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Jun 19, 2011

The Soldier's Mindset: Prayerful Engagement

Passage: Ephesians 6:18-20

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Ephesians 4-6: Invading Enemy Territory

Category: Ephesians

Keywords: prayer, mindset, spiritual warfare, victory


This is the third time Paul talks about prayer in Ephesians. He presents prayer as the underlying mindest necessary for the believer to experince spiritual victory in the battle. This message looks at what Paul teaches about prayer and what we can do to grow in that arena of our experience with God.


The Soldier’s Mindset—Prayerful Engagement

Ephesians 6:18-20

June 19, 2011

INTRO:  Sitting down to put the finishing touches on this message last night, the thought dawned on me, “Isn’t tomorrow Father’s Day?”  There I was, with a message on today’s passage in Ephesians all ready, and no Father’s Day message.  So I’m assuming that God obviously wants this message today rather than a Father’s Day message…at least that’s what I’m choosing to believe! J

            Actually, to talk about prayer is a good Father’s Day message.  Today is the second Father’s Day of my life where my father is no longer on earth to share this day with.  But for as long as I can remember, every since Dad was a follower of Jesus Christ, I’ve had a dad who prayed daily for every one of his kids.  I know he and mom did because that was their daily routine whenever I’d go home to visit—prayer time after breakfast for every child and grandchild.  Dads, prayer IS the best daily gift we can give our families.  Don’t let your kids leave home without it!

For nearly a half a year now we’ve been in the book of Ephesians. Today is the last sermon in this series because we’re looking at the last challenge Paul makes to the whole church about this matter of spiritual warfare every one of us as God’s children are involved in on a daily basis.  He’s already explained to us the spiritual armor we have available to us to win on a daily basis against the world, the flesh and the devil.  Now he’s going to end with the mindset every believer needs to have running in the background whenever we’re engaged in this battle.  It’s got a lot in common with the mindset U.S. Special Forces must develop if they are to succeed in defeating an enemy.

Special Forces Training

Have you ever wondered what’s required to be a Special Forces soldiers?

Days are filled with "pushing the limit" of physical training and class work involving everything from map reading and the basics of how to teach to negotiation and weapons training. The days are long, with sleep deprivation being part of the agenda. Candidates who have not adopted an "I will endure everything" attitude will grow tired of the long stressful days and leave the program.

            On the physical abilities side, if you’re interested in getting into training as a Special Forces soldier, you better be able to run two miles in 12-14 minutes, do 100 sit-ups in two minutes and do 100 push-ups in two minutes.  You should also be accustomed to running and “rucking” anywhere from 6-15 miles at a time.  “Rucking” for those of us who are the uninitiated is running with a 50 pound pack on.  Swimming 100 yards in your battle fatigues with boots is required too. 

But what really sets the Special Forces soldiers apart from the average infantryman is that each of them are taught to think like leaders, whether you’re a sergeant or an officer. While most military units have a rigid rank structure, every soldier in Special Forces training learns that a day might come very quickly when he will have to be the leader.

The Special Forces unit is specifically put in the field for particular missions because their leaders know the mindset of the unit is to do whatever must be done to be successful.  This "complete the mission at all costs" mindset is probably the biggest difference between a Special Forces-trained soldier and another soldier in a normal unit.

For the Christian who plans to win in this life-long battle against the world, the flesh and the devil, there is also a mindset that must become second nature to us.  Putting on the uniform, suiting up in battle gear, learning how to use the weaponry…they are all important.  But here is a mindset that must overshadow it all if we are to succeed. 

Paul ends his teaching in Ephesians 6 on how to win in the spiritual battle by stressing something he has already referred to 2 times in extended passages of this short book of Ephesians.  Let’s read the whole passage together in Ephesians 6:10-20.  [Have people USE their Bibles and pass out Bibles to those without them.

  • What are the last 3 verses “all” about?  [prayer]
  • How many times does that little word “all” get used in vss. 18-19?  (Three.)

If you hung with us for this nearly ½ year series on Ephesians, you just might remember that this is now the 3rd extensive passage where Paul talks about the importance of prayer in the life of any victorious and triumphant Christ-follower.  If you just want to be the average frustrated Christian, no need to think much about prayer.  But if you’re a follower of Jesus who has his/her sights set on more than just “muddling through” the Christian life at the lowest common denominator, then you’ll want to pay attention to Paul’s last call in this epistle to step up to a more productive plain. 

But before we do that, can we get real honest about prayer?  Most of us have a bundle of hesitations or hang-ups when it comes to prayer.  So let’s get them out on the table before we even try to understand what Paul is talking to us about concerning prayer.


