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09 July 2019

The “prayer warrior.”

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 before, spiritual warfare is resisting temptation. It’s not just that our own urges and habits get in the way of a growing relationship with God: Devils use these things to trip us up. So we resist temptation, resist 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 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—something we like to do, something way easier to do—and claim that’s spiritual warfare. And one of the more common claims you’ll find among Christians across the board—it’s not just a Evangelical thing—is prayer is spiritual warfare. Prayer, intercession in particular, is how we resist the devil. Not obedience, not self-control, not repentance, not submission to God’s will. Just praying for others—really hard.

Christians who pray 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, it’s 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 few of them were informed by the bible. In fact a lot of ’em were heavily influenced by a popular book, 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 that were really behind the cult. (In many ways it feels like Peretti read C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength and decided to give his own spin on it.) The good guys are of course praying Christians, and the angels whom their prayers empower.

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

Problem is, there are a lot of dark Christian teachings about how “prayer warriors” affect that battle. They imagine every time they pray, God grants his warrior angels some extra energy or support, enabling them to beat back the devils. Thing is, this also implies when we don’t pray, God doesn’t grant his angels any support, and the result is the devils get to defeat them. And y’know, there are some prayer warriors who teach precisely this: When Christians don’t pray, God lets his loyal angelic followers get defeated. And God’ll even let his loyal human followers get defeated the very same way—so don’t forget to pray for one another!

In this way, prayer warriors imagine themselves the most important Christians in the church. It’s because of them Christianity advances. The rest of Christendom? Meh; they do some stuff; it’s not nothing. But the prayer warriors really contribute. They’re on the front lines of the spiritual war. (Well, the supply lines; the angels are more like the front lines. But 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’s given freaky visions of the future and needs God’s angels to explain ’em—we’re given the suggestion that there’s conflict between the angels, and some connection to Daniel’s prayers. First a glowing bronze man in linen, later identified as Gabriel, appeared to him, Da 10.5-6 and stated he was sent to him. Da 10.11

Daniel 10.12-13 KWL
12 He told me, “No fear, Daniel! For from the first day you devoted your mind to understanding,
to respond to your God’s face, your words were heard. I came because of your words.
13 The chief of Persia’s kingdom stood up to me 21 days, but look: Michael, one of the first chiefs, came to help me.
I stayed there, among Persia’s kings.
14 I came to make you understand what will occur to your people in later days.
For the vision, again, takes days.”

“Days” as in a long period of time, not short; but that’s another discussion.

In Jude Michael‘s identified as a head angel—if not the head angel. Ju 1.9 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 kingdom, much like he has angels over churches; Rv 2.1, 8, 12 that the reason he wouldn’t let Gabriel visit Daniel was because he still needed him, and Michael had to sub before Gabriel was free. Let’s not just make pessimistic assumptions when the bible lacks details. That’s our dark nature talking, not the Holy Spirit.

And much of the nature of the “battle in the heavenly realms” is likewise the imaginations of our dark nature. We don’t know what that 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, 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.

Now some Christians recognize this, and whenever they teach on spiritual warfare, their prayers aren’t about how our prayers are beating back the 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 have full access to our Father and his aid.

“Prayer warriors” have the bad habit of praying these prayers, then figuring, “Okay, that was a good start. Now let’s do some real spiritual warfare”—and put all the resisting-temptation stuff out of their minds, and start praying for and against things. They pray for their nation, and pray 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), and 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 fight.

Prayer.