Every believer is called to vigilant prayer. It is part of our intercession and of our role as spiritual watchmen. But it is also a defensive and offensive weapon of spiritual discernment to empower us to pre-empt the attacks of Satan through knowledge and vision from God.
Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; (Colossians 4:2)
Prayer is a rich and varied relationship with a God who meets every need. At its simplest, it is simply communing with Him, sharing the details of our lives in companionship and love. Pure, unrestrained worship is also a form of prayer, that which is beyond the ordinary and wholly focused on the glory of God. We can never separate prayer from worship. In between these, however, lies a wealth of different forms of prayer – petitions, thanksgiving, praise, intercession. Because we serve a God is the I AM – the all of everything in our lives – there is no limit to the different prayers through which we engage with Him. Vigilant prayer, however, brings in a dimension that is not often taught. Yet it’s a vitally necessary form of prayer. Understanding it and why it’s so critical to our spiritual victory can transform both our prayer lives and our Christian walk.
What is vigilant prayer?
The word ‘vigilant’ basically means keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties. It brings to mind Ezekiel’s watchmen and introduces a powerful dimension of prayer we cannot afford to overlook. Essentially, vigilant prayer means to be watchful in prayer – to use prayer as a means to identify possible dangers or difficulties. From a purely practical perspective a watchman serves a vital purpose. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. Two verses add understanding for us. Hosea 4:6 says, My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Proverbs 29:18 says, Where there is no vision, the people perish. While these may seem simply variations of the same thing, they bring different depths of revelation to what it is to be watchful in prayer. Both equally provide understanding on the critical importance of the watchman role in our prayers. Knowledge and vision are both of God, provided to empower us spiritually.
Knowledge is the Word – the Logos or written Word of God. Visions are part of the Rhema or spoken Word of God. They are not mutually exclusive and always work together to confirm, explain, or support one another. In other words, they should both be present in vigilant prayer, which must always be rooted in the Word and led by the Spirit. A defining feature of watching in prayer is that it contains both these spiritual provisions from God. The absence of even one of these has profound consequences – the people perish or are destroyed. What we can see clearly then is that to pray with vigilance involves preventing the destruction of the people through foreknowledge provided through knowledge and vision given by God through Word and Spirit. In perspective, consider the injunction to pray for the saints which closes the teaching on the armour of God.
Vigilant prayer is defensive and offensive in nature.
It’s worth looking at the full verse of Ephesians 6:18: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints. Once again, we find the word ‘watchful’ which immediately adds an offensive dimension to what, on the surface, may seem to be a defensive ‘weapon’ in the armour. Prayer is defensive in that it the armour of God includes no protection for the back. The reason is that soldiers fought back to back, i.e. each covered or defended the back of the other. This is the origin of the phrase ‘cover my back’ we use so frequently. It clearly introduces the element of vigilant prayer as a means to ‘watch the back’ of other saints. We are each, in spiritual terms, the ‘rear armour’ of the other saints through prayer.
But vigilance is far more than simply praying for protection. This is where we, as believers, miss the mark. The devil must delight in our limited understanding, for without the knowledge and vision in the fullness God intended, the people do perish. Watching may seem sedentary and passive, but in God’s purposes, it is also offensive. A watchman is a scout or spy. They go ahead of the army to locate the enemy’s position and determine its strength. Both scout and spy apply equally to the watchman on the wall. Their purpose is always that of forewarning and of discovering the strength and intention of the enemy. Vigilant prayer, then, involves and active and offensive intention to identify the purposes of the devil and his armies before they strike. This means that we never have to be caught unawares and that things can be prevented before they happen.
God’s purpose in vigilant prayer.
It’s a vital spiritual truth that God has chosen to work through people. It’s just as true that we’re at war and that the devil will use our failings and omissions of as a kind of ‘Trojan horse’ to undermine our effectiveness. After all, why waste time and effort doing what we are already doing for him? I don’t believe in giving undue glory to the powers of darkness by laying every difficulty at their door. Self and the world are often responsible for the struggles we encounter. At the same time, however, God has provided vigilant prayer to counter the offensive actions of Satan’s servants which we so often miss because our focus is elsewhere. There is a time for defensive action and a time for offensive action. In and of ourselves, we are unable to discern the difference.
