Thursday, January 11, 2018

Learning to Give Thanks in Prayer

Though praying to God indeed includes requests and supplications, there is more to prayer than simply asking God for ‘things.’
Of course, there are many commands and examples that pervade the holy Scriptures, and we are certainly not incorrect in regularly and desperately “asking” and “seeking” and “knocking” when we come as needy children to our sufficient and generous Father.
However, one of the greatest evils that pervades our wealthy culture in the west is ingratitude and thanklessness. Unfortunately, this has not left our prayer lives unaffected. If you don’t believe me, try to spend an entire hour in solely giving thanks to God without beginning to ask Him for things.
But rather than bewailing and bemoaning this, let us rather endeavor to make giving thanks to God more of a predominant theme in our times of prayer.
Prayer, we remember, is really just spending time conversing with God, responding to His Word and His deeds with words of our own. And in any healthy relationship, thankfulness and gratitude is essential to fostering greater fellowship and communion.
Rather than providing a plethora of Scripture citations that emphasize thanksgiving, I simply want to look at one verse from Psalm 9, which, by God’s grace, I hope will help us in our endeavor to be a more thankful people, especially in our times of prayer.
Psalm 9:1 - “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds.”
First, we are reminded that giving thanks to God is more than mere ‘lip service.’ In the Hebrew, “heart” meant the control center of one’s life, and includes one’s thoughts, emotions, and will. But how does engaging our entire hearts in thanksgiving come about?
The answer, I believe, is in the second line of the verse: “I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds.” 
In the classic BBC series “Pride and Prejudice”, the main character, “Lizzy”, finds herself falling in love with the all-handsome “Mr. Darcy” when she begins to realize all of the amazing things that he has been doing for her and her family. But it is not until all of his previous generosity is “accounted” for and “recounted” by Lizzy that her heart begins to really become engaged and her affections enlivened for her generous benefactor.
I believe that in the same way, when we begin to intentionally “recount” all of God’s mighty deeds, especially with regards to our salvation through Christ (read the rest of Psalm 9, especially 9:13-14; cf. 86:12-13), our hearts will inevitably begin to thaw and become tender once again under the warming influence of the Spirit.
As we begin to recount all of God’s deeds - in creation, in salvation, in providence; in His faithfulness, in His kindness, in His grace - “commands” such as “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes. 5:18) or “be anxious for nothing, but in everything, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God” (Phil. 4:6) will not induce guilt in us, or end up being so burdensome for us.
I’ll never forget in my first year of seminary when we spent an entire day praying together for God’s blessing. In the session immediately after lunch, we spent over an hour just “shotgunning” various thanksgivings to God as students, and its effect has never left me anything but amazed at the great blessing there is in gathering together to recount God’s goodness to us and thank Him for every one of them, no matter how ‘big’ or how ‘small’ they may have seemed.
And so, let us endeavor to spend our time this evening, in the words of David, “giving to our Triune God the thanks due to His righteousness” (Psa. 7:17). He is most certainly worthy and deserving of all our praise and thanksgiving.
A brother quoted Spurgeon to me this morning: “Our best prayers are those with veins of praise and thanks.” How true this is indeed!
In Christ, and for His glory to the ends of the earth, through His church,
pastor ryan
**it may be helpful to have some categories in mind to help in the dull moments when the reservoirs of our minds seem empty. Think of God’s attributes and thank Him for who He is, and spend 10 minutes thanking Him for these; think of His salvation in Christ, and thank Him for how He brought it about in our lives, and spend 10 minutes thanking Him for that; think about His faithfulness in answering past prayers, and spend 10 minutes thanking Him for that; think about a million blessings we so easily overlook (clothing, literacy, families, friends, being part of an evangelical church), and spend time thanking Him for all of these. Truly, if we just take a moment to do an inventory, we will not run out of things to thank God for.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Praying for the Advance of God's Kingdom

Tonight our focus in prayer will be on the advance of God's kingdom.

Again, when Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He emphasized that the Name of His Father would be hallowed, that is, revered as holy and glorious and awesome and mighty.

But HOW does this come about, and WHAT does it look like?

The answer is given in the next lines in the text:
"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name
     Your kingdom come,
     Your will be done,
         on earth as in heaven."
This is likely what we call "synthetic Hebrew parallelism." Synthetic carries the idea of "addition", and so the two parallel lines add, or explain, or unpack, what Jesus meant in the first line (i.e. our prayer for the Father's name to be hallowed).

