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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:A War Prayer
Text:LD 52 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Spiritual Warfare

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 144:1,2                                                                                

Ps 18:1  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Psalm 35; Ephesians 6:10-20

Ps 35:2,9

Sermon – Lord’s Day 52, Q&A 127

Ps 35:1,4

Hy 53:1,2,3,4

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

Beloved congregation, for a long time our country has been a fighting nation. Our troops have gone to places like Europe and the Middle East and elsewhere, and over the years many have died. When we consider the many who’ve gone to war, we notice that also many Christians have enlisted. War can be a deadly thing, but these Christians surely went with the awareness of God’s protection. They knew that the LORD was with them, whatever happened. And so these soldiers went to war, calling on God’s Name.

One such prayer comes from a little booklet that was printed in 1941, and distributed among English-speaking troops during World War 2. It’s called “A Prayer Book for Soldiers and Sailors.” When we open it, we find this striking petition, one that's called, “A Morning Prayer:” 

Into thy hands, O God, I commend myself this day. Let thy presence be with me even to its close, that at night I may again give thanks unto thee… Grant, O Lord, that I may not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and [bravely] to fight under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue [as] Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto my life’s end. Defend, O Lord, this thy Child with thy heavenly grace; that I may continue [as] thine forever; and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until I come unto thy everlasting kingdom. Amen.

It’s a powerful prayer, a confession of reliance on the Lord. One can easily imagine a Christian soldier quietly offering up such a prayer, maybe just before he goes into battle.

Today, we don’t wear the uniform of our nation, and we don’t fight overseas against foreign armies. But all the same we’re soldiers, fighting under the banner of Christ. We hear in the Catechism that in the spiritual war that is this life, “our sworn enemies do not cease to attack us” (Q&A 127). Which means that we too, need a “a prayer book for soldiers.” We too, need to ask for God’s help and his care. This is what Jesus teaches in the Lord’s Prayer, and in Psalm 35:

We ask God for courage and strength in the battle:

  1. the hatred of our enemy
  2. the strength of our Ally
  3. the certainty of our victory


1) the hatred of our enemy: One of the things that soldiers sometimes talk about is the intense hatred that’s shown by their enemies. It goes beyond the level of having a reasonable strategic purpose, and it becomes fanatical. Especially when it’s driven by an ideology like Nazism, or radical Islam, people can be so blinded that they stop at nothing to do further their cause and destroy the enemy.

It’s this kind of opposition that David faced when he was writing Psalm 35. This is a Psalm for which we don’t know the exact circumstances. But clearly his life is in danger from an enemy, one who is filled with hate and who is very deceptive. The Psalm could be about those years when David was being chased everywhere by Saul. Or even once he took the throne, David had many enemies, both foreign nations and also people that came from his own household. In Psalm 35, it sounds like he’s being oppressed by men who used to be close to him, but who now are desperate to kill him.

Already in the opening verse, he cries out: “Plead my cause, O LORD, with those who strive with me” (v 1). Or verse 3: “Stop those who pursue me” (v 3). They’re seeking his life, trying to trap him, and persecuting him fiercely. They’re tenacious in their attacks on him as the Lord’s servant. For as soon as David takes a misstep, these opponents are ready to assault him: “In my adversity they rejoiced and gathered together; attackers gathered against me, and I did not know it; they tore at me and did not cease” (v 15). David faces a determined and dangerous enemy, and they won’t rest until he’s dead.

Already we find ourselves echoing David’s war prayer. For the truth is, we’re daily under attack by an adversary who hates us. No, there aren’t angry people banging at the church doors, trying to get at us. We don’t face accusations in court because of our Christian faith, and our property isn’t being taken away. Yet there’s an enemy moving against us. We don’t see him, but he’s there. As Paul tells us, “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” (Eph 6:12).

And this is how the Catechism puts it: “Our sworn enemies—the devil, the world, and our own flesh—do not cease to attack us” (Q&A 127). That’s an important line, and we need to take it apart for a moment. As God’s children, we have our adversaries.

What kind of enemies are they? Are they a bit of friendly competition, like the opposing team in hockey/cricket/soccer? Or do these enemies attack us, engage in battle for a little while, then lose interest? No, the Catechism says we have “sworn” enemies. Note that word well, for it means this is hatred of a different intensity. They have a total dedication to our destruction. “The devil, the world, and our own flesh,” kind of like an unholy trinity, an axis of evil.

The devil, of course, is the mastermind, the general in charge of all the battalions of darkness. Daily he plots and schemes, and he invents new ways of doing the same old sins. His temptations are all designed for this one purpose, to draw us away from the LORD and to ruin the church. This is why James in his letter counsels us: “Resist the devil” (4:7). Don’t make peace with him, but fight hard against his attacks.

