Do you want to see God change your life? Do you want to see God change your church? Do you want to see God bring neighbors, and friends, and coworkers, and relatives to Christ?
It’s a spiritual battle, and, yes, you put on the armor. Yes, there is a sword of the Spirit. Yes, when you are attacked, there is a shield of faith. But, “With all prayer and petition, pray at all times,” in communion with, or by agency of the Holy Spirit, in such a way that God does supernatural things.
Now, if you ask me how it works, I’m gonna tell you, I do not have a clue. I don’t. How does the sovereignty of God, and the free will of man, and the invisible world here, and the visible world here? I don’t understand it all, but you know what? I don’t have a lot of verses that say, “Chip, you must understand all of this, and be able to explain all of this, and intellectually reason it all out.” But I’ll tell you what, I’ve got verses that command me to pray – biblically, strategically, intensely, powerfully, in a way where radical change occurs.
I’d like to summarize by saying that in Ephesians 6:18-20, the means by which we, as believers, are to withstand and overcome the attacks of the enemy in spiritual warfare is by consistent, intense, strategic prayer for one another, in conjunction with the personal application of the armor of God. I do believe, with all my heart, that intercessory prayer is the most powerful, strategic, individual and corporate weapon we have.
Prayer has a direct impact on spiritual warfare – at least, according to Jesus. Mark 9:29, the disciples are attempting to cast out a demon; it’s not working. They come to the Lord and say, “What’s the problem?” and our Lord says, “This kind comes out only by prayer.” And some translations will add “fasting.”
Prayer provides, or assists in, the deliverance of others who are undergoing spiritual attack. Someone you know can be undergoing spiritual attack, and God can and will command you to pray in such a way that it delivers them. And you say, “Well, where do you get that?” Because Peter was undergoing spiritual attack, right? And how did Jesus deliver him? “Peter, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you” – Luke 22:31-32.
I’ll tell you one thing: You wanna be a New Testament church? It’s a praying church. Power falls where prayer prevails. And look at the New Testament Church. Jesus is gone. They’re afraid. And while they’re waiting for instructions – Acts 1:14 – what are they doing? Praying.
Acts 2:42, when Pentecost occurs, what were they doing? Praying.
Acts 3:1, before the first major miracle of the Church, Peter and John were on their way to a prayer meeting.
Acts 4, the first time persecution occurs, and they’re flogged, and they come back and explain, “What a blessing to be beaten for the cause of Christ!” and then they pray, and the room shook.
Acts 6, when the first dissension occurred, and they had to say, “Wait a second, some of the people in the church are being neglected,” and the paradigm had to shift, and the apostles said, “Wait a second, we can’t get so involved in the ministry of service, and feeding the widows. We must give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.”
By Acts 8, the persecution occurs. And as the persecution occurs, by verses 14 and 16, what are they doing? They’re praying.
Acts 9, at the end . . . Now you have the Samaritans in, and Cornelius, in Acts 10, the Gentiles. Acts 9 – prayer.
What’s Peter doing when God reveals to him everything that crosses his heart that is totally culturally the opposite of how he’s thought about the Gentiles? He’s praying. And as he prayed on top of that roof, God gave him a vision.
And you know what? I just stopped there. You go through the rest of the Book of Acts, and when you do, you’re gonna find that wherever you see God’s power fall in supernatural ways that transform lives, and institutions, and churches, and people, and God opens doors, and does things no one can explain – I’ll guarantee one thing: Somewhere, someone, or a handful of people, or a whole church, is praying.
Now, some of you might be saying, “Wait a second. Man, that sounds real strong. And I’m kind of motivated; I really want to pray, but you know, we pray. I’m not seeing those kinds of things happen. I believe in prayer, but I don’t see those things happening at our church.”
‘Cause I don’t think those things happen with any old prayers. I don’t think those kinds of things happen when people pray a little here, and pray a little there, and pray when it’s convenient, and ask God to bless a few people somewhere, sometime, somehow. I think the Apostle Paul, in verses 18-20, says, there is a specific kind of prayer that brings these kinds of results. And there are three characteristics to these kinds of prayers, right out of verses 18-20.
First of all, the kinds of prayers that bring supernatural results, and deliverance in spiritual warfare, are characterized by consistent prayer. Look at verse 18. He starts off, “With all prayer and petition…” The word for “all prayer” is a general word for all kinds of prayer, and the word for “petition” means “very specific requests.” This happens in the arena where people are praying all kinds of prayers.
