Many thoughtful people feel a quiet alarm concerning recent social trends. For example, over the past six decades marriage and the family have been severely diminished in favor of greater personal freedom; the historic understanding of gender is under attack; and this past week infanticide came back into view as a legitimate procedure under the term, third trimester abortion.
All of this prompts me to remember the saying John Bunyan is credited with — that you can do more than pray but you cannot do more until you have prayed. We have ample instruction on prayer in the Bible. Consider the Apostle Paul’s instruction.
From his cell in Rome, he writes to the Ephesian believers as “an ambassador in chains.” Beginning at verse 18 of chapter 6 he includes a detailed paragraph calling believers to constant and effectual prayer. He believed prayer had a reach that could not be limited by shackles.
Having used the Roman soldier’s armor as an analogy earlier in the chapter, he makes a strong appeal for the fuller use of the Christian’s ultimate spiritual weapon — prayer. Consider what he commends.
Pray in the Spirit on all occasions (6:18a). Paul would say, for example, we should pray when we get up in the morning, when we retire at night, when we sit down for a meal, when we leave for work or school, or when we meet in a committee. The Spirit makes our prayers living communications.
Pray with all kinds of prayers and requests (18b). What does Paul mean by this? He suggests that our prayers can take many forms. We can extrapolate that they may be private or public prayers; or prayers of petition, prayers of thanksgiving, intercessory prayers, prayers of penitence. They can be prescribed prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 4, or impromptu ones. There is a kind of prayer for every situation.
Be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people . . . (18c). The implication here is that we are to be attached to a company of believers. Paul would know nothing of lone ranger Christians. Our attachment may be to a rural congregation, a city church, or a prayer cell.
Beyond these specific fellowships, however, we belong to all the Lord’s people throughout the globe — the persecuted in one locale, the hungry in another, the war-scattered in yet another. These are set before us as subjects the Spirit would remind us to remember.
Pray also for me, he adds, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel . . . Pray that I may declare it fearlessly as I should (19). The single-mindedness of the Apostle and his focus on making the mystery of the Gospel known is always evident when he writes.
To be sure, looking at just two of his other epistles, we know he wants the infant believers in the city of Corinth to mature in the faith and live like adults. And he wants the Galatian Christians to turn from their legalism and re-embrace the Gospel as they first knew it. He is pastoral toward existing churches.
But at the same time he was also looking for new situations in which he could fearlessly make the mystery of the Gospel known to people who had not yet heard. He knew that collective prayer by many believers would be the mightiest energy to soften hearts to the reception of the Gospel.
And so when alarmed by social trends, let us take the advice of John Bunyan and the instruction of the Apostle Paul to pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers, for all God’s people, that we might be fearless in sharing the saving truth of the Gospel to those new to it.
Photo credit: Stephen Platt (via flickr.com)