1.)    Do you prefer to pray in private OR with other people?

2.)    What are your biggest challenges to praying?  What most often manages to keep you from praying? 

3.)    What has God used in the past to make your prayer life better/deeper/more meaningful?

O.K.  Now let’s see what Paul has to say as his last parting shot about praying.  He’s going to give us at least 5 instructions about prayer.

#1.)  Prayer is to be Spirit-directed.  Paul says, “And pray in the Spirit…” in verse 18.  Just what does that mean?  Well, that depends upon who you ask.

  • Ø If you ask a Charismatic or Pentecostal brother/sister, they will probably say, “Well, it means you pray in tongues.”  And they will probably go to I Cor. 14:14 and quote you what Paul said in the context of speaking in tongues when he said, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.”
  • Ø But I’m not so sure this is what Paul had in mind since he said we were to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests….”  I don’t know even the most Pentecostal of brethren who will always pray in tongues.
  • Ø Jude 1:20 uses it when he writes, “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.”  That still doesn’t give us a lot of clarity, does it?
  • Ø Romans 8:26, 27 shed a bit more light on the matter.  It reads, 26 In the same way, 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. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

There is the critical issue:  praying in accordance with God’s will.  Isn’t this what Jesus was teaching when he said in John 15:7,If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you???

Praying in the Spirit involves praying for and about the same things the Holy Spirit is interceding for.  Since the Spirit of God lives in every believer’s life, should we think it strange that we should sense what He is praying for and interceding about?  So Paul is calling on us to develop a prayer life that learns how to listen to what the Holy Spirit is seeking from God and to engage in the same type of praying for the same things and people.

Q:  Aren’t there some things that you know both from the certainty of God’s declared will in his Word and the corresponding urging of the Holy Spirit to be what you should be praying for and about?

      Oswald Sanders, a former director of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (the mission Hudson Taylor founded as the China Inland Mission), wrote,

      “The very fact that God lays a burden of prayer on our hearts and keeps us praying is prima facie evidence that he purposes to grant the answer.  When asked if he really believed that two men for whose salvation he had prayed for over 50 years would be converted, George Muller of Bristol replied, “Do you think God would have kept me praying all these years if He did not intend to save them?”  Both men were converted, one shortly before, the other after Muller’s death.” 

      When we pray in the Spirit, I think we develop the same kind of passionate longings for the same things that the Spirit longs for.  Just as the Holy Spirit may be found groaning for what is God’s will, so we will find ourselves groaning with a deep longing and fervency in prayer when we take the time to wait on the Holy Spirit within us to lead us.

      That doesn’t mean that everything we pray passionately about, God will answer. 

  • Just because you are convinced that it is God’s will for you to marry so-and-so and you feel very emotional about it doesn’t mean that it IS God’s will or that God is bound to answer that prayer.  But my guess is that if you’re really seeking the mind of the Spirit, even praying about Mr/Mrs Right will eventually lead you to the kind of praying God really wants about your longings for companionship. 

Praying in the Spirit should be asking all the time, “Holy Spirit, what is the Father’s will about this person or that situation?  How do You pray for them?”  Praying in the Spirit listens first to the Spirit’s voice before making my voice heard. 

John Bunyan, 17th century author of Pilgrim’s Progress, imprisoned for 12 and ½ years for preaching in England without a license, certainly learned a few things about prayer in those nearly 13 years of captivity.  He wrote, “Prayer is a sincere, sensible affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to the Word of God, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.”  [Quoted by Kent Hughes in his commentary on Ephesians, p. 251.]

#2.  Prayer is to be CONTINUAL.

“Pray in the Spirit on all occasions….”  That simply means “all the time!”  This kind of praying was not foreign to the first century church.

  • Acts 1:14—“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”
  • Acts 2:42—“They devoted themselves to…prayer.”
  • Paul told the Thessalonians to “pray continually” ( I Thess. 5:17).

Is Paul really serious about this?  Does he mean non-stop, conscious prayer? 

If you envision prayer as mostly about conscious thoughts and words that you direct only to God, then this sort of praying is not possible.  There are many times in a day and night when our thoughts are occupied directly with some other responsibility—a sales call, a calculus class, a phone conversation, a task at work, even sleeping. 

But author Thomas Kelley says in his Testament of Devotion,

      “There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once.  On one level we can be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs.  But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship, and gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.”  [Quoted in Hughes, p. 251]

Brother Lawrence was a monk of old whose monkly duties were as a pot-scrubber and potato peeler in the monastery kitchen.  He learned to “Practice the presence of God” and his writings have been put into a book by that same name.  He writes,
      “The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.” 

