Let’s talk about Fight Club
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:10-12 NRSV
I don’t think spiritual warfare is something most non-charismatic Christians like to think or talk about, probably because it’s hella weird, right? But I don’t think any discussion of prayer is complete without also looking at the fact that prayer is not just a means to speak to God or to intercede for others, it is also our primary way to fight against Old Nick and his vanguard. We need to understand that any time we attempt to grow closer to God – to pray, as we have been, mountain-moving prayers – there’s something that doesn’t like that and will try to stop us. The first shots usually include the three d’s:
Distraction is the easiest and most unobtrusive method because there’s so much to distract us, and plenty of it no farther away from us than our mobile phones are from our hands. But anything, when we suddenly feel a vaguely compulsive need to do it, can become a distraction: television, conversation, work. Anything that keeps us too busy to slow down, to pray, to listen for the voice of God.
Discouragement is the close second. Insistent worries that we’re being stupid – that prayer doesn’t work, that God doesn’t care, that we’re not good or right enough to be expecting mountains to move. Prayer is all good and well, we think, but this is the real world. Things don’t change out here.
Deception is the cherry on the top of this cake. As soon as we become distracted enough that we don’t immediately notice that discouragement is setting in, deception goes to town on all our fears and insecurities, and suddenly we’re asking questions about whether we’re really saved, whether we’re worthy of grace, whether we even care about that stuff. More than that, deception is a closed loop: the more deceit we buy into, the more we’re trapped in a cycle of despair. We feel far away from God, but we also feel like we don’t even want to fight our way back to him. Why bother?
When we have had this cake and eaten it, too, the last thing we generally feel like is praying, am I right? Mission accomplished! But the only way to snap out of this is to pray. There are a few things we need to realise about praying against Old Nick:
- We need only resist him and he will flee from us. (James 4:7)
- Our victory against him is not rooted in our power or authority, but in Jesus’. (Colossians 2:9-15)
- We get to ask God to fight for us. (Exodus 14:14)
One practical way to pray for protection is by praying “the armour of God” over yourself (Ephesians 6:13-20), which we’ll also use to end off with:
13: “Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” Two things. 1. This armour is spiritually bullet proof. 2. It works best if you realise you’re wearing it before you get shot at!
14: “Stand, therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.” This “truth” is the truth of Jesus Christ, his death, resurrection and ascension – his victory, in other words. This “righteousness” is the righteousness of Christ, which we gain through belief in him.
15: “As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” 1. God fills the gaps – there are no holes in this armour or in our person – we are suffused with Christ. 2. Our whole Christian life is about proclaiming the gospel in one way or another, whether we do it well or poorly, on purpose or by accident. 3. This gospel is one of peace – knowing God gives us peace, peace we are then able to carry out into the world.
16: “With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” 1. The kicker is, our shield of faith needn’t even be very big – Jesus spoke about faith as small as a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20). Indeed, it’s not the size of our faith that matters, but the size of our God. 2. There will be flaming arrows. We will be able to quench them.
17: “Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” 1. Our salvation, once we’ve accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, is irrefutable. 2. Our best defence against any attack is found in the reality of the Word (Jesus) and the word (the Scriptures). A lot of people put stock in being able to quote chapter and verse when you feel you are being pummelled by the three d’s, but just knowing your Bible well enough to know why and how God loves you is enough.
18: “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.” 1. Through Jesus’ death, we are now in the position of being able to pray through and from the Holy Spirit, who actively intercedes with and for us. This also means that we essentially have access to the mind of God through the Holy Spirit’s guidance. 2. Prayer is meant to be an active thing, not a last resort. 3. We are called to intercede – pray for – the Christians in our lives.
19-20: “Pray also for me, that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.” Paul was presumably in prison when he wrote this letter, so his chains were physical, but I think we need to consider ourselves as “in chains” for Christ, in the sense that we are to submit ourselves wholly to him – to take up our cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24). In that sense, we are all in need of living out this reality boldly.
This prayer is an affirmation of the character of Christ, the faithfulness of God and the power of the Holy Spirit much more than it is a denunciation of Old Nick. And to me that makes sense, because the light of the glory of God automatically cancels out the darkness – without effort, without notice, even. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). Amen.