Thursday, October 3, 2013

Militant Prayer {Reflections on Prayer}

What images come to mind when we reflect on intercessory prayer? Do we picture a cozy, comfortable fireside piety we will practice someday when we’re retired or too old and infirm to do any “real” (by which we mean active, official, or visible) ministry? Or do we picture the courage and spiritual vitality of an elite special forces military unit striking under cover of darkness, their names and purposes known perhaps only to their commanding officer? Is it possible that too often our practical theology leans toward the former, even if our theoretical doctrine holds the latter?

Writing as one of those “infirm” folks hindered from playing the piano for worship week on week, teaching VBS, or flying halfway around the world to shepherd an orphanage full of children, I find myself at times begrudging my limitations and strategizing ways I might be able to serve in a more active, official, (and honestly?) visible, and humanly affirming sphere. Sometimes it feels as if prayer is second-class or less important service, and that's a lie.

More and more preachers are acknowledging the cultural and spiritual warfare facing the contemporary church. Beloved crumbles, at such a time let us not by our daily practice relegate militant prayer to the province of those whom we think have no other ministry options available. Blessed be the name of the Lord for those who do turn ill health or advancing age toward seeking Him in more earnest prayer. May He add to their number, however, an army of all generations who recognize that prayer is the foundation of all other service and a ministry in and of itself. If the church will see revival in my lifetime, our prayer lives must wake up and rediscover the vigilant vigor--adventure, even--of intercessory prayer.

The kindling for such musings on this particular day derives from Colossians 4:2-4, 12. In the New American Standard translation it reads this way:

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned. . . . Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.

This passage calls me today to several shifts of my perspective on prayer. According to the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul the apostle, militant prayer is
  • Persistent prayer;
    “Devote yourselves to prayer,” he says. The Greek behind this English translation is the command form of a verb meaning “to adhere to, to persist in, to busy one’s self w[ith], to busily engage in, to be devoted to.”[1]

    Search my heart, O God. Is there anywhere I’m tempted to (or already have) given up on a prayer You don’t seem to be answering? Actually, I don't really need to ask. I know there is. Strengthen my slack hands, and make firm my feeble knees to keep pressing on and in toward Your will in this matter.

  • Watchful prayer;
    “Keeping alert in it” points this out. At least one translation says “vigilant” here. The original word includes both ideas but most literally the idea of staying awake. It is easy to fall asleep literally in prayer sometimes. (Maybe more often than that.) The disciples fell asleep on Jesus’ prayer the night preceding His crucifixion, and I am certainly no better.

    Lord, what changes do You want me to make in my days to stay physically awake in prayer? Quicken our spirits to be more spiritually sensitive, vigilant, watchful, and alert to what You are doing in our world and in the lives we encounter day by day. If You should wake us in the night as a call to prayer and not simply a sign we had too much caffeine, place on our hearts the souls for whom You would have us pray.
  • Thankful prayer;
    “With thanksgiving” or “with an attitude of thanksgiving” needs no clarification. The Greek and English match here.

    Lord, when the prayer battles intensify, keep us thankful that the war is already won. You are sovereign. You are our victory. No enemy can withstand Your power. Christ has already crushed the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:16). Encourage us to wage war in that confident trust.

  • Missional or evangelistic prayer;
    Paul asks his Colossian readers to pray “that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ” and to pray “that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.” Do I view prayer as foundational to outreach? When was the last time I prayed for missionaries and for myself that God would open up opportunities to speak clearly about our Lord Jesus Christ? Do I spend more energy worrying about the right way to explain the gospel to someone or asking God for clear words in the moment of opportunity? Surely if He has opened the door, He will give us what we need to walk through it.

    We ask now, Lord. I ask now. Open a door to speak of Christ this week. Give us the desire for such opportunities. Open doors for my friends in countries hostile to Christianity to share Your truth with the people they know. Give us clear words. If we need more training and equipping, guide us to the right resources at the right time. Thank You for Your fruitful Word and for revealing in it the mystery of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and “soon” return.

  • Undaunted prayer;
    Paul writes of the gospel message as that “for which I have also been imprisoned," and yet he prays for more open doors to keep on proclaiming Christ. Following in Paul's footsteps, believers around the world today lose freedom and even their lives for the sake of Christ. One of Amore’s pastoral training students in a southeast Asian country did not graduate with his classmates because he was in prison for his Christian faith and ministry. In that same country, we witnessed secret baptisms and the measures taken by believers to be able to worship without police harassment or arrest. In another nation in that region, the daughters of our pastor friend had little to no chance of university study because of their father’s ministry. As I write this, an American citizen of Iranian heritage, Pastor Saeed Abedini, is in his second year of imprisonment in Iran for his refusal to convert to Islam. Here on American soil, multiple corporations find themselves embroiled in legal difficulties simply for their conscientious objection to a provision of the new federal healthcare laws. Unless God intervenes, the day seems fast approaching or even already here when the American church’s Christian profession will come at significant personal cost.

    Pour strength and courage into the persecuted church, Father. Embolden them. Embolden us. Let Your Word run and be glorified through them. May their suffering, like Paul’s, bear gospel fruit. For us who have never yet been called to suffer persecution for the name of Christ, grow deep root systems for us. Establish our faith to withstand whatever lies ahead for us. Give us courage to follow You, no matter the cost. Your Kingdom come, Lord.

  • Struggling prayer;
    This point derives from Paul’s description of Epaphras in 4:12 as “always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers.” The Greek verb translated “laboring earnestly” here is a form of agonizomai, the same word which gives the English language “agonize.” It conveys earnestness, struggle, and intensity. This is wrestling prayer, Jacob with the angel of the Lord until the break of day or Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (which in Luke 22:44 uses a related Greek word). Do I care about prayer and those for whom I pray that much? Do I exercise my spirit in fervent prayer?

    Lord, have mercy on me for my sloth in prayer. Sometimes it seems too hard, or perhaps I’d rather invest the energy in my own way. Forgive me. Revive me. Energize me to love my neighbor by laying down my self-life in prayer for him, for her. Strengthen me for truly earnest prayer.

  • And finally, discipleship prayer.
    For what is Epaphras praying with such commitment? He is praying for his Colossian brothers and sisters in Christ “that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12). In other words, he prays for their spiritual maturity (“mature” being another possible translation of the word given as “perfect” here) and for their confident obedience. By his prayers, he participates in the Great Commission injunction to make disciples.

    Father, forgive me for praying more for superficial “felt” needs than I do for spiritual maturity. Thinking of one particular crisis among my loved ones at the moment, I know that, left to myself, I would fix their problems even if it hindered their spiritual growth. You invite us to ask for such things, and You know that I do, but change me to want and pray for their progress into Christlikeness more than I want and pray for their relief from distress. Realign my values with Yours, Lord. Open my eyes to the greater work You are doing when You withhold the answer I think I want. Thank You for knowing best and for Your love underlying the pain in our lives. Thank You for replicating the pattern of crucifixion and resurrection in our lives so we can know Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings as well as the power of His resurrection. You are good and do good. Always. I bless Your name.
Do you hear it too, dear readers? Do you hear in these brief verses the call to take up arms in our prayers for God’s church? Please forgive me for the times I have dropped my sword and hidden from the conflict instead of watching your back. Let us not leave one another behind in this battle but beg God on behalf of our brothers and sisters. Let us fight for each other in persistent, watchful, thankful, missional, undaunted, struggling, and disciple-making prayer. May God forbid that His heavenly arsenal stays full simply because we have not asked.

[1] Fritz Rienecker and Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, 1980.

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