So the answer to the 'how' question is this: the Father's name is hallowed as His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. And His will is done on earth as in heaven as His kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.

Many theologians, in attempting to find the central theme of the Bible, have concluded that God's kingdom is the overarching, all-encompassing, unifying theme that ties the entire 66 books of the Bible together. 

Though I would tweak this by adding that Christ is the "center" and central theme of the Scriptures, I don't hesitate to affirm the importance of God's kingdom, since the eternal plan of our triune God was to establish the kingdom in and through and by Christ (for e.g. see 1 Cor. 15:20-28; Eph. 1:10, Col. 1:15-20, Heb. 2:5-10; Rev. 4-5, etc.).

In the Old Testament, God's kingdom was to come originally through Adam as he multiplied "offspring" and filled the earth with God's image-bearers (Gen. 1-2). He failed (see Gen. 3).

Then others, such as Noah, were to establish God's kingdom on earth (note the repetition of Gen. 1-2 language in Gen. 9). But he, like Adam, failed.

In Gen. 12, after the Tower of Babel debacle, the hope of the world is placed upon the shoulders of a man named Abraham. Through him, God would finally and fully establish His kingdom and rule on earth, as He rules and reigns in heaven (see Gal. 3:16). 

But Abraham, as a sinner, inevitably fails, and thus the hope of a renewed world is passed on to Isaac, and then Jacob, and then Israel.

All of these "sons of Adam" eventually and ultimately fail to establish God's reign and kingdom on earth.

Until Jesus comes. Long story short, Jesus the Messiah does what no other had or could do: perfectly bear God's image in the world (see Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3) and thus establish His reign on earth.

This came about in a most surprising and unexpected way: not through military conquest or some kind of religious 'jihad,' but rather through His death and resurrection from the dead (see 1 Cor. 15).

And now, as the true Son of God (see Rom. 1:3-4; cf. Luke 3:38) and second Adam, He, in obedience to the will of His Father, is filling the earth with His image-bearers (see 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:22-24), a new creation that will one day inhabit a new heavens and new earth, where God, in Christ, will rule perfectly, for the heavens and earth will have become one (Rev. 21-22).

But until then, the Son is accomplishing His mission through the church, the assembly of His image-bearers.

And the church accomplishes this mission as we replicate, or image, Christ on earth, as He imaged His Father on earth. 

We do so by "imitating" Christ, and walking in Spirit-empowered love (Eph. 5:1). Or, in the words of the apostle John, we walk as that One (i.e. Christ) walked" (1 John 2:6). 

This means we too come, meekly and boldly, proclaiming the gospel of God, both in word and deed (Acts 10:36). This means we too live a life of sacrifice, going about doing good (Acts 10:38; Gal. 6:10). By doing so, we show the world how God reigns in Christ.

And so, let us pray for the church, for she is God's ordained means of demonstrating and declaring His wisdom in and to the heavens and earth (Eph. 3:10-11). It is through the church that God has determined to "sum up all things under the headship of Christ" (Eph. 1:10, my translation).

And so, let us (we must!) pray that through the church, God will fill His creation with image-bearers, who are born-again (lit. "from above" [i.e. heaven]) on earth to live as citizens of heaven on earth (cf. Phil. 1:27).

This happens as the church goes about spreading and sowing the good news of the kingdom wherever she goes (cf. Matt. 13; 28:18-20), as God has ordained the Word to be the instrument by which He builds His "host" and saves the elect He entrusted to the Son before time even began (John 10; 17).

This also happens as the church goes about spreading and sowing the fragrance of Christ in deed (e.g. Rev. 19:8), that others may see Christ in us, the hope of glory, and may give glory to our Father in heaven (cf. Matt. 5:13-16).

And so, let us (we must!) pray for the advance of the [true] church. Pray for her doctrinal purity. Pray for her spiritual unity. Pray for her protection. Pray against complacency and lukewarmness. Pray against worldliness.

And so, let us (we must!) pray for missions, both near and far. Pray for local churches to cross the street to preach and portray Christ as crucified to her neighbors. Pray for missionaries to cross the sea to preach and portray Christ to the nations. 

And so, let us (we must!) pray for God's kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, in Christ, and through the church.

THIS is how God's Name is hallowed.