Put in the corner of your notes, the letters A-C-T-S – acts. Some of us get stuck in different kinds of prayer, but that’s the best acronym I know. “A” for adoration, “C” for confession, “T” for thanksgiving, and “S” for supplication for other people.
We pray intercessory prayers, but it is in the context of giving honor, and glory, and praise to God. It is in the context of open, honest confession, before God and before one another. It is in the context of a church and a body of people who are giving thanks, and who are always looking in the rearview mirror, praising and thanking God for the deeds that He’s done. And that gives you the kind of faith to ask certain things – supplication – for the future.
And so, it’s a consistent prayer, all kinds of prayer. And notice, “Pray at all times.” That means prayer on all occasions. I think the inference here is, yes, there needs to be very strategic, extended times of prayer, set times. In fact, isn’t it Psalm 55? The psalmist says, “In the morning and at noon and evening, I will pray unto You.” Do you have any set times in your life when you pray? Does your church have any set times when you pray?
And along with that is a life, at all times – a life punctuated with prayer. See, the informal, spontaneous times of prayer grow out of deep seasons with God, so that, yes, as you’re driving, you’re praying. In the middle of a conversation, you’re praying. When there’s a need, and an ambulance drives by, you’re praying. When you’re quiet, and you’re not even thinking about something, and someone urgently, vividly comes to mind, you start to pray.
He says, the kind of prayer that God answers is consistent prayer, with all prayer and petition, praying all times, and then praying in the Spirit. The idea is, in communion with and directed by the Spirit, or the agency, or the power – God leading you how to pray.
There was one man, as we started this session, who was just putting something in the trunk, picking some things up, just a regular guy in Michigan, normal person like you and me, doing a little volunteer work at the church. He’s not a superstar. We don’t think he has any theological degree. He was just picking some stuff up at the church. He opens the trunk . . . and he gets a prompting: “Pray for that missionary.”
You’ve had ‘em; I’ve had ‘em. But what do you do with them? “Well, okay. Lord, help that missionary.” You can almost visualize the Spirit going, “No, no, no. We’re not talking about a little prayer. Gather the men of the church.”
He puts it back in the trunk, goes back into the church, makes a few phone calls – Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! I’ll tell you, I don’t know many churches where you could make phone calls in one morning and have 26 people show up. And they get together, and they get on their knees, and they pray. Why? He’s praying in communion with the Spirit.
Many of you have had situations where, in the middle of the night, unexplained – right? You’ve awakened, and you’ve had someone – I mean, burdened on your mind, and you pray.
I got an email two days before I came here, from the associate pastor of a Baptist church there in Atlanta. He’s become a good friend. He is a godly, godly man. And he has just taken me under his wing, as I’ve gone through this transition. And we’ll go eat lunch, and I’ll share where my struggles are, and he’ll say, “Yeah, I’ve been through that,” and he’ll kind of coach me. And I got an email, just one line: “Dear Chip, In prayer this morning, deeply prompted, with a sense of urgency. I have no idea what’s goin’ on in your life, took you before the throne.” And I’m thinking to myself, in good California terms, Yo, dude, you have no idea what I’ve been goin’ through, or what I’m teachin’.
But you know what that did for me? It let me know God did, and it let me know God was asking other people. In fact, I made a series of phone calls, and I sent emails to people associated with Walk Thru the Bible, and I said, “I’m comin’ here. I’m teachin’ on this. Pray.”
See, the kind of prayer God uses is consistent prayer. But it’s not enough to be consistent. It’s also got to be intense. Did you get that out of the passage? Look at the end of verse 18: “Be on the alert.” This word means “without sleep.” It means “to be vigilant.” It means “not going through the motions.”
This is not the kind of prayer where you have a list, and you say, “Bless Aunt Mary. Please help the church. Oh, my mind is wandering.” This is the kind of prayer where you are on. You’re focused. You’re intense. You’re not going through the motions. You’re alert.
And not only are you alert, but with all perseverance. It means “enduring; not giving up.” I don’t know about you, but when I pray – you know, I get to a time where sometimes it takes 10 minutes, and I just feel like, there’s a ceiling on my prayers, and I’m not getting anywhere.
