This week's Bible Study - October 5, 2014
Connected with Prayer
Quotes of the Week:
Prayer should be the key of the day and the lock of the night -
This is the final lesson in a series on being connected as believers. It is important to identify the ways we are connected, but other than our relationship with Christ, there is truly no more powerful connection than what we have in prayer. What comes to mind when you think of prayer? Some see prayer as a short sentence or two that they say prior to a meal. Others may think of what they say before they go to sleep, or before they begin their day. Some people give very little thought to prayer and don't seem to think a thing about it until a crisis comes up. There are some people that have found prayer to be a very vibrant part of their relationship with God. In just about any church, you can find a wide range of view on prayer. Most of us remember where we were on September 11, 2011 when the acts of terror occurred against the United States. Many people ended up in impromptu church services, praying for our nation, the families who had suffered loss and for God's peace. I remember how incredible it was to see churches packed all over the country, seeking community and seeking God.
Prayer is a key aspect to the life of a believer. Many people struggle with prayer for a variety of reasons. Some of the reasons (certainly not an exhaustive list) that I have heard about include
Many people are problem solvers and want to come up with their own solutions, so prayer is often a last resort
Some know that they are supposed to pray, but they don't know how. If you were playing baseball for the first time and someone told you to bunt, without teaching you how, would you be successful?
Some have made prayer to be ritualistic. They go through the motions in praying without seeing any connection to their relationship with God
Some don't expect God to answer, and when He does, they are surprised. If we are surprised that God answers prayers, are we really confident when we pray?
Some are too busy. When we become too focused on our own agendas, prayer is often one of the easiest things to let slide
This lesson is less about solving these issues. However, it would be worthwhile for each of us to consider our own struggles we have with praying. We can read how David fixed a time of praying. We can read how Daniel set a prayer time (even though it was against the laws of his country). We can certainly read how Peter and John and the early Christians prayed. We see it was very important to these and many others. Have you ever thought about why it often seems to be less important to us?
This passage in Ephesians 6 speaks of the full armor of God that we, as believers need to wear. This includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, our feet fitted with readiness of the gospel of peace. We are to take the shield of faith, with which we can extinguish the flaming arrows of the enemy. There could be several lessons on each of these, but in this lesson, we will only briefly touch the final pieces of the armor in this passage (the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit).
What is the purpose of a helmet? You might think of bicycle and/or motorcycle helmets that are required by law in many places. It still is amazing to see states that do not have these laws. In the armed services, the advanced technology of helmets has been amazing. I recently read about those responsible for the gear for the American Army. We see these men and women on TV, in various types of clothing and with different types of equipment. Much research goes into what they wear and there are specific purposes for each piece. There have been great advances in both material and technology that have proven to be more protective of our fighting men and women. It was noted that there were many more injuries to the brain in battles and wars in the past 10 years. At first glance, it would seem that the equipment is not doing its job. However, upon further reflection, it was found that the helmets have improved such that there are many things that would have killed a person in the past which are now diffused by the helmet, causing severe concussions rather than death.
The helmet of salvation protects us spiritually. Our salvation is a source of security in our lives, protecting us. When we understand the assurance that we have in our salvation through Jesus Christ (and through Him alone), it allows us to stand without fear. Wearing a helmet implies that there is a need for a helmet. We all will deal with doubts from time to time, but we can know that our salvation is secure. The helmet of salvation will protect you.
The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. A Roman soldier would take a short sword for use in hand-to-hand combat. The other pieces of the armor would protect the soldier, but this was the only offensive weapon that Paul mentioned. Can you imagine the Roman soldier that went out to battle, but forgot their sword? For a believer, the sword is the Word of God. In Hebrews 4:12, we read "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Where is your sword? How often do you read, study, meditate or memorize God's word? Can you apply His teaching to your life? Often, when you are pelted with temptation, it is the Word of God that can help you successfully quench them. Jesus quoted the word of God while being tempted in the wilderness. You may say, "Well, that's Jesus". And your point is? Do you really think you are more able to withstand temptation on your own than Jesus was? Each of us can benefit in many ways by being more involved in our study of the Word of God.
After speaking of the armor of the believer, Paul begins to write about prayer, which is the supernatural aspect in the battle of a believer. This isn't the quick prayer that many say before a meal (God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food), or the prayer that you say before you put your child to bed (Now I lay me down to sleepů). Those have good intentions, but they do little to help in the battle. We are told to pray at all times in the Spirit - allowing the Spirit to help lead us to pray, because we really do not know how to pray as we should. Our prayers need to be for others as well, not just for our own needs. God wants you to voice your concerns to Him, but He also yearns to hear us praying for others.
In the battlefield, there are few positions that are more pivotal to success that the 'radio man'. Many current technologies are working to provide interoperability between nearly all participants in a battlefield, we the huge importance of communication is acknowledged. The line of communication is one of the first things that the enemy desires to destroy, so that all the pieces on the battle become disconnected from one another, raising havoc in whatever plan that has been determined. Our communication with God is the key aspect in helping us to stay focused in our lives. Can you see how much more difficult issues in our life are going to be, when we decide to go solo (and handle it on our own), rather than calling out to God?
An active prayer life will help keep us alert. When we spend time praying, we take the focus away from our own situation and can begin to more easily see how God might be working in and around us. The further we get away from what God is doing, the more that our own issues seem to monopolize our thoughts and take a priority role in our lives. In James 4:2, we read "You desire, but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight." When we become solely focused on what we want and cannot get, life begins to spin out of control for many people. As if this isn't bad enough for the person who lets their own desire get out of control, it soon starts to spill over into the lives of anyone who is around them.
