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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Our Saviour teaches Christian soldiers to pray
Text:LD 52 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2014
Added:2014-07-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 97:1,2,5

Psalm 144:1,2

Hymn 69

Hymn 1

Hymn 35

Scripture reading: Ephesians 6:10-20

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 52

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

I don’t think anybody here this afternoon knows what it’s really like to be in the middle of a battlefield.  We now have several generations of Canadians where very, very few of them know what a firefight is like.  We have some men and women in our country who’ve been to Afghanistan and have faced battle with the Taliban, but other than that, the average Canadian only knows about war from reading about it, watching it, or maybe playing at it on a game console.  But previous generations knew it well. 

One of the defining moments in Canadian history was the battle for Vimy Ridge in World War I.  Pierre Berton wrote a powerful account of the battle, simply entitled Vimy.  An army veteran himself, he captured quite well the experience of being on the battlefield.  This is about the 42nd Battalion, the Royal Highlanders of Canada, known as the Black Watch:

As the battalion drew nearer to the front there came the faint rattle of machine guns and the whine of the occasional bullet overhead.  All talking ceased as the troops in crouching position negotiated the wooden trench mats that lay in the slime beneath their feet.  Occasionally a whisper was passed back from the company commander:  “Step down, hole in mat,” or “Wire underfoot.”  Sometimes the file would break and all would halt until it closed up.  In the distance, Bill Breckenridge could see the sky light up as a star shell fell over No Man’s Land. 

As the company entered the forward lines, the only sound was the thud of heavy boots.  The front lay just ahead.  Beyond that were the great mine craters in which sentries were posted.  Beyond that lay the dead world of No Man’s Land, and beyond that, invisible in the darkness, the great bulk of the ridge.

The battalion that had been garrisoning the line was about to be relieved by the Black Watch.  “Relieved” is the proper word, for relief was written on the faces of those who had survived a week of standing at the alert, eating cold food, sleeping in their clothes, twelve hours on and twelve off, never free of rats, lice, rain, snow, or mud, and the constant hammering of the guns…

We can hardly imagine what it must have been like to be a soldier there at Vimy Ridge, almost 100 years ago. 

And yet Scripture tells us that all believers are soldiers.  We are all supposed to be engaged in battle against powerful enemies who are bent on our destruction.  This image of the Christian as a soldier is one can be difficult for us to connect with today, because of our lack of familiarity with war on physical battlefields.  War and battle are so far removed from our everyday experiences.  We can be thankful for that.  But that does make it more difficult to understand what Scripture is speaking about when it says that we are soldiers on a battlefield.  When Scripture uses the language of war and soldiers, it sometimes doesn’t fully register. 

That’s something that needs to be addressed.  We need to address it because the enemy wants nothing more than for us to be oblivious to the fact that we’re at war.  He wants us to be complacent and out of touch with what’s really going on.  An unprepared and inattentive target is an easy mark. 

Ephesians 6:10-20 is that well-known passage which speaks of the Christian soldier.  The armour of the soldier is laid out for us:  the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes made up of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.  We could have a whole series of sermons on each of those elements.  There’s a lot there.  But I want to draw your attention this afternoon to what it says in verse 18.  After laying out the armour, Paul then adds, “…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”  The armour will not do you any good without prayer in the Spirit.

Our Lord Jesus therefore teaches us along these lines in the last petition and conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer.  He gives instruction for Christian soldiers who are supposed to be engaged in battle.  Our theme for this afternoon is this:  Our Saviour teaches Christian soldiers to pray.

We’ll see that we’re taught to pray:

  1. To know ourselves
  2. To know our enemies
  3. To know our God

As soldiers engage in battle, they have to know their capabilities.  They have to know their strengths and their weaknesses.  If they don’t, they can be decimated by the enemy.  In the world of military strategy, commanders are always careful to have a realistic assessment of the capabilities of the forces under their command and then they plan and work accordingly. 

Our commander is wise and observant.  He knows his soldiers intimately.  He knows our weaknesses.  As Scripture says in Psalm 103:14, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  And in John 15, he says that if we were not organically connected to him, if we were not grafted into him like a branch onto a vine, we would never survive.  Christ is our commander-in-chief and he has the most realistic assessment of his soldiers.  We need to listen to his assessment and then work with that assessment in the right way.

Our Catechism summarizes Christ’s assessment with those words at the beginning of QA 127, “In ourselves we are so weak that we cannot stand for even a moment.”  We are faced with battles against temptation.  Temptations come at us from all kinds of different angles, they come in all kinds of different packages.  Temptations are often custom-delivered for the individual soldiers.  Let me give some examples.  The one person feels no temptation or attraction to gluttonous eating.  For the other person, it’s the one thing that challenges them time and again, every single day.  The other person feels no temptation or attraction to pornography.  For the other person, it’s a battle again and again.  Still another person is tempted again and again to look down their noses at those who struggle with disordered eating or pornography or other sins – their temptation is to the sin of pride.  You get the idea.  There are probably as many different forms of temptation as there are people sitting here this afternoon.  All of us, every single one of us without exception, we are all faced with a battle.  Some of us realize it already and feel it powerfully from day to day.  Others are in danger of become desensitized to it or perhaps already are.  Let me ask:  where are you?  Do you feel the reality of the spiritual battle against temptation?

