In Ephesians 6, Paul calls on the church to stop arguing about various issues with people and address the real enemy, the spiritual powers of darkness. He says it like this:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:10-12 NKJV
Quit arguing about the petty stuff or your church’s position on baptism or how and when to take communion. The Christian has much more important work to be doing. There are ‘strongholds’, ‘powers of spiritual darkness’ that need to be broken, and we cannot win against those spiritual rulers while we are bickering amongst ourselves.
Paul tells us how to ‘put on the armor’ that we will need to be victorious in this battle in verse 18: “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints…”
This is consistent with the Word of Jesus in Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:29 where his disciples were unable to claim victory over a spiritual force and Jesus said "But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting." (Matthew 17:21 NASB) and ‘He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer"’ in Mark 9:29 NASB.
We see this in the book of Daniel, a man whose dedication to prayer not only got him thrown in a den of hungry lions, but had a prayer life that gave him the faith to stand firm in his convictions and kept him safe from those lions. In chapter 9, Daniel is praying, fasting, humbling himself in his attire and confessing sin: “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed.”
In chapter 10, we see Daniel has been fasting and seeking the Lord about a vision, and the answer comes to him in one of the clearest pictures of spiritual warfare in the Bible. Starting with verse 11:
“Just then a hand touched me and lifted me, still trembling, to my hands and knees. And the man said to me, “Daniel, you are very precious to God, so listen carefully to what I have to say to you. Stand up, for I have been sent to you.” When he said this to me, I stood up, still trembling.
Then he said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia.”
We see the principalities in action here; the prince of Persia is a chief spirit in the forces of Satan, one translation labels him a ‘commander’. This commander is so powerful, the heavenly messenger has to call for an equally powerful angel, the mighty archangel Michael, to clear the way for this messenger to get through. This battle raged for three weeks. The spiritual forces are strong, we need to be armed and armored. In Acts of the Apostles, chapter 19:13-16 NIV we see this:
“Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.”
We must be fortified in the same way Daniel, Jesus and the early church were.
The second thing we see is that Daniel humbled himself. He did not regard his position as an earthly ruler in the Babylonian kingdom so high that he quit praying, quit fasting, or quit seeking God’s wisdom. He had just been given a vision, yet he humbled himself before God in a continual and serious, fervent way. Proverbs 3:34 views humility as the opposing force of pride: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” James repeats this proverb in James 4 where he is teaching on squabbles among Christians, acceptance of worldly values and unanswered prayers. James finishes the thought with verses 7-10:
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
Come before God in prayer, humbly with the attitude of “if there is sin in my heart, show me dear Lord”, not the subtle attitude of “I am so in tune with the scriptures already and my brother in Christ needs to gain the same understanding You have given me Lord”; let the Holy Spirit search your heart and purify you.
Third, we see that Daniel prayed and a response was sent to his words. The words of Daniel’s prayers were received immediately and acted upon in heaven. The English Standard Version puts it like this:
“Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.”
The New American Standard similarly states: “. . .your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words.”
Pray, with intentional words and out loud. Yes, God knows your thoughts but the spoken word is powerful. God’s Word created the earth and holds the universe in place, it is our words that bring a response from heaven. Jesus is the Living Word and spoke the words of His Father. I am not saying unspoken prayers don’t get heard, but even Hannah was moving her mouth in prayer. I am saying that speaking aloud, hearing our own words articulated before God holds us more accountable to actually be in prayer instead of daydreaming, getting side-tracked or falling asleep. If we are speaking out loud, we are more likely to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” according to 2 Corinthians 10:5.
Romans 10:9 says the confession of our mouth in addition to belief in our heart will bring salvation. Revelation 12:11 says “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.”
The fourth thing we see is that fasting brings spiritual rewards. This isn’t the give-up-R-rated-movies–for-a-month kind of fast, but a go-without-food fast, the kind where your body, mind and spirit are all paying attention to the Holy Spirit because you haven’t eaten food and you aren’t distracting your mind with worldly entertainment.
What if Daniel hadn’t persevered? What if he had given up after the first prayer, or quit fasting after the first meal? What if he had said, “I work for the king of Babylon, and it’s against my work policy to fast completely so I won’t fast at all if I can’t do it 100%”? What if he hadn’t humbled himself, what if he thought his job was too important, he had too much work to do, too many people relying on him, he didn’t have the time, he had business meetings over lunch he had to attend, family dinners, bonding time with church leaders, networking groups. He couldn’t get away or stay up all night praying and it was awkward to fast. Besides, God had given him visions, obviously his sleep time was important to God and who can sleep on an empty stomach?
The apostle Paul answers those arguments like this:
“Of course we are human, but we don't fight like humans. The weapons we use in our fight are not made by humans. Rather, they are powerful weapons from God. With them we destroy people's defenses, that is, their arguments and all their intellectual arrogance that oppose the knowledge of God. We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 GOD’S WORD Translation.
We can be safe in saying that the kind of armor we need to have success in the spiritual battles we face won’t be found praying during the commercial breaks of Real House Wives of wherever or during the half-time break on the NFL game. It requires purposeful time with God in prayer every day. In the book of Luke we see “And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives”. . . . to pray. If it was Jesus’ custom, shouldn’t it be ours? Say what we will about Allah, but his followers know they have to pray several times, every day, in a humbled position. God isn’t calling His children to rote obedience, He is calling you into loving relationship where He can clothe you with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, your feet shod with the gospel and a sword of the Spirit. In Genesis we see God coming in the cool of the evening to fellowship with His created children; in Revelation we see the chosen redeemed being taken to a place of eternal fellowship with their Father. In between, where we are living now, we need to still be in fellowship with our heavenly Father, following the pattern of Daniel, Jesus, the disciples, Paul and James and the early church. Prayer is the answer.