Setting of Prayer: Life is War
According to Luke 11, the disciples once witnessed Jesus speaking to His Father in heaven. When Jesus finished praying, one of the disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray" The disciples had trouble with prayer, didn't quite know what to say, felt they had problem getting through to God. Jesus complied with their request, and so taught His disciples how to pray. Said Jesus: "When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven. Hallowed be Your Name. Your kingdom come." With this second petition Jesus instructs His disciples to speak to their heavenly Father from the context of their daily existence – which is war.
"Your kingdom come." Those words imply that God's kingdom is not here yet; if it were here, one would not need to pray that God's kingdom may please come.
Is God's kingdom in fact not here? We need to bear in mind two realities. On the one hand, the Bible portrays God in Christ as being sovereign Master of the universe. I think of Psalm 24: "The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein" (vs. 1). I think also of Jesus' words to His disciples: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me." (Matthew 28:18). And Peter's words on the day of Pentecost: "…let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:36). OT and NT alike agree: God is king today over all the world.
But there is a second reality. In this fallen world, not all in God's kingdom acknowledge God as king. That is: within the perimeters of God's kingdom (that's all the world) are those who rebel against God, who deny His kingship, who seek to dethrone God. Within God's kingdom are dissidents, and they battle against God, they engage in both open warfare against God as well as in guerrilla activities in their efforts to claim the kingdom for their chief.
I speak, of course, of the revolt against God begun by Satan in the beginning. The Scriptures speak of "angels who sinned" (2 Peter 2:4) under the leadership of the angel Satan; those fallen angels are now known as demons. Satan was not content with his place under God, he wished to dethrone God and claim God's glory for Himself. After His rebellion against God, Satan tempted Adam and Eve in Paradise, with as result that the first man and the first lady of the world joined Satan in his rebellion against God; Adam and Eve refused to acknowledge the kingship and authority of God their Creator (Genesis 3:1ff).
God, though, did not rest content with this rebellion in the world He created for His own glory. He sought out the man and his wife in Paradise, and came to them with the gospel. Said God to Satan in the hearing of Adam and Eve:
I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.Genesis 3:15
That is: God declared war on the rebel Satan. Though the devil had managed to get the world for himself, God was not content with such a state of affairs. God declared war; God placed "enmity", hatred, strife, contention between Satan on the one hand and the woman on the other. More, God promised that in this strife, this enmity, bruising would occur, bruising that would even cause death. Life on earth would not be sweat and idyllic; life would be warfare, battles, hatred.
So it happened. By the grace of God, Adam and Eve were returned to God's side, delivered from the clutches of the devil. Their first born son, however, had no desire to serve the King of kings; Cain allied himself with Satan against God. Such was the hatred and the strife of this mortal life that this first-born rose up against his brother and killed him. That is life: bloodshed, hatred, strife, jealousy, murder. Life is war, civil war; brother rises up against brother, children against parents, parents against children. Here is in practice what God decreed after the fall in Paradise: life is enmity.
The Old Testament is full of examples of that enmity. The apostasy in the days of Noah, the doubts in Abraham's mind about the child God promised, the jealousy amongst the brothers in Jacob's tent, the bondage of God's covenant people in Egypt, Israel’s murmuring and grumbling in the desert, their readiness to give themselves to the idols of Canaan, Saul's hatred against his anointed successor David – on and on goes the Old Testament, pointing up the bitter reality that enmity, strife, warfare characterises this life.
Christmas: War Continued
In the fullness of time God sent His only Son to earth. yes, the angels sang in the fields of Bethlehem of "glory to God in the highest" – the first petition! – sang also of peace on earth (Luke 2:14), But their intent was not to communicate to mankind that warfare had come to an end, that life was strife no longer.
Said Jesus to His disciples: Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword, For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household'.Matthew 10:34ff
No, Christmas has not meant an end to the warfare that has characterised life on earth since Paradise. In fact, the Lord is emphatic that the warfare of the Old Testament has become even more brutal, more sinister, more subtle in the era of the New Testament. The apostle John is shown a vision relating to the victory of Christ on the cross of Calvary. He says it like this,
And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.Revelation 12:7ff
We read that, and we say: yes, that's triumph for God in Christ against the enemy Satan; he's cast out of heaven, defeated – Hallelujah! That's the victory of Calvary!
Up the Ante!
But we would be so remiss if we concluded that herewith the enmity proclaimed in Genesis 3 has come to an end! For Satan, though indeed cast out of heaven, has not yet been cast into hell. Says John further:
Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great Wrath, because he knows that he has a short time (vs. 12).
John is shown too what the devil does on earth: Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the Woman who gave birth to the male Child (vs. 13).
True, the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.
But that doesn't mean Satan knows no hatred anymore, doesn't mean that Satan does not continue to fight God and His kingdom. Vs 17:
And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
That is the reality for the Church of Jesus Christ throughout the New Testament dispensation: that Church is hated fiercely by the devil, and Satan makes war with those who keep the commandments of God. The enmity and strife proclaimed in Genesis 3 continues even till today. Though God in Christ has triumphed over the devil, defeated him, Satan does not admit defeat; he continues his attacks on the kingdom of God. Frontal attacks, guerrilla activity, terrorist attacks: nothing is below the belt as far as the devil is concerned.
Danger is to Us!