This is not a prayer life that is just meant for some believers.  It is something Paul knew was possible…and valuable…for all believers.  It is a heart and mind that is as conscious of the near and active presence of God.

ILL:  If Sandy and I are in the same room but doing two different things, I am cognoscente of her presence with me though not consciously talking with her every second.  If I’m reading something of interest, I’ll stop and say, “Hey, listen to this!”  If I’m making plans to meet with someone who wants to meet with both of us, I’ll stop and check the date and time with her.  It’s not that we’re actually talking all the time; but we’re constantly aware of each other’s presence and open to more communication as a result.   

#3.  The 3rd truth Paul wants to impact our life in Christ is that prayer is to be VARIED—“Pray…with all kinds of prayers and requests” (vs. 18). 

 That’s not terribly surprising given that praying all the time will necessarily lead us to be praying about everything which will require different kinds of prayer. 

Q:  How many different KINDS of praying can we engage in?

  • Confession
  • Thanksgiving
  • Intercession
  • Adoration
  • Musical
  • Meditative/reflective
  • Panicked!
  • ???

ILLKent Hughes tells of a retired Africa Inland Mission worker named Floyd Pierson who was so in the habit of praying about everything that when it came time for him to take a driver’s test at age 70, he said to the examiner, “I always pray before I drive.” And with that he told the examiner to bow his and pray with him. I can imagine that DMV worker double checking his seat belt and making sure the door wasn’t locked. Floyd passed…and the examiner lived to tell about it.  

We certainly don’t have to let everyone know what we’re praying all the time.  But if talking with God becomes as natural to us as conversation with others around us, why shouldn’t we include them in the most important ongoing conversation of our day?  Why not make prayer a part of every human interaction we have where God might nudge us to include them in it?  Certainly among ourselves, with each other as brothers and sisters, praying about what we talk about IS God’s will.

  • Praying after a conversation in a coffee shop.
  • Praying after a shared lunch.
  • Praying in a business call with believers
  • Praying with those you normally pray for (school principle, teachers of your kids, government officials, bosses, etc.)

#4.  The next aspect of prayer Paul calls us to is PERSISTENCE in prayer. “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying.”  (vs. 18)

Paul talks about the need for Christians to “be alert” here and in 2 other passages.  In both of the other passages (I Thess. 5:6 & I Pt. 5:8) he couples being alert with exercising “self control.” 

I Peter 5:8Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith….” Notice how the context also deals with the spiritual battle we face with Satan.

I Thess. 5:6—“So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.”

Too often I think I’m spiritually asleep and lacking in self-control that enables me to pray like God wants me to.  Spiritual alertness recognizes that Christ’s return may be at any moment…and that the devil’s prowling is constant and relentless.  It is the life of self-control that enables me to be persistent in prayer.


  • Praying for my brother Chris’s salvation as a young kid for 5 years.
  • Praying for reconciliation between two elements of a church split in this city for 10 years!  I remember talking with a pastor in Boise who had come into a church much like the one I did when I came here, asking him how long he had to wait to see real reconciliation.  When he said, “Two years,” I groaned inside and lifted a silent prayer to God, “Oh Lord, not 2 YEARS!”  I guess He did answer that prayer! J
  • Praying for revival in Spokane:  now 22 years.
  • Prayer for the spiritual water level of downtown Spokane—of specific blocks, of the business community, of the entertainment community, etc.

What have you be persistent about in prayer?  What have you refused to let die or slide or disappear in terms of persistent prayer?

Jesus himself wanted to be sure that we understood how important persistence in prayer was when he dramatized what he wants from us with this parable from Luke 18:2-5.

1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’  4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”

What a contrast!  We don’t have a Judge who doesn’t “fear God or care about men.”  We have one who deeply longs to glorify God and actually does care about men.  This human judge could hardly be less like the God we go to daily for justice and mercy and a whole host of things.  Persistence is a lost art today…even among praying Christians. 

APP:  What has God invited you to keep praying about?  What has he burdened you to keep praying about?  What have you prayed about for years that you know God wants you to keep praying for?  Will you do it?  Keep doing it?  This kind of praying is what leads to spiritual victories. 

#5.  The final aspect of prayer is INTERCESSORY prayer“….always keep on praying for all the saints.”  And then Paul includes even himself in there. 

      While lost people certainly should form a significant part of our prayer life, the emphasis in the N.T. seems to be on praying for the saved.  For when the saved are walking in the light of God, the lost don’t seem to have so much trouble seeing and understanding the Gospel of Christ.  It’s when you and I aren’t walking in the light that BOTH the lost and the saved have serious problems. 

And I’m not ashamed to say that I as your pastor really need your regular, persistent, Spirit-led prayers. 