Thankfully, the Father and Son have poured out the Spirit of mission to equip and empower the church to accomplish her mission (see John 14-16; Acts; cf. Jesus' own baptism of the Spirit before embarking on His mission).

In Christ, and for His glory through His church,
pastor ryan

Here is a list of "local missionaries" to pray for:

1. A greater burden in our church to reach our families, co-workers, neighbors, and friends with the gospel.

2. A greater desire (and even creativity) to 'get out' and 'give out' the gospel to those who have never heard it, even in our city.

3. Pray that we may work together with other evangelical churches to reach Lethbridge for Christ.

4. Pray that God would give us as a church a great burden to give more generously and pray more fervently for the gospel to spread to the ends of the earth.

Here is a but a sampling of foreign missionaries to pray for tonight:

1. Vijay in India (Reach All Nations)

2. Caleb in Papua New Guinea

3. Nate and Sheila in Belize

4. Desta in Ethiopia (AIPM)

5. Andrea in Nicaragua (ABWE)

6. Donavan Epp in the northern Philippines (Ethnos)

7. Rod and Enonie in the Philippines

8. Trevor and Theresa in Indonesia

9. Anyone else you know or can think of (e.g. Heart Cry, SBC, etc.)

Monday, January 8, 2018

Praying for God's glory in Christ's Church

"To [God] be the glory, in the church and in Christ Jesus, for ever and ever, Amen." (Ephesians 3:21)

As we begin our prayer week tonight, we start by reminding ourselves that all our prayers this week are to be directed towards this one great and glorious theme: God's glory.

The Bible makes the following statements about God's glory:
  • All things were created, and all things exist for God's glory. 
  • God causes all things to work out for His glory .
  • Whatever we find ourselves doing, we are to do it for God's glory.
  • God will not share His glory with another.
In our prayer weeks of years gone past, we have made the theme of our first meeting, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed by Your Name."

This year, I want us to think about what that practically looks like in our lives and in our churches.

Breathtakingly, in Ephesians 3:21, Paul tells us that in the new covenant, the primary way God's glory is to be manifested in the world is "in the church."

In the OT, God's glory was manifested at various times and in various places, but primarily, His glory was manifested in the Jerusalem Temple.

When Jesus, the God-man, entered into the world He created, God's glory was manifested most clearly in Him and His "signs."

But now that Christ has finished His task of redemption, and has been raised to His Father's right hand, the Spirit, who was poured out from the Father and Son, now reveals the triune God's glory in and through Christ's church.

If this is so, this is humbling.

If this is so, we must pray.

As the all-sufficient and self-existent God, He does not need us to glorify Him, as if some how we can "add" to His glory. If that were so, He would be needy, and thus not God, and thus (definitely) not worthy of our praise.

And yet, as the all-sufficient and self-existent God who loves, He pours out His glory and manifests it for the good of His people.

And it is in the gracious pouring out of His glory that we as His creation respond to that "out-poured" glory by "glorifying" Him. When we as the creation behold God's glory, the only fitting (and logical) response is to glorify Him by ascribing Him to be the all-glorious One, who alone is worthy of blessing and honor and praise and glory.

According to Ephesians 3:13, God has chosen the church to be the primary vessel and means by which He manifests His glory (lit. "weightiness") to His creation.

And so, this week, let us pray that God would be glorified in and through His church:
  • As she faithfully preaches the gospel of the glory of Christ.
  • As she becomes more and more holy, as her triune God expresses His glory in her holiness.
  • As she grows through conversion and multiplies Christ's "seed" to the ends of the earth, showing the world of His power to regenerate and justify ungodly and sinful enemies.
  • As she expresses God's sufficiency and power by becoming a people of prayer.
  • As we reflect God's glory by loving others as He loves us.
  • As the church reflects more and more the "glorious" new creation God has always planned to bring about in Christ.
May God be greatly glorified in Christ's church this year! Let us pray and pray and pray that through Christ's bride, our great Father in heaven would be "hallowed" and set apart as all-glorious.

In Christ, and for His glory to the ends of the earth, through His church,
pastor ryan

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Praying for Overflowing Love

Today, as we gather together as Christ's people to pray corporately, we consider Paul's prayer as found in Philippians 1:9-11:
"And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
Here are some questions to consider as we unpack this glorious prayer:

1. WHY would Paul make praying for love for these Philippian believers a priority?
  • Hint: there are hints of disunity that are affecting gospel ministry there (cf. 4:2; cf. Eph. 3:12-4:6).

