Reading: Ephesians 6:18.
In connection with our present further consideration of the heavenly position, power, and vocation of the church, the Body of Christ, we are now this morning to have before us the matter of prayer in the heavenlies.
Let us remind ourselves, by way of clearing our minds, that we are dealing with something that is quite extra to our salvation, so to speak. That is, that that warfare in the heavenlies, while it has very definite and direct relation to our own spiritual life and does affect us spiritually quite seriously, it is the warfare which comes more in relation to vocation than in relation to our salvation. When we get to this place, those initial battles concerning our salvation should have been settled, all this disputing on the ground of our being the Lord's should have ended. We have come up into a position of fellowship with the Lord now, and that not just for spiritual growth or sanctification, but of spiritual co-operation with Him in His ultimate purposes.
So let no one think in what we are saying, we make the Christian life as a Christian life an arduous and difficult thing. That is not the state of things, but we come into co-operation with the Lord in the working out of His plan already potentially accomplished in Him and by Him. That is the subjection of all things unto Him, and of His enemies being put under His feet. That is being wrought out now by the church, or through the church. We come into a realm of what is indeed serious conflict and things become quite arduous, although there is ever that foundational fact that it is in victory, not for a victory, that we fight.
Now having cleared our mentality on that, recognising that it is now our active service and fellowship with the Lord that is in view, we are able to approach this matter of prayer, because here prayer, like all other things, changes its character. In the, shall I say, more elementary levels of Christian life and service, prayer is of one kind, but when you get into this realm, prayer changes its form, and becomes distinctly the prayer of battle, the prayer of conflict, the prayer which is the throne-prayer of Divine administration. It is administrative and authoritative in its character. It is added in with the whole panoply of God, it is as though the Holy Spirit was here saying, "Now, all that has been said about taking the whole armour of God, every piece, to its completeness, there is yet one thing without which it will fail." There is something lacking which is essential to making all the other fully effective. And so He says "with all prayer", and you will remember that Bunyan who, like Paul, wrote in a prison and adopted metaphors and illustrations in regard to Divine truth, took hold of this very little present fragment when he was in prison and pictures the believer passing through that phase of spiritual experience where Appolyon makes his fiercest and most tenacious onslaught, shooting his fiery darts, and the Christian is seen clad in his full armour and sword in his hand. But Bunyan puts in the words that he had taken the armour and used the sword of the Word but his last resource was the weapon of prayer, and it was by that he came through. So that here you have the one thing that wraps round all the other and gives to all the other its real effectiveness - prayer.
Now, in contemplating this matter of prayer in the heavenlies we have first of all to realise or to remind ourselves again that it is always and only through and by the cross; that prayer depends entirely upon the cross for its effectiveness; the cross must be basic, and the cross must be instrumental in this prayer. We shall see that as we go on.
Now, of the several main things which we have to say, the first is with regard to being in position. We have been speaking of this spiritual position. Our position is said to be in the heavenlies in Christ, and that is not just a mental spiritual realm in which we live, but we see that it represents our being utterly separated from, in spirit, the whole of this world system, and it represents our being cut off from ourselves. It is a spiritual position brought about by the cross where there is no compromising element.
It would be well for us again to just refer to those compromising elements which defeat this prayer and make it non-effective. We must have no desires or ambitions for the gratification in any way, of the senses. Any desire or ambition for the gratification of the senses is a compromising element. The gratification of the senses, of course, may be along various and numerous directions. We have to search our hearts to see if there is any of that element there and to put it back and away; cut it off. In work, for instance, the work of the Lord, there must be no desire for some earthly thing as such, to see established on this earth some great movement, institution or organisation, something which man can take account of and recognise and call a success, something that we would like to see here on the earth, prospering according to natural standards of prosperity, and feeling that the thing was really a success.
