“‘What is the most important item to have on a combat load?’ he asked us, looking each of us directly in the eye.
Confidently and hardly without hesitation all three of us replied at once:
‘Your rifle, Corporal.’
There was a short but effective pause, followed by a flat no.”
aul didn’t get it wrong when he told us how to equip ourselves for spiritual warfare, but he did leave one thing off the list. To be more accurate, his era didn’t possess a certain piece of technology to complete an important metaphor and drive his point home. Prayer, on which Paul places an equal emphasis compared to the other spiritual pieces of armor and weaponry, is often underemphasized in biblical studies of the armor of God, if it gets mentioned at all. Even when it is mentioned, explanation of its employment and use in spiritual battle is lacking. However, prayer is arguably the most important item a Christian can have when entering into the spiritual wars and struggles of life. Now, before someone challenges me on the precedence I’ve assigned prayer in this passage, let me preface the remainder of this article by saying this: I am not adding anything to the scriptures that is not already there. Verses 18-20 of Ephesians 6 specifically note prayer immediately following our commonly known and recited “gear list.” I challenge anyone who is reading this to take the implications seriously and to put them into practice. Allow me to now explain and insert the metaphor that Paul was missing.
Following high school I shipped off to boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. It was my time there, and then later in the Infantry Training Battalion at the School of Infantry, that gave me confidence in the basic training and skills drilled into my head. The muscle memory I had gained through seemingly endless repetition of drills underlined the foundation of the training I had received. Particularly, the adage of relying on an unrealistic ability and ethos of “one shot, one kill.” But as morbid or perhaps as fatalistic as that phrase may sound, and despite the emphasis this mindset demanded, it was to my own dismay to discard this.
As any young Marine who graduates from boot camp and his MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) training, there comes the time to enter the fleet and put into practice (or so I thought) what was provided as fundamental training. I had arrived to my new unit of 3rd Battalion 4th Marine Regiment while the main body was deployed to Iraq. I and the other three Marines that were checking in were sent to the RBE platoon. RBE (Remain Behind Element) was comprised mostly of Marines with too little time on their contract to deploy. Immediately, I and the other new Marines were brought under the guidance of a couple of the salty Marines tasked with passing on knowledge and training to us while they waited to finish out their contract time.
The four of us “boots” (the name for new joins of the unit) were brought into a barracks room where a corporal who had deployed twice to Iraq, and was soon to leave active duty, gave us a period of instruction that I will never forget. “What is the most important item to have on a combat load?” he asked us, looking each of us directly in the eye. Confidently and hardly without hesitation all three of us replied at once: “Your rifle, Corporal.” I felt almost insulted being asked such a question. After all, I had just completed nearly six months of training and was sure of the answer. There was a short but effective pause, followed by a flat no from the corporal. As we pulled out our note-taking gear to learn more about this new piece of information, I silently challenged what was being said. I knew I was right. How could all those times screaming “one shot, one kill” be wrong? What this corporal was teaching us was challenging my belief that the rifle was the most important piece of gear to have. At least that is what I believed at the time being. “The most important thing to have on a combat load, is comm.,” he began (“comm.” being shorthand for “communication,” i.e., our radio). It was at this moment that both my understanding of infantry tactics took on a new trajectory and my understanding of prayer was completely and utterly transformed. “Take for one moment,” the corporal went on to explain, “that I have a 30 round magazine, and I have even pre-loaded 1 round in the chamber, giving me 31 rounds at my most immediate disposal. Now suppose you boots are really amazing shots, that you in fact could hit every target and down it with one shot. Take this a step further, and let’s say you could kill two birds with one stone, doubling your ratio. That kind of uncanny brilliance and effectiveness with a rifle will still not, nor ever equal that of the value, importance and effectiveness comm. can have or should have in combat.”
Any kind of coordinated efforts or fighting, from the lowest level of small unit leadership to the largest commands with dozens of multiple overlays and moving parts, must have effective communication. Even without your rifle, your assets are measurably and vastly more substantial than only the weapon on your person. If I have no rifle, but I have effective comm., I can call for QRF (Quick Reaction Force--usually composed of a marine rifle squad). I have call for fire (a method and process of requesting mortar fire in support to execute a variety of missions on behalf of the forward observer or the marine “calling for fire”). I may have artillery, which is more capable and deadly than mortar fire. I may have CAS (Close Air Support--comprised of F-18’s, gunships, and/or helicopters which have their own onboard weapon systems and support they can provide). I even have the necessary access to emergency casualty evacuation which in numerous circumstances will be the only way to save the life of a fellow Marine. All of these assets are in direct support of the individual Marine looking to close with and destroy his enemy. This support, however, can only be available or directed into the fight when comm. is utilized correctly, acting as a gateway to overwhelm the enemy. This comparison pales the importance of the rifle, but drastically increases the confidence and deadliness a Marine can have in combat. All of this is to say that comm. is a whole lot more powerful than a few bullets.