2.  WHAT kind of imagery is Paul evoking of their love "abounding more and more"?

3.  WHAT kind of "love" is Paul praying for here? 
  • Hint: notice the two qualifiers he attaches to love

4.  WHAT are the results of an ever-increasing and abounding love?
  • Notice the unfolding and interconnecting logic Paul uses in vv.10-11 (like a cascading waterfall).

For a great picture of what "love" looks like, see 2:5-8, unpacking what exactly Paul means by being comforted by "love" in 2:1. Amazingly, as we reflect upon the true of God for us in Christ, the Spirit sheds abroad in our heart this love, which begins to pour out of our lives and into the lives of others. This is why 2:5-11 is central to Philippians, as is Paul's great desire for him (and by extension his hearers) to "know" Christ more truly, fully, and deeply. 

WHAT might it look like in our lives if God caused our love at GCC to abound more and more?

In Christ, and for His glory to the ends of the earth, through His church,
pastor ryan

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Prayer and Spiritual Warfare: Evangelism

This week, as we gather together to pray as God's people for the advance of God's kingdom, we look at the final verses of Paul's treatise on spiritual prayer as found in Ephesians 6:
"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, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I  may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak." (vv.18-20)
The Scriptures clearly teach us that God's purpose for His people, that is, His charter for His church, is that they make it their "business" (and "busyness") to be about making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20) for the sake of His glory (Eph. 1:6,12, 14) in Christ (1:10). 

To guarantee this, the Father has put all things under the feet of His resurrected and ascended Son, who is given as Head over His church (1:21-22), that His greatness and fulness will fill all things in every way (1:23).

Furthermore, the risen and ascended King of kings generously doles out His gifts to His church, equipping her to accomplish the ministry entrusted to her, namely the building up and furtherance of Christ's body and reign to the ends of the earth (4:7-12, 16).

But nowhere does God promise us that just because this mission will be accomplished, that this mission will be easy or without opposition (Eph. 6:10-12). Yes, Jesus promised that He will inexorably build His church (Matt. 16:18). But in that very promise He tells us that the forces of Hell will be warring to impede and retard and resist the advance of Christ's reign to the ends of the earth.

In this great battle we have been enlisted as soldiers into (cf. 2 Tim. 2:3-4), it is not enough that we seek only stay alive; we have been divinely sent on a rescue mission. And thus, the armory Christ entrusts to us (6:10-18) is not only for the safety of the church, it is also (and especially) for the salvation of the lost. 

As Paul teaches in Ephesians, the sword of the Spirit (that is, the Word of God) is exceedingly powerful as the means by which the Spirit (6:17) will not only protect us, but will also save those whom we are called to reach out to (cf. 1:13).

However, Paul would have us remember that just as powerful - and just as necessary - for effective evangelism is the weapon that John Bunyan refers to as "All-Prayer." Simply put, the armor of God, including the sword of the Spirit in evangelism, is useless apart from prayer.

Paul knew this. And so he asks the believers in Ephesus to pray for their fellow soldiers doing evangelism, and to especially to pray for him as the apostle whom God had commissioned to reach the Gentiles with the saving gospel of Christ. 

As astounding as it may seem to us, Paul - like us - was often tempted to remain silent with the gospel. Struggling with the fear of man and the desire to be accepted, he knew that things would be far less uncomfortable for him if he just didn't talk so much about Jesus (remember, he was writing this letter from a prison cell, to which he was incarcerated for preaching the gospel). He knew he would not be mocked or rejected if he didn't harp so much on the exclusivity of the gospel. Or the universality of the depravity of mankind. Or the inability of sinners to merit salvation through good works. 

Since the gospel has always been - and will always be - offensive to sinners (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-31), we must be intentional to pray for each other when it comes to the effective and consistent witness and proclamation of the gospel to our families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even enemies.

As we learned in our study of the book of Acts, for evangelism to be truly effective, our sovereign Triune God must sovereignly open the following:
  1. Doors of opportunity to present the gospel
  2. Our mouths to unashamedly proclaim the gospel
  3. Our hearers' hearts to receive the gospel
Thankfully, we have the omnipotence of God Almighty on our side. None of these things, which are seemingly impossible obstacles to us, are obstacles to Him. And thus we need not fear any of them.

