I was meditating on Philippians 4:4-7, and specifically on the difference between prayer and petition (supplication) and why both are spoken of. Through this study I ended up in Ephesians 6, specifically verses 17-18. I started to get into the Greek and found that there really isn't any reason (that I have found yet) to divide verses 17 and 18, which is huge if you start to think about it, because it really could (and possibly should??) be translated:
"And take up the helmet of salvation, and the spirit's sword, which is God's word, through (by means of, this word indicates the instrument of an action) all prayer and petition (specifically stated needs) praying in every season (singular noun that denotes location) in spirit (again, location)"
Now to make it a little more clear I'm going to simplify what is said, this is not a true translation because I'm removing some phrases, but it is not really a paraphrase either, I'm simply trying to bring some things to light by emphasizing things in the Greek that are lost in our typical English translations.
"And take up the spirit's sword, which is God's word, by means of all prayer and petition praying in every season in spirit"
There are so many points that I would love to make here, but I don't have time, so I may come back to further dissect this later, but for now...
1) We often emphasize in modern evangelical circles the need to take up the Word of God (i.e. the Bible), but how often to we emphasize taking up God's word through the instrument of prayer and petition? This can be taken in two ways:
a) I have always been a strong advocate of praying Scripture. I have never had a strong Scriptural reason for doing this, but I just saw that it had power in my life, and that it was the strongest weapon we have in prayer. (see all verses about God's word and it's power) If we are to pray according to the will of God, what better way than by praying God's Word (Scripture)?
b) There is no textual reason to understand "God's word" to mean the Bible alone. (There is a whole study we could do here on the fact that the Greek word "rhema" is used instead of the word "logos", but that will be for another day.) In fact, I think that textually speaking, we should NOT confine God's word to the Bible in this context, BECAUSE it specifically says that the means by which we take up the word of God is through prayer and petition. When we pray, God speaks! We are to take hold of "word of God" through prayer, I think of all the references in Acts where believers did just this, seeking God's face in prayer and then doing what He said WHEN HE SPOKE (one specific instance on my mind now is Acts 13:1-3, read it).
2) I have often heard this verse used as a proponent of "praying all the time" or "at all times". Now, while I think that this practice of praying all the time, or keeping a constant stream or prayer to God, is important, it's not what this verse is talking about! How can I say that? Well:
a) The Greek word translated "at" is "en" and the words "all times" are "panti kairo". First, these words are in the dative (which can also be locative (think location)) and when "en" is used with the dative form it ALWAYS MEANS LOCATION and should therefore be translated "in" NOT "at" (this may seem small, but it's actually a huge deal when you get into it).
b) "Panti" can mean "all" or "every". I'm honestly not sure if there is an indication from the context which it means here, but its not that important, which is why I didn't take the time to find out.
c) There are three Greek words for "time". Without getting into all of it, the word used here is "kairo" and has the specific connotations of a season. Its not a specific length of time, but is rather the characteristics of a period. In fact, its not even referring to "time" as we think of it with a clock, but its rather talking about opportunities or seasons of life. So what its saying, no matter where you find yourself in life, be praying. Oh, and this noun is in the singular, which is why I translated it "every season" rather than "all seasons".
(so you don't think I'm making this up see here and here)
d) So what can be learned here? I think that we have too often emphasized the fact that we can "pray all the time" and therefore implied that we don't need to have a "time of prayer". However, I think that to understand properly what is being spoken of here, we are actually to have a specific time where we stop to "take up" our sword by praying. And this is to happen in all seasons, whether we are spiritually healthy or spiritually weak, whether we see a need for a sword or feel like the battle is slowing or has waned for the moment. No matter the season we find ourselves in we are to be taking time to pray in spirit, so that we might not ever be found without a word of God.
I think it also teaches us about how we should approach prayer. We should approach God in prayer with the active expectation that he will give us a word. Whatever that means or looks like, we should be receiving (the word for "take up" can also be translated "receive") or "taking up" words of God through prayer. Whether this be through the Word that we already have, or words that God will speak, we should approach prayer with the expectation that we will receive a response from the One who hears.
(I must put this note at the bottom. I am fairly confident of the Scriptural accuracy and consistency with the Greek text in the things I have put forth here. However, I am both young in the faith and in my study of Greek and the Bible, so it is very possible I have overlooked something in my Greek analysis or Biblical interpretation. If you think that there are any errors contained within this post feel free to comment. Also, the Greek text I used was obtained from this website, so I hope that it is sound, I did not compare it to the hard copy Greek text that I have.)