul urges Christians to be alert. In verse 18 Paul tells us to, "be alert" as we pray. But in 1 Corinthians 14:14 Paul told the Corinthian Christians that when someone prays in tongues, their mind is anything but alert. He wrote,
"For if I pray in a tongue,
my spirit prays,
but my mind is unfruitful."
When someone prayed in tongues, the mind (or understanding) was 'unfruitful'. The mind wasn't at the forefront, but rather it was almost like it was suspended, in a trance like state.
But here, Paul urges us to 'be alert' as we pray. So praying in the Spirit does not refer to speaking in tongues.
What then does it mean to pray in the Spirit? There are at least two parts to it.
First, it means praying with the Spirit's help.
In Romans 8:26 we read,
"the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
We do not know what we ought to pray for,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us
with groans that words cannot express."
We don't know how to pray as we ought. So when we pray we should recognize this and ask the Spirit's help. We need the Spirit's prompting and guidance in our prayers and so we should look to the Spirit to help us. (Stott)
Christian, if you seek to pray only by yourself, your prayers will fall far short, they will be woefully inadequate. In the Spirit you have a great friend who can help you to pray as you ought—therefore ask Him to lead you, to guide you, to prompt you, fill you—so that you may pray correctly.
Secondly, praying in the Spirit means praying 'in harmony with God's will'.
In prayer we have a will that is not perfectly conformed to God's will. We often ask God for things that are not in accordance with His will. We often ask for things that will be bad for us. James 4:2–3 (ESV) warns us about praying the wrong way. It says,
"You do not have,
because you do not ask.
You ask and do not receive,
because you ask wrongly,
to spend it on your passions."
You'll remember that Jesus' disciples sometimes argued about which of them would be the greatest. Perhaps some of them even prayed about it. In Matthew 20:20–21 we read that the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus, with her sons, and kneeling down, asked a favor of Him. She said,
"Grant that one of these two sons of mine
may sit at your right and the other
at your left in your kingdom."
Jesus said those places belonged to those whom it had been prepared by His Father. The mother was not asking 'in the Spirit'.
Such is often the case. When we're sick we want to be healthy. When we're poor, we want to be rich. When things are going badly for us, we want them to go well. Now, there's nothing wrong with asking God to bless us in such ways—but the point is that we must always pray with the condition, "If it's Your will." But even more than that, we must try to align our will with God's will.
We must recognize that sometimes it's God's will for us to go through trials, poverty, sickness and even death. For example, God told Paul that he wasn't going to remove his thorn in the flesh. Paul had to accept that.
Sinclair Ferguson writes of praying in the Spirit, (p. 186)
"This means submitting our mind, thoughts, will, and desires to be influenced and mastered by God's Word. We thus begin 'to think God's thoughts after him', and develop instincts that are aligned to his will, and ask for those things that he has revealed please him and that he promises to do."
The third thing Paul tells us about prayer is that you are to pray with
all kinds of prayers and requests.
There are different kinds of prayers. In 1 Timothy 2:1–4 Paul said,
"I urge, then, first of all,
that requests, prayers, intercession
and thanksgiving be made for everyone"
Your prayers are not to be just of one kind. Sometimes our prayers are all about asking God for earthly or physical things. That's wrong. In prayer we need to be diverse. Even before we get to our needs we need to adore God, ask that His kingdom come, that His will be done. We need to not just pray for ourselves, but for other people. We need to intercede on their behalf. We need not just ask God for things, but thank Him for the great blessings that He has already given us. We need to praise God for His greatness, for His love and mercy, for His knowledge and wisdom, for His power and majesty.
Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, what this passage shows you is
the need of you going to Jesus right away.
You face unseen dangers. The sad thing is that you have no sure protection against them. If you are refusing to go to Jesus even your prayers to God are meaningless. In Isaiah 1:15–17 God said to the people whose hearts were far from him,
"When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen."
You need to go to Jesus. You need to go to Him now. Delay could be fatal.