Prayer that Hurts

Like you, I pray lots of different prayers. Joyful prayer when a long-awaited request is granted. Pleading prayer when in a tight spot. Tearful prayer when the heart is broken.

pleading prayerAnd then there’s prayer for others when you care about them. When we care enough to hurt.

It’s the kind of prayer mentioned in one of Paul’s letters:

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” -‭‭Colossians‬ ‭4:12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

That word struggling is the Greek word “agōnizomai” from which we get our word “agonize.” I picture Epaphras on his knees, tears streaming, imploring God on behalf of his friends at the Colossian church: “Would You strengthen them to stand mature and fully assured in Your will O God!”

I’ll be honest: it’s easy for me to agonize in prayer when it comes to my own needs. There are times I definitely shed tears over things that are troubling me, and I implore God to deliver me from circumstances that are beyond my control.

But to agonize for others? To shed tears over their well being? That doesn’t come naturally.

It’s happened at times for my wife and my children. There are times when I so want good for them that it churns me up on the inside. Maybe that’s a step toward agonizing prayer.

And occasionally it happens as I pray for the flock at church – I see the pull of culture and the dead ends people pursue as the Enemy lures them, and I pray fervently (maybe even agonizingly) for God’s deliverance from these clutches. On a few occasions I have said to God, “If you give me tears to cry for these people, I will cry them.” Maybe that’s a form of agonizing prayer.

I have to say that in my limited experience, agonizing prayer is draining. Maybe that’s why I don’t do it very often. Weeping and pleading make a withdrawal on my emotional tank. BUT – and this is huge – it makes a deposit in the spiritual tank of someone else.

As Epaphras did for his loved ones. As many others have done for me.

Just yesterday someone told me they had been praying for me “intensely” for the last 24 hours. What a gift!

Whenever I sense the Lord drawing me into fervent, even agonizing prayer for someone, my first thought is – I don’t know what to say. Here again Epaphras helps us – he prayed for two significant things:

That they would stand mature. The Greek word for “mature” has a number of senses: complete, finished, not lacking any moral quality. We can’t go wrong asking that others would grow in their moral conduct.

Pray against spiritual immaturity, self-centeredness, and idolatry. Our world is in desperate need of those who walk so closely with God that their lives radiate His purity, love and truth. Pray that for those you love.

That they would stand fully assured in all the will of God. Wouldn’t you love to be in the zone where you are fully confident you are in God’s will and favor, nothing can succeed against you, you have all the resources you need for whatever assignment God gives you?

Pray that for those you love. Pray that they would successfully navigate the minefield of the world’s distractions and stay firmly tied to God’s perfect will for them (Romans 12:2).

It is a great privilege to come before the sovereign God of the universe in prayer.

It’s a great privilege to ask God to do good in the lives of those we care about.

And, it’s a good thing to sometimes pray so hard it hurts.

Question: What experience have you had with agonizing prayer?

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Spiritual Warfare: What’s the Plan?

Every day I’m reminded that we are in a spiritual battle. I’m reminded when a friend requests prayer for a heavy burden, when I hear of someone giving into a destructive decision, when I feel personally worn down by temptation.

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As I wrote about in previous posts, the battle is real and the stakes are high. Now for the gritty reality – how can we step up to spiritual battle to win, rather than being defeated time after time? We do well to adopt the attitude of Christ-following Civil War General Robert E. Lee:

I tremble for my country when I hear of confidence expressed in me. I know too well my weakness, that our only hope is in God. –Robert E. Lee

Here are three actions we can take to win the battles we face:

1. Choose sides. The war between good and evil is not just waged on epic battlefields, it is just as present in seemingly mundane choices we face every day. You must choose which side you are on in any given encounter:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. – James 4:7-8

You can submit to God, or submit to the devil. If you tap into the resources God has provided, God will always provide a victory. We can only be defeated when we fail to utilize what He has provided.

2. Suit up. Humans are spiritually vulnerable without protection, just as a soldier is without armor. God has given us every piece of spiritual armor we need:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God…having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation… – Ephesians 6:13-17

Each of these pieces of armor was purchased and sealed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ – He has gone before us and won the war against the Enemy. Pray through each of these pieces, believing by faith that Jesus bought them for you, and they are adequate to deliver you from the devil’s lies.

3. On guard. After the five defensive pieces of armor, there is one offensive weapon listed:

…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God… – Ephesians 6:17

“Word” here is rhema, the spoken word of God. I believe there is significance in speaking the Word of God out loud when we are under attack. In the earthly face-off between the devil and Jesus, the devil offered Jesus dominion over all the kingdoms of the world if only Jesus would worship him.

Jesus answered him, It is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” – Luke 4:8

Three times in a row, Jesus answered the devil, It is written, It is written, It is written, and then He quoted Scripture. This battle plan worked for Jesus, and it will work for us. Don’t try to argue or reason or bargain with the devil. Just tell him the Truth.

 

Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the power of our Enemy, but don’t cower in fear either. God has provided everything you need to win.

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Spiritual Warfare: What’s Going On?

This world is more like a war zone than a vacation resort.

 

Not a pleasant thought, but it’s reality. There are things happening in your life that you may not recognize as a war, but you’ve likely experienced collateral damage, or even a direct hit from a war that is raging every day, all around.soldier-60707_1920 You have likely experienced this war in the disintegration of a close relationship, a thought pattern that drags you into depression, or an irrational addiction that seems impossible to break.

There are places on earth where war is obvious: Syria right now, for example, or Iraq. But spiritual warfare doesn’t always manifest in physical violence, though its aim is to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10).

You should know that spiritual battles will come to you, ready or not. And you should know that most people lose their battles because they are unaware and unprepared to face spiritual battle. I want to spend the next few posts looking at some practical Biblical preparation for the battles you will face. We’ll look at this from three angles:

What’s going on? What’s at stake? What’s the plan?


 

What’s going on?

Not every bad thing that happens to us is the result of a demonic attack. The world we live in is broken, so sometimes things just go wrong without an evil intention behind the breakdown. But Scripture clearly teaches that we have a spiritual enemy who is looking to take us out:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8

Yes, Virginia, there is a devil. He often operates quietly, in the background. I can go for days with him dragging down an area of my life, when suddenly one day it’s like a light bulb goes off and I realize, “I know what this is.” And then I can get to work:

Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. – 1 Peter 5:9

We’ll talk more about how to resist him in a future post, but for now I’ll suggest a few situations when you might expect spiritual warfare:

When you have made a commitment to grow spiritually.

When you are serving the Lord regularly. 

When you commit to read the Bible or pray regularly.

When you influence others to follow the Lord.

Last fall when a young friend was baptized, I told him to especially be on the lookout afterward, because after a spiritual high the enemy loves to drag us down to a spiritual low.

We must open our spiritual eyes and become more aware of spiritual battle, so that we can be ready when it comes our way. And the good news is that because of Jesus, we can win our battles. While the devil has come to steal, kill, and destroy, it is equally true that

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. – 1 John 3:8

And the seasons of spiritual battle do pass:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10

 

Next post we’ll look at What’s at Stake – why it’s so important for us to learn how to win our spiritual battles.

Question: How do you recognize when you are under spiritual attack? Answer below.

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