Perhaps the better question is, “What does one do?” “How does one act?” These are things that I have been praying on and speaking with various spiritual mentors for quite some time. Answers have been illusive but out of the fog comes a basic shape. Of all things that helped was watching Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Friday night with the hubster.
My spiritual father sent me to scripture, specifically, Ephesians 6: 10-18, a passage with which I am well familiar. Who can forget dressing up the 2nd and 3rd grade Sunday school students in “the armour” of God and making sure no one got smacked in the head with the cardboard sword while the teacher went hoarse repeating, “Little Johnny, the sword of the Spirit is not for killing little Susie’s cootie bugs!”
In the scene when the Orcs were surging on Osgilliath, the chief city of Gondor, Faramir and his garrison of men prepared to ambush them. According to Tolkien, Faramir “was gentle in bearing, and a lover of lore and of music, and therefore by many in those days his courage was judged less than his brother’s. But it was not so, except that at he did not seek glory in danger without a purpose.” Faramir and his men stood behind pillars until half a dozen or so Orcs breeched Osgilliath and then theystepped out and into the fray of war, swords swinging.
This type of action is seen over and over again in this movie. The warrior loves peace and wishes it were always. But should the time come that peace is threatened and may be breeched, the warrior enters battle to fight for peace again.
What does the warrior do in times of peace? Do they lay around getting fat and lazy, allowing their muscles to soften and their bellies to grow fat from good food and ale? No! Daily they engage in various exercises; sparring, keeping weapons sharp, keeping muscles familiar with battle motions, teaching and raising up additional warriors. He continues in the joy of reading poetry, listening to good music, fellowshipping with his comrades, playing with his chidren. However, he also keeps his ear to the ground, listening and watching the movements of the realm and surrounding kingdoms. Why? So that when discontent or a slight rumbling is sensed, they can pick up the pace of training and preparation, all with the hope of not going to war but being ready…just in case.
How does this relate to a prayer warrior? St. Paul tells us that the baptized Christian’s war is not physical like Faramir’s. It is spiritual. It is against the “principalities…the rulers of the darkness of this age…spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (v 12). The devil is the ruler of the world and he has given his demons power. It is against them that we battle. Against the passions they incite and fan. All one need do is read C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters to get a good sense of this.
Notice St. Paul uses the past tense in verses 14 and 15. “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace…” When the prayer warrior stands (present tense) he is already prepared. I suggest that this is similar to Faramir’s preparation of his garrison, and any warrior’s, preparation for battle. The prayer warrior must already possess and know the truth. The prayer warrior must already be walking in righteousness and own the gospel of peace.
How does a prayer warrior get to that point? Through years of preparation, years of prayer, years of struggle and seeking the Holy Spirit’s training. As the Orthodox Study Bible says, “These qualities must be exercised in the conflict of growth: no struggle, no deification” (p 451).
The training occurs as the Christian lives each day, facing the struggle it contains. That is when the prayer muscles gain their toning and become familiar with the movement of the Spirit so that when war is coming, they will respond reflexively with the memory of their former training. St. Paul says the warrior is “praying always…in the Spirit,” “being watchful…with perseverace and supplication” (v 18). The prayer warrior prays without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17) and is ever watchful. As the prayer warrior trains, he becomes familiar with the enemy’s movements, thus can sometimes anticipate the so called direction of an attack.
My spiritual father said, “When the devil has you on the run, you must stop, turn and face him to do battle.” Here again this reminds me of Faramir. He went into the fray of battle. He did not run away. He engaged the enemy. Yes Faramir’s heart was probably racing, blood pumping rapidly through his body. But no matter that, his body instinctively knew how to respond. In the movie, Faramir’s face, though covered in dirt and sweat, had a peace about it. He knew he had trained well. He knew to rely on his instincts.
The Orthodox Study Bible says, “Christians fight back with God’s arms, that is, His uncreated divine energy, given to us and actively used by us. Just as important as spiritual armour is a Christian’s readiness and alertness: diligent prayer and watchfulness in in submission to the Holy Spirit” (p451-52).
Not all are called to be prayer warriors, but we are all called to pray. Just as there are ranks of angels and ranks of military members, so I think there are ranks of Christian people of prayer. Each in their own right is vastly important to the Church and Her health.
God has given us what we need to pray. Thanks be to God!