And notice, dear reader, who it is that Satan attacks. That last verse of Revelation 12 spoke of his making war with "the rest of her offspring." Who are they? They are those "who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." You see: Satan does not send his demons against those who want nothing to do with God, doesn't attack the unbelievers and the heathens. In his sights are the believers, you and l! We who claim to love the Lord, we who have made profession of the faith, and the children of God by covenant whom God has entrusted to us: we are the persons targeted by the devil today. Let there be no mistake in our minds: we are hated by the devil and his demons, and that devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (to quote from I Peter 5:8), and he wants to devour us and our children. Hence the instruction of the apostle Paul to the church of all ages:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For 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.Ephesians 6:10ff
The demons are here, attacking God's own now in cruel rage, attacking us. That is the tragic reality of life in this fallen world; life was and still is warfare, cruel, hard, bitter warfare.
If we don't experience it that way, that's not because the Word of God is not accurate on this point, nor is it because the devil is concentrating his attacks elsewhere; if we don't experience it this way it's rather because we are too sinful even to notice Satan's attacks – and too sinful too to notice (possibly) our collapsing in the face of his attacks.
The disciples asked Jesus for instruction about prayer. After telling His disciples that their prayers need to be God-centred, Jesus proceeded to tell them that the warfare characterising this life was to receive a central place in the disciples' conversations with God.
Said Jesus to them: ask God to make His kingdom come. That is: tell God that you are under attack, speak with God about the rebellion still being pushed by some of the creatures of God's creation. Said Jesus to His disciples: make sure that the enmity of which God spoke in Genesis 3 is part and parcel of your talking with God.
We understand: if this subject is to be part and parcel of our talking with God – yes, and receives pride of place after the petition instructing us about God-centredness! – then this subject must of necessity determine also the way we view life as a whole. I may not think of my daily life in terms of peace and quiet, only to turn around and speak with God about life as war; I am rather to think of life in terms of warfare, of hatred, of strife, of ambush and attacks. And then, from my specific position in life, I am to speak to God about where I'm at, tell Him about my circumstances in the context of the warfare of which He speaks, the warfare going on around me.
That reality gives colour to prayers, adds perspective. The Lord has given me work, but the boys at work mock me terribly because I'm a Christian, go to church, don't appreciate pornography, don't do drugs. The material behind the second petition gives me understanding for what is going on here; Satan would use the fellows at work to tear me from my God, to keep me away from church, to stop me from praying. So I tell God, tell Him of my struggles at work from the perspective of the second petition, from the perspective of Satan's ongoing hatred against the church and against me. 'Father,' I pray, 'You are King over all, worthy of all glory and praise. But in Your kingdom are those who refuse to acknowledge you, and I experience it so strongly at work. My work-mates mock my Christianity, yes, behind their mockery is Satan and his demons trying to lure me away from You and Your service. So I pray; make Your kingdom come! I pray: destroy the attacks of Satan against me, give me strength to acknowledge, publicly, that you are God on high! Give me strength to continue to pray even at work, to be faithful to you in my conduct. Father, Your kingdom come at Work, Your kingdom come in my life.'
There is strife in my marriage, my parents' marriage. The material behind the second petition gives perspective to what is going on: Satan would destroy the family, divide Mom and Dad so that parents cannot concentrate together on the task of teaching the children the way of the Lord. The TV and the home computer and the VCR take away from time to communicate with each other in the home: Satan would prevent parents from speaking with God's covenant children about the service of the Lord, would prevent children from telling their parents what is on their minds. So we pray, pray for good relations with the children, pray for good harmony in marriage, and as we pray it's the material of the second petition that's on our minds: 'Father, prevent Satan from destroying our family, be it through friction between persons of the family, be it through our being absorbed by entertainment that takes away time to talk, be it by infatuation with sport, etc. Father,' we pray, 'Your kingdom come. Rule us by Your Word and Spirit so that we in our home submit more and more to You; destroy Satan's attacks upon us.'
We pray, with the reality of war in our minds. We understand: we don't just pray; we also work. After all: I cannot pray that God please make His kingdom come, and at the same time continue to tolerate sin in my life. I cannot pray that God make His kingdom come in my work situation, and at the same time join the boys in their mocking. I cannot pray that God bless my family and at the same time give a television – dominated as it today is by Satan in his battle against God and His church – a place in my family. I cannot pray that God heal the strife in my marriage, and at that same time not go out of my way to reach out to my spouse in total self-denial. We pray, and at the same time work. We realise: Jesus' instruction in the second petition teaches us a view on life itself, teaches us what's going on in life; life is war.
Will a prayer focusing on the reality of this war be answered? Jesus' promise is this: "ask and you shall receive" (Luke 11:9). No, not that all we desire shall be granted. Jesus' point is rather that what is asked according to the instructions of the Lord's Prayer will surely be given to you. More, Christ Jesus has defeated Satan and his demons; though the devil still fights for all he's worth in an effort to dethrone the Lord God, he cannot succeed (see Revelation 12). In fact, though the Church may become small, and the number of the faithful on earth be but few, Satan shall not win control of God's world. It stands firm in Scripture: every knee shall bow before King Jesus, shall acknowledge that He is Lord and Christ (Philippians 2). Yes, already Satan is bound (Revelation 20). So we may pray confidently that God please make His kingdom come, and we may be convinced: God will hear our petition. Yes, He will give strength for us to be faithful and obedient – even in the face of Satan's attacks against us through the fellows at work. And yes, He will give strength for me to deny myself so that I do my part to heal my marriage – even when I feel Satan's attacks so strongly in my home. He will give strength even to cut sin out of my life.