Why are we so content to go prayerless? Or to ask it another way, what is it that motivates our prayer lives? What can sustain us here? What breathes urgency and jump-starts our intercession? This seems like such a relevant topic for every Christian to ponder. And with that topic on the table today we turn to a classic John Piper clip from a sermon he preached in the late 1980s. It was sent to us by Summer, who lives in Niceville, Florida. Thank you very much, Summer. Here’s Pastor John addressing prayer neglect.
Though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:3–4)
So, ministry is war. Fighting for faith in my heart is war. Fighting for the souls of men is war. All aspects of the Christian life are war. If I were to ask you, “What’s the most crucial text on warfare?” you would all say what? Ephesians 6. Let’s read a little bit of it.
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:12–13)
Then comes the list of the armor. Life is war. The enemy is awesome, and you can’t see him.
Universal Spiritual Conflict
Most people do not believe this. How are you ever going to get them to pray when they don’t believe it? I mean, they’ll say they believe it, but watch their lives. There is a peacetime casualness in the church, a casualness about spiritual things. There are no bombs falling in their lives, no bullets whizzing overhead, no mines to be avoided, no roars on the horizon. It’s all well in America, the Disneyland of the universe. Why pray?
In wartime, newspapers carry headlines about how the troops are doing. In wartime, families get together, and they talk about the sons and the daughters on the front lines, and they pray with wrenching concern for their safety. In wartime, they’re alert, they’re armed, they’re vigilant. In wartime, they spend their money so differently than in peacetime. There’s austerity and simplicity of life, not because those are valuable in themselves, but because there’s something so grand, there’s such a great cause to spend your money on rather than padding your den.
In wartime, everybody is touched. We all cut back the luxury liner. Maybe you’ve read that great story by Ralph Winter: The luxury liner becomes the troop carrier. Once where they slept three, they sleep nine. Once where they had placed settings of fifteen, there are tin plates. Everything changes in wartime.
“There is a peacetime casualness in the church, a casualness about spiritual things.”
It’s clear people don’t believe we’re in a war. Every house has a candle until the boys come home in wartime. People don’t believe that we’re in a war that’s worse than World War II, that is worse than any imaginable nuclear World War III. The casualties don’t just lose an arm, they don’t just lose a leg, they don’t just lose one life; they lose everything forever in hell. If we believed that life is war, how different things would be.
Now, the connection with prayer and war is not left to our guesswork.
Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:17–18)
It doesn’t take any exegetical ability at all to see that prayer is the power that wields the weapon. “Take [up] . . . the sword of the Spirit . . . praying.” Take it, praying — right? Prayer is the power that wields the weapons of warfare. Prayer is not a civilian device.
Here’s a text from John 15:16 that takes a little bit of exegetical finesse because not everybody is used to attending to conjunctions. I’m going to read it very slowly, and I want you to look for the words so that. This is an absolutely crucial logical connection if you’re to understand the point of prayer in a life of war.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
Now think. Put on your thinking caps. Do you get it? Why is the Father going to answer the prayers that we make in Jesus’s name? Answer: because Jesus has given a mission to go bear fruit. Or turn it around: Why did Jesus give us a mission to go bear fruit that would remain? So that we could enjoy getting answers to prayer. Therefore, why is there prayer? For war — for wartime, not for civilian times.
“If we’re going to sustain a heart for prayer, we’ve just got to believe and feel that life is war.”
I never tire of telling Bethlehem Baptist Church that the number-one reason why prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is because they try to take a wartime walkie-talkie and turn it into a domestic intercom by which they ring up the maid to bring another pillow. It malfunctions. It’s made for tanks. It’s made for trenches. It’s made for war. It won’t work when you install it in your yacht. It won’t work at the lake cabin. It won’t work in the second and third and fourth car.
Let me give you a little rhyme. I didn’t know it was a rhyme until I read my manuscript the second time. (Just like that sentence.) Until we believe that life is war, we will not know what prayer is for. Will that stick? Until we believe that life is war, we will not know what prayer is for.
What Prayer Is For
Here’s what I believe has happened. God sent his Son into the world on a mission. The Son comes to us and says, “My Father wants me to extend my mission to you. It’s dangerous. You can’t lose. The mission will succeed. He’s given me these transmitters here. I’ll give each one of you a transmitter. They’re coded to the General’s frequency. As long as you stay in battle, fighting his war in his ways, you will always have free access by the transmitter to the General. Now go and use it. I’ll do whatever you ask for the war, for the cause.”
But what have millions of Americans done? They’ve stopped believing in war. Life is peace, not war. There’s no urgency; there’s no watching; there’s no vigilance; there’s no strategic planning — just easy peacetime prosperity. They take the walkie-talkie, they try to install it in domestic places, in luxurious places, and it won’t work. They can’t figure out why it’s not working. It malfunctions. They’re not getting any signals.
My first point this morning is this: If we’re going to mobilize a movement of prayer in our churches and our cities, if we’re going to just sustain a heart for prayer, we’ve just got to believe and feel that life is war. We must get into our minds a wartime mentality, and get out of our minds the peacetime mentality that is driven into our minds all day long by television and radio and the newspapers and the magazines. They all say, “Don’t you believe it. Pad your life.” “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11). Until we feel the desperation of a bombing raid and the thrill of a new strategic offensive, we’ll never pray with the Spirit of Jesus. That’s point number one.