This article is part of the How to Pray series.
Armor Isn’t Enough
According to Paul in Ephesians 6, all of life is spiritual warfare. In that conflict, he reminds the Ephesians that—important though it is—the Christian armor is not enough. You and I also need to be in constant contact with God, and the means by which we stay in contact is by prayer (Eph. 6:18–20). Paul gives no fixed formula for prayer; rather, he tells us some things that are to characterize all our prayers: we are to pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” and we are to do so “with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18).
Pray in the Spirit
Prayer in the Spirit is simply the outflow of our relationship with God, a conversation that is rooted and grounded in his word. Paul identified the word of God as the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), so prayer in the Spirit is prayer that flows from understanding his word. As we read the word, the Spirit moves us to pray. Praying in the Spirit is thus not some strange, mystical experience but rather praising, thanking, and asking God for things that are in line with the words of Scripture, which the Spirit himself inspired.
Pray at All Times
Paul also tells us that prayers are to be offered on all kinds of occasions. Prayer should mark your life not just in days of distress and trouble, nor even at regular set times in the day, but also at your most joyful moments. When you have a close relationship with someone, you want to interact with him or her regularly, sharing joys as well as sorrows. When my children come home, I want to hear about their day—what was good, what was bad, what was indifferent. It doesn’t have to be of earth-shattering importance. I’m interested because I’m Dad. In fact, I’d consider I’d failed as a parent if the only time my children talked to me was when they wanted my help.
That is the relationship God desires to have with you and me. He wants us to pray on all kinds of occasions because that is part of having a childlike relationship with him. Children don’t store up their news and requests for a special thirty-minute time of communication at the end of the day; they burst into their parents’ presence as soon as they have something to share! So too God desires you to share your trials and joys with him moment by moment throughout the day, delighting with him in the good things and sharing the minor struggles and inconveniences, not just the terrible traumas of life. You can shoot off brief thanksgivings and requests throughout the ups and downs of daily life, acknowledging moment by moment the reality of God’s interest in your life.
Our prayers are often limited by our small imaginations and little faith.
Pray Every Kind of Prayer and Supplication
Our prayers are often limited by our small imaginations and little faith. We pray for small sinners to become Christians, but not for really big sinners. We pray for victory over small sins, but don’t know how to pray about those big, ingrained sinful habits. We pray for change in our small corner of the universe but not in the country at large or throughout the world. Instead of praying with all kinds of prayers and requests, we often pray with small kinds of prayers and requests.
One way to increase the scope of your prayers is to study the great prayers of the Bible. Think about Jesus’s prayer in John 17. On the night before he died, Jesus prayed that the Father would glorify him. So too, we can pray that the Father would glorify Jesus in and through our lives—in our strength or weakness, in our health or sickness, in our abundance or poverty. He also prayed for his disciples, and those who would believe through their witness, that the Father would keep them safe and united. So we can pray for ourselves and for our churches that we would be kept safe and united in Christ.
Jesus also prayed that the Father would sanctify his disciples in the truth, so we can pray that God would grow us daily in our holiness and knowledge of the truth. And Jesus prayed that ultimately we might be with him in heaven to see his glory. So we can pray for God’s sustaining power to enable us and others, weak and stumbling as we are, to persevere faithfully throughout the course of our earthly lives.
Our prayers are not simply to be big and small; they are also to be wide, ranging around the world, praying for all the saints. In many countries the church is growing rapidly, and it needs our prayers that it will remain true to the Bible. In other areas, Christians are a persecuted minority and need our prayers that they will stand firm in what they believe. We also need the prayers of our brothers and sisters around the world. If even Paul needed the prayers of the Ephesians so he could be faithful in proclaiming the gospel (Eph. 6:19), how much more do contemporary pastors and missionaries around the globe need prayer?
The One Who Intercedes for Us
Some books I have read about prayer left me feeling crushed and inadequate, unable to conceive how anyone could pray like that. But if we think of prayer as the outworking of a relationship, it becomes a different story. If prayer is simply responding to the promptings of the Spirit to cry out to my heavenly Father with thanksgiving, requests, intercessions, and sighs of confession and repentance, then all of a sudden it doesn’t seem so hard.
What is more, Jesus is still praying for us. In Hebrews 7:25, we read that Christ ever lives beside the throne of God the Father to make intercession for his people. The Spirit too intercedes for us and with us (see Rom. 8:26). With company like that praying for us, how will the Father not give us exactly what we need for our spiritual warfare in this dark and dangerous world?
Iain M. Duguid is the author of The Whole Armor of God: How Christ’s Victory Strengthens Us for Spiritual Warfare.