Now, if there exists ambition, a desire for what amounts to worldly success in spiritual work, (although we would never admit that there is), but if there is that thing subtly working secretly somewhere in our heart and we are not absolutely prepared to be in a thing of God which no man will take account of as a success, where even other believers will despise it and think it is a failure yet we know before the Lord it is of Him, and if we are not prepared to be in that position, we are not in position for ruling, effectual, prayer. There must be no desire along that line. And you will find that as you come into touch with the Lord with regard to His ultimate, superlative purpose, those things which are the very essence of His spiritual work (and we must remember that a thing is only effective from God's standpoint in the measure in which it is spiritual, it is the heavens ruling), that as we go on with the Lord into that kind of work which is essentially and a hundred percent spiritual and heavenly, the Lord will strike persistent blows at anything that we set our hearts upon here on the earth. Anything which comes within the realm of our ambitions and enthusiasms as something to be set up here on the earth to be presented to men as something that man can appreciate and call successful, or the prosperity of that thing, will constantly meet the Lord's resistance.
Now, the Lord may raise up an instrumentality and as He begins to raise up that instrumentality, the Lord's people begin to get enthusiastic about it and they begin to take all kinds of natural interest in it and want to have a finger in the pie. It is wonderfully interesting, fascinating, and we get into it in that realm and begin to see how the thing can be made more successful and effective; if we do this or that, get a list of things to be done to make the thing go, and if that thing is not wholly of God, sooner or later the Lord will bring it into a realm where all your enthusiasms are frozen, and all that scheming and planning is brought to an end. Well, the Lord deliver us from that very thing if it is not of Him. It now becomes almost a dread, a terror to us. We do not want it, we fear it, and God forbid that we should have anything to do with it unless it be of Him. That is true to experience. That is what I mean by being in a position where you are going to come to the place where you can rule; the thing is of God in the heavenlies. But if we have anything down here that we want, no matter what it is, that comes into the realm of our ambitions, enthusiasms, organising abilities, where we are trying to make something of it, even with the best of motives, a success for the Lord, then we are in a dangerous realm of spiritual weakness.
When the Lord raises up a thing He seeks to keep it clean and clear for Himself, and it is a thing of God and no one can imitate it. How many people have tried to imitate George Muller and his work and set up something that would be for the glory of God, and they have simply been institutions, spiritually empty, bare. Well, the motive was alright, but God raised up Muller and his work and kept it clean for Himself and none can imitate that. We cannot say, "Let us set up something like So-and-so, it was a great thing for God, why not let us have another one". It cannot be done. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit and that which is born of the flesh is flesh". You cannot come in and make the thing of God a thing of man; you have to stand back.
All soulish actions and influences have to be cut off by the cross in order that we might have a power position. The cross has to be laid like the axe at the root, the very root of the flesh, the very root of man by nature, at the very root of the world in its spirit and system, if a thing is going to be effectual for God. And if we are going to be in this position of authority and transcendence where prayer in the heavenlies is executive and administrative, every element of the flesh, of nature, of the world, has got to be cut clean off and we have to stand clear in a heavenly position. So it is position without an element of compromise; that is the first thing in relation to prayer after this kind.
Having recognised that, and having got there, there are other things to be brought to mind. The next thing is to recognise the dispensational factor in this prayer. You have got to pray dispensationally. Of course, that may not convey much to many of you! We may look into it. We cannot get away from the fact that the Divine revelation, the Word of God, is shot through and through with the dispensational aspect of things that can be pushed too far to a most disastrous sequence, and we find that going on in these days where the false usage of one little fragment of Scripture is leading to any amount of confusion. There is a whole system of teaching constructed upon this fragment of Scripture, "Rightly dividing the word of truth". And it is so in this sense, that you have to put this thing in that pigeon-hole and that belongs to now, and this does not belong to now, and so Scripture is chopped up into so many cubes and put into watertight compartments in that way, on the basis of a mistaken usage of one bit of Scripture, "Rightly dividing the Word of truth". The Greek word is as plain as anything could be. "Rightly dividing", in the Scripture, is cutting straight. Paul's words to the Corinthians "not adulterating the word of God", but being fair, straight, honest, cutting things straight. Rightly dividing is cutting straight the Word of God. Do not get it mixed up, do not adulterate it. It has nothing to do with dispensationalism at all; it is simply cutting the Word of God straightly, honestly.
But while I recognise a disastrous dispensational side of things, there is a true dispensational factor to be recognised and the New Testament is full of dispensational elements which are taken from the Old Testament. Enoch represents a dispensational side of things and he is brought into the New Testament as illustrating a dispensational factor. "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death", and Enoch is referred to again as, "the seventh from Adam, who said Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints". He, so far back in the Old Testament, points on to a translation by faith; something relative to the ultimate things, the Lord's Coming.
