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Piper says prayer is essential in battling spiritual warfare

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Just as Olympic athletes are at war with their bodies, so in the spiritual realm “life is war” for Christians, a prominent evangelical author and minister told students at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., during the annual Carver-Barnes Lectures, Sept. 24-25.

And just as the Olympians are free to reach gold-medal status after they understand the physical war in which they are involved, so Christians will be free “for the most radical kind of engagement in world evangelization that is possible for justified sinners to experience a movement of prayer,” said John Piper, 20-year senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis.

Speaking on the foundations of prayer, Piper said a movement of prayer will be awesome and sustained only “within the context of life being war and God being sovereign.”

Only when Christians understand that “life is war” and that “God is sovereign” will they be able to access prayer’s full power. Until then, they cannot know either what life is for or what prayer is for, Piper said.

An author and former professor, Piper has written several books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (co-edited with Wayne Grudem). A doctoral graduate of the University of Munich, Piper taught biblical studies at Bethel College, St. Paul, Minn., 1974-80.

“The number one reason prayer doesn’t work for saints is because we have taken a wartime walkie-talkie and turned it into a domestic intercom,” Piper said.

People live differently when they are in the midst of war, he emphasized. Not only are they on the alert, armed and vigilant, but they also spend their money differently because “the cause of the front line is everything,” he said. “[War] brings such a massive change in the way you live your life.”

Christians in America easily display their lack of a wartime mentality, he said. They think about how to get more comfortable and more secure, how to multiply their comforts and ease, justifying it all with 10,000 types of sugarcoated ministries.

This war currently raging is worse than what occurred in World War II because “the conflict isn’t just restricted to any global theater,” Piper said. “It’s in every town, every city, every home and family, every church. The casualties don’t just lose an arm, an eye, a leg, or their own life. They lose their souls. They enter not into any prison camp, but into Hell forever and ever.”

During this war, God’s mission for His people is for them to pray, Piper said. Unfortunately, “people have simply stopped believing that life is war.”

Instead of using prayer as God intended — as a powerful force along with “the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” against the powers of darkness in this world — Christians use prayer ineffectively, so “it malfunctions [as] it is strung up with little wires all through the cabins, the cars and all through the nice places. We try simply to make our lives more comfortable with [prayer].”

The bullets of spiritual warfare are “flying over our heads, people falling all around us, blood everywhere, Hell filling up with lost people,” he said. During it all, “we’re getting our second houses and our second cars, our nice clothes and our fat retirements, our comfortable, safe neighborhoods, while the world can just perish, thank you.”

Instead, “this great thing called prayer is a wartime walkie-talkie, designed for war, not for peacetime, and it’s designed to do a lot of things in war,” Piper said, such as:

— get the accurate location to target the Word of God;

— give protection;

— blast open doors so the tanks of the Word of God can go through and defeat the enemy;

— ask for miracles of healing both for wounded soldiers and for soldiers who don’t have any strength left;

— supply the forces with what they need; and

— call in reinforcements.

Until the Christian life is seen as war, “you will not sustain a life of vigilance in prayer, perseverance in prayer, agonizing in prayer, nor will you build a church that prays anything other than some simple little prayer-meeting type prayer,” Piper said.

Speaking directly to Christians in the Southern Baptist Convention, he said there is a desperate need for a “brokenness” for the “50-70 percent of the people who belong to Southern Baptist churches and don’t come.”

In addition to a keen awareness that life is war, Christians also need to acknowledge the sovereignty of God, Piper said, if they are going to sustain “a heart of prayer and churches of prayer and a movement of prayer for the global cause of God in world evangelization and local evangelism.”

Acknowledgment of the sovereignty of God is necessary not only because “you can’t consistently pray for God to save people if you don’t believe He has the sovereign right to save people,” Piper said, but also because “unless you believe that He’s going to win the war, you won’t have the energy and the hope to sustain prayer for the triumph.”

Established in 1961, the Carver-Barnes Lectures honor W. O. Carver (1868-1954) and W.W. Barnes (1883-1960) for their outstanding contributions to theological education. The lectures address the history and the mission of the church. They are funded in part from the gifts of two Missouri families: Harold C. Fechner of Lee’s Summit and W. Lee Beaver of Chesterfield.

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  • Debbie Moore