But we must remember that the God of ends is the God of means. And the means by which God opens doors and mouths and hearts is the faithful and fervent prayers of His people.

And so, brothers and sisters, let us pray for each other in this regard: let us pray for opportunities; let us pray for courage; and let us pray for conversions as we proclaim Christ's unsearchable riches to the ends of the earth (3:8).

Beloved, we are in a cosmic battle for the eternal souls of people. Let us never forget that, in the words of John Piper, "We will not know what prayer is for, until we know that life is war."

In Christ and for His glory to the ends of the earth, through His church,
pastor ryan

* It may be quite fruitful for us to be specific in our prayer requests. I think of a brother who sent a text to me on Monday asking for prayer for (the names of) two JW's he met, and who are coming back on Saturday. Knowing these details helps me to pray for open doors, open hearts, and open mouths. Share the names and circumstances of those whom God has placed in your life and upon your heart, that your fellow soldiers may pray Ephesians 6:19-20 for you.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Prayer and Spiritual Warfare, Pt. 2

As we meet again to pray corporately as a church this week, we return to Paul's words in Ephesians 6:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For 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 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. Stand therefore, 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, 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, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
 Today, we will focus v.18b, where Paul emphasizes the absolute necessity of "making supplication for all the saints." Simply put, spiritual warfare is a corporate endeavor. 

The first thing we note is the preface Paul attaches, namely the vital importance of "keeping alert with all perseverance" when it comes to praying for our fellow brothers and sisters who have been enlisted into this ferocious battle.

It would seem that the reason these words were inspired is because of our natural tendency to focus our prayers and supplications on ourselves and our own trials and circumstances. 

In the previous sentence, we are told we must be praying in the Spirit at "all" times, with "all" prayer and supplication. Certainly "all" times and "all kinds" of prayers* extends beyond our own lives and cares into the concentric circles of the lives of those around us, and even further into the lives of others in our congregation.

And so, "to this end", that is, praying for our fellow brothers and sisters in our midst, we must be on guard and intentional. Furthermore, we must cultivate perseverance in this important spiritual discipline of praying for others.

  • What are some ways we can corporately and practically "keep alert" when it comes to praying for our fellow soldiers? 
Perhaps one of the best ways is simply to regularly attend and participate in the weekly corporate prayer meeting at our local church, where individualism is virtually impossible. 

Another great opportunity is to intentionally plan to gather with other Christians to pray with and for them. A great start is in making it a priority to be part of one of the community groups, where an integral part of 'community' is praying for one another. Of course this can play itself out in regular gatherings with other Christians throughout the week.

A great practice I and my family have sought to employ is to make sure that before our guests leave, we ask them how we can be praying for them....and then pray for them right then and there. 
  • And so, when you get together with other Christians, make time to talk about how you can pray for each other. Just as importantly, make time to actually pray for one another (perhaps one of the greatest sins in cultural Christianity is the lie when we flippantly tell others, "I'm praying for you" when we're not or don't). 

Praying for others often requires being with others. How can others be accurately praying for me if they don't know how they can be praying for me? 

When we look at the various components of the Christian's 'complete' armor, we notice that there is not any armor for our backs that Paul lists. Perhaps that is why he emphasizes at the end of this section the vital necessity of being together, of 'having each other's back.' 

When the Romans would assemble their soldiers for war, their armor was designed ultimately to be used as a company. The 'interlocking' shield of the soldier was not only for his own protection, but was designed to protect his comrades on his right and his left as well. They were trained to work in unison to prevent the enemy from breaching their lines and forcing hand to hand combat, something which would drastically impair their odds of victory. As effective predators seek to isolate their prey from the herd, so Satan works diligently to keep Christians isolated from the church, and especially church prayer meetings.

Brothers and sisters, we actually need one another. We actually need to be with one another. And we actually need to be praying together** and for one another.

Let me encourage you all to make it a priority to come out to the weekly prayer meetings. Come, and let us know how we can be praying for you as your fellow-soldiers in Christ. Come, and pray for those around you. Come, join us as we pray for a different country and church every week.  You'll be surprised how often you find yourself praying for others during the week (conversely, you'll be surprised how rarely you pray for others you don't see regularly). 

I know it is costly to do so. But I would posit for your consideration just how costly it is to not do so. 

Grace Community, may the world see that we as Christ's people are a praying people!

