A Study of Ephesians 6:18
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
Ephesians 6:18 is truly one of the Bible’s great verses on the subject of prayer, and it’s notable for its four-fold use of the word “all”: And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
This passage comes at the end of Paul’s discussion about spiritual warfare. Look at what precedes it in verses 10 and following:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God….
He then lists these pieces of armor and he ends with this verse about prayer. Prayer is a major part of our strategy when it comes to spiritual warfare. It’s important in at least three ways:
A) The very action of prayer places us in a strong and safe zone. The devil and his hordes of demonic and spiritual foes are trying to trip us up ever single day. But they have a very hard time doing any real and lasting damage to a praying Christian. When we are in our place of prayer, in the very presence of God, in the Holy of Holies, talking with the Lord as a person talks to their friend, Satan is hindered in his ability to harm us.
B) Second, while we are there in the safe zone of the Holy of holies, we can ask God for divine protection. In the Lord’s prayer, there’s phrase that says, “Deliver us from evil,” and many commentators believe it is better rendered: “Deliver us from the evil one.” In his prayer in John 17, Jesus prayed for His disciples saying, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name…. My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one” John 17:11 & 15).
C) We can also pray against His schemes. We can say, “Lord, look at how Satan is trying to draw my son or my daughter into the wrong crowd. Lord, rebuke his schemes and frustrate his plans.”
Prayer is a battleground. Think of how the prophet Daniel prayed for three weeks, and the answer to his prayer was hindered by the conflict taking place between angels and demons in Daniel, chapter 10. But the answer came through at last, and Daniel had the victory.
I would like to suggest you have a little nook in your home—a small desk, an alcove, a cubicle or a spot that is hallowed, sacred, and set apart for prayer. Realize that place is your holy of holies, where you can ask God for protection and pray against the schemes of the devil. My mother created several spots around her mountain house and its gardens and woodlands for this very purpose.
That’s the background of Ephesians 6:18. It’s given to us within the context of spiritual warfare. Now, with that context established, let’s look at the verse phrase by phrase:
1. Pray in the Spirit
The verse begins by telling us to “pray in the Spirit.” We have a very similar word in Jude, verse 20: But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.
What does that mean?
It means that prayer is like any and every other aspect of our Christian, biblical experience. We cannot do it on our own, but only in the power the indwelling Spirit.
Only Jesus Christ can live the life of Jesus Christ; and if you and I are to be Christlike, it will be Jesus Christ Himself living His life through us by the Holy Spirit who indwells us from the moment of our conversion.
That means we’re not merely resisting temptation on our own. Jesus is resisting it through us by His Spirit who indwells us. We are not preaching or teaching on our own. Jesus is doing it through us by His Spirit. We are not worshipping on our own. Jesus is worshipping through us by His Spirit. We are not raising our children on our own; Jesus is doing it through us by His Sprit.
And when it comes to prayer, we’re not trying to pray on our own. Jesus was the greatest prayer warrior who ever walked across the face of the earth. He is praying through us by His Holy Spirit. He is prompting us to pray, teaching us to pray, showing us how to pray and what to pray, and actually praying through us by His Spirit.
Dr. Gordon Fee said, “For Paul, the Spirit, as an experienced and living reality, was the absolutely crucial matter for the Christian life, from beginning to end…. The Holy Spirit is the way God is now present on earth…. Paul understood prayer in particular to be the special prompting of the Spirit….”
Romans 8:15 tells us, “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him [that is, by the Holy Spirit] we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
The old commentator Matthew Henry said that “praying in this Spirit” is to pray “under His guidance and influence, according to the rule of His word, with faith, fervency, and earnestness; this is praying in the Holy Ghost.” I think that sums it up very well.
But let’s back up and remember that the book of Ephesians is a treasure-trove of verses about the Holy Spirit.
- Ephesians 1:13 says that when we belong to Christ we are marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.
