Extraordinary, United Prayer
By Bill Elliff
[The following is edited from a message given at the 2021 Heart-Cry for Revival Conference held online in February. Used by permission. To hear this message and others from the conference, visit heart-cryforrevival.org.]
Several years ago, I was on a plane and diagonally across the aisle was a businessman wearing a fine suit, expensive shoes and a Rolex watch. I don’t know why but I thought, “There is a powerful man. He’s probably important and leads something significant.” All of a sudden the question came to my mind, I think prompted by the Holy Spirit, “I wonder who is the most powerful person on this plane?” And instantly the Lord answered that question. He said, “Bill, the most powerful person on this plane is the person who prays.” Because, you see, that person brings God into the equation. The most powerful person in any room or any meeting is the person who prays.
Now let’s expand that just a moment. How powerful is it if not just one person prays, but a whole family prays? And what power comes when not just one family prays, but a whole church prays with unceasing prayer? Or what would happen if believers all over the United States saw the urgency of the hour and in desperation prayed together for God’s intervention and for His power to descend from heaven? The most powerful thing is to pray and bring God into the equation – and there is something uniquely irresistible about a united cry. A. T. Pierson, who was George Mueller’s son-in-law, made this statement: “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.”
I am going to ask you to make a serious adjustment in your life. But let me ask first, why are we “always to pray, and not faint”? (Luke 18:1). Why should we press in now more than we ever have to unite in prayer and give one cry to heaven for our nation and for our world?
Let me give you three reasons out of Ephesians 6:10-20. The passage begins, “...Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (vv. 10-13).
An Unceasing Enemy
Now here is a reason we must unite in prayer: We have an unceasing enemy. He does not sleep. He does not give up. He does not say, “Well, COVID is here and it is harder so I’m not going to try to go after Jesus and His kingdom and His church anymore.” The devil is an unceasing enemy, and I want you to notice a few things that Paul says about our enemy.
He says, first of all, this enemy has powerful, yet temporary, authority. That authority will not be there forever. But look at the words that Paul uses. He says we do not wrestle “against flesh and blood.” That is not our battle. We wrestle against “rulers” – and that indicates that there is a level of authority. And the reference to “powers” indicates that the enemy has a level of ability. He can do things, he can make things happen. He can abort the movement of God in specific ways. Paul says we struggle “against the world forces of this darkness.” This is not just a little isolated incident. Instead, this enemy has forces all over the world that are affecting the whole world. Then Paul says they are “spiritual forces.” In other words, it is not just material things. The enemy has a spiritual dimension in the heavenlies to cause things to happen and to accomplish things.
So this enemy has authority, and he also has “schemes.” Paul says, “…so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (v. 11). The word for “schemes” is methodeia. We get the word “method” from it. Our enemy has methods.
We have seen a growing number of Christian leaders fall. They have personal responsibility in this, choices they make, but understand also there are schemes. And do you know that the enemy has schemes against you? He knows you. He watches the patterns of your life. He is interested in the effect of your life for the kingdom of God. He is not as concerned about you as he is concerned about aborting the work of God’s kingdom. And he has schemes to accomplish that.
I was praying about this one day as I was praying for my children and grandchildren. I have 8 children, their mates, and 22 grandchildren. All of a sudden, as I was praying for my grandchildren by name, I thought, “You know what. The enemy has schemes against my grandchildren!” How devious is that? Other than God, the devil has the largest database in the universe – on everybody! What is going to happen to your children and grandchildren if you are not aware of the schemes that are coming, and if you are not praying against those schemes using the tools that God has designed to abort the plans of the enemy?
And listen carefully, as the church begins to unite in a desperate cry to God, the schemes are going to increase. The enemy is not going to just sit on the sideline. Those schemes are going to increase.
Not only does the devil have schemes, he also has an evil environment in which to work. Paul wants us to be able “to resist in the evil day” (v. 13). Anybody think we are not now in an evil day?
Several years ago I would occasionally hear statements by others saying that something clearly right was wrong, or something clearly wrong was right. I began to study Romans chapter 1 and the digression of a nation when the people say “No” to God and God says, “Okay, I am going to give you up to yourself.” Three times in the chapter it says God “gave them up” and the last one is, “God gave them over to a reprobate mind” (Rom. 1:28; cf. 1:24, 26).