Now, I’m going to admit something. Sometimes I do that, and I just think, “This is just too hard. I’ll see You later, Lord.” And I know that’s not what I need to do. What I understand is, I need to break through that. You have to persevere.
You will probably never experience more opposition than when you are praying intensely, and consistently, and God is leading you. Because someone said, “The demonic forces come to attention when people get in God’s Word, but they are fearful and they shudder when God’s people begin to pray.” So, it takes perseverance. Some of the old mystics talk about breaking through in prayer. You’ve gotta break through in prayer. You’ve gotta hang in there, and you break through in prayer, until you get there.
One of my heroes is Elisabeth Elliot, and she wrote something called Notes on Prayer. It’s about persevering, or being consistent and intense. And she wrote, “People who ski, I suppose, are people who happen to like skiing, and who have time for skiing, and who can afford to ski, and who are good at skiing.”
And then, she makes this confession: “Recently, I found that I often treat prayer as though it were a sport, like skiing: something you do if you like it, something you do in your spare time, something you do if you can afford the trouble, something you can do if you’re good at it. But prayer isn’t a sport; it’s work. Prayer is no game. Prayer is the opposite of leisure.”
And she’s talking about this intense level of prayer. She’s not talkin’ about basking in the presence of God, or multiple kinds of prayer. She’s talking about the intercessory prayer that gets major things done.
“It’s something to be engaged in, rather than be indulged in. It’s a job you give first priority to. It’s not performing when you have energy for nothing else. Someone has said, ‘You need to pray when you feel like praying, you need to pray when you don’t feel like praying, and you need to pray until you feel like praying.’ If we pray only at our leisure – that is, at our convenience – can we really call ourselves true disciples? Did not Jesus say, ‘Anyone who wants to follow Me must put aside his own desires, and conveniences, and follow Me’? It’s in the wrestling of Christian prayer. Our fight is not against any physical enemy. It’s against the organizations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil.
“Seldom do we consider the nature of our opponent, and that is to his advantage. When we do recognize him for who he is, however, we have an inkling as to why prayer is never easy. It is the weapon that the unseen power dreads most, and if he can get us to treat it as casually as we treat skiing, or tennis, or something else, then he has won.”
There is a kind of prayer that makes a difference as you put on the whole armor of God. It’s not little fluttery prayers. It’s not prayers of convenience. It’s prayers that are consistent. It’s prayers that are intense. And finally, they’re prayers that are strategic.
Look at verse 20. He says, you pray for – what? All the saints, including – then, he gives a specific – God’s messenger. Him. That they’ll be – what? Bold. He says, “That utterances may be given so that God’s message will be clear and have opportunity.”
I think, too often, we pray too small. We get so into our own little world, that all that we’re praying about – And not that we shouldn’t. Hear this carefully. But we get where we just pray about our family, our church, our finances, our struggles, our specifics. And then, even to the point where – and we know God hears – where we’re really praying about, “Oh, God, would You arrange my life in a way that would be easier for me, and more comfortable for me, and fulfill my desires?”
And you hear Paul pray. What is he praying for? He says, “Pray for me, that the message might go out.” Pray that the message might go out around America, and around the world, the message of the Gospel. “And pray that God will make me bold.”
In verse 20, the word, bold is used two times. You know, the early Church is characterized by prayer, and they’re characterized by boldness. They were not afraid to be politically incorrect. They were winsome, and they were loving, and they were kind. They weren’t weird, and quasi-religious, but they were bold, because they knew who they knew, and they had experienced the risen Lord.
And they prayed with intensity, and they asked God for big things, and they prayed strategic things. “Dear Lord, take this community for Christ.” “Dear Lord, cause these churches to be unified.” “Dear Lord, empower my pastor this week, and every pastor in this community.” “Dear Lord, take the Gospel throughout America.” “Dear Lord, please empower your servants and missionaries, that they might be bold and unafraid.” That’s a little bit different than, “Dear Lord, the mall will be very crowded. Could You get me a parking spot?”
“Prayer,” Warren Wiersbe says, “is the energy that allows the soldier to wear the armor and to wield the sword with confidence.” The missing ingredient in most Christians’ lives, and in most churches, is the commitment and the regular practice of intercessory prayer. And if you haven’t heard the point clearly enough, Scripture indicates that individual and corporate, consistent, intense, and strategic prayer will deliver us from the evil one.
