Is War the Best Metaphor for Prayer?

On my daughter’s 21st birthday, cherishing the time we’ve had together, and the joy it has and will continue to bring me, I have a question about our life and communication with God.

Is it all about war?

“Prayer warriors” is a term that comes up a lot in conversations, referencing, of course, the spiritual warfare language of Paul from Ephesians 6 and other scripture.  But in a reflective conversation this morning with a man who knows something about the life of prayer, we wound up reconsidering how we frame our communication with God.   Wondering as we often do at the small number of participants at various prayer events, we wandered around the various metaphors scripture uses to describe our relationship with God.  Father/Child is used far more often than General/Private.  The conversation of “Abba, Father” intimacy is vastly different than the “destroy the enemy” conversation.   Enoch “walked with God” and was not.   The Eden experience was an experience of walking in the garden in the cool of the evening.   The Moses on the mountain conversation was a make-your-face glow kind of being together, and the fruit of walking with the Spirit–of which I assume conversation is a big piece–results in amazing things: love, joy, peace, patience…you get the idea.   Why don’t we say “Prayer Gardeners” or “Prayer Walkers” or “Prayer Caretakers”?  You could even take the conversations of Jesus and his followers, or between Jesus and those who were seeking him, as metaphors for prayer life.

If prayer isn’t primarily laundry-list-asking-for-what-I-want, but is instead rooted in seeking relationship with God, perhaps “Prayer Warriors” may not be all that helpful as an overarching moniker for the whole enterprise.  If I went into every communication with my wife through the lens of war…well, how often would I want to talk?   There are certainly times when war is on in life–both as metaphor and as literal fact–so “Prayer Warrior” is right on target some of the time.   Evil is out there, and the enemy certainly is at work, and to pray against his work is necessary and appropriate, and perhaps a daily activity.   I’ve certainly been on my knees in battle, and the “attacks” of life are pretty non-stop.  But surely war is  not the whole deal.

I’m having dinner with my son tonight.  I hope he just talks to me, not framing everything in terms of battle and help me, help me, help me.  Knowing him, and knowing us together, it won’t go that way at all.   We’ll talk friends, music, the upcoming school year, questions, and oh yes, some specific things he is going to need from me as the next few months unfold.  And do I have some things to say?  Things he needs to listen to?  Sure, and I’ll bet he takes some time to listen.

I can’t help but think God must want that from us as well.   Just to walk with Him, talk about the full range of life, listening, wondering, asking, describing, hoping, meditating, hanging out, even fighting.   I wonder if we’d talk with Him more, listen more closely, let Him color our thoughts more, if we didn’t always think of prayer as war, but instead saw it as walking in the cool of the evening with Him.

It’s pretty sweet…

10 Replies to “Is War the Best Metaphor for Prayer?”

  1. I like prayer band better than any name I’ve heard used. I learned this from Jim Cymbala and the name they give for their group of people who pray 24 hours a day in their building. Seems to promote all the good things about prayer. Speaking with one voice using our different “voice instruments” to lift up others and to unite to glorify God.

  2. i like the alternate terms to prayer warrior you listed. The best word i can think of is lover. I am my Beloved’s and He is mine. I burn for Him and His flames for me are “a most vehement flame.” as in Song of Solomon. My favorite words to a song I sing are: “my heart turns violently inside of my chest and i don’t have time to maintain these regrets when i think about…the way He loves me!”
    I am an intercessor…yes, but I am a lover!

  3. The name chosen for a prayer team is less important than getting in your prayer closet and spending time with God. So often God is used as a fire alarm. If we can become intimate with God regularly (as we might do with our earthly father) we would learn of Him and not need a fire alarm. Rather we could become, well, like Him.

  4. Bands and lovers. It may not matter what you call it, but the metaphor certainly shifts the images of what’s actually going on. I think that’s the reason the Bible gives us so many pictures of what this relationship looks like.

  5. The most helpful concept I’ve found for prayer is from Dallas Willard’s writings in Hearing God.
    Prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together. Somethimes that conversation is military – about a behavior or attitude I’m fighting to overcome or surrender. Sometimes it’s gratitude – when I’m overwhelmed with riches of grace. Sometimes is about my family, marriage, church etc. But always – at least always when it seems most real – prayer is a conversation – not a battle.
    Perhaps ‘prayer warrior’ really refers to those who routinely overcome all those things which might otherwise keep us from longer conversations with the One who knows us completely – and treasures us beyond our capacity to imagine.

  6. I think the battle Paul refers to in Ephesians 6 is one that must be fought within one’s own soul–day by day. When I am provoked to take vengeance, will I yield to God, who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay!”? The battle against greed, envy, lust, pride must be won within my own heart before I can begin to reach out in love to those who do not know God.

    1. AMEN!

      1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing”

      It’s a pretty simple instruction in the middle of a passage, from verse 12-28, which instruct us on living a believer’s life well. I agree with you that the battle is, as you say, “within one’s own soul–day by day” and, in verse 15 of 1 Thessalonians 5, we read: “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” That doesn’t sound much like a war metaphor either.

      Prayer, prefaced or followed by the regular intake of the Word, becomes the mechanism to “know Him” over time, much as a daily walk and conversation with a person builds a “knowing” relationship of brotherhood.

      Jesus achieved the victory through the cross and resurrection. Getting to know Him (the victor) through prayer and supplication, practiced even in the mess of our everyday lives, allows us to get in on that victory and enjoy a hint of “the peace of the Lord,” which in turn allows us to, as you say, “reach out in love to those who do not know God.”

  7. Gardeners, walkers, caretakers and lovers are just fine as metaphors. But only for those times when God seems to be listening. For those times when He withdraws and seems not to be listening, warfare is a good metaphor. I’m put in mind of the parable of the unjust judge. The only way the widow makes herself heard is by hammering relentlessly on the door of the man who is a kind of enemy. Also, I’m thinking of the story about the men who break through the roof of a house to reach Jesus carrying their friend on a stretcher; that is scene that could come straight from a warzone, but it is also a great story for teaching about prayer and the struggle it sometimes requires.

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