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Marriage and Spiritual Warfare (Part 8)

“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.

Why We Won’t Celebrate the Lord’s Supper Until We Are Together

During this time of physical-distancing and isolation, some have asked about having communion during the live-stream service. Since we live-stream the singing and the sermon, why not live-stream the communion service and allow each family to observe it in their own homes? This sounds reasonable, but our New Testament ecclesiology will not allow us to do it. First, there is a general principle we have been pounding away at, and it is this: what is being live-streamed and participated in via the internet is not truly church, or the ecclesia. In order for the assembly (ecclesia) to be the assembly, assembly is required. This assembly cannot be a virtual assembly, it must be in person, a physical assembly. In our remarkable digital age, we miss something when we think we can duplicate things electronically. We cannot. We can no more reproduce the church virtually than the incarnation of the Son of God could have been a virtual incarnation. Flesh and blood requires flesh and blood (John 1:14; Heb. 2:14).  So although we are thankful for the technology that allows us to sing God’s praise in our homes, hear God’s Word in our homes, and connects us in an indirect way, what we are doing is not what the N.T. calls assembling. If that is true, then we definitely could not virtually participate in true koinonia around the bread and the cup.

The bread and the cup are one of the reasons the church gathers. We cannot miss this, especially in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Luke had already emphasized the corporate nature of the church in the book of Acts (Acts 1:6; 2:6; 20:7). There is an emphasis on the gathering of the church in one place. Paul emphasizes this in 1 Cor. 11:17, 18, 20, 33-34. The Lord’s Supper is a celebration of the body of Christ, by the body of Christ, within the assembled body of Christ. Ray Van Neste comments, “To describe the Lord’s Supper as a church ordinance is to assert that this rite was given to the church to practice and not simply to individual Christians.”[1] John L. Dagg argues the same way, “The rite was designed to be social… [it] requires that it be celebrated by a company… The rite should be celebrated by the church, in public assembly.”[2]

The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance that Jesus gave the church which underscores not only His sacrifice for our sins, but the church’s unity with each other. Paul emphasized this in 1 Cor. 10:16-17, the one loaf represents the unity of the body. Bobby Jamieson makes this point:

The Lord’s Supper enacts the church’s unity. It consummates the church’s oneness. It gathers up the many who partake of the same elements together, in the same place, and makes them one. So to make the Lord’s Supper into something other than a meal of the whole church, sitting down together in the same room, is to make it something other than the Lord’s Supper. So, it’s not the case that a virtually mediated, physically dispersed Lord’s Supper is less than optimal: it’s simply not the Lord’s Supper. [3]

Our ecclesiology, the doctrine and practice of the church, requires us to think corporately (which is contrary to our individualistic culture). Our ecclesiology demands that we think about the nature of the Supper and the particulars of its observance. What the N.T. teaches and our forefathers confirmed is that the Supper is never an ordinance for individuals or families. It is for the gathered local church. (By the way, this is why we do not administer the Lord’s Supper to the sick, or at a wedding. When we administer it to the sick, we reflect a sacramental view of the Supper which is unbiblical. When it is administered to a couple at a wedding, we inadvertently do the same thing).

As sad as it is, the Lord’s Supper is one of the critical areas of church life that we are simply going to sorely miss. It is our prayer that it will indeed be missed, its absence painfully felt. But here is something to apply to your own heart: if you are not in the habit of being present at the Lord’s Table under normal circumstances, then your heart will not long for it under these unusual circumstances. To not miss the Supper is an indisputable reflection that the words, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” have not gripped your heart or conscience.

During this time of COVID-19 there are things that we are going to miss and should miss. We should miss seeing each other face to face, giving each other warm greetings, hearing the Word together, singing together, praying together. We will do our best using the means that we have for the Word to still go out, for the songs to still be sung. But we all know it is not the same. But there are other aspects of life together that cannot and should not be done by using any means possible, and the Lord’s Supper is one of those things. So, let your heart yearn for it, look forward to it with eager anticipation, and let its felt absence drive you to a greater appreciation for it. May the next time you hold the bread and cup, next to the believers seated on either side of you, may you eat and drink with tears of joy for a wonderful Savior who has reunited you to your family around His table.

[1] Ray Van Neste, “The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church,” The Lord’s Supper, edited by Tom Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010), 369.

[2] John L. Dagg, A Manual of Church Order (South Carolina: The Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1858), 212-213.

[3] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/baptism-lord-supper-online/