The Essence of Prayer XI – Watchfulness in Prayer

Ephesians 6:18 The Apostle Paul is urging prayer in the ongoing warfare for the believer as it is Satan’s intent to take the believer down.  Watchfulness in prayer is commanded.  In the original language, a watchman was not meant to keep an enemy out but was to warn as his first job.  Watchfulness is to be aware first and foremost.

 How does watchfulness, alertness come to be paired with prayer?  The outlook, entrance, and content of prayer ought to be watchful.  In the context of a battle, watchfulness takes on a particular meaning.

 II Samuel 10 – David had sent his emissaries to the son of the king of the Ammonites as a sign of respect on the death of the king’s father.  But the emissaries were humiliated.  When David retaliated with war the Ammonites hired the Syrians to help fight against the Israelites.  Samuel 10:11  Joab made sure the Israelites were aware of where the battle was going on, whether against the Ammonites or the Syrians, and was pledged to fighting where the battle was fiercest.  Watchfulness is knowing where the battle is hot.  If we are just praying for a list without knowing where Satan is attacking, it is of little value.

 Matthew 26:41 In the Garden of Gethsemane the Lord commanded the disciples to watch and pray. Luke 22:53 He stated that it was Satan’s hour.  If the believer is watchful for Satan’s hour he can pray in a particular direction.  The disciples were not watchful in this way and were overcome.

 The outlook of prayer:  Because we are often successful at work or in life, we can enter into prayer with a worldly outlook.  But prayer is entering into a holy place with God.  We can enter into it with our work shoes on, with our successful attitude, but that is the wrong way to enter.  The exhortation to watchfulness is often coupled with the exhortation to being sober.  Exodus 3:1-5  We forget that Moses was commanded to remove his shoes in the presence of God in the burning bush.  We forget that we must come into God’s presence in a particular way, regarding God as holy.  Leviticus 10:1-3.  We ought not enter as Nadab and Abihu, offering strange fire.  Matthew 6:9, Luke 11:2  The Lord Jesus commands us to pray “Hallowed be Your name”.  We don’t just barge in with our work boots on.

 The believer has an incredible privilege to come into God’s presence through Jesus Christ, and the believer has a unique relationship with God as Father.  But for an extended period of prayer, the believer ought to “remove his shoes” because “God is in heaven and you on earth” Ecclesiastes 5:2.  Psalm 95:1 begins with extended worship and praise.  This is a humbling of self to come into God’s presence with worship and awe because He is great above all and holy above all.  The believer must stop before anything else, stop and acknowledge God with worship.  This is proper watchfulness.  The believer has the right to come into God’s presence only through the blood of the Lord Jesus, Hebrews 10:19-22.  If we will not stop and worship, we will not be heard as Nadab and Abihu were not accepted.  The believer comes into God’s presence with thankfulness for the work of Christ, extolling the greatness of His work.  This is also watchfulness in prayer.

The Essence of Prayer X – Persevering in Prayer

Ephesians 6:18  Paul has been exhorting to supplication in prayer, an intense request with self-humbling.  This type of prayer should characterize the believer.  It is to be a habit of life.  If we are very concerned about something, we might pray in this way for that particular thing.  But Paul is describing a pattern of life of persevering in prayer.  Daniel 6:10  Daniel had a habit of daily prayer that he engaged in three times a day, even against the king’s decree.  Paul is describing this kind of ongoing prayer.

Psalm 108:1, 2; Psalm 119:147  The Psalmist declares that he will rise before the morning for prayer.  What would cause this type of activity?  We manage fit in needful activities into every day – sleeping, eating.  Prayer needs to be one of those activities.  Martin Luther stated that he had so much to do that he had to spend the first three hours of the day in prayer.  It is an activity toward God, not just need-based.  The things that are important need to be prayed about, but there also needs to be underlying prayer going on at all times.

Many of the needs around us don’t go away.  We might be intermittent in prayer but the needs are ongoing.  Romans 12:12; Luke 18:1-5  Persevering prayer keeps us engaged with God in a proper manner.

We must see this kind of every-day prayer as a necessity – prayer that pushes other things out of the way.  When we have this kind of ongoing prayer, the life fills up with spiritual matter.  Otherwise we begin to grumble against God.  This kind of prayer prays for every important thing in a significant way.  It is also a time of communion with God.

Paul is exhorting not only to praying consistently for needs but consistently praying.  This is persevering prayer.

The Essence of Prayer IX – Supplication

Ephesians 6:18 Paul has been exhorting the believer that he is in a spiritual battle and must engage in unceasing supplication.  If the believer is to accept the exhortation to enter the battle, there needs to be some definite direction as to how to do so.  There are two sources to supplication:  position and persistence.


In real estate, there is a 3-fold aspect to success – Location, location, location, which is really one aspect.  In supplication there is also a 3-fold aspect – Position, position, position, but there are 3 distinct meanings.  Genesis 18:1, 17-19  The Lord has appeared to Abraham and has revealed the fact of Sarah’s future pregnancy.  He then opens His mind to Abraham in regards to what He will do toward Sodom and Gomorrah.  He also declares that He has known Abraham, putting him in a special position before Himself.

  1. The believer has a special position before God, a right of access through Christ.  If there is not a sense of having been brought into this position of sonship through the blood of Christ, prayer will be stiff and formal.  The believer knows himself to have been brought before God for prayer.  This is who we are – we have been adopted as sons and are able to cry out, Romans 8:15.  Even so the Lord’s model prayer begins “Our Father”.   So the first position in supplication is sonship.  Without this there is nothing.
  2. There is a providential position that has been given by God. Every believer has a space in life that is uniquely our own – in family, in the church body, in the larger community.  The believer has knowledge that God gives of needs in our own unique situations, Genesis 18:17.  This unique position is not happenstance and is given for prayer – what we know, who we know are given to us for prayer.  Many things are common knowledge but each believer has a unique position for prayer.  Philippians 1:19  Paul knows that God will deliver him through the prayer that they were uniquely able to offer on his behalf.
  3. There is a position that is from God that is a personal interceding – a use of being a believer and a use of unique knowledge. Abraham did not take the unique knowledge God gave him about Sodom and Gomorrah and lament over their fate.  Abraham made active use of this knowledge and the fact that he was in God’s presence to plead for them.  And he used his knowledge of God’s character to remind Him of His mercy to the righteous.  The believer uses God’s promises in prayer.  And Abraham isn’t becoming more strident or puffed up but more humble.  We engage with almighty God, the holy God, the God who is wise, and we go lower and lower in His presence.  But we persist as Abraham did in this holy intervention.  Although we recognize God is sovereign, we don’t resign ourselves to “Your will be done”.  We ask strongly with personal pleading.  There is a recognition that God has put the believer in this unique position for this particular supplication.  And it is for God’s glory.



It is not just being in the right place in the right time.  It is all about persistence in prayer because of the need.  God hears such prayer.  There was interaction between God and Abraham.  In Genesis 32 Moses pleaded for the children of Israel in their sin.  God challenged Moses to maintain his prayer and heard him.


This Is the prayer of the Lord Jesus for believers before the Father.  He is in a position of persistent, personal prayer and we have been called to a like position.

The Essence of Prayer VIII – Perseverance and Watchfulness in Prayer

Ephesians 6  Paul is teaching on the spiritual warfare of the Christian life.  Part of this spiritual warfare is the global nature of the participants, v. 12  Paul exhorts the believer to be strong in the Lord.  This is not advice to put “your best foot forward”, to depend on your own strength.  This is a spiritual battle and the strength is ultimately the Lord’s, not the believer’s.  We have been looking at the component of prayer and in particular supplication – an element of prayer that is not superficial but in the mode of battle.  This is a real battle; there are real wounds inflicted.  The believer must enter into this spiritual warfare on a real level.  That is supplication.  Beyond that, Paul exhorts the believer to watchfulness, to perseverance, and again to supplication.  The believer is called to watchful, persevering supplication.  The believer cannot just stand back and once in a while throw up a prayer – he must enter in and be engaged on the front line.  He is not just a sometime warrior on rotation; he is a front-line warrior.  During World War II, it became clear that it was a strategic necessity for us to take Iwo Jima from the Japanese.  We didn’t know there were miles and miles of tunnels in these islands but the Marines went in anyway.  Three out of four were killed in the first assault but they took the islands, changing the outcome of the war.  The Christian must be of that caliber.

This is call to prayer and not fainting, not being overcome.  Matthew 26:36-45  When Peter, James, and John were in the Garden with the Lord Jesus, they were reeling under the prophecy that one of the disciples would betray Him and from knowing that He was going to death.  They were emotionally and spiritually overcome and could not even stay awake.  We are frequently emotionally and spiritually overcome in the battle.  Thus Paul’s exhortation to watch and persevere.

How must we respond to battlefield conditions?