If you do, there’s good news:  your Saviour is there to help you.  He helps you first of all with that realistic assessment of yourself.  By yourself, you’re cannon fodder.  By yourself, you’re meat for the grinder.  By yourself, you’re spiritual toast.  “In ourselves, we are so weak that we cannot stand for even a moment.”  That’s reality.  If you’re looking for inner strength, you’re going to be disappointed, because you have none.  Zero.  Nada. 

By giving you that realistic self-assessment as a Christian soldier, your commander wants to bring you to your knees.  He wants to bring you to prayer.  Prayer turns us outward.  Prayer makes us turn away from ourselves and turn to another.  We’re to look for strength somewhere else other than from within ourselves.  We’re to ask for help and strength from our God.  When we pray along the lines of the sixth petition, we recognize that we are helpless in ourselves, but we have a mighty and powerful king, who is able and willing to help us.

Do you realize how counter-cultural what you’re hearing is?  The world around us proclaims something totally different.  We live in a world where New Age teachings dominate.  We seem to hear a lot about yoga these days.  A popular yoga instructor says on her website that it’s all about “finding the spirit and strength within you.”  Another popular yoga website encourages practitioners to “channel their inner goddess.” Jeremy Rifkin is a New Age prophet.  He writes, “It is our creation now.  We make the rules.  We establish the parameters of reality…We are responsible to nothing outside ourselves, for we are the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever.”  That totally flies in the face of the teachings of our Lord Jesus.  These kinds of ideas are waging war against what Christ says.

He says that we are weak in ourselves, so weak we can’t even stand for a moment.  Jesus says that the kingdom and the power and the glory belong to God, therefore we need to pray to him.  We don’t search inside ourselves for some hidden strength, because we will always ultimately be disappointed.  Instead, Christian soldiers look outward and upward.  We do that with the realistic self-assessment of our commander, which leads us to pray.  We pray for his help and his strength as we face battle with our temptations.  Loved ones, I urge you not to listen to any voice that will ever tell you otherwise.  Ignore anyone who ever tells you to look inside yourself for strength.  It’s not there and it’s foolish to think otherwise.  You need to be looking outward and upward.  That’s where Christian soldiers find their help.  Don’t we confess that at the beginning of every service?  “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth”?  Brothers and sisters, believe it, not only on Sunday, but every day of the week, and then pray accordingly.

We also need to know our enemies.  At the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917, the Allied forces had a remarkable new tool at their disposal.  The aircraft came into its own as a military weapon during World War I.  They were used as fighters deployed against other fighters, and some were used as bombers.  But at Vimy, aircraft were mostly used for observation purposes.  They supplemented the observation balloons.  Allied commanders used aircraft and balloons to observe the Germans, so that they could know their enemy, their positions, their capabilities, their weaknesses and so on.  Every good military commander wants to have the best intel on his enemy.

We have the best military commander who has the most thorough intel on our enemies.  Our Lord Jesus is totally on top of who our enemies are, where they are, what they can and can’t do, and far more.  In the world of military operations, commanders don’t always share all their intel with soldiers on the frontlines.  Usually it’s on a need-to-know basis.  However, in our spiritual warfare, our commander has in fact given us a great deal of intel about our enemies.  Christ knows that we need it and so he’s equipped us with it.

Let’s look at Ephesians 6 once again.  There the Lord informs us about some of our enemies.  Verse 11 speaks about the schemes of the devil.  It’s him that we need to withstand.  The armour of God is designed to protect Christian soldiers against the schemes of Satan.  Remember that  the name “Satan” literally means “enemy.”  He is God’s enemy, but he is also ours.  A powerful enemy; like Peter says in 1 Peter 5, he is a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Then look at verse 16.  The Lord tells us about how we need to take up the shield of faith so that we can extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one.  This verse uses imagery from the world of ancient warfare.  As the movie Gladiator begins, it portrays a military force firing arrows with tips dipped in tar and set on fire.  To answer that, defending forces would take their large shields and dampen them.  The flaming darts would then be extinguished.  So that’s the picture being used there in Ephesians 6:16.  We have a powerful enemy firing flaming arrows at us.   

One or more of those flaming arrows would definitely include temptations to sin.  Satan and his forces send us messages such as, “Why not just give in this one time?  If you want, you’ll always have time to repent later on.”  Meanwhile, what you forget is that one time leads to one more time, and one more time leads to a vicious cycle of many more times.  That’s exactly what our enemy wants.  He wants us to forget or ignore the warnings of Scripture against “just this one time.”  Moreover, you don’t know whether there will be time to repent later on.  You don’t the hours and days of your life.  If you think you can live in sin now, and repent later, you’re making a foolish and wicked gamble, presuming upon the Lord and his plan for your life.  To quench these sorts of flaming arrows, we need the shield of faith.  What we need is to focus our attention upwards again on Jesus Christ.  An essential part of that is going to be prayer.  When we’re faced with temptations, we need to pray in faith for his deliverance.  We need to pray like this, “I’m faced with this temptation, Lord.  I can’t stand by myself.  Help me with your Holy Spirit so that I won’t be defeated.  Please help me to resist my enemy so that I can persevere to the end and obtain the complete victory.” 

