From the persecution of believers in the Middle East and Africa to the religiously-motivated terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, our world today seems to be continually consumed with turmoil and pain.
It's because of this unsettling reality that Dr. David Ireland, senior pastor of Christ Church, a multisite church in northern New Jersey with a membership of 8,000 that represents over 60 nationalities, is urging believers to engage in today's spiritual battle offensively, using the weapon of prayer.
"I want to challenge Christians to remember that they are in battle, and so we must be able to use prayer as a weapon," Dr. Ireland told the Gospel Herald in an exclusive interview. "Jesus used it that way - it was His weapon of choice whenever He had to go toe to toe with Satan. I want to encourage people to get back to that place where they understand the power of being on bended knee."
In his groundbreaking new book, The Weapon of Prayer: Mastering Your Greatest Defense Against the Enemy, Dr. Ireland provides practical tools that teach Christians how to launch spiritual attacks against evil and reclaim God's promises for one's life -- all while offering the encouraging reminder that God uses times of unrest to further His Kingdom.
"Though we may not have all of the answers to combat evil, we do know that during times of evil, there's a God that loves us and cares for us," he says."If we turn our affection towards Him, He will provide comfort to us in times of trouble."
Learn more about The Weapon of Prayer: Mastering Your Greatest Defense Against the Enemy here. Below is the exclusive interview with Dr. David Ireland.
GH: What inspired you to write a book entitled "The Weapon of Prayer"?
DI: I wrote the book "The Weapon of Prayer" because I feel like we are minimizing the role of prayer in our lives. The Bible is clear that prayer is not only an opportunity to talk to God about anything that may be in our hearts, but a basis for us to fight against the enemy of our soul. Paul makes that plain when he wrote his letter to the Ephesian Christians in Ephesians 6.
GH: Many of us were brought up to view prayer as a passive act, but in your book, you encourage believers to fight and to use prayer as a weapon. How and why should we do this?
DI: One of the best passages in Scripture that captures the whole idea of how prayer is a weapon is Luke 22:31. Jesus said, "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail." Jesus wasn't using prayer as a passive, but as an offensive action and a defensive weapon. When the wheat was shaken up, it has gone through a sieve, and the kernels would fall through the holes and would be collected. However, the chaff and the excess would be thrown away.
What Satan was doing was shaking up Peter's life so the essence of who Peter was --his leadership, his skill, his faith, his relationship with God -- all would be thrown to the wayside and he would become a shell of a man. Jesus' response was, "I have prayed for you, that your faith doesn't fail." He essentially said, "I've counteracted Satan's attack by praying." Jesus didn't take a passive role in regards to prayer. The word "weapon" means anything you use to outwit, to out power, or to overcome an opponent, and that's what Jesus was doing when it came to Peter and his faith.
GH: Following the San Bernardino shooting attacks, the New York Daily News published the headline, "God Isn't Fixing This." In the article, the writer argues that prayer is an ineffective response to the crisis. How would you respond?
DI: That writer doesn't understand the role of prayer. What we should be asking is a bigger question. I wrote an op-ed piece for Fox News in which I explain that the question isn't, "Why God?" but, "God, what do I do now?"
When we say prayer is ineffective, it's because we've assigned prayer as a fix-it tool for everything. It's not addressing certain things, for example, God created us with freedom. We can use our freedom for positive things or negative things. It's not an indictment against God when something bad happens, but it's a reflection that He created us with this freedom, and He loves us so much that he didn't make us robots; we have the ability to do either good or evil, and some choose to do evil. The way prayer works is that I have a responsibility to pray for my city, my community, my country, the world. When I pray, I'm not forcing, but asking God for His help and guidance to help change human beings. But again, God doesn't usurp someone's will or freedom or choice, or His love would then be minimized because he would be forcing us to do what we don't want to do. It's a very technical question, and the Bible is sympathetic about the question of evil, but prayer provides an answer. It's not the only answer, but we ought not to eliminate it from the arsenal of answers.