ILL:  In September 1978, the then-president of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship sent this communication to his staff: 

      Saturday Night:  While a leader must be careful about talking about his prayer life lest he appear to be ‘lengthening his tassels and broadening his phylacteries” (i.e. parading spirituality), there is one aspect I’d like to mention in hopes some of you will join in it.

      Every Saturday night I pray through a list of pastors—thanking God for them, for their ministry, for their personal friendship.  I then intercede that , on this ever of another Lord’s Day, the Spirit of Christ will give them a good night’s rest and anoint them with wisdom, power and joy for the morrow.  On Sunday morning I go through the list again, interceding as they step to their pulpits, that their proclamation of the whole counsel of God will be simple, clear, tender where it should be gentle, bold where it should be courageous—that it will be straight and true to the minds and hearts of listeners who say, “Sir, we would see Jesus.”  I pray that the Lord will bind Satan from attacking pastor and laymen (especially through loveless criticism) and that Christ will touch the congregation to hear, see, understand and obey God’s proclaimed truth.  I invite you to join me in this Saturday night and Sunday morning discipline of intercession.  Ask God to indicate those pastors He wants on your list.

      I hope that IVCF staff will train our chapter leaders in this ministry of prayer so that as students today and church leaders tomorrow they’ll help lay a deepening prayer foundation beneath the shepherds of our nation’s churches.  The goal is an undergirding of prayer for pastors Sunday mornings.

      Any volunteers?

[Signed] John W. Alexander. 

One such pastor I know received a copy of that letter 6 years later along with this note:

“Dear Kent:

      Just a note to say thanks for the worship service you provided last Sunday….Enclosed is a page from Inter-Varsity InterCom explaining what I had in mind when I told you I pray for you every Saturday night.  There are several pastors on my list for such prayer sessions; the automatic ones are those who minister to my children each Sunday morning.  Since ____________ has no parents, I include you as her pastor as one of the “automatics” on my list.  May the Lord continue to keep His good hand upon you.

      Cordially in Christ, John

“Keep on praying for all the saints.  19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador.... Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

I need that kind of prayer.  Do you? 

[Invitation to put your own name on the “Prayer Card” being passed out.  Then we will collect them and invite everyone who put their name in to also take a card out randomly and pray for that person for the next 2 months.]

The card reads,

Ephesians 6:18--“Keep on praying for all the saints.”

As one of God's children who has been called by God to be His ambassador in this world, I ask you to Pray also for me,_______ ____________________, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador.... Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

I have a few other invitations about this kind of prayer life Paul is calling us to:

1.)    If you haven’t already, make a list of God’s people you are praying for…and don’t give up.  WHO?  Family members, spiritual leaders, small group members, people who look to you for leadership, Christian friends, etc.

2.)    What are the things you will NOT GIVE UP persevering in prayer about?  Are you clear about them?  Committed to pray for them no matter how long it takes and even if you don't see the answer before you die?

3.)    LEARN to pray with other believers. 

  1. Women, Sunday mornings between services. 
  2. Men, Thursday mornings at 6:30 am in the office. 
  3. Everyone, before the service on Sunday at 8:30am. 
  4. You don’t like early mornings?  I’d LOVE to have so many people desiring to pray together that we needed to start a mid-week prayer service one evening a week.  [Tell about Alec Rowland’s church in Edmonds, WA—hundreds every Wed for years; dozens of teens every Thursday morning at 6:00am!] 

4.)    What’s ONE THING you could do starting today that would move your experience with God in prayer forward? 

  1. A prayer journal?
  2. A set time each day?
  3. Adding a time of “waiting” on the Lord to your prayer time—listening for the Spirit’s will?
  4. Praying together with another believer regularly?

How about deciding to do that starting today?

The early church didn’t see prayer together as “optional” or “awkward.”   They saw it as natural.  They saw it as foundational.  They saw it as practical and vital and critical to their survival and growth.  Prayer was apparently as normal to them as “going to church” is for us. 

I’d like to suggest that we recapture that at Mosaic.  I’d like to challenge you to ask yourself, “Why won’t I do what the early church was so eager to do?  What will it take, Lord, for me to become a praying part of your church today? 

COMMUNION:  That evening that Jesus celebrated the Lord’s Supper just before his death was one filled with prayer:  John 17, prayers throughout the Passover meal, prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is prayer that enabled Jesus to undertake what he wanted to aviod--the crucifixion.  Prayer led to this amazing sacrifice that we remember today.  As you hold these symbols of the body and blood of Jesus in your hands, take a few moments to talk with God in prayer about what he has been talking to you about today in this passage.