But we have more enemies.  We also face the world of unbelief.  The world also wants to bring us to defeat, to turn us away from Christ and life in him.  The world will often mock us for our faith and seek to get us to conform to its values and ideals.  The world stands against Christ.  Now, our unbelieving friends and neighbours need our compassion.  We need to pray for them, pray that the Lord would open their hearts for the gospel.  We need to pray for opportunities to share the good news with them.  These unbelieving friends and neighbours, coworkers and so on, they are part of the world – that world that is our sworn enemy.  We need to be careful to maintain our sense of the antithesis, while at the same time having love and compassion for lost sinners.  It’s difficult to get away from the fact that ‘the world’ is made up of individual lost sinners.  It’s also difficult to get away from the fact that ‘the world’ is our enemy.  So on the one hand, we need to love them and pray for them, but on the other hand we have to be aware that they are part of a principle that opposes itself to the gospel and to Christians.  This is difficult to understand and all the more difficult to live out.  There’s often a tension here.  And this tension should bring us also to prayer. 

When we think about our sworn enemy, the world, we need to pray for the Lord’s help in loving our enemies, while at the same time not being deceived or conquered by their temptations.  And no doubt, the world offers temptations.  The Lord can give us the wisdom to navigate these while at the same time having the love and compassion that we need for lost sinners.  To receive that wisdom, we need to pray and ask for it.

Our last enemy mentioned in the Catechism is the traitor within each of us.  Each believer has the leftovers of a sinful nature.  These remnants wage war against our new nature in Christ.  Because the enemy is within, and because this is a type of guerilla warfare, we are especially susceptible to this enemy.  We’re always hearing that we need to just trust ourselves and follow our hearts.  But listen to what Scripture says in Proverbs 28:26, “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool…”  A more literal translation would read, “Whoever trusts in his own heart is a fool…”  God’s Word is exactly right.  Don’t be a fool.  Don’t trust yourself and the voices from within.  You have a traitor within your own heart and that traitor could lead you astray and destroy you. 

About this enemy, we need to be aware and we need to be in prayer.  This enemy does not cease to attack and try to deceive us.  If we don’t pray about it, our own flesh could bring us down to defeat.  So, brothers and sisters, pray along the lines that our Saviour teaches us.  Pray like this, “Father, I have a traitor within.  Help me to resist it.  Help me to put what’s left of my sinful nature to death.  Please help me to do this with your Holy Spirit.  Please let me see this sinful nature be more and more weakened and destroyed.”

So we’re taught to pray to know ourselves, that we are weak.  We’re taught to pray for help in knowing our enemies – the devil, the world, and our own flesh.  Finally, we’re taught to pray to know our God.

If we follow the Catechism’s summary of Scripture, this is what Christian soldiers can say about their God:  he can uphold and strengthen us.  His Holy Spirit has power to help us resist our enemies so that we persevere to the end.  Look at the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”  From that we can say that God is our King.  He has sovereign power over all things.  He is willing to give us all that is good.  And he is able to give us all that is good.   Moreover, if we look at the last Question and Answer and what it says about that little word ‘Amen,’ we can be confident that he hears the voice of Christian soldiers in prayer.

Intellectually, most of us know these things.  We usually know these things in the abstract, don’t we?  But it’s quite another thing to have these things firmly fixed in your heart so that when you’re in the middle of a spiritual battle, you can draw the strength you need from them.  Because we need to remember that we’re speaking about spiritual things and we’re naturally weak in that department.  Our natural weakness means that we easily forget who our God is and what he will do for us on the battlefield.

Again, this highlights the need for us to pray.  We recognize that we are dependent on someone other than ourselves.  We need his help, and to get his help, we need to ask for it.  The way we ask for it is through prayer.  In our prayers, we can and should ask for a deeper and richer knowledge of God, a knowledge that goes deep, not only in our minds, but also in our hearts.  Into the very deepest corners of who we are.  We should ask the LORD to more abundantly reveal himself to us through his Word.  Do you think already know everything there is to know about God?  Or do you always have everything there is to know about God at your fingertips so to speak?  I don’t and I don’t believe any of us here do.  But the knowledge of God from his Word is what will give us strength on the battlefield.  For that reason we need to pray earnestly for it.  If you pray for a deeper knowledge of God with heartfelt longing, God will answer.  I can guarantee it.  How?  Because this is part of a prayer which undoubtedly pleases God.

With that we come again to the end of the Catechism.  Our Catechism begins with a sure and certain comfort.  There’s not a shred of doubt in Lord’s Day 1.  With certainty we confess that we have comfort in life and death in Christ.  And as we end the Catechism, we end again with certainty:  “Amen means: It is true and certain…”  We can have certainty in life and death -- and with our prayers --  because of our Saviour and what God has done through him.  Brothers and sisters, fellow Christian soldiers, keep your eyes fixed on our commander in chief Jesus, and he will bring you the complete victory!  AMEN:  It is true and certain.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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