Now make no mistake, a person is less effective and even incomplete when they remove any piece of their spiritual armor. But had there been such thing as a 2-way radio during the time period when Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, the Romans would have undoubtedly used them in combat as part of their advanced war machine. And if the Romans had had them in use, Paul would have placed a metaphor in his writing that would have been symbolically attached to this piece of equipment used in battle. We would recognize its place in the full armor of God more easily, instead of skipping over the last few verses that don’t directly say “put this on.” Many Christians today, and even many thorough commentaries about the armor of God, do not place enough emphasis on prayer, which should have equal emphasis with every other piece of armor, even the sword of the Spirit. To give credit to where it is due, however, John Piper did get it right when he said, “Prayer is a wartime walkie-talkie.” Prayer should never be excluded from the armor of God, just as we should never exclude the armor of God from prayer.
In the Bible, we find numerous supporting examples displaying the use of prayer in spiritual warfare and as part of a Christian’s life. A life of prayer is both integral and inseparable to our greatest Biblical heroes. The epic story of Daniel and the Lions’ Den centers on the very act of prayer. Daniel refused to lay down this piece of armor, and was victorious only because he continued to do what was outlawed: “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:17-18). Jesus perfectly executed what prayer should look like and how fellowship with our Lord can occur as a result of fervent prayer. Before he was tempted and before he battled with Satan, the scriptures tell us he had fasted forty days and nights (Matthew 4:2). There is no doubt in my mind that during that time he was in constant communication, through prayer, with God the Father. Before the Battle of Jericho ever took place in Joshua 6, the Israelites marched around the city with the trumpets leading the way being commanded to remain silent until the final pass around the city. Prayer, praise, and communication were needed before the battle ever commenced, sword was raised, or an arrow flew. The time of silence was certainly filled with meditation and prayers to God before the victorious battle God placed in the hands of the Israelites.
Jesus Christ would often go off to pray to and with His Father, and He is the Son of God. Not only did Jesus tell us how to pray in Matthew 6:9-15, He displayed it. First Thessalonians 5:17 instructs us to pray without ceasing. It is at this point that I can hardly see a degree of separation between the manner we are instructed to pray and the necessity it has in spiritual combat. I cannot imagine doing any mission or operation in the Marines without using some sort of verbal or non-verbal communication. The necessity to have communication in our battles of the flesh parallels the importance that prayer should have, not only in our walk with the Lord, but also in the spiritual battles we have every day. Think of how dangerous a spiritual struggle can be, when you are led to believe through a delusion of comfort, that prayer is not that important, or that it does not need to be done all that fervently or all that long in duration. As Corrie Ten Boom asked, “[I]s prayer your steering wheel or spare tire?”
Prior to embarking on a mission or combat patrol, we Marines would conduct a series of checks we call PCC’s and PCI’s. These pre-combat checks and inspections are the vital process to double- and triple-check our gear before any move outside the wire is made. It included our function checks of our weapons, night vision goggles, gear silencing, topping off on water, and ensuring that we had everything we needed for mission accomplishment on our combat load. Lastly, it consisted of a series of radio checks that consisted of multiple stations in case one was being used and/or compromised, as well as carrying extra batteries and forms of communication in the event comm. was lost. We even had our SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) for when the multiple redundancies and layers to ensure constant communication failed. The bottom line was this: We would never go knowingly into a fight without the ability to communicate. Doing so would put us at a potential disadvantage, surely weaken us, and increase the probability of failure and significant losses that might occur.
Why then do we as Christians constantly put ourselves at a disadvantage? This isn’t just putting a chink in our armor--rather, it is outright leaving our most important piece of equipment at home. If we would only communicate with our Lord, we would find that we wouldn’t enter certain battles to begin with. The fast-paced society in which we live has hedged our lives with comfort while leaving us wide open to spiritual attacks, flanks, and maneuvers that easily trample over our defenses, all because we don’t pray. Spiritual warfare is likened to that of fire and maneuver warfare. Jesus Christ is offering overwhelming firepower and support by directing us where we need to be. We simply fail to ask (James 4:2-3) and communicate with him.
We Christians have made the beach landing but remain exposed and vulnerable when we fail to tenaciously press the fight inland into the enemy. When we stay in one place, we come under suppressive fire; when we are suppressed by the enemy, we do not move. It is at this critical point a Christian warrior can do one of two things: We can bunker down and avoid the risks of loss and any hope of victory along with it. Or, we can take up the full armor of God and use prayer, our most important piece of gear, to communicate with our greatest asset, our commander, and our leader--Jesus Christ.
We can illustrate all the reasons why we do not pray. We can make excuses or rationalizations. But as simply and rightfully as James 4:17 puts it, “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” When we know we are to be in prayer and are not, we are in fact living in sin. When we do not pray, the principalities against which we battle bring us to our knees when we should have begun our spiritual battle in this manner before God.
Prayer enables us to know when the enemy is coming, or at least, to stay in fellowship with our Lord when unexpected disaster comes our way. It prevents us from some spiritual ambushes that could have been prevented. Prayer should take on new meaning when we understand it as a piece of our armor. Let’s remember and think of prayer differently as we read Paul’s instructions and gear list for spiritual preparedness in battle. Christians, don’t forget your radio!
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Josh is a graduate of Wheaton College with a B.A. in international relations and a current student at Covenant Theological Seminary. He loves to read, endeavor to write, and strive to glorify God in all aspects of his life. He has written for American Thinker, RedState, Semper Reformanda Journal, and Ecclesiam, and he hopes to be able to finish a writing project on the canon of Scripture. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshHoller.