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Sustain Your Prayer Life with Sleep - Ask Pastor John

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

Video from Desiring God

Sustain Your Prayer Life with Sleep - Ask Pastor John

Audio Transcript

Sometimes we find it hard to pray because we’re under spiritual attack. And sometimes we find it hard to pray because we lack personal discipline. And in a 1988 sermon, Pastor John explained the physical side of prayerful alertness. That’s one reason for sharing today’s clip.

The other reason is that two weeks ago we were talking about wrestling in prayer in APJ 1795. And at the end of that episode, Pastor John threw in a little definition of prayer as being “a wartime walkie-talkie.” You might remember that from a couple of weeks ago. At the end of that episode, I mentioned that we had never really talked here on the podcast about that phrase, which is one of Pastor John’s favorite metaphors for prayer. Today I want to give you a glimpse into how he uses that metaphor. Prayer is not a domestic intercom to ring the butler; it’s a wartime walkie-talkie to connect with the General. Pastor John explains this well in a sermon clip from 1988. Here he is.

Now, if you’ve been around Bethlehem a little while, you might have picked up that one of my favorite analogies of prayer is a wartime walkie-talkie. I like to contrast the wartime walkie-talkie of prayer with the domestic intercom. What I like to say is that one of the reasons prayer malfunctions is because people take a wartime walkie-talkie and try to turn it into a domestic intercom, in which they ring up the butler to please bring another pillow to the den.

Prayer was designed for the battlefield as a wartime walkie-talkie, not to increase the pad of the saints through a domestic intercom. Now keep that image in your mind as I read these verses again, and then I want to paint a picture for you of the situation it looks to me like Paul is in.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison — that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2–4)

Wartime Walkie-Talkie

Here’s one way to picture what’s going on here. Paul, Epaphras, Luke, Timothy, Aristarchus — that’s the team mentioned in this book in other verses. Storm troopers — you could picture them as on the front lines. They have an assignment to penetrate the enemy line of Satan and to take captive for God souls who are being blinded and held by Satan. They attempt to spearhead a breach through the enemy line, and they hit a massive counterforce.

The result? At least two of them, Aristarchus and Paul, are in a prison camp. It looks as though the enemy has gotten a significant tactical victory. But Paul in the camp manages to scratch a note and smuggle it out of the camp to the soldiers who are not at this point on the front line. They’re called Colossians, back up country in the high ground. The note at this point simply says, “Use the walkie-talkie. Call the commander. Have him fire a missile.” He gives the coordinates. “And tell him to blow the door off of this prison. And open a door for the word of God to go forward behind those lines and to rescue those people that we were after when we got waylaid here in this prison.”

Now, the point so far is this: we’re all soldiers, and we’re all on the battlefield. Some of us are in different places in the battlefield, and some penetrating a front line can get into grave difficulty. The job of the rest of the soldiers is to use the walkie-talkie of prayer to call in air cover and fire power for those storm troopers. We are crucial in evangelism, indirectly, through prayer.

Here is what the text, Colossians 4:2–4, answers for us indirect supporters: it answers how to pray and what to pray. It gives three answers to each of those questions. Let’s look at them briefly. First of all, how to pray.

Pray Persistently

The first way is persistently. Verse 2: “Continue steadfastly in prayer.” Or your version might say, “Devote yourselves to prayer.” Be persistent, continuous, devoted.

Here’s a way to illustrate this: Prayer is not like these new telephones that you can buy that don’t have any cords. Our sons won one of these telephones by selling a lot of magazines. So we now have one of these tweety-bird telephones, and you can just pull the little aerial up, flick it on, and walk around the house talking — go out in the yard.

Now prayer is not like these telephones, because as soon as you take that telephone off the hook and start using it, the power runs out of it. It starts getting weaker and weaker and weaker. And if you keep on using it, it’s useless. You’ve got to stop using it. You’ve got to hang it up in order for it to get power again. Prayer is exactly the opposite. If you hang prayer up on the wall of your bedroom when you leave in the morning, it will be dead when you come home at night, very likely.

But the best way to keep prayer powerful is to hook it, like I’ve got this little doohickey right on me here. See, that’s hooked up to this. You just keep it hooked on your belt and make sure it stays on. I’ve got to flick this thing off between services or I’ve got no juice — the battery runs out. Prayer is just the opposite. You’ve got to keep it on because it gets more and more and more powerful the more you use it. I think that’s what’s meant by “be persistent in prayer.” It doesn’t run out of juice. It’s more and more effective as you devote yourself to it and continue in it.

“Prayer doesn’t run out of juice. It’s more and more effective as you devote yourself to it and continue in it.”

So when you’re done in the morning — suppose you spend five, or ten, or twenty, or thirty minutes in prayer in the morning — don’t hang it up. Hang it on right here, and don’t flick it off. Flick it on so there’s a little red light showing. You can get beeps and little tweety sounds during the day from God, and he can just listen to you anytime you want to pick it up.

Pray Watchfully

The second way to pray, after persistently, is watchfully. You see that in verse 2? “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it.” Now, why do we need to be watchful, and what does that mean? Satan, who is the enemy that we are against and who is holding people in bondage, knows how dangerous this walkie-talkie is to his purposes. And so, he will try to jam the airwaves so you can’t get through. He’ll try to steal the unit so that you can’t use it. And he’ll try to put you to sleep with some drug while you’re talking on it. Now, how does he do those three things?

Jamming the Airwaves

He’s “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). Picture him now, just everywhere, as it were — at least his influence is everywhere. Our airways have got to get to God through this walkie-talkie of prayer, and it’s as though he can jam the airwaves by filling our atmosphere with an incredible number of non-essential things, so that the atmosphere over our brain is so cluttered with insignificant and sometimes very worldly things that our little effort to send our signal up just goes click, and doesn’t even get through. He’s really good at cluttering your brain with non-essential airwaves that jam your desires to get through.

How does he steal the unit? He steals the unit by tricking you into thinking it’s broken so that you lay it down and walk away from it.

Putting Us to Sleep

And the third way — namely, causing us to go to sleep with some drug as we talk — there are a lot of ways he does this. Let me tell you the most common way that he does this: Satan puts you to sleep in prayer, most commonly, by tricking you into staying up too late the night before.

“Satan puts you to sleep in prayer, most commonly, by tricking you into staying up too late the night before.”

Now, I think this is real serious business here, and I’m preaching to myself mainly. God designed you to need a certain amount of sleep. Most people are about the same. You might be a little different. If you don’t get that amount of sleep, you get irritable, and that’s a sin, and therefore not getting enough sleep is giving a foothold to the devil. It leads to depression. It leads to falling asleep during prayer.

So when you start to fall asleep during prayer, and you say, “Oh, I’ve got to fight the fight here,” look, that fight was lost the night before, and the problem is we don’t see the fight the night before. We don’t recognize that when it’s time to go to bed, in order to get God’s prescribed amount of sleep, Satan is the one who’s tricking us to watch another TV program. Satan is the one who’s keeping us reading the book. Satan is the one who keeps us in the newspaper and the magazine. Satan is the one who keeps us out in the yard, poking around or whatever, because Satan knows, “If I can cut it back to six or five or four hours, I’ll wreck their day. I’ll wreck their day and make them useless for God, and I will put them to sleep during prayer.” Vigilance or watchfulness is the only answer that I know of; that is, when the temptation comes, fight back with an awareness of what God has called you to do.

Now, I don’t know the last or final answer as to why God designed human beings to be unconscious one-third of their life. That’s a great puzzle to me, but he did. I think it has to do with wanting to teach us that we are not God. I think sleep is the most humbling experience that anybody ever has.

If there is any point in your life where you are utterly childlike and helpless, it’s when you are unconscious in bed at night. God designed you to go unconscious about a third of your life. Probably more than a third, if you count how much you slept when you were a baby or a child. You’ve just got to own up to that and stop trying to be God — I do anyway.

Pray Thankfully

The third way we are to pray, besides persistently and watchfully, is thankfully. “Continue steadfastly in prayer,” it says, “being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Now, the wartime analogy might make you jittery. Suppose this wartime talk that I’m using causes you to think in terms of, “Oh, it just means you’re biting your nails and your heart is thumping and your hands are sweating. This is an awful view of the Christian life.”

Well, that would be an awful view of the Christian life. So this word is added to get rid of that image. If that’s what wartime signifies to you, rather than the thrill of conquest, then thanksgiving is added here to mellow things out a little bit.

As we call in the headquarters to guide us through the minefields of temptation, and to give us the firepower we need, and to blast doors off the hinges in our lives, we ought to mingle with all of our requests sentences like this: “The missile hit right on target, Sir. Thank you.” “The door was blown off its hinges, Sir. Thank you.” “We’re heading out in full force, Sir. Thank you.” “The arm of Aristarchus has been healed, Sir. Thank you.” “We’re coming in, Sir, with twenty captives. Thank you.”

You see, the battle belongs to the Lord. All the crucial engagements with Satan — in the wilderness, in Gethsemane, on the cross, at the empty tomb — every one of them was triumphantly won by Jesus Christ.

We do not fight one single battle with the mindset that we are going to be losers in the end. We fight all of our battles knowing that, in Jesus Christ, we will win, and therefore gratitude ought to ring through this walkie-talkie all the time. If it doesn’t, something will malfunction in the walkie-talkie. It has this little sensor in there that begins to click when there’s not enough gratitude going through. That’s the answer to the question of how we pray as supporters of storm troopers.

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