GH: What do you think is at the heart of the kind of violence seen in San Bernardino and Paris just a few weeks earlier? How can we use prayer to fight against such violence?
DI: The heart of the violence is people are disgruntled and upset, and they don't know what to do, so they take it out on people. They're misinformed about eternal things; they think they're going to Heaven because of their brutality against human beings when it's just the exact opposite. We have to use prayer as a weapon, in that we are praying for the peace of our communities.
When I pray for ISIS, I'm praying for God to create confusion in their midst where they overturn their leadership. I pray they'll have an appetite for peace, they'll want to hold out the olive branch and say, "Let's find better ways of dialogue, a better way to communicate our negative feelings towards other human beings."
GH: Why is it so challenging for many Christians to pray effectively?
DI: We've brought Christianity down to this posture of feeling as if we're on a cruise ship, so to speak. A cruise ship means it's all about us: When a person's on a cruise ship, the mentality, is that you're on vacation. It's all about me, I'm here to relax, I must be served by the crew, I can freely complain because I deserve to be served fast and frequent. On a cruise ship, prayer is seen as a bother or pest, and Christianity is a vacation.
However, Christianity is not a cruise ship - no, it's a battleship. We're at war, it's not about me, it's about God. I'm not here to relax; I'm here to fight. I'm not looking to be served by the crew, I am the crew. On a battleship, prayer is seen as a necessity, as a must. A battleship sails during wartime; a cruise ship is docked during wartime. On a battleship, God is seen as a fearless general. On a cruise ship, God is seen as a jovial entertainment director.
My prayer is that the Christian community would awaken to the reality of what the early Christian father Tertullian said: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, the more we're mowed down, the more we grow." In other words, Christianity flourishes in times of difficulty. Right now, when we're battling all of these wars and atrocities, this is a fertile ground for Christianity. When Christians were being thrown to lions and wild beasts in the midst of the Colosseum, the Church grew, because people recognized the significance of a relationship with God during times of evil.
Though we may not have all of the answers to combat evil, we do know that during times of evil, there's a God that loves us and cares for us. If we turn our affection towards Him, He will provide comfort to us in times of trouble.
GH: In your book, you talk about how there is a growing culture of prayerlessness among American, which you refer to as HIV (High Indifference Virus). Can you tell me more about that?
DI: It was a little bit of shock value, because I used that term "HIV", but I'm referring to spiritual HIV. High Indifference Virus is when people are having this laissez-faire attitude towards prayer, they're not engaged in spiritual warfare, they're disconnected. We're called to be soldiers, we're told throughout Scripture that we're in the army of the Lord. Paul told his spiritual son, Timothy, to fight the good fight of faith. Throughout Scripture, God has an army, we are his soldiers, He is a general. And if that's the case, we cannot go AWOL, but yet many are having spiritual HIV. Their immune system is being crippled internally, and they're compromising the integrity of the office of a soldier and they're not engaged in the war. I'm challenging people to get back to the fray and get back into the battle and fight as best as possible.
GH: In Chapter Three, you depict God as a General leading an army. Can you tell us a little more about that concept and perspective?
DI: The Bible always uses metaphors to describe God; in Psalm 23, we're told the Lord is our shepherd, so we are sheep, and the shepherd tends to his flock. In John 15, we are told by Jesus that God is a father and a gardener, so He has a paternal perspective towards us, He has sons and daughters. As a gardener, He cares and nurtures us. In Joshua 5, He's a commander and general, which means He has an army.
When I pray to God and my picture is that God is a fearless general, my prayers take on a militaristic perspective, and they are different than if was looking at God as if He was a shepherd or a gardener. I'm not minimizing who God is, but when I can look through the lens of that metaphor, my prayer life takes on a different tone and perspective, I'm no longer cowering in the corner when the bad thing starts happening. Instead, I start looking at God and I say, "God, you're a fearless general," and then I can start praying how Jesus prayed. He brought the battle that He was facing against Satan into the place of prayer. That's what where we need to fight the enemy -- on our knees.