In context, Paul is asking for prayers and petitions for all the saints. I believe that most of us will pray for those in tragic situations. We pray for those who have lost loved ones, are out of jobs, dealing with illnesses or enduring other major issues in their lives and in the lives of their loved ones. However, do we find ourselves praying for other believers? Are we asking God to be with those who are seeking Him and to help them persevere in whatever situation that they are in?
Paul asked for the believers to pray for him, as well. He writes from prison, as an ambassador of Christ in chains. He wanted to be able to make known with boldness the message that he needed to share. Can you picture this? He's in prison because of sharing Christ, and is asking that people pray that he can do it more. If we were honest, what would most of us be praying? God, please get me out of here, so that I can do your work (we add that in because it sounds good - but we mainly want out of the prison we are in). When we truly realize that we are engaged in a war, our perspectives change. It becomes more and more important to tell others about Christ, and less and less important to spend a lot of time on insignificant things.
In these verses, Paul mentions Tychicus, the one who would make his situation made known to the church. Tychicus delivered the letter and served in a role to bring requests to the believers. People like this are needed to help ensure the success of an organization that is serving Christ. It is important that we know of requests and circumstances so that we can pray for one another.
One of the most crucial aspects of being a part of a group of believers is praying for one another. Often in groups, prayer requests are brought on behalf of others. As we realize that we are more of a community, it helps to have folks who see the needs and ask for prayer for those needs that are in their own lives or in the lives of others. There must be some care taken in how requests are expressed, as the context of requests is often as important as the request themselves. Unwittingly, people can begin to create seeds of gossip, if they only give enough information to raise other questions or assumptions. I wonder what would change if a group of people was as concerned about praying for others as they are about spreading gossip. I remember one group of people (believers) that was questioned about the gossip that they were sharing with one another, but when approached, one of them effectively said "I know it's wrong, but we're not done yet". Praying for another will build a group, while gossiping about each other will surely destroy relationships.
There were many pieces of the armor that were referenced in this lesson, but you can see that they all work together. You can't just pick and choose which ones you use. You might choose to ride your bike without a helmet, but if you only pick up the helmet of salvation on the days you think you'll need it, you are looking for trouble. Can you imagine a football player that just decided that they probably wouldn't need to wear their helmet in the game? You'd think they were crazy. However, we aren't playing football. We are in a war. Do you acknowledge that you are in a spiritual battle today? Are you employing these pieces of armor? If not, what are you thinking?
There are many people that are pacifists by nature. They want things to be at peace and they may believe that if they never get into the middle of any conflict that will always be the case. You might think of these people as ones who understand prayer, but are unconcerned about the armor. On the other hand, you may know people who are more concerned about the armor, yet spend little time in prayer. As opposed to the pacifists, they try to engineer the outcomes in all situations in their life. To these people, prayer may be an additive plus, but they are only praying that their efforts succeed.
Prayer is something that should become a habit in our lives. We are told in 1 Thessalonians to pray without ceasing. Obviously, you cannot maintain an attitude of prayer at all times, but it can become a background task throughout our lives. Take an inventory of your life and truthfully indicate the role that prayer plays in your life. What are some things that you can do to help? Perhaps you need to set a time to pray. Make the effort to write down prayer requests you hear and actually pray for them (and not just tell others that you will pray for them). Lift up not only your needs, and your family and high profile requests, but pray for other believers. Are you praying that God will speak through those who are sharing their faith? Are you praying for strength for those who are striving to live for God? If you have ever had people praying for you, you know the power that can have. Not only pray for people, but let them know you are praying. That alone can brighten the day of many people. What can you do if you just don't know what to pray? Perhaps that would be the time that you can read God's word and just speak it to Him, and agree with Him in prayer. Prayer is not the process, but communication with God that helps to build your relationship with Him.
If you knew the world was coming to an end, would anything change about the way that you approached people? Nearly 30 years ago, I worked in a building next to a mobile home park. Early one morning, there was a fire next to one of the homes, and a few of us were separated by a chain link fence, so we couldn't knock on the door. We began yelling, in an attempt to wake up anybody that might be in the home. Why did we do this? We did it because we cared for them. We didn't even know them or their names, but that didn't matter. Why is it that just about any of us would do the same to protect another person, but we so often are ambivalent about their eternal well being?
All people will die, unless Christ returns soon. The mortality rate remains 1 for 1, last time I checked. All people will spend eternity somewhere. If nothing changes in you, will anybody you know stand a chance because of you? Why not pray that God will give you the boldness to speak of His love to those around you?
Your only offensive weapon is the Word of God, and the power of the gospel. Can you imagine an athletic team that is very good in defense, but has no offense? I can think of a few professional sports teams that have been that way in the past. You can't be strictly focused on offense or defense. We must wear the armor and we must know the Word. What can you do to improve on your offense? For a basketball player, maybe shoot 100 free throws each day. For a baseball player, maybe go to the batting cages. For any sport, the key is to practice as much as possible so that you are ready when the game approaches. For the believer, pick up the Bible - read it, study it, meditate upon it and maybe even memorize it. It will pay huge dividends in your life.
Lastly, although we are in a war, we are not alone. It's not just us and God. There are literally millions of other believers that unite with your heart in prayer. Pray for them and for those who are on the frontline of sharing the love of Christ.