I love the quote that I put in your notes, by S.D. Gordon. “The great people of the
earth –” Think of that. Who are the great people of the earth? Are they athletes making 20 million dollars a year? Are they political figures? Are they movie stars? Are they someone – Who are the great people of the earth today? In God’s economy. I think this guy’s onto something. “The great people of the earth today are people who pray.” And then, this is good, “I do not mean people who talk about prayer, nor those who say they believe in prayer, nor those who can explain about prayer. I mean those people who take time and pray. They have not time. It must be taken from something else. That something else is important. It’s very important, and it’s very pressing, but still less important and still less pressing than prayer.”
What we’ve learned in Ephesians 6:10-20 is that the great majority of spiritual warfare, and safety, and victory is when we are understanding there is an invisible war, when we understand God has given us armor to protect us, and as we walk in fellowship with the Lord, the great majority of the warfare will be taken care of. We have learned that, on occasion, the missiles will come, as we begin to take radical steps of growth, get involved in evangelistic ministry, make a break with old habits.
But even then, we have the shield of faith. We have the helmet of salvation. We have the sword of the Spirit. And we know that all of these things will come together in a way, as we pray consistently, intensely, and strategically.
Now, with that said, there will be times in your life, perhaps, or in the lives of people that you love, where, for multiple reasons, demonic oppression and influence get a foothold, or an inroad. So, I don’t think it would be proper to talk about spiritual warfare, unless we address the issue of deliverance ministry.
When someone is depressed, oppressed, or harassed, or even possessed – and we’ll talk about what that means – what, exactly, do you do? What does the Bible really teach? Is there some balanced sense of a deliverance ministry, when people are harassed, or there is absolute control? What, as believers, are we to do? And do you have to have some special degree from somewhere when there is demonic influence that is strong?
And so, what I want to do is give you a brief overview, or outline, and here’s my heart, and my goal: to say, in a balanced, biblical approach, this is how I think we need to view deliverance ministries, and here are some specific tools that you, as a regular, believing Christian, filled with the Holy Spirit, as a child of God, can operate in to be a part of deliverance when situations come about. And so, with that, let’s spend the remainder of our time talking about deliverance ministries.
The ministry of deliverance – I think the first question that comes to my mind: Is it valid? I mean, is it “for today”?
I’d like to have you see here that Jesus regularly exercises ministry. I gave you a couple of examples: Mark 1:27 and 39. And I think I read, just recently that 25 to 30 percent of Jesus’ ministry was in delivering people from demonic oppression.
The early apostles regularly exercised this ministry. I’ll give you examples here, in Luke 10, Matthew 10.
The early Church regularly exercised this ministry. As the early Church was growing, you know what? It wasn’t something weird. You get to Acts 16 – here’s a problem. You get to Acts 8, and you have Simon the Magician – hey! Apparently, it must’ve been a big problem, because in one town, when the Gospel made supernatural inroads, people brought – remember? – all their occult objects, and they burned them in the center of town. This wasn’t something spooky or weird in the New Testament times.
And lest you think it’s just New Testament, I’ve done some research, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, and Athanasius . . . As you read those writings from the first almost 400 years of the Church, you’ll just find that deliverance ministry was normal in those first 400 years.
Now, you might have to go on the internet for this, but an excellent article by Paul Thigpen, in Discipleship Journal – it’s issue 81, out of 1994. He traces deliverance ministry, historically. It’s a fascinating article.
The New Testament writers provide clear direction. In other words, in Ephesians 6:10-20, and James 4:1-10, the New Testament writers, giving us God’s Word for regular people, for all time – they write it as though there will be times, in Christians’ lives, throughout the ages, when there will be times when deliverance ministry will be a part of what you do. Just normal, regular Christians will do – what? Submit, therefore, to God, resist the Devil, and he’ll flee from you. They’ll draw near to God; He’ll draw near to them. They’ll cleanse your hands, you sinners. They’ll purify their hearts; they’re double-minded. They’ll humble themselves before God, and He’ll give them grace.
It’s spoken of, in the New Testament, as a very routine thing that happens, and that demonic influence and harassment happens to believers and unbelievers. And then, I would say here that contemporary, balanced deliverance ministries do exist, and help many people.