And the world—the world where we live and move and work—the world goes right along with the devil. This world serves as the willing vehicle for Satan to deliver his explosives: planting temptation along the roads we travel, bringing evil right into our homes, right up to the doorstep of the church. So John warns us, “All that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). With a godless world as our enemy, the battle lines aren’t across the ocean, they’re very near.

And our own flesh—David had his betrayers, but this is the ultimate traitor. Once created in God’s image and meant to be devoted to holiness and righteousness, our sinful flesh works for the enemy. “Just try it,” our hearts whisper, “No one will know about this sin. No one else is saying no to this. You deserve this pleasure.” Like the most deranged suicide bomber, our own sinful flesh is bent on self-destruction. So every day we have to fight against that pull of our hearts, like Paul exhorts in Colossians 3:5, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” Kill your sin, before it kills you!

With the devil, the world and our sinful flesh as enemies, let’s reflect on what we’re asking when we pray, “Do not lead us into temptation.” Because it’s easy to classify as “temptations” simply those terrible sins we’d all agree are wrong. Tempted to bow down in front of a golden idol; or tempted to take God’s Name in vain when you’re upset; or tempted to have an affair with your co-worker, or to beat your children. These temptations are real, and we have to resist them with all our might.

But recognize that the devil’s daily temptations can be far more subtle. They can be far less outwardly offensive. Our temptations are as simple as that urge to share some unpleasant news about someone who hurt you in the past. They’re as “harmless” as the habit of spitting out harsh or critical words without a moment’s thought. Temptation is as natural as our willingness to let other things take the place of Scripture-reading. Temptation is as quick as a stolen glance at someone else’s body; it’s as quick as a furious look at our child; it’s as quick as a proud or envious thought. You hardly notice it. The point is, temptation likes to sneak in the back door, when we’re not really paying attention.

How often are we tempted? It’s not just here and there, it’s constant. For this is the nature of our war: “Our sworn enemies… do not cease to attack us.” When can we let down our guard? When can we pretend that the devil won’t notice? When can we trust our flesh to make the right decision? We cannot. We’re always “outside the wire,” as soldiers say, always on the battlefield.

And the complicating factor in this battle is that we’re so weak, so fearful, so prone to attack. David knew his weakness—that’s why he pours out his heart to God. He was bowed down, almost broken. So he humbles himself and he prays, like in verse 17, “Lord, how long will you look on? Rescue me from their destructions.”

We join him, and we pray, “In ourselves we are so weak that we cannot stand even for a moment.” Admit that you surrender at the slightest attack. I drop my guard the moment things start looking easy. You give in to the gentlest suggestion. We can’t stand, even for a moment. In ourselves, we’re helpless—but with our Ally, we have an unfailing strength.


2) the strength of our Ally: If there’s ever a nation looking to start an invasion, or fend off an enemy attack, that nation will look for allies. You need people who can join and support you, because fighting a war takes a lot of resources. And we thank God, because this is what we have, an Ally who is Almighty. This is how David begins his war prayer: “Plead my cause, O LORD, with those who strive with me; fight against those who fight against me” (v 1). It’s a request that God would fight his battles, take up David’s cause against his enemies—and destroy them completely!

Is that a proper thing to pray, that God would fight for us? We know we have to pray according to God’s will, for all He’s commanded in his Word. So is this one of his promises, that God would be a warrior on our behalf?

Well, David is a man who knows God. And he knows that God shows Himself to be a warrior. He did at the Red Sea, when He destroyed the Egyptians. This is what Moses sang back then, “The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his Name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea” (Exod 15:3-4). The LORD is a warrior!

And that’s what God has done so often: He’s taken up the defense of his people. Against the Amalekites, against the Syrians, against the Moabites, against the Philistines, against the Midianites, against countless enemies, God has waged war and won. David is right to pray—we are right to pray—“Fight against those who fight against me.” That’s the fifth petition, isn’t it? “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” It’s a prayer that God will go with us onto the field of battle, that He’ll save and protect us, his weak and wobbly troops. We pray that He’ll keep Satan’s power in check. We pray that He’ll restrain this sinful world. We pray that He’ll transform our corrupted and traitorous hearts.

At the outset of each day, before those bullets and bombs really start flying, before we have to navigate the minefields of personal relationships, we can pray the words of the Catechism, “Will you, therefore, uphold and strengthen us…” This is how David prays to God: “Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for my help. Also draw out the spear, and stop those who pursue me” (vv 2-3). See how he doesn’t just call on God to fight, but he pictures God as a fighter, a soldier decked out with armour. He’s got a shield, and a buckler—a small round shield worn on the arm—and a spear, for going on the offensive.

This imagery too, is found elsewhere in the Bible. Just listen to Isaiah 59:17, “[The LORD] puts on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his hand; He puts on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and is clad with zeal as a cloak.” Or think of Habakkuk 3, which speaks of God’s many arrows, and his glittering spear brought against his foes (v 11). God is equipped for battle. You wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley.

