Spiritual Weapons, Part IX: The Arena of Prayer


Spiritual Warfare

The title of these articles is “Spiritual Weapons,” and they are all described in terms of  the weapons used by gladiators in an arena or by soldiers in a battle for a city.  However, it’s important to emphasize that these weapons are not “carnal weapons.” Instead, they  are used in prayer, not to fight God, but to engage with the enemy to win back the prisoners of war that Satan has captured or provisions of God that have been stolen from us.

Many Christians are unaware of the nature of this battle, some not even knowing whom they are fighting, much less how to overcome the forces of darkness through prayer.  

There are many different forms of prayer, as the Apostle Paul tells Timothy:

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, or kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.  (I Timothy 2:1-3:  2)

Those prayers offered “on behalf of all men” are prayers of intercession, or “intercessory” prayer, and they are the ones most especially associated with spiritual warfare.  Note that even the Lord is described as a warrior fighting on behalf of salvation and righteousness in the following passage:

Now the Lord saw,
And it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice.
16 And He saw that there was no man,
And was astonished that there was no one to intercede;
Then His own arm brought salvation to Him,
And His righteousness upheld Him.
17 He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
And a helmet of salvation on His head;
And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing
And wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle.  (Isaiah 59:15-17)

Intercession and Intercessory Prayer

What does it mean to intercede?  An intercessor places himself between a condemned person, standing between that person and the punishment justice demands.  Or an intercessor attempts to reconcile or mediate the differences between two parties in a legal or personal dispute.

Thus, in the passage from Isaiah, when the Lord looked and found no one to intercede, He was not pleased.  He was astonished that there was no intercessor to bring justice to humankind.  As a result, He took up a breastplate and a helmet to exact justice, in zeal and vengeance He sought to defeat the foes of His will.

As stated a few verses following in Isaiah, not only did the Lord fight the battle Himself, but also He recruited an army of soldiers to fight with Him: 

“As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from now and forever.” (Isaiah 59:21)

Finally, in the penultimate act of intercession, the Lord Jesus came to earth as a man and died on a cross, the final sacrifice for sin, making intercession for us.  

Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.  (Isaiah 53:12)

Jesus Christ took the sins of the entire world upon Himself, and He continues forever as a priest on high, a Mediator who is able to save all who come to God in repentance and faith: 

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.  (Hebrews 7:23-25)

Christians Are Also Called As Intercessors

Has there ever been a time when you have not known how to pray?  Sometimes, we don’t even know whom to pray for, who needs our prayers of intercession.  We neither know who is under attack, nor the causes of their distress.  Thus, the following promise found in John’s letter is often neglected in churches today, or at best we hear the “Father, if it be your will…” prayer.

Note, however, what the Apostle John writes:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.  (I John 5:13-15)

The Apostle Paul also provides insights into the remedy for this predicament that God has given us through the Holy Spirit.

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

From this passage we see clearly that the “groanings” Paul writes about have to do with prayers of intercession.  When we do not know how to pray or what to ask for, the Holy Spirit Himself provides the prayer, not in terms of words but in the language of the Spirit through us.  This is one reason why the Holy Spirit is so important in the lives of believers:  He is not only our Teacher, given to us by Christ Himself, but also our Intercessoer, praying for us when we don’t know how to pray.  

In an earlier verse in Romans, these groanings are compared to the pains of childbirth, the kind of struggle that brings forth new life. Not only the whole creation groans, Paul writes, but  also we groan within ourselves.  Such “groans” produce the fruit of redemption and hope, the ability to look forward to the future with joy and expectation, patiently waiting to see the will of God revealed and performed in our lives:

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Romans 8:22-25)

Finally, we see in the next few verses in Romans that Jesus Christ Himself has continued to intercede for us after His resurrection and ascension to the throne of God.  Will not God the Father answer the perfect prayers of His Son who is presently interceding for us?    

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. (Romans 8:31-32)

Few Mighty Works?

These promises seem too good to be true, especially when we are surrounded by disease, death, decay, and the sinful conditions in this world.  Why do we not see these promises fulfilled in our lives more fully?  Is it God’s fault?  Did He give us false promises, false hope?

Or are we ourselves together the reason why the Lord God is prevented from fulfilling His promises in our lives?  

I’m reminded of the story of what happened when Jesus came to His own hometown and began teaching in the synagogue. Although the people were astonished at His teaching, they began to question both His wisdom and His miraculous powers, having seen Him grow from childhood in their own midst:

And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them,“A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.  (Matthew 13:57-58)

Jesus Himself could do few miracles because of the unbelief of the people in His hometown.  Likewise, answers to our prayers of intercession, though given through us by the Holy Spirit Himself are even more unlikely  to be fulfilled today unless we begin believing in true faith with hope, the expectation that His promises will truly be fulfilled.



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