We know also that Noah embodies a dispensational principle. "As it was in the days of Noah"; he is brought over into the New Testament with his dispensational factor as representing things at the time of the end, but different from Enoch. Enoch goes out of the tribulation, and Noah goes safely through it. He goes into judgment, but is preserved from that.
Elijah embodies dispensational truth. He comes into the New Testament very much. He is taken up in the Old Testament, carried on to the end of the old dispensation, comes in Malachi, comes up as the messenger before the Lord's face. That is taken up in the New Testament immediately. Elijah is taken up and carried on again and then James takes up Elijah, "A man of like passions with ourselves, prayed, the heavens were stayed from rain, he prayed again and the heavens gave rain." There is a dispensational factor about Elijah and he comes up like this constantly. Those are not the only passages in which Elijah is mentioned, the Elijah spirit is not yet exhausted, but is still to come again in spirit, he still has to do some work before the end.
These men are the embodiment of dispensational truth and you have to look in and see to what it is they refer in time. That marks something of the sequence of events according to the Divine program. That feature is the feature of a certain time. With Daniel it is very clear. He says, "I understood by the books the time, and I gave myself to prayer" and what follows in chapters 9 and 10 of his prophecies is because Daniel has got the times, understood from books the times, and he gets down to dispensational prayer. He sees by revelation the times, what is going to happen next, and after that, and right on, and then the book is sealed; the sealed times of the Lord leading right on to the death of the Lord Jesus Himself, and then of the coming of the Stone cut out without hands, the authority of the Lord Jesus over the kingdoms of this world.
Daniel prayed dispensationally and set heaven and world-rulers in action because he was praying through the dispensation; he was praying in the next step. The first thing he understood by books was what the Lord told Jeremiah about the 70 years captivity, and he said in effect, "The 70 years is just about finished; I am going to bring in that by prayer," and he got down and prayed it in. These things do not happen automatically, even the Divine program. You cannot sit in your armchair and say, "The prophetical program is all set, let us see it come to pass". You have to get into co-operation with God in dispensational prayer. The sovereignty of God is one thing, our responsibility is another thing; the two are reconciled in the cross of the Lord Jesus. The sovereignty of God and the responsibility of the Lord's people have their meeting place in the cross. Intellectually it is difficult to understand them both, but the Lord has laid them down as equally true and He has bound Himself up with the co-operation of an instrument. The Lord has always worked in relation to a partnership on the earth. When the Lord wanted to do something dispensationally He did it by a partnership on the earth with Him in that thing. Even this great prophetic program of Daniel is not going to be carried out from heaven as an automatic thing. He must have a Daniel on the earth - spiritual prayer fellowship with Him in the heavenlies to bring that about.
There are one or two things of practical moment when you come to recognise that tremendous principle governing the movements of God.
(1) We must have Knowledge of the Times for Effectual Prayer
What is God doing now, or going to do now, or going to do next? There must be a spiritual intelligence as to the movements of God for this kind of prayer. This is vocation, this is service, and when you come to this realm, spiritual intelligence is necessary. Intelligence is always a mark of true priestly service, that is why the priests, the Levites were never allowed to enter upon their ministry until they were 30 years of age; they must come to years of maturity and intelligence. And this priestly ministry demands spiritual intelligence and a recognition of God's time.
Very often a mistake is made by trying to bring about by prayer something after the character of that which happened many years ago, "A hundred years ago there was a great movement, let us pray for another one just like that! So many years ago the Lord raised up those kind of means to serve Him, let us pray for another." Are you sure you are in the times of God, that He has not changed His method? That that is His thought for now? Has He not gone on, are not the features changing? And surely we can see that features are changing. We had a Moody and a Sankey so many years ago. Are we to pray for that sort of thing now? It is doubtful whether there would be anything like the movement they had then; things have changed, God has moved on and the nearer we get to the end of God's purpose we shall find more and more God narrows down His method, strips off, and makes the thing far more inward than outward. The point is not to see what the changes may be, but to recognise the fact that God is moving on and we have got to move with Him and know what it is He is after at this present time. We have to know what the movement of God is now, and to get into line with that.