If you have the tools, study what that word “reprobate” means. It means that you have literally lost the ability to make moral judgments. Right really is wrong to you, and you will die for it. Wrong really is right to you. I used to hear those statements every once in a while. Now I hear them all the time, constantly, incessantly in our world. If you are naive about the day in which we live, about the schemes of the devil, about the power and authority and the reach of the enemy, then you are setting yourself up for a fall! You are also missing your place as a warrior in the line, and there is a gap that the enemy can rush through!
An Unceasing Struggle
Because we have this unceasing enemy, it follows then that we have this unceasing struggle. Paul says it like this: “For our struggle…” (Eph. 6:12; or KJV, “For we wrestle…”). This is “our” struggle, not somebody else’s struggle. The word used here is a word meaning hand-to-hand combat. It is not “I’m sitting in my recliner watching on TV what’s happening in Afghanistan,” but “it is in my living room.” It is my struggle, it is your struggle, against this unceasing enemy.
Listen carefully, if you do not sense that struggle, or feel that struggle, it may be that the enemy has already won the battle. It may be that he has sidelined you. It may be that you have gone AWOL and you are just sitting there watching TV, and he doesn’t have to give you much attention. You do not sense the enemy’s attack on you. That is the most frightening thing of all for a believer!
Paul goes on to say, “…so that you will be able to resist...” (v. 13). The beautiful thing about that little phrase is that it means that we can resist. We can win this battle. What does the Scripture say? “...Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world”! (1 John 4:4). Does Scripture say that if you resist the devil, he might flee from you, or that he will occasionally flee from you? No. You resist the devil in the way that God has intended and he must flee from you – “…Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). He may circle around and come back, but you keep resisting, you keep resisting, you keep resisting.
So how do we do this in the battle we are in? Paul says, first of all, “Be strong” (Eph. 6:10). Now if he stopped right there, we would all be in trouble. We do not have any strength against this enemy in particular. But Paul goes on to say, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.”
I remember a time years ago when I had been sick on a Saturday night. I was horribly sick, violently sick. I came to church the next morning and I had a very important, intense message to preach, but I just had nothing in the tank. I knew I was supposed to preach and I was in a side room praying, “Lord, I don’t know if I have the strength to do this.” The Spirit of God quickly said to me, “Who said this was about your strength?” I thought, “Well, Lord, that is exactly right. You live inside of me. You are strength. So, Lord, would you just fill me with Your strength right now?” I tell you – and I don’t want to sound proud – I went out for the next two services and preached like a house on fire! And then I went home and collapsed!
Listen, there is no time now for you to be weak in the Lord. No matter at what point you are in your Christian walk, you must, wherever you are, be strong in the Lord. You must be depending upon Him for His might to do battle and fulfill the mission that He has given you.
Secondly, Paul says, “Put on the full armor of God” (v. 11). Be clothed in His armor. I will not go through each of the pieces of armor, but each one has a very distinct purpose both offensively and defensively. One of the things I think that the whole passage is saying is that you cannot play around with personal holiness. You need to be clothed in His righteousness. You need your feet shod. You need to pick up the Word of God, which is the Sword of the Spirit. You need the shield of faith – it is the only thing that will quench those little whispers, those fiery darts of the evil one.
I think for many of us, particularly those who are leaders, we can be guilty of what I call “professional” holiness. You know how to do the things for church and carry on the work, which you could do in your sleep. You can even do that without God. Finally Saturday comes and you think, “I have to preach tomorrow and my life has just been so out of step with God, I have not even talked with Him this week. I am not intimate with Him.” So you scramble around saying, “Well, Lord, please forgive me, cleanse me, prepare me, use me.”
Now the Lord in His grace may use you because He has a great mission. But we do not understand the principle of cumulative holiness. What if a man on Monday is seeking God and is putting on the full armor, and on Tuesday God is speaking the Word into his heart, and so on throughout the week, so that he stands on Sunday in the fullness of God! So put on the full armor of God so that you will be able to resist.
Then what do we do? We have the armor on, we are empowered with His strength, what is it that we do now? Here is the most important part – we are to be praying in the Spirit. “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (v. 18).
I know it is not lost on you that there are four “alls” in the verse. “All” kinds of prayers. There are prayers of adoration, prayers of confession, prayers of repentance, prayers of provision, prayers for God’s kingdom. They are outlined in the Lord’s Prayer. What Paul is saying is, you have to learn how to pray.