  1. We must watch our own hearts; we must be aware of ourselves, Proverbs 4:23.  Peter had been warned that Satan wanted to sift him but he ignored it.  If we aren’t physically fit we can’t run a foot race.  In the same way, if we don’t watch our hearts we can’t pray.
  2. Prayer that perseveres, that is ongoing, is not natural. We are a little lackadaisical, happy-go-lucky.  There may be an occasional crying out when we are in need but persevering prayer is not natural.  It is also not without ceasing, so we are exhorted to these particular elements of prayer.  Hebrews 5:7  This was the prayer of the Lord Jesus but we shy away from it because it is not natural.  But it is a battlefield necessity for the believer


What does it look like?

  1. Prayer that is regular, serious, and engaged deals with the issues of life that are hard to face.

This is prayer that acknowledges desperate need for sinfulness and daily difficulties.  It recognizes that we cannot make the changes needed in ourselves or others, that we need God’s intervention.  Peter, James, and John may have been overcome by guilt and they could not pray.  Persevering prayer is not “it’s all my fault” prayer.  It goes beyond guilt because it is in the presence of the Savior.

  1. It is not shallow but engaged, intense communion with God.
  2. It needs to be daily and regular.
  3. It needs to be time set aside, not just in the midst of daily activities. But it needs to be realistic.  Don’t try to start out with an hour.  Start with ten minutes and then expand it.


There is an implied promise, James 5:16.  The fervent prayer of the believer has real power.

The Essence of Prayer VII – Rules of Engagement

Ephesians 6:18  Rules of engagement are needed to fight the battles the apostle declares are before us.  In ancient warfare, battle lines were often clearly visible.  In modern warfare, this is not always the case yet there are times when the enemy is visible and strategy is based on what is seen of their strength.  If we recognize that prayer is an engaging in spiritual warfare, that the church is engaged in this warfare, that we ourselves are engaged in this warfare, and there is no discharge from this warfare but we don’t see the battlelines clearly drawn, then we need to know what are the rules of engagement.

Paul makes clear what these rules of engagement are:  prayer without ceasing, all prayer, and supplication.  Philippians 1:3, 4 Whenever Paul thought of the saints in Philippi he prayed for them.  Romans 1:9  Without ceasing he prayed for the Romans during his times of appointed prayer.  Ephesians 1:16, Colossians Paul prayed constantly for the believers he knew.

The battle-hardened general is aware of the fight his soldiers face.  The believer must remember what his fellow-believers are facing and pray for them in every remembrance, without ceasing, as the apostle Paul did.  Ephesians 1:16, 17 Prayer of this sort is big.  It is wide-reaching but it is not without content.  Paul didn’t just pray for “blessing” like a little child might.  He prayed for something specific for the Ephesian believers.  There needs to be real specifics to prayer even on a large scale.  Satan sends out his hosts against believers and we need to pray specifically for one another.  We need to ask the Lord for spiritual sight for one another’s needs.  We need to know each other’s needs and be asking the Lord for knowledge of how to pray for one another.  We need to be seeing the unsaved around us and how the Lord might be dealing with them specifically.  We ought not to just pray “please save them” but be praying for the Lord to use specific circumstances we know are in their lives as goads to drive them to Himself as He did with the apostle Paul, Acts 9:5.

The Essence of Prayer VI – Ephesians 6:18

In Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul characterizes the Christian life as a battle “against spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places.”  Colossians 2:14,15  The Lord Jesus has triumphed over such powers in the cross but they are still stronger than we are.  Paul exhorts the believer to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  If we attempt to battle in our own power we are doomed.  We must be armed with His armor.

Ephesians 6:18  Paul urges the believer to unceasing prayer, all prayer, and supplication.  What is supplication?  It is a more intense form of prayer – a pouring out of the heart, greater fervency, entering into greater prayer.  The believer must be engaged in this type of prayer to be engaged in this warfare that is the Christian life.

It is also an earnest pleading by the Spirit.  It is impossible for the believer to pray this way on his own.  There is an analogy:  Warfare that is to be fought in His power = Urgent prayer that the believer does not work up on his own but is given by the Spirit.  Romans 8:15-23  Sometimes prayer is just groaning which has been given by the Holy Spirit.  The believer does not always know how to pray but the Spirit does.  There is a deeper form of prayer that comes from the Spirit.  This is a self-humbling prayer, being flat out before the Lord in prayer.