In Christ, and for His great glory to the ends of the earth, through the church,
pastor ryan

* The Greek can also by translated this way ("all kinds" of prayers...). One kind of prayer might be for ourselves; another for their close associations; yet others for people such as Paul (v.19).

** Westerns often 'individualize' Ephesians 6. But all the verbs are plural, and so Paul has in view here a church praying these kinds of things together.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Prayer and Spiritual Warfare

This week, as we gather together for prayer, we will consider Paul's words in Ephesians 6:10-18:
Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For 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. Stand therefore, 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, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
Tragically, when many Christians talk about "spiritual warfare," prayer is rarely in the conversation. 

Though it is true that Jesus Himself regularly rebuked and cast out demons (e.g. Mark 1:23-27, 34, 39, etc.), and that He gave authority to the twelve apostles (Mark 3:14-15*), we must be careful to not make the narrative sections of the Bible normative. 

Unfortunately, many well-intentioned but poorly-informed Christians read a passage like Mark 3:14-15 or Luke 9:1-3 and believe that we too have been commissioned by Christ with power and authority over all demons and diseases, even though there are zero commands for 'non-apostles' in the NT letters to go around rebuking, binding, and casting out demons.

Rather, we find ourselves reading things like, "Resist [the devil], firm in the faith" (1 Peter 5:9, my translation). Or here in Ephesians 6, the clearest passage in the NT letters, we are called to "put on" and "take up" the whole armor of God.

Rather than providing an exposition of each accoutrement of armor, it will suffice for us simply to sum up Paul's teaching by saying that we need to apply the gospel - in all of its glorious aspects - to our lives. 

In Ephesians 4:24, we "put on" the new man by having the Spirit renew our minds.** Here, we "put on" the gospel in and by "praying in the Spirit."***

In other words, just as we can't live the Christian life without the Spirit's power, neither can we do 'spiritual' warfare without the Spirit's presence.

But what does it mean to pray "in the Spirit"? It unlikely refers to praying in tongues. More likely, it has to do with praying "in the sphere" of the Spirit.*** That is, we pray in His neighborhood. And His neighborhood is simply the gospel of Christ. This fits the context here, as well as other passages such as 3:5-6, where the Spirit enables us to "get" the riches of the gospel that God has for us in Christ (cf. the "Spirit who reveals" in 1:17).

To be mindful of Christ and to be full of the gospel (cf. 5:18) is to be "in the Spirit."****

So let's never separate spiritual warfare from the Spirit, whose weapon to fight against Satan and his foes is "the Word of God." As we pray the gospel, we put a sword in His sovereign hands, which protects us from all of Satan and his deceitful schemes.

This is New Testament spiritual warfare. It's all about the gospel of Christ. And it's all about prayer. 

So let's pray for the Spirit to apply the gospel to our hearts (cf. 3:16-17) and minds (cf. 4:23), so that we might be equipped and empowered to "stand strong in this evil day."

Oh how we need to "get" the gospel. Let's pray that the Spirit would help us really get it. Otherwise we are easy pickings for the adversary of our souls.

In Christ, and for His glory to the ends of the earth,
pastor ryan

* Mark 3:14-15 - "And [Jesus] appointed twelve (whom He also named apostles) so that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons." (my translation)

** The ESV translation is a good literal translation, but seems to miss Paul's Pneumatology in Ephesians. The Spirit is central to the Christian life, from regeneration (2:5) to sealing (1:13-14). He maintains our unity (4:3), empowers our obedience (5:18), and makes us long for the day of redemption (4:30). In 4:24, He is the One who renews our mind, enlightening the eyes of our hearts to better know God and His ways (cf. 1:17-18). 

*** Unfortunately, the NIV translates the participle "praying" as if it were a new command or imperative ("And pray in the Spirit"). Though possible, it is more likely that this participle is the means by which the Christian puts on the whole armor of God enumerated by Paul in the previous verses ("Put on...take praying...").

**** For Greek nerds, I take this the dative preposition "in" to be a dative of sphere.

***** The participle here can be the result. That is, when we saturate our services with the gospel, the congregation (the verb is plural) is "filled in/with the Spirit." This is Graham Cole's exegetical conclusion in his "He who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit." I take it as both/and. When we are filled with the Spirit, we sing and give thanks. But singing and giving thanks and having the gospel saturate our service provides a means of being filled collectively with the Spirit.