We could make various suggestions. It would depend entirely upon two things: whether we were right for one thing, or upon whether we all come to the same point of spiritual discernment. But I think that at this time the Lord is specifically concerned with His own people. That does not mean that the Lord has abandoned His evangelistic work, and we must not do that, but it seems to me that you are constantly swung back by the Lord, even when bent upon your evangelistic work, upon the state of the saints, the state of the church. And it seems as to whether it is unto something else or not is another question, but it does seem that the Lord is most concerned with bringing His people into a new position.
The Lord's dissatisfaction of the state of the church is the thing that is coming home to every spiritually sensitive servant of God, and they are finding themselves occupied with the state of believers, and there is this increasing stress upon bringing believers not only to a higher state of "spiritual" life, but to bring them through to the place of ascendency over the power of the enemy. We are seeing that law operative in these days. We would not hint that we have a knowledge of the times and no one else has, but this thing is true everywhere. There is a great burden about the state of the Lord's people. Is that a dispensational factor? It is, and if it is, surely then we have got our basis for heavenly prayer.
I am only illustrating the thing that I am saying, laying down as a law that first of all we have got to have a knowledge of the times, we have got to pray dispensationally, carry that as far as it should be carried and recognise God brings in new dispensations through the prayer co-operation of the ministry. He knows the times and He knows the order of events in His sovereignty. They are fixed, the prophetic program is all settled, but the translation, the rapture has got to be brought in by prayer. Reconcile those two things if you can, but the fact is there, "The Spirit and the Bride say come." That is, the Spirit and the Bride have been brought into a symphony of prayer for the Lord's Coming so that there is a mighty influencing of dispensations in the heavenlies when you really get there in prayer co-operation with the Lord on His times and His items in His great age program.
(2) Every Part has got to be Related to the Whole
Each separate movement must be no detached separate movement on our part. There must be nothing that is independent of the One Thing that the Lord has in view; not to be taken up with things in watertight compartments. If I go to America and you go to India those things must not be like two things, they must all be focused upon the present specific purpose of the Lord; the thing. Now we all move in our different movements and directions, we move to one thing the Lord has in view. You are not doing one thing and I another, we have all got our hearts and attention focused upon the thing the Lord is after at the moment. And if you are specifically called to what might be called the more evangelistic side of things, and I might be called to the building up side of things, beloved, these are not two departments, there is one thing that is central: the present purpose of God; and the evangelistic has got to be directly related to the ultimate thing that God has in view.
For many it is so obvious, but we do find a good many people who say, "That is your line, this is mine. I am called to the winning of souls to the Lord, to lead souls to Christ, and I give myself to that. You can give yourself to the deeper line of teaching if you like and we will work in our own spheres." But that is not the New Testament, that is not Ephesians, and that is making possible a tremendous amount of weakness. Every soul that is led to the Lord has to be led to the Lord with a definite thought of God's purpose for that soul. And that is why the earlier message is so valuable to you - what you should present to a saved or even unsaved soul; not only deliverance from sin and hell, but bring them immediately in relation to the Lord Jesus as Sovereign in every realm because it is the ultimate thing in view.
You get any number of people on this earth who are glad to be saved, happy to be saved, but that is where the thing begins and ends, and they are not moving on to God's great end and think this is something extra, quite optional. And whether it be in the kind of work that we are called to or whether it be in the various aspects of our activity, our goings, everything has to be focused upon that present object of the Lord as a part of the whole. We are working to one end which we know to be God's object for the present time and I am not sure that a newly born soul could not immediately become an overcomer. A soul just saved could well indeed be an overcomer, in the overcomer company of Revelation 12. And many have, I believe, many of those who have had to pay the full price in Russia, China and other places, have had to pay the full price immediately they are born again. They have, because of the blood, overcome the dragon. You see, our focal point is if the Lord's object specifically now is the overcomer company, we have to deal with our evangelistic efforts, and every other kind of effort has to be brought to bear upon that central thing: that the Lord now, at this special time is seeking this overcomer company. That is what I mean by dispensational governing of everything in the Lord's purpose now.