Besides groans there is a place to know God’s will and to know what we ought to pray for.  The believer is called into conscious prayer on this battlefield.  We can see where the lines are being drawn.  We can see where Satan is on the offensive, in our families, in the church, in our society.  Ought we not to enter this battle?  We cannot stand aside in dismay.  Just being alarmed is not the right response.  We cannot stand behind the battle lines wringing our hands.  We must be engaged in this battle by prayer.  Colossians 2:1  Paul is fighting a battle in prayer for the Colossian believers.  Colossians 4:12  Epaphras is commended for battling in prayer for them.  The believer must be persevering, watchful, ongoing in this warfare.  There is no clock-watching, no checking out of the battle.

What is the believer fighting?  Satan, wherever he is attacking – our own flesh, other believers, the unity of the church, any spiritual advances being made.  He will attack in all these areas.  The believer is in a state of absolute weakness.  But God, the mighty sovereign One, has determined that He will work through the prayers of believers.  Daniel was one man but God heard his prayer and restored Israel.  Elijah was one man.  He prayed fervently for God to fulfill His promise of rain and God heard him.  It is the job of the believer to be in prayer, fervently, on a wide ranging basis for himself, for the church, for the unsaved locally and worldwide.

The Essence of Prayer V – Sanctification

Ephesians 6:10-12, 18  Believers are exhorted to pray at all times in our lives – when we are doing well or not doing well,  in the morning, when we awake at night, in the midst of daily tasks.  And then Paul exhorts believers to supplication – earnest pleading by the Spirit which involves self-humbling.  Part of the earnestness of supplication is caused by the great need that bows the entire body before the King.  We see David, after his repentance, pleading for the child he had with Bathsheba, throwing himself on the ground in earnest prayer.  II Samuel 15:30, 31  David has been rejected as king and pushed out of the city by the treachery of Absalom.  We see him going barefoot, weeping, and calling on God in earnest prayer.

There is another aspect to supplication.  Daniel 9:1-3  Daniel has seen God’s promise in the Scriptures to restore Israel after the exile of 70 years.  Daniel is praying with great self-humbling and confession but still bringing God’s promise before Him.  Every prayer of the believer should have good biblical reasons and promises that he brings to God, not to change God’s unwillingness to willingness but to bring His own promises before Him.

Prayer also becomes a pouring out of the soul of those things that are given to the believer to pray for, that are a necessity to pray for.  Romans 8:15  There is a spirit of prayer that is given to the believer by the Holy Spirit of adoption.  Romans 8:20-26  The creation itself groans and the believer groans in prayer for sin.  Supplication is not always a beautifully ordered prayer but often a groaning that is given by the Spirit and heard by God.  This supplication and groaning is given to the believer as his part in this sin-sick world.

Ephesians 6:10-12  The entire cosmos is a gigantic spiritual battleground.  The believer can’t just walk along in his “Sunday best” and pick daisies.  Some of the scenes encountered are not pretty.  Ephesians 6:18 The believer must get in place to wield the sword of prayer.  Supplication is this earnest prayer.

Praise, a Barometer – Psalm 100, Psalm 137

Psalm 100 and Psalm 137 show how praise is a barometer for where the believer stands with God.

Psalm 100:1  There is a coming to God with rejoicing.  V 4 and there is to be thankfulness in His presence.  As believers, we are aware in an acute fashion of who God is and who we are in relation to Him.  There is a humbling in His presence as when Moses removed his shoes in the presence of the burning bush.  And out of that humbling should come praise.  But it’s not automatic and it’s not always easy, sometimes even impossible.

Psalm 137:1-3  The Israelite’s had been carried away to Babylon and had been requested to perform songs of praise in the presence of their captors.  V 4-6  They could not, even though they remembered all the blessing they had known.  They remembered God’s greatness and goodness but now they were aware that they were away from it all.

There are three cases where one cannot praise God:

  1.  The believer is not in a place to praise due to oppression, as in Psalm 137.
  2. The believer has kept himself from praise by a lack of faith.  This is like having clogged plumbing that water cannot run through.  Fretting, fear, inability to see God for who He is clogs up our spiritual plumbing.  Even if we come into God’s presence, that “clog” says that either God is not good or not on our side, and praise does not flow as it ought.  The ones carried away to Babylon remembered the covenant but they knew it had been broken and they could not sing songs of praise.


What is praise that can get “clogged”?  Praise is declaring that God has been good to “me” in a personal way.  It must be personal.  No other statement is praise.  Praise is love and joy because of God’s personal graciousness to the believer, that God has shown mercy through the Lord Jesus to “me”.  This kind of praise can flow in all kinds of circumstances when faith is active, as for Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail.  When faith fails, praise gets “clogged”.


