The prayer warrior.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 January 2022
PRAYER WARRIOR 'prɛr wɔr.i.ər noun. A prayer intercessor who believes this form of prayer is spiritual warfare.
[Prayer warfare 'prɛr wɔr.fɛr noun.]

As I’ve written elsewhere, spiritual warfare consists of resisting temptation. We gotta reject our selfish nature, and in so doing, resist the devil. Jm 4.7 It’s not a complicated idea. It’s just not easy to do. We really enjoy the things which tempt us; they wouldn’t tempt us otherwise! But we gotta resist.

But because actual spiritual warfare isn’t easy, it’s way easier to pick something else, anything else, and claim that’s spiritual warfare. Preferably something easy, and kinda fun.

Hence one of the more common claims you’ll find among Christians across the board (it’s in no way just a Evangelical thing!) is prayer is spiritual warfare. Intercessory prayer is how we resist the devil. We pray for other people. We pray for our nation and its leaders; namely the leaders we like. We pray that they control themselves, that they repent of their sins, and they submit to God’s will. Really hard.

Not so much that we control ourselves, repent, and submit. Though we might. But most of us are pretty sure we’re already doing that. We’re good. It’s the sinners who are the problem.

Christians who pray this way a lot, love to imagine they’re engaging in “warfare.” After all, they’re asking God for stuff, and surely Satan doesn’t want this stuff done, right? Surely the devil’s fighting this stuff, trying its damnedest to repel God’s kingdom and Christianity’s growth and the salvation of more people.

Hence “prayer warriors” claim whenever they pray for other people, or for God to do things, they’re doing battle with the devil. ’Cause the devil doesn’t want them to pray. ’Cause then God’ll do things, and as far as Satan’s concerned, God intervenes far too much for its comfort.

I grew up in a church which was big on prayer-warrior teachings and beliefs. Very little of this theology was based on bible, though. Most of it came from a popular novel, This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti. Published in 1986, it’s a horror novel about a New Age cult taking over a small college town, and the invisible demons which were really behind the cult. (In many ways it feels like Peretti read C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, but decided it needed less human free will, and more demons.) The good guys are of course praying Christians, and the angels feed off their prayer energies like solar panels feed off the sun. Better pray before the angels run out of juice!

Peretti didn’t invent these ideas. They’re found all over Christian mythology. The battle of Satan’s fall really fascinated such Christians, so they imagine battles like that are still going on in the heavens: Demons and evil spirits which wanna destroy humanity, angels which wanna defend us, and they’re going at it with swords and shields like the ancients. Or, depending on the whims of the artist, with medieval armor, Elvish armor, mecha armor and lightsabers… or even buck naked. (Some of these artists, you gotta wonder about.) And these battles have been waging non-stop ever since Satan was toppled. But every time we Christians pray, it provides support to the angels on God’s side.

Problem is, there are a lot of dark Christian teachings about how our “prayer warriors” affect this battle. Like how every time we pray, God grants his angels power and support. Thing is, this implies when we don’t pray, God doesn’t grant his angels support, and the devils get to win. And sometimes dark Christians don’t just imply this; they overtly teach this. When Christians don’t pray, God lets his loyal angels lose—and may even let his loyal humans lose the very same way. So don’t forget to pray for one another!

In this way, prayer warriors imagine themselves the most important Christians on earth. It’s because of them Christianity advances. The rest of Christendom? The missionaries and activists and ministry leaders and evangelists? Meh; they do some stuff; it’s not nothing. But the prayer warriors are on the front lines of the spiritual war. (Well, the angels are more like the front lines, but the prayer warriors are right behind them; they’re mighty close.) They’re keeping the front from receding, giving the rest of us a safe space to do our thing. Don’t forget to appreciate and thank them, same as you would for any soldier or veteran.

Okay. Any of these ideas based on bible? Loosely. Really loosely.

Daniel and the princes.

Some of the prayer-warrior mythology is taken from something we see in Daniel. In the apocalyptic part of the book, where Daniel receives freaky visions of the future and needs God’s angels to explain ’em, we’re given the suggestion there’s a fight between the angels, and some connection to Daniel’s prayers. First a glowing bronze man in linen, later identified as Gabriel, appeared to Daniel, Da 10.5-6 and stated he was sent to him. Da 10.11

Daniel 10.12-14 KJV
12 Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia. 14 Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days.

