Summary: The spiritual world is real. Evil battles good. We need to go into battle only in God's power. And Paul uses armor to describe entering into fervent prayer.
Going into Battle
Sometimes Veterans will ask me, “If there is a God, how could he allow such evil to happen in the world? Why doesn’t he do something about it? Does he not care? Is he not strong enough?” I assure them that God does care and that he is strong enough. And that he is, in fact, at work. Someday he will deal with the devil finally and completely. Until then, he does allow the devil to stir up trouble all over the world. Yet, all the evil in the world traces back to the sinful human heart.
So how is God involved now? How does God choose to make a difference in our world? Through our prayers. I don’t understand it. Why would he trust us to pray like we should? And why would he choose to use our imperfect prayers and impure motives to do his work? The best that I can understand, God chooses to work through our prayers to build our faith and to draw others to faith.
Now there are all kinds of prayers. A family was having guests over for dinner. At the table, the mother turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, “Dear, would you like to say the blessing?”
“I wouldn't know what to say,” replied the little girl.
“Just say what you hear Mommy say, sweetie.”
Her daughter took a deep breath, bowed her head, and solemnly said, “Dear Lord, why the heck did I invite all these people to dinner?”
Now that's an honest prayer!
So there are all kinds of prayers. A few years ago, Steven Curtis Chapman wrote the theme song for the National Day of Prayer. The chorus went,
Let us pray, let us pray, everywhere in every way
Every moment of the day, it is the right time
For the Father above, He is listening with love
And He wants to answer us, so let us pray
Sometimes we pray quick prayers, like, “Help me, Lord! ... Give me the right words here ... Change my attitude ... Give me strength.” But sometimes we pray more earnestly. Sometimes we are absolutely desperate for God. These kinds of prayers are like spiritual warfare: we need God to overcome the evil one. Maybe these kinds of prayers are what J.C. Ryle had in mind when he said, “Trials are intended to make us think; to wean us from the world; to send us to the Bible; to drive us to our knees.” So when it comes to more serious kinds of prayers, consider these three action steps as you go into battle:
1. Recognize the reality of the spiritual world (v. 12)
We think the physical world is what’s real. But you know what? It’s not as real as the spiritual world. The physical world is only temporary. All that you see, all that you experience with your five senses, it’s all going to pass away someday.
What’s most real is the spiritual world. Why? Because elements of it will last forever. You have a physical body that is temporary, but you have a spiritual self, some people call it a soul, that is forever. The Bible talks about angelic beings who serve God as his messengers and warriors. They act on his behalf. A third of them fell from heaven with Satan, when his pride got the best of him. And those are demons, fallen angels. The spiritual world is a world of battle, between good and evil, between angels and demons, between God’s will and Satan’s will. There is more than meets the eye. There is a whole world that we cannot experience with our five senses.
Many years ago I loved the fiction books of Frank Peretti, like “This Present Darkness” and “Pursuing the Darkness.” In these and others, he masterfully pulled back the curtain to show us the spiritual world that is otherwise outside of our grasp. And he tied the events of that world to the prayers of faithful Christians.
The Apostle Paul contrasts these two worlds—the physical world and the spiritual world—in verse 12. After he recognizes that there is a scheming devil behind all the evil in the world, he writes, “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.” So the first thing we need to do is to recognize where our real struggle lies.
You thought you simply could not get along with that irritating person in your life. But below the surface, there are demons at work seeking to sow conflict, seeking to inflate selfishness and pride and greed and hatred, seeking to destroy relationships and thwart God’s plans. You hear about hatred and murder, lust and rape. Behind each terrible act is the devil and his demons, tempting people one step at a time until they choose to act in sinful ways. As God warned Cain before he committed the first murder, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).