  1. There are times when God stops up praise.  According to the 1689 Confession, there are times when God is pleased to withdraw fellowship.  When that happens what is the believer to do?  Act as if everything is ok?  No.  The response is in Psalm 137 and Psalm 42.  The believer is to remember and to see God’s goodness by faith, knowing that God will bring back His presence and will restore praise.

The Essence of Prayer, IV – Eph 6:18

Ephesians 6:18  Supplication comes immediately after “all prayer”.  What is supplication?  Various verses of hymn 427 give the essence of supplication:  “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly.”  “Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee.”  “Thou of life the fountain art, freely let me take of Thee.”  There is a mighty sense of the weakness of the believer, of Christ’s sufficiency in the midst of surrounding enemies.  But what makes prayer into supplication is its urgency.  Paul says we should be praying at all times, but not just unceasingly and not just with “all prayer”.  We must be praying with supplication.  It is casting ourselves on our faces and grabbing hold of the knees of the King in desperation, as sinners in the Old Testament would grab hold of the horns of the altar.  It is seeking God with all of the heart in the midst of great distress, Deuteronomy 4:29.

Prayer of this sort is part of spiritual warfare.  Warfare is not polite – it is life and death.  Satan, the flesh, and the world are ready to cut off the believer at every point.  We are often unaware that we are totally without strength and we offer up polite, little prayers.  Unless we are aware that we are totally without strength we will not pray with supplication.  In this warfare, supplication is like the supply line of temporal war.  Without a supply line stretching from the supplies to the troops, the troops cannot be sustained.  We are in the world and we have to have this supply line of supplication.  We must be coming to the throne of grace, Hebrews 4:16, because of our desperate need.  This supply line can be cut off by our own unwillingness to come to the throne of grace.

There is a determination, a courage needed to come to the throne of grace in this way.  The Pony Express had a job to do, to deliver the mail from Missouri to California.  They had to carry on through Indian attacks, through outlaw ambushes, from supply station to supply station where they could be relieved by another rider.  Sometimes they would reach a supply station and it would have been destroyed with no other rider available.  They couldn’t stop and say “Oh well.  I’ve come as far as I was supposed to go.”  No.  They had a job to do and they had to be determined to ride on, often to the death.

This is the job of the believer in supplication.  Genesis 18:16-33  Abraham supplicated God boldly but humbly for those in Sodom.  He was trembling before the Lord but determined to plead for the sake of those who might be righteous.  Genesis 32  Jacob was afraid for his family and he wrestled with God for blessing.

The believer must pray with supplication for himself, his loved ones, his neighbors, the church, the world.  This is not politeness but warfare, not parlor games but warfare.  This is “no holds barred” prayer, which is what God gives.

The Essence of Prayer, III – I Thess 5:17, Eph 6:18

I Thessalonians 5:17 “pray without ceasing”.

Ephesians 6:18  Paul describes the entire Christian life as a spiritual warfare.  In this epistle, the Apostle is exhorting to “all prayer”.  Satan the flesh are always present so we are always in this spiritual warfare.  Part of the spiritual warfare the believer is always engaged in is prayer.  Eph 6:18 is the same exhortation as I Thes 5:17 but now Paul is putting it in the context of spiritual warfare.  If the believer wants to stand in this spiritual warfare he must be praying always, having “all prayer”, being in the spiritual atmosphere of prayer.

So prayer is not just a spiritual duty but is the gospel armor that the believer needs to be clothed with.  This “all prayer” is not merely the frantic cries of one in desperate battle.  It might be that but it is more than that.  None of the armor named in Ephesians 6 is named by happenstance.  It is all gospel armor, having to do with the salvation by which we are saved.  This is how the believer is protected and is able to fend off Satan’s attack:  truth, righteousness, preparation of the gospel, faith.

God is working on a worldwide basis and “all prayer” is not just for ourselves and our own needs.  “All prayer” is praying for what God is doing in the church throughout the world by means of His gospel.  This needs to be in our minds as we go through our days.  “All prayer” is not just a spiritual duty but has to do with what Christ is doing.

“All prayer” is supplemented by “supplication”, which is fervency, because God’s glory is at stake.  It is “in the Spirit”.  The believer is not praying merely by means of his own mind and spirit.  We are privileged to be in prayer with the Holy Spirit.  This is what we must be engaged in at all times.  This can and ought to occur in our lives.

“All prayer” is also involved with watchfulness, being aware of Satan’s works and wishes.  “All prayer” is also with perseverance for those things that are on the heart.  This is not “one and done” prayer but ongoing as long as the need is apparent.  This is the nature of gospel prayer for what the Lord is doing in the world.