And then with regard to the prophetical program:
We have to Come into Oneness with the Lord in His Purpose in Prophetic Events
I will soon make that clear. In the prophetic events you have perhaps what is going on today. You have Russia. What is going on in Russia? You cannot get away from it that it is prophetic; it fits into the prophetical program. What is going on in China? It fits in. Look at all nations; it fits right into the prophetic program. You cannot pray against the prophetic thing that is settled. You cannot get into the heavens now and upset the whole Bolshevik regime, it is prophetically settled. You cannot get to prayer in the heavenlies now and upset the course of the ages; you cannot change the Word of God by prayer. If a thing has been given by revelation in prophecy by the Holy Spirit you cannot change that Divine order, otherwise you upset the whole Word of God. It has to go through. Wherein then is governmental prayer? What God is after is that prophetic programme; for these are sovereign acts which contain some secret counsel for good.
When I was over in Paris last year, we were talking over affairs in Russia and one thing was pointed out to me, that with all the terrible condition of things in Russia, the horror of it all, one good effect was (I mean in the Bolshevik antagonism towards Christianity and the destroying of churches and images and all that sort of thing) one good effect was to show the utter impotence and weakness of that superstitious Christianity of the Russian orthodox church which held sway and gripped the nation and which the nation could never throw off. It has been proved to have absolutely no supernatural power and cannot stand up to this thing; and the effect is to make many doubt the superstition and look for something else, for something real. That provides God with a new chance.
What is God after? It may not be to save Russia, but to save inside Russia those who could never be saved in any other way. There is truth there in other directions. You cannot change the prophetic order, but you can get what God is after in it, and you have to find out what the Lord is after in this thing. What is He after just now in China? It looks as though everything of God is threatened. Can we look back and see any good which came out of the Boxer Uprising? It was an awful thing; it seemed as though the devil had it all his own way and everything of God at that time was being wiped out. What can we see as the triumph of God in it?
So that, while we may not be able to stop movements in this world which are foreknown and fixed in the prophetic program, there is something inside every one of them that the Lord is after and if you can get your finger upon that, you have your basis of ruling prayer inside that thing. There is this factor, that in the heavenlies we can prevent precipitate movements. I think the enemy does like to precipitate things, to rush them in before their time, take things out of their turn, get things moving to spoil them, just out of their place. That may be difficult for you to grasp, but we are familiar with this in smaller ways; that very often the enemy tries to stampede and precipitate a thing and the thing has to be taken hold of and say, "If that is what the Lord wants, if that is of the Lord, it must come in His time; it may not be yet, hold it back". Things can be kept to the time of God.
The enemy likes us to take the things of God out of their time. It may be that the Lord is going to call us there to go through that thing, and the enemy wants us to go through it now and it always brings fear and havoc, but when God's time comes you have got peace. Things have got to be kept to their time by prayer. It is something that ought to be taken into account, that in the heavenlies the times of God should be held to, against a precipitate movement on the part of the enemy.
Now finally then, the necessity for symphonised companies in the heavens. If this is a specific ministry of prayer, if this is a specific vocation, then this sort of thing cannot be done in general prayer meetings. You may have your general prayer meetings, and let all praying people attend as far as you can, but there is a necessity for some who recognise these great realities and who, in the Lord, have taken this position over them being thus symphonised, being made one in purpose and in position to operate, to function. You will find that if you try to do that, it will not be long before the enemy will try and add someone to your number who is anything but there, and they come in and they simply lead the prayer out in another stream altogether and pull your prayer down on to another level. They begin to take a tour round the world, and tell the Lord a thousand things that He already knows. So that there is a need for those who, having come to a very definite position with the Lord in this matter, get together and shut the door. We must of course, meet with the Lord's people for prayer, but we must sometimes separate ourselves from other believers for prayer, because there is a place where many cannot follow and where things have to be dealt with that the majority cannot enter into that realm. They have not yet come to the position or come to the intelligence for this kind of prayer. The two things must go on; our prayer with all saints, but there must also be symphonised companies who meet in this specific heavenly business as administrative instruments with the Lord.
Now we have said all these things; it remains for us to definitely deal with the Lord about it; upon this hangs a very great deal at this present time in the purpose of God.