- In Ephesians 1:17, Paul prayed that God would give us the Spirit off wisdom to know Jesus better and better.
- According to Ephesians 2:18, we have access to the Father by the Holy Spirit.
- In Ephesian 2:22, we learn that God lives within us by His Spirit.
- In Ephesians 3:16, we discover it’s the Holy Spirit who gives us inner strength and empowers us internally.
- We’re told not to grieve the Holy Spirit in chapter 4.
- Chapter 5 says, “Do not be drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.
- Ephesians 6:17 tells us to wield the sword of the Spirit.
- And now we’re told to pray in the Spirit.
To pray in the Spirit is to pray, not in our own name or strength or power, but to pray as a believer who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, filled with the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Everything about our Christian life is under the control and direction and empowering of the Holy Spirit, and that includes an effective prayer life.
Dr. Gordon Fee, believes that Paul may have also had in mind something about praying in tongues, which, frankly, has not been part of my own prayer life; but in any case, said Dr. Fee, “Paul considered prayer to be above all an activity empowered by the Spirit.”
Maybe the most practical way we can apply this is to tell the Lord, at the beginning of our regular, daily prayer time, “Lord, fill me now with Your Spirit, and may the Holy Spirit empower me as I pray, join with my requests, and guide my thoughts and emotions so they will be effectively answered before Your throne. I trust the power of the Holy Spirit to empower my prayers with a fervency that’s beyond my own ability.”
2. Pray in the Spirit On All Occasions
Let’s read on. Ephesians 6:18 goes on to say that we’re to pray in the Spirit on all occasions. We discover, as we read the Psalms, that King David took this approach. In Psalm 4 he prayed before going to bed. In Psalm 5, he prayed before beginning his day. In Psalm 5, he prayed when he felt like groaning. In Psalm 6, he prayed when he had sinned. In Psalm 7 he prayed when he was under attack. In Psalm 8, he prayed when he was overwhelmed with the beauty of nature. In Psalm 9, he prayed when he was happy and God seemed close at hand. In Psalm 10, he prayed when God seemed far away. And so forth.
It’s wonderful to get into the habit of pausing to pray through the day. I confess I’m still working on this. But just imagine the constant fellowship you’d have with the Lord if you paused and whispered a prayer before starting a project, making a phone call, attending a meeting, making a financial transaction, or going to join a friend for coffee. Ask God to guide your conversation and to bless you and make you a blessing. While I believe in having a daily time of prayer set apart and woven into our daily routine, that doesn’t erase the need to pray without ceasing.
3. Pray in the Spirit on All Occasions with All Kinds of Prayers and Requests.
Ephesians 6:18 goes on to tell us that we should pray with all kinds of prayers and requests. How many different kinds of prayer are there? Well, I don’t know. Maybe there are thousands. Let me suggest a few.
First, there is memorized prayer. Back in 1873, in Istanbul, a brilliant theologian and orthodox archbishop was doing research in his monastery when he found a cache of ancient manuscripts. Among them was a document that we now call the Didache. It is recognized as the oldest document in the history of the church, apart from the New Testament itself. It may even date from the first century, and it describes how the very early church worshipped. Reading it is like peeking through the shutters of a local congregation at the end of the first century.
What did they pray when they assembled together? They prayed words that we ourselves often pray today, in our assemblies and in our homes: Our Father, which art in Heaven. Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come….
This is a prayer I memorized as a child. I don’t even remember when or how or where I memorized it, because we said it so often at various gatherings back in those days. I’m very worried that even in our churches, children are not memorizing the Lord’s Prayer, the Twenty-Third Psalm, or even John 3:16. We need a strong Bible memorization (like AWANA) in our churches and homes.
The wonderful thing about memorized prayers is we can offer them over and over, with persistence and perseverance, so long as they don’t become mere mindless repetitions.
Many of our great hymns are also memorized prayers that we can sing, such as: “Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart.”