It’s a frightening image, and it’s comforting. God is a great warrior, who is able and ready to fight for his chosen ones. Ask him to help, and He will! In your deepest struggles with sin, and your own weakness and the pressures of this world, pray with David: “Fight my fight to set me free.” And God will fight.

This is a God who can give you the courage to stand up against evil, even when it feels like you’re standing all alone. He’ll give you the wisdom to see through Satan’s deception, even when his lies are so convincing. God will give strength in that moment of temptation, even when everything inside you wants to give in. God will show the way out of sin, and teach us the way of righteousness instead. He’ll fight for us on every front. He takes hold of shield and buckler, He draws out the spear, and He stops those who pursue us.

Seeing God as a warrior reminds us of the spiritual armour that’s described in Ephesians 6. For after Paul tells about the high stakes of our battle against the powers of darkness, he urges, “Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (v 13). Notice it’s the armour of God: not just the armour that God gives us, but the armour that Almighty God wears himself—his breastplate, his helmet, his garments. So you know it’s going to be effective!

But it comes with a serious responsibility. Because if we’ll stand in this fight, we must be ready. The good soldier for Christ walks in step with his Commander. And the soldier of Christ doesn’t leave home without his armour. If you are facing temptations every day (and you are), if you’re dealing with the lies of the devil and the attacks of this world (and you are), and if you’re trying to ignore the whispers of your heart, you need armour.

You have to be fastening tight the belt of truth, by knowing the truth. You have to be strapping on the breastplate of righteousness, by living in righteousness. You have to be tying up the sandals of the gospel by loving that gospel, and taking in hand the shield of faith by growing your faith. Put on the helmet of salvation by seeing yourself everyday as saved in Christ. And then take the sword of the Spirit—you’ll only be able to stand fast if you know the Scriptures, the truth that defeats the devil’s lie.

If you’re faithfully putting on that armour, then you can make this your prayer: “By the power of your Holy Spirit… in this spiritual war [may I] may not go down to defeat but always firmly resist [my] enemies.” In ourselves we are so weak that we cannot stand for even a moment—yet you can “be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might” (Eph 6:10).


3) the certainty of our victory: When troops are fighting overseas, one of the topics for constant debate is the potential outcome. Will we achieve a clear victory? That’s the question, especially when there’s another battle lost. Will we win? Well, David had great confidence of victory. See how it’s his prayer, already in verse 3. He asks God, “Say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation.’” Salvation—in this Psalm, that’s just another way of saying, “I am your victory. I am your triumph.” That’s what David wanted to hear from God, and he knew he would.

In the same way the Christian soldier today prays in good confidence. For there’s no question about the outcome: We’ll win! We pray for God to keep us from temptation and give strength and courage, “Until we finally obtain the complete victory.” Not if, but when! Is that over-confidence? Overestimating ourselves, or underestimating our opponent? We should do neither. But we should recognize again the perfect power of the God who fights for us. We win, not because of ourselves, but because of the LORD.

This is how God encouraged Joshua, that great warrior for God’s people. Joshua was facing that long and arduous conquest of the Promised Land. The land was filled with enemies, great and numerous. Israel was just a nation of shepherds and farmers, up against the giants. But this is what God said, “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh 1:9).

What will you do, when you need to stick up for what’s right? What will you do, when you’re tempted to conform to the world? What will you do, when you face that daily choice between doing God’s will, and your own? Step forward with courage, wearing the armour of God. And then fight in the certainty of the victory.

Maybe you’ve seen pictures of what took place at the end of World Ward 2, when victory was declared. Hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets, and they celebrated. The unthinkable had finally happened, and the war was over. It’s no different for us. The total victory hasn’t arrived yet, but we can rejoice in what God is surely going to do for us. Rejoicing shines through in Psalm 35 as well. For after all of David’s hardships, he knows God will put a song of praise on his lips, “My soul shall be joyful in the LORD; it shall rejoice in His salvation” (v 9). That’s our joy, the gladness in knowing the Lord and his total triumph.

Beloved, this week we’re going to face the heat of battle once again. Wherever we’re going, whatever we’re doing, we need help. We need strength. We need courage. We need wisdom. And we need to keep praying. If you’re going to take part in that final victory celebration, you ought to pray diligently, pray fervently, pray constantly.

Notice how it’s actually prayer that receives the most attention in Paul’s words about our fight against the evil one. After listing all those different pieces of armour, this is what he ends with—this is like the fabric underneath it, keeping it all together. God exhorts us, that in our spiritual war, “[Pray] always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end, with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (v 18). Pray always!

Pray for yourself as you go through the trials of every day. But pray also “for all the saints,” for your brothers and sisters, for those going through the same kind of temptations. Pray for the transformation to continue, pray for that renewal to progress, for those daily battles to be won, more and more. Pray, and then also work. Work at resisting the devil. Work at overcoming the world. Work at putting to death the desires of your flesh. Do this more and more in Christ’s power, “until you finally achieve the complete victory.”  Amen

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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