Article by Sam Storms
Pastor, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
There is, admittedly, a lot we don’t know or understand about prayer. How it is incorporated into the way a sovereign God providentially governs the universe remains largely a mystery. Why some prayers are answered swiftly, and others slowly, and some not at all, often baffles us. But this doesn’t mean we are left in the dark when it comes to prayer.
We know, for example, that we are to pray to God the Father, in the name of God the Son, and through the sustaining power of God the Holy Spirit. We know that we are to come to the throne of grace “with confidence” so “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). And Jesus himself reminded us that he delights in answering our prayers because in this way “the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).
But other questions remain largely unanswered. One example: What are we to pray when it comes to our war with Satan and his demonic hosts? How does prayer factor into our obedience to the command that if we “resist” Satan “he will flee” from us (James 4:7)?
Of this we may be certain: at no time are we to pray for, or on behalf of, Satan. Scripture repeatedly assures us that his eternal destiny in the lake of fire is sealed and irreversible. Neither Satan nor his demons are capable of repentance. Salvation has not been provided for them. Indeed, “it is not angels that he [Christ] helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16). The cross is the instrument of Satan’s defeat, not his redemption (Hebrews 2:14–15; Colossians 2:13–15).
“Satan often seeks to incite disunity and division in the body of Christ.”
Scripture is equally clear that we are not to pray to Satan. There is nothing he would do for us but evil, and it is to God alone that we bring our many requests. To petition Satan or to pray to him for his presence and power is what only those who honor him as “lord” would dare to do. So, how does prayer relate to Satan and the demonic hosts? In what ways should we pray against him?
It is worth noting that in the most explicit and extensive chapter on spiritual warfare, Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul concludes his delineation of the spiritual armor with which we are to engage our enemy in conflict by issuing this exhortation: “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).
Some have insisted that prayer is itself the final piece of armor with which we are to adorn ourselves, although it seems more likely that Paul intends for prayer to characterize each spiritual weapon with which we engage and push back against “the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Perhaps the best way to approach this challenging question is by taking note of what Satan seeks to accomplish and formulate prayers that God would counteract the goals Satan seeks to achieve.
We know that Satan has a plan. Although sinful, he is not stupid. He does not act haphazardly or without purpose.
Paul states clearly in 2 Corinthians 2:10–11 that Satan has “designs” — a strategy, an agenda, to undermine unity in the church in that city (and no doubt in every city, yours included). This is similar to what the apostle says in Ephesians 6:11 concerning the “schemes” (literally, methodia = methods) of the devil. In other words, he is cunning and wily and employs carefully orchestrated stratagems in his assault against Christian men and women and the local church.
Satan energizes and gives shape to worldly value systems, institutions, organizations, philosophical movements, political, social, and economic systems. Satan sets his goals and then utilizes and exploits the most effective means, while avoiding all obstacles, to reach his diabolical ends.
We know that Satan works in active opposition to the gospel. Paul says that he blinds the minds of the unbelieving lest they should see the glory of the gospel and be saved (2 Corinthians 4:4). He does so by distracting them when the gospel is presented and by stirring up hostility and suspicion in the minds of those to whom we preach. Thus, when we pray we should beseech God to shine in their hearts “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) and to overcome all resistance to the truth of what Christ has done for sinners.
Satan “hindered” the apostle Paul from visiting the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:18). We don’t know by what means he did this, but surely our prayers should be regular for global missionaries who are making every effort to penetrate into areas and people groups who do not yet have the gospel message.
“We know that Satan has a plan. Although sinful, he is not stupid. He does not act haphazardly or without purpose.”
There are other ways in which Satan seeks to undermine our ministries and to lead us to question the goodness of God. He is, on occasion, the source of sickness (Acts 10:38; Matthew 8:16; Mark 9:17–18; Luke 13:10–17) and uses the fear of death to hold us in bondage (Hebrews 2:14). There are times when he might insert sinful plans or purposes into our hearts in an effort to thwart God’s designs (Acts 5:3; John 13:2; Matthew 16:21–23).
Once again, knowing the strategy of the enemy will give focus to our requests that God work in us to resist all of Satan’s nefarious efforts to wreak havoc in our souls. If Satan produces in us the fear of death, we should seek God’s help to remind us of the certainty of our hope of eternal life. If Satan can be the cause of certain physical afflictions, we must relentlessly ask God for “gifts of healing” (1 Corinthians 12:9) to bring restoration.
When Satan sought permission to “sift” Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31), Jesus prayed for his apostle that his faith might not fail (Luke 22:32). Should we not pray for ourselves and others in the same manner?
Other texts indicate that Satan may well incite persecution of God’s people (1 Peter 5:8–9; Revelation 2:10), as well as provoke their imprisonment and cause their martyrdom (Revelation 2:10). Far from crushing our hopes, this reality should drive us with increasing intensity and regularity to the throne of God’s grace to ask for his sustaining power and the ability to endure with joy (Colossians 1:11).
Jesus himself prayed for our unity (John 17:15, 20–21), knowing full well that Satan often seeks to incite disunity and division in the body of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:10–11). This latter text suggests that Satan was determined to exploit the reluctance of certain believers in Corinth to forgive and restore the wayward, but now repentant, brother in their midst. Satan’s design was to humiliate the repentant sinner and perhaps drive him to despair. Since Paul alerts us to this sort of Satanic design, our prayers should be for the Holy Spirit to unite our hearts in one purpose when it comes to the restoration of a believer and unity of heart and mind in the body of Christ.
“To pray effectively against Satan’s activity, we must be cognizant of the many ways he seeks to destroy our faith.”
Paul was also concerned that Satan would take advantage of the decision by a husband and wife to temporarily refrain from sexual relations to devote themselves exclusively to prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5). It is consistent with Satan’s wickedness that he would take an otherwise godly intention and exploit it for his own evil purposes. Should not the prayers of God’s people then be for the strength and commitment of married couples to remain faithful and pure in their sexual relationship? For unity in the church, the home, and the marriage bed?
One of the more instructive texts on the activity of Satan is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. There he exhorts us to “be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26–27). Clearly, Satan will seek every opportunity to take advantage of our sinful inclinations, in this particular case, the destructive power of anger in our relationships with one another (and especially in marriage) to divide us.
Satan is not blamed for creating our anger, but his response is to intensify and expand its presence in our hearts when we delay reconciliation or withhold forgiveness. We must, therefore, be quick to pray and to seek God’s help, in the name of unity, by humbling ourselves when relational friction occurs.
It seems quite clear, therefore, that in order to pray effectively against Satan’s activity we must be cognizant of the many ways he seeks to destroy our faith. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we do not want to “be outwitted by Satan” which will only happen if we remain “ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
One final word is called for. Some may mistakenly think that to pray against Satan’s many schemes or designs is a “fear-based” approach to Christian living. Quite to the contrary, it is borne of an attitude of complete and unwavering confidence in the goodness and power of God to supply his children with every spiritual resource necessary to grow in conformity to Christ Jesus. May we never forget, in all our prayers, that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).Sam Storms is lead pastor for preaching and vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He is the author of Practicing the Power: Welcoming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Your Life.