Second, there are written prayers. Sometimes when I’m having trouble praying in any other way, I’ll write out a prayer. If in the future when one of my great grandchildren uncovers my journal in a forgotten box in the attic, he’ll find many prayers that I’ve written out. It’s a biblical practice, for many of the psalms are written prayers.
Third, there are bedtime prayers. I read about one little girl who was having her bedtime prayers. Her mother heard her laughing up a storm. Going into her room, she scolded her for laughing and giggling during her prayer. But she replied, “It’s okay, Mom. I was just telling God a joke.”
I think it’s wonderful how she felt such fellowship with the Lord. I heard a lady say the other day how often she awakens in the night and, unable to go back to sleep, begins praying for the people she holds dear in her life.
Fourth, there are Scripture prayers. Over the last few years, I’ve learned something about the power of turning the Bible into a prayer book. I have a couple of people on my prayer list, and one of my primary prayers for both of them goes bac to Romans 15:13: “Now may the God of hope fill them with all joy and peace as they trust in You, so they will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Fifth, there are quick prayers. Missionary Amy Carmichael said that Dr. F. B. Meyer told her that when he was young he was very irritable, an old man told him to look up to the sky the moment he felt his anger rising and saying, “Thy sweetness, Lord.”
Amy Carmichael learned that whenever she came across someone she didn’t like, to look up and say quietly, “Thy love, Lord.”
Or “Thy patience, Lord!”
Or “Thy wisdom, Lord!”
On one occasion, Jesus offered a prayer that was nothing more than a sigh offered up to heaven. And I’ve found that sometimes I can just lift my heart up to heaven and say, “Lord, give me patience.” Or “Lord, give me strength.”
Sixth, there are walking prayers. Over the years, the term “prayer walking” has become popular. People pray all the while they are walking. Sometimes people literally walk around a particular geography, claiming it for the Lord.
I’ve recently studied the life of the Civil War evangelist E. M. Bounds, and I read that every afternoon in his little town in Alabama he would go for a long afternoon walk and pray for every family in the houses that he passed. But there’s an even earlier example. In the Old Testament book of Joshua, the children of Israel conducted a prayer walk of sorts around the city of Jericho, claiming it for the Lord.
Seventh and best of all, there is the regular, daily prayer time that helps comprise our quiet time, as I mentioned earlier in my discussion of prayer nooks.
Christianity Today ran a profile of the late British pastor, John Stott, who was for many years the rector of All Soul’s Church in London. The article was written by a former research assistant to Dr. Stott, who knew his daily habits intimately.
Dr. Stott began every day at 5 a.m. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and started the day with a version of this Trinitarian prayer.
Good morning, Heavenly Father; good morning, Lord Jesus; good morning, Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father, I worship You as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Lord Jesus, I worship You, Savior and Lord of the world. Holy Spirit, I worship You, Sanctifier of the people of God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in Your presence and please You more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow You. Holy Spirit, I pray that this day You will fill me with Yourself and cause Your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.
For decades, Stott begun each day with a version of that prayer.
And then he had a small leather notebook, stuffed full of folded papers and held together with a rubber band. Each morning, having read three chapters of the Bible and meditated over them, he opened this prayer notebook and prayed for families, friends, ministries, and even for strangers. He kept a daily prayer list that was always under revision. Then he had a prayer calendar that listed missionary projects and people groups all over the world. He prayed over these things without haste or hurry.
This is the way he began each morning, and every one of us needs to develop a pattern of regular prayer in our lives. We may not do it just as John Stott did, but I love the idea of methodical daily prayer.
There are so many other kinds of prayers—corporate prayers, prayers of confession, prayers of thanksgiving, pastoral prayers at church, and so forth. Learning to pray effectively is a lifelong adventure, and I hope this one verse is an encouragement for you to work on your own habits and practices this week.
Perhaps somewhere in my message today you’ve gotten a single hint or spur of motivation to do as the Bible says:
Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.