As a result, we either expend unnecessary energy on things that aren’t the devil’s work, or we endure things that could have been avoided. Either way, we play into his hands. God’s purpose in vigilant prayer is to provide spiritual discernment, based on Word and Spirit, to reveal what is required in every situation in advance. While He is our fortress, our stronghold, our protector, and our defender, He manifests this in part through empowering us to be watchful in prayer. I have personal experience of the supernatural intervention of God without which I or members of my family would not be here. But I also see that His intervention can and will often occur through watchful prayer which enables us to identify the threat and strike before it reaches us. God gives us the ability to pre-empt the attacks of darkness and neutralize them through offensive prayer.
Obedience and vigilant prayer.
The first step to availing ourselves of this powerful provision of God is obedience. True spiritual obedience implies two things. First, we must recognise the sovereign authority of God. A good soldier puts self aside and yields to the absolute authority of his commander. Second, we must commit to the ‘greater good,’ i.e. the welfare of others. These initiate true obedience – the kind that is the foundation of vigilant prayer, because both knowledge and vision can only come from God. If we truly desire to serve Him faithfully we will desire to serve others. The surrendered and humble heart will receive what is needed from our all-powerful commander, who knows all things. A spiritual battle can only be won by spiritual means. God, who is Spirit, is both omnipotent and omniscient, the only source of spiritual discernment without which we will continue to struggle blindly against an unseen enemy.
It’s important to realise, though, that obedience has both a ‘universal’ and a specific context. God works through individuals to impact their geographical or spiritual context or environment. On one hand, we can and should include universal prayers for ‘all the saints’ because the Bible tells us to pray for the church as a whole. But, like Satan gives his minions authority and responsibility in specific areas, God does the same. In other words, we have specific obligations which include those saints in our ‘bubble’ and also the workings of social and local government. Our obedience must include vigilant prayer where God has placed us. We are soldiers in His army and must obey if we acknowledge Him as our sovereign Lord and protector. This obedience means grasping the revelation of vigilant prayer and committing ourselves to it as part of our habitual daily prayer life.
Vigilant prayer is intercessory.
Just as our King and Priest is in constant intercession for us, so we are required to mirror His ministry here on earth. Vigilant prayer is as powerful a means of ‘standing in the gap’ as any other kind of intercession. In fact, because it’s pre-emptive, it can be more effective than interceding once the storm hits. Consider Christ’s words to Peter. And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren (Luke 22:31-32). Peter was both forewarned and forearmed with the assurance that Jesus had prayed. Unfortunately, self got in the way, and he ended up taking the hard road. The prayer, however, provided the victory and it empowered Peter to teach others.
It is clear from Scripture that Peter learned his lesson. In 1 Peter 5:8 he warns us to be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. This warning occurs within the context of submission to authority, both within the church and to God. It reaffirms the totality of surrender and obedience and the critical necessity of vigilant prayer. The Bible never encourages us to run around looking for demons under every rock. That is foolish and a waste of time. But it’s also true that if we look for them we’ll find them. Spiritual discernment – knowledge and vision – comes from God alone. He will give it freely to those who come with humility and commitment to living His purposes. When we attempt it in our own abilities or strength, we open ourselves up to greater danger.
Vigilant prayer is transformatory.
The church lacks the power of vigilant prayer. It is an aspect of prayer that the devil would love to keep us from because it has the ability to transform – our prayer lives, our lives, and the lives of others. Deception is one of Satan’s greatest weapons, but the knowledge and vision that comes from God is greater. The challenge to every believer is to take up the weapon of prayer in all its fullness. We are all put in place to be watchmen and intercessors. We cannot separate vigilance from intercessory prayer. Vigilant prayer is the heart of praying in the Spirit – praying the purposes of God in every situation. But it is the Spirit that directs, not us. It is the Spirit who reveals the knowledge and vision that give us the discernment to pray and to act for victory in obedient surrender.
Lord, forgive us for missing this critical aspect of prayer. Lead us into that place of surrender and obedience to Your sovereign authority. Empower us to vigilant prayer. Stir up our hearts with Your purposes for Your people and strengthen us with knowledge and vision to be vessels of transformation, both defensive and offensive, according to the leading of Your Spirit.