Then Paul says, “At all times in the Spirit.” That similar little verse, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17), can bother us. Do you know that it is possible? I had a dear friend named Manley Beasley who has gone to heaven now. He was a mentor to me and to so many young pastors. The last 20 years of his life, Manley had three terminal illnesses. He was always dying, often right at the edge of death. In fact one of his friends said, “You are the hardest guy to say goodbye to.”
One day he was in a hospital room near death and he sensed the presence of God flooding the room. He looked over and there was a lady standing in the doorway. She said, “Are you Manley Beasley?” He answered, “Yes.” She said, “I am Corrie Ten Boom.” Corrie walked over by his bed and Manley later shared, “We began a conversation that I have never gotten over. Corrie would talk to God, and then she would talk to me. She would talk to God and say ‘Yes, I will tell him that,’ and then she would talk to me, then she would talk to God, then talk to me. Pretty soon I just started talking to God and talking to Corrie, and we had 45 minutes of this unbelievable three-way conversation.”
What happened there? You see, real prayer is in the Spirit, and Corrie apparently had closed the gap between heaven and earth. She was living here, but she was listening to the Spirit. Real prayer is finding what God says and then bringing it to earth. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, even as it is right now being done in heaven.” We are to be doing that all day long about everything, praying absolutely without ceasing so it is all prayer at all times with all perseverance. You just never give up because of the cumulative effect of prayer (Rev. 5:8; 8:3f.).
And pray “for all the saints” – your children, your church, your pastors, your leaders, your ministries – “all the saints,” it says. We need to be deliberately, incessantly praying. There is just no, absolutely zero, substitute. Prayer should not be the side room for your life and your ministry. It should be the foundation from which everything springs.
An Unceasing Mission
Finally, why is this kind of prayer so vital? We have an unceasing enemy, which means we have an unceasing struggle. But the reason is, we have an unceasing mission. Do not miss the last part of this passage. Paul comes in verses 19-20 and says, “Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Paul lived for Christ to be glorified in him and for Christ’s message to go forth. Here Paul requested prayer that he would open his mouth, and as he opened his mouth, that utterance would come, straight from heaven through him to those who need the living water.
The reality is there are millions of people without Christ. We alone have the message that can take them from hell to heaven, from death to life. We must speak that message, and God is faithful to save.
Can I be bold to say something? Do you know why people are not being saved in your neighborhood? You are not opening your mouth. Do you know why people are not being saved through our churches? It is that we are not opening our mouths. God has promised that if we would open our mouths He would give us utterance in sharing the old, old story of Jesus and His incredible love.
Prayer and Mission
I love how John Piper captures the role of prayer in our mission. He says: “The number one reason why prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that they turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you believe that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for. Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission. It is as though the field commander (Jesus) called in the troops, gave them a crucial mission (‘Go and bear fruit’), handed each of them a personal transmitter coded to the frequency of the general’s headquarters, and said, ‘The general has a mission for you. He aims to see it accomplished. And to that end he has authorized me to give each of you personal access to him through these transmitters. If you stay true to the mission and seek his victory first, he will always be as close as your transmitter, to give tactical advice and to send in air cover when you and your comrades need it.’
“But what have millions of Christians done? They have stopped believing that we are in a war. No urgency, no watching, no vigilance, no strategic planning. Just easy peacetime and prosperity. And what did they do with the walkie-talkie? They tried to rig it up as an intercom in their cushy houses and cabins and boats and cars – not to call in firepower for conflict with a mortal enemy, but to ask the maid to bring another pillow to the den.”
Make the Adjustment
I told you as we began that I was going to ask you to make an adjustment. Here is the adjustment, “Lord, in light of the battle for Your kingdom for the souls of children and students and moms and dads and singles, I want to make the adjustment to begin to pray as I have never prayed before in extraordinary, united prayer.”
Jonathan Edwards said it was his “humble attempt to promote explicit agreement and visible union of God’s people in extraordinary prayer for the revival of religion and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom on earth….” Extraordinary prayer. Whatever prayer you have been praying, and you may be a great intercessor right now, God is calling for more united prayer.
Father, I pray that Your Spirit in this moment would make very practical application to every one of us. I pray, Father, that we would make the turn, that we would make the adjustment, that we would not quench the Spirit. We ask that You would raise us up to a whole new level of extraordinary, unceasing, united prayer so that Your kingdom would come and Your will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Bill Elliff is the Founding & National Engage Pastor of Summit Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas.