I once read of a conversation between a seasoned veteran of Christian ministry and a new pastor. After being asked one of those “what-would-you-do-if-you-had-it-to-do-over-again” questions as he approached his retirement, his answer came quickly: “Don’t take it personally.”
“Don’t take what personally?” was the next question. He then told the young pastor not to take it personally when things get tough in the church, when he was attacked or tired or depressed. Things like that go with the territory. We’re in a spiritual battle. When a soldier is shot at, he isn’t shocked. His feelings aren’t hurt. He doesn’t peer over his foxhole at his adversary and shout, “Was it something I said?” He expects it, he plans on it.
I’ve tried to take that advice to heart over the years. It’s something I’ve heard called “spiritual realism.” That’s what inspired the apostle Paul to write the Ephesians that “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” (Eph.6:12 ESV). It’s good to note that the apostle assumes his readers already know that the work of the kingdom is a struggle. He doesn’t need to argue the point. The question is not whether we’re in a battle, but what kind. The battle is spiritual. So we don’t take it personally, we don’t get hurt feelings when things get hard. We are spiritual realists.
And realists that we are, we do something else. We pray. Paul urges us to remember this when he tells us to put on the full armor of God, to wear such things as truth for a belt, righteousness for a breastplate, the gospel of peace for shoes, faith for a shield, and salvation for a helmet. The sword is also of the Spirit — the Word of God. Prayer plays a pivotal and unique role in all of this. For how do we put on the armor or wield the sword? By praying “in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Eph. 6:18).
The command to pray is one of the few truly central and radical things God has called us to do in this spiritual warfare. It is central because it stands at the hub, the heart of our struggle. It’s not all we are to be about, for there are many other wonderful and critical things to do in this spiritual warfare, but prayer finds itself front and center. May God help us to stand together in prayer, as warriors fighting a common enemy, claiming the victory that is already ours in Christ Jesus the Lord. And may we never, ever turn aside in the heat of the battle to fight one another!
Author: Pastor Rob Renberg