GH: In the book, you write that prayer can be used as an offensive and/or a defensive weapon. Can you talk about the difference between the two and explain why the distinction is important?
DI: Offensive is when we go into the camp of the enemy, when we initiate the attack, when we forge ahead. Defensive is when we put a shield or defense around us. Again, I'm going to cite Luke 22: Satan was attacking Peter, but Jesus said He prayed for him. He protected him through prayers, He put a defensive hedge around him. Paul, writing to the church at Colossae, said "Pray for us that a door be opened to us to preach the Gospel." That shows that prayer is offensive -- don't wait to be reactionary when life is unfolding, initiate. If I use the sports world as an example, you can't win a basketball game if you're just playing defense, at some point, you have to go into the offense. Same thing goes for the Christian faith; we can't always be hiding or protecting ourselves from the enemy. We need to go into the camp of the enemy and go after the powers of hell, after our future and legacy and promise of God.
GH: You are a former atheist-turned-pastor. Can you share a story or two of real-life answers to your prayers?
DO: I know that when I became a Christian was July 6, at 10 pm. I know the time and date, I sat on the edge of my dormitory bed, I said, "God help me." I was an atheist at that point, and I was challenging Christians on campus to abandon their faith, I would tell them there was no God, I would argue and debate with them. Christians at my University stopped sharing their faith with me because I'd try to talk them out of it. They would walk on the other side of the street when they saw me coming, I was the evangelist for atheism, if you will. I found out later, they would gather on Friday nights, and among the topics of prayer was that David Ireland would come to Christ. I'm an answer to that. I recognize the significance of prayer. They prayed me out of my atheistic view and Christless life and prayed me into my relationship with God. That's one example of others praying for me and seeing the result.
As I'm hosting this interview, I'm on the campus of my 107-acre church campus in the town of Rockaway, New Jersey. We went through a tough battle with the local township in order to get this property and use it for a church. We won battle after battle, and I'm standing here enjoying this campus. It's a trophy or grace and prayer that we've' prayed through every hurdle to get here. God also turned the community's heart around: This past tree lighting in the town, they invited me to be the one to officiate the ceremony because their hearts have been changed towards us, which was also an answer to prayer.
GH: What advice would you give to someone who wants to deepen his or her prayer life and become more adept in the use of prayer as a weapon? What practical steps can be taken?
DI: I would simply say start off on bended knees and say, "God teach me how to pray." Don't try try to make it difficult or use religious chatter, just go before God with authenticity. On a practical level, there are 3 things. First, set a time of prayer of prayer. That means to set a time of day that fits how you are wired internally to function. Are you a morning owl or a night person?
Second, set a place of prayer. That means there should be a place - whether it's in your home, or at your job - you have a place where you carve out and say, "That's my place of prayer." As human beings, we are so fastidious. If a wall hanging is crooked we will be distracted; we'll want to fix it. When we set a place of prayer we are familiar with, we won't be distracted because we're used to it. That place of prayer becomes sacred, whether it's the living room, kitchen, or even bathroom. Susannah Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley, had 19 kids -- she didn't have a specific place to pray because she had so many children. So, every day, she'd throw her apron over her head and pray. She taught her children, "Whenever you see a mother with an apron over her head, she's in her place of prayer - don't distract her."
Third, set an agenda of prayer. What is it that you want to talk to God about? There are certain things we want to talk about regularly, and other things that are more episodic that we want to pray about. And then, there are things that happen that we didn't know would occur. Those are things that change. But invariably, we have an agenda. So, when I have my set time and place of prayer, I bring my agenda into prayer, and I start praying through it so I'm not sitting there wondering what to pray to God about.
I would say that if you want to become powerful in prayer, this book is for you. If you want to practice cruise ship Christianity, it's the wrong book.