“Days” in this apocalypse refers to a long period of time, not short. But that’s another discussion.

In Jude this chief prince Michael is identified as a head angel—if not the head angel. Ju 1.9 Turns out Michael’s the guy who threw Satan out of heaven. Rv 12.7-8 Didn’t take long for the Hebrews to identify these “chiefs” (Hebrew רִאשֹׁנִ֖ים/rišoním, “first in rank” or “prince”) as chief angels—and leap to the conclusion Persia’s chief was a bad angel, or demon.

Even though we honestly don’t know what Gabriel’s situation was. There’s no reason to presume the “prince of Persia” wasn’t God’s supervisory angel over the Persian Empire, much like God’s supervisory angels over churches. Rv 2.1, 8, 12 Or that the reason the Persian prince wouldn’t let Gabriel visit Daniel was because he still needed him, and Michael had to sub for Gabriel before he could be freed up to talk to Daniel. Let’s not just make pessimistic assumptions whenever the bible lacks details. That’s our dark nature talking, not the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, much of our “battle in the heavenly realms” idea comes from our dark imaginations. We don’t know what this battle consists of. Nor how it works, nor what our prayers do for it. Of course we can pray for God’s side to win, and should. “Your kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer contributes to that.

But that’s not just any and every intercessory prayer. If I pray for a sick person to be cured, for a coworker’s family situation to sort itself out, for the salvation of a lost soul, for wise leadership and national peace, this doesn’t magically turn into a fresh shipment of war hammers so the angels can cave in more devil skulls. That’s taking an act of faith and submission to God’s will, and turning it into carnal revenge fantasies. Ashes for beauty.

If spirits are fighting each other, that’s their deal, and God’s deal, and not ours. Our job is to focus on our own fights. And our own battle is with the spiritual forces which test and tempt us. It’s with our own sins. A spiritual warrior resists temptation. If there’s any such thing as actual prayer warfare, it’s when we’re begging the Holy Spirit to help us do the right thing, to grant us the strength and wisdom to fight temptation. To repeat Michael’s prayer, “Lord rebuke you.” Ju 1.9 To not exaggerate our prayers into anything more than simple requests for God’s help—as if we do anything, instead of God doing everything.

“Prayer warfare” that’s on the right track.

Some Christians recognize this to be true. So whenever they teach on spiritual warfare, their prayers aren’t about how our prayers are beating back devilish armies. Their prayers ask God for help so we can resist temptation. They ask him to cover us with his armor, or put hedges of protection round us. They ask him to get our minds right, to focus on him all day instead of our usual distractions. They remind us we’re God’s kids, and as such we have full access to our Father and his aid.

They teach us the right thing to pray. But “prayer warriors” have the bad habit of taking those prayers, then dismissing them. “Okay, that was a good start. Now let’s do some real spiritual warfare.” Then put all that resisting-temptation bushwa out of their minds, and start praying for and against things. They pray for their nation—and against all their nation’s enemies. (Including all their own political opponents, ’cause they don’t think there’s any difference between someone who disagrees politically, and treason.) They pray against everything else they don’t like. That’s what they mean by “spiritual warfare.” Then, having prayed themselves all sweaty, they figure they really did exert themselves for God; they really strove for his kingdom.

Do they still remember to resist temptation? Sometimes. Kinda. But that’s not their spiritual-warfare focus. Intense prayers are. And that’d be incorrect.

I’m not telling anyone not to pray intense prayers. To not pray for their nation and community, to not talk with God about the stuff they don’t like. I’m saying that’s not how the scriptures define spiritual warfare. That’s how popular Christian culture defines it, ’cause it’s way easier to pray really hard than to stop sinning. It’s more satisfying to pray against the stuff we hate, than to stop committing the sins we love.

So let’s start with the actual spiritual-warfare prayers. Pray for God’s armor. Pray for strength and wisdom. Before you get tempted, while you’re getting tempted… and don’t forget to thank God after you resisted those temptations. Make sure you’re all prayed up. Then when temptation comes, fight it.