“Pray at all times in the Spirit,” Eph. 6:18
In counseling, there is a fear of sounding trite, using well-worn clichés, saying something everyone knows you’re “supposed” to say. Sometimes telling a couple in trouble that they need to pray can sound like that. “Pray for your wife… pray for your husband… pray with each other… pray about that…” can sound like, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”
But I want us to think about prayer differently. If we think about prayer as a mere formality, we are missing something powerful. If we don’t see how prayer fits into spiritual warfare, we will be weak, detached from God, and from each other.
My theology professor at Biola, Dr. Clint Arnold, said, “Prayer is the heart of spiritual warfare.” It is interesting that prayer is not listed as a piece of the armor, but rather all the other pieces of the armor are to be appropriated and saturated with prayer. This final passage on the armor closes with prayer as a bookend. I would translate v. 18 like this, “Through all prayer and petition, praying in every time in the Spirit, and unto this, watching with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” There is a certain intensity described by Paul, “at all times,” or “on all occasions.” This is a constant note in the N.T. teaching on prayer, Luke 18:1; Phil. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5:17. This praying “at all times” means a constant, regular, repeated, consistent prayer life. This kind of praying is a developed sense of pervasive dependence on God. A real sense of the war will make us desperate for God and desperation for God manifests itself in this kind of prayer. When we are in conflict, we need to maintain a spiritual stubbornness and determination. Two of my favorite quotes on this kind of praying come from John Piper and Jonathan Edwards:
“Never give up looking to Him for help. Come to Him repeatedly during the day and often. Make your default mental state a Godward longing for all that you need, especially for spiritual desires”John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God
“The spirit of a true convert is a spirit of faith and reliance on the power, wisdom, and mercy of God, and such a spirit is naturally expressed in prayer. True prayer is nothing else but faith expressed. True Christian prayer is the faith and reliance of the soul breathed forth in words.”Jonathan Edwards
This kind of prayer is prayer in the Spirit, which is praying in dependence on the Holy Spirit. Praying in the Spirit is praying according to the Spirit, which is according to the Word of God (the Sword of the Spirit). “Praying in the Spirit is prayer which conforms us to the will and purpose of the Spirit” (Sinclair Ferguson).
This kind of prayer is also alert prayer and persevering prayer. This kind of prayer is aware of the powers of darkness, the power of temptation, and the dangers of the battlefield. This prayer is for all the saints, which means at least my spouse! So how does this apply to marriage?
It is simple, I must pray for my spouse, every day, multiple times a day. In the heat of marital discord, I do not pray imprecations, I do not pray prayers that are designed to simply make my life easier, “Oh Lord give me a submissive wife, who follows my every command.” I pray warfare prayers for my spouse. I pray for her to grow closer to Christ, to grow in grace. I pray that I would be a blessing and an instrument of grace in her life. I pray that she fights the good fight, sees the battle and the enemy, and runs to the throne of grace. The alertness in this kind of praying means I consciously seize opportunities to pray. If upon your husband’s arrival home after work there is often tension or even conflict, pray when he is on his way home. Pray hard. “God give me a kind heart, give me patience. Help me to watch my words. Give me wisdom so that a gentle answer turns away wrath. Give me grace right now to be cheerful.” Being on the alert means I know the danger zones and pray accordingly.
But let’s not miss something obvious, the way a couple fights the spiritual battle is also together, side by side, at the throne of grace. I have been surprised over the years to hear how many Christian couples almost never pray together. Brothers and sisters, praying with each other, humbly before our God, unites our hearts. When our hearts beat in the same rhythms of constant prayer, the enemy cannot stand. When I am praying for my spouse and with my spouse, animosity for my spouse is squeezed out of my heart. “Well,” some might say, “It is hard to pray with someone you are not getting along with.” Fair enough. But try this: decide you are going to pray together, ask the Holy Spirit for help to pray in dependence on Him, ask God for help in putting on the armor, make confession of your sins alone (don’t confess their sins for them), and give thanks for your spouse, and pray for them to stand strong in the Lord. It is amazing what the Lord will do in and through prayer. God answers prayer. He hears the cries of His people. Do not neglect warfare prayer in marriage.