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    The Lord's Prayer

    Spiritual Warfare (Mt. 6:9-13)

    by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith (1999)

    With the NATO military campaign in the news daily, it is impossible not to reminded that we have been called by God to be spiritual warriors. The Lord's Prayer presupposes our spiritual battle with Satan and includes a prayer for deliverance from him (vs. 13). When the entire prayer is considered from the perspective of spiritual battle, it becomes clear how this prayer is both objectively and subjectively important for our spiritual warfare.

    What For?

    One of the most fundamental questions any soldier has is, "What am I fighting for?" When the purpose of the battle is unclear, or is strictly mercenary, soldiers do not fight well. Good men do not kill for no reason and even wicked men who are willing to kill for money fight better when they are fighting for a cause they believe is right. A defensive war has an easily comprehended purpose and one that men can believe in; men will fight hard to protect their families, their land, and the things they hold dear. Wars of conquest, however, must be justified.

    The Christian is fighting a war of world conquest. Jesus commanded us to disciple every nation in the world, teaching them to obey His commandments. The justification of our cause is easy. God has the rights of the Creator over all that He has made. When we fight for Him, therefore, we are fighting for righteousness. Moreover, though the battle to which He has called us is for His glory and kingdom, it is a unique form of aggression, for it frees the defeated men from the curse and brings them into everlasting blessing. We take nothing from our foe that they truly need and give them infinitely more than they can imagine. To war for His glory and kingdom is to war for the blessing of man, the glory of man and the salvation of both individual and society, for God's glorious kingdom is the kingdom of love and light for man.

    In the Lord's Prayer, we are also taught the meaning of our warfare in concrete terms; our goals is that God's will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. This necessarily means that the objective warfare with the world outside of us and the subjective warfare we fight against our own sinfulness are related, or, stated more properly, are one warfare. For it is just as essential to our conquest to bring our own hearts and lives into subjection unto God as it is for us to work for the society and world to submit to Him. Moreover, we only have influence on the world around us to the degree that we ourselves learn to cheerfully do His will.

    Closely related to the notion of the goal of a battle is the definition of victory. When will we know that the war is over, that we have won, or lost, and should go home? In a war of defense the definition of victory is the preservation of one's land intact. In a war of conquest, the definition of victory is the possession of the land one seeks.

    The definition of victory for the Christian war is clear. When God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven, we have won the war. On the one hand, this goal is perfectly realizable. The power of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit in men's hearts can and will lead to the accomplishment of this goal. On the other hand, this will not be wholly realized in history, for doing God's will in the deepest sense is a goal that we will never be able to attain until we are with the Lord. The conquest of the world and the conquest of our own sinfulness are parallel. Just as our own salvation proceeds from a definitive through a progressive unto a final state, so, too, the salvation of the world. As individuals, we are taught to strive for perfection, though we will not actually reach it until we go to be with Christ. The goal, however, is none the less essential. If we were to strive for something less than perfection, we would not really fighting the spiritual battle at all. Or, if we were to assume that we had attained perfection, we would betray the Lord's cause even more deeply. The work of the Church in history is essentially the same. She strives for the total mastery of the Gospel in every area of life, for the Lordship of Christ to be manifest in every realm. Her work is not done until every enemy is defeated. It is a war of total conquest that tolerates no compromise with sin. The Lord's Prayer seeks total conquest and teaches us to labor for it.


    It is commonly said that it was their discipline that made the soldiers of the British empire great. More than for their bravery, technology, or strategy, the British were soldiers known for their obedience to orders. Discipline is the backbone of any army. In ancient Israel, in contrast to the British, the greatest problem that Moses faced in the wilderness was not a shortage of food or water, but the lack of discipline among the people. They would not trust God. They would not bow their knees or hearts to Him (cf. Ps. 78).

    By daily praying the Lord's prayer, we are being disciplined to seek the kingdom of God on earth in at least three ways. First, prayer is discipline because it forces us on our knees before God and demands that we acknowledge that every good thing we have is from Him. This is only to confess what is true. But the discipline of confessing the truth is good for one's soul. Fighting by prayer is first of all fighting by submission. We bow before God and pray that he will give us the victory. This is the Christian way to fight. Second, the Lord's Prayer is discipline because it forces upon us a realization of the meaning and purpose of our lives here in this world. We are taught daily what it means that we live not for ourselves, but His kingdom and glory. Third, the discipline of prayer is evident in these words of the Lord's prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread." It is a humble petition. By this, we are taught not to ask for riches or ease, but for our basic material needs. "Daily bread" includes all that we need to live and fight the Lord's battle for the day. Each and every day, we must repeat this prayer for daily bread and learn to trust in God's provision. Like Israel in the wilderness waiting for the mana to fall, we learn to walk by faith in God's provision, not by sight.


    The prayer for forgiveness has a profound meaning for the Christian soldier, just as it does also for the man who fights for his country. In every war, the men who drop bombs and shot guns make mistakes. Every war has tragic stories of men and women killed accidentally, like Stonewall Jackson, the great American general from the South, who was wounded by his own soldiers who mistook him for an enemy and later died of complications from the wound. Men who make mistakes in matters of life and death must be able to obtain forgiveness, or they cannot go on. Since all men make mistakes, soldiers must be able to forgive one another and keep their focus on the goal, or they will be at war with each other.

    In the Christian war, we make mistakes, too. And mistakes can be extremely costly. People may turn away from God or refuse to hear the Gospel because of our foolishness or sin. The sins of a single man like Diotrephes (3 Jn. 9-10) can ruin a whole church. Furthermore, in every church, there is sin that must be dealt with, as is evident when Christ visits the churches in Asia (Rv. 2-3).

    How can we go on when we sin and cause so much harm in the kingdom of God? We pray for forgiveness daily and practice forgiveness toward one another. Each of us has been forgiven by God more than any other person knows, and even more than we know ourselves. But if we remember His forgiveness, we are able to forgive one another so that we can maintain our focus on the war for His kingdom.


    Men at war often turn and run when it becomes clear they have no chance to win. Although there are many exceptions to the rule that win our respect for the bravery of the men who sacrificed their lives, it remains all the same a rule that a man who is sure to lose does not fight to win. We pray for protection from our internal weakness and folly -- "lead us not into temptation" -- and for protection from our external foe -- "deliver us from the evil one." Christ watches over and protects us from the evil one. And since the power, glory, and kingdom belong to our God, He is able to save us. Whatever power Satan or his emissaries may now have comes from the permission of God, by whose will even His enemies are bound. It is sinful, then, for us to fear. We cannot lose the war, even if we are not infrequently defeated in battle.

    Jesus promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the assault of His church (Mt. 16:18). By praying the Lord's Prayer daily and working that God's will may be done in the sphere of our own influence, we fight the good fight. If we are faithful, will see the growth of the kingdom by the grace of God.

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