How’s your prayer life?
If you’re anything like me, it’s a question you DREAD people asking. Because praying seems to be one of the HARDEST things you do in the Christian life. I’ve never met anyone who says they find it easy.
And for me, prayer is something I’ve struggled to do my entire life.
But it SHOULDN’T be so hard. Think about it. It doesn’t take SKILL. Or STRENGTH. You don’t need to be trained, or experienced, or , or coordinated. You don’t need equipment, or money. You can do it ANYWHERE. Any TIME. There’s no levels to attain. No goals to achieve, or targets to meet.
And perhaps that’s part of the problem. That when you pray/ there’s often no evidence that you’ve actually been doing ANYTHING AT ALL.
Prayer for A MINUTE. Or prayer for AN HOUR. And, from a human point of view. Things can look just the same.
On an EARTHLY level, prayer often seems like A WASTE OF TIME. Time you could better spend doing OTHER things. USEFUL things. Things that make a difference
Does your prayer ever sound like this?
“Heavenly Father. You’re awesome and holy and righteous and huge. You’re good and powerful and pure. You love me, and you’ve given me so many good things. Thanks. Thanks for my family. (Which reminds me, I need to talk to Alex about work. And Lachlan needs to clean up his room. OOPS. I’m supposed to be praying. Where was I? Oh yeah).
Thanks also for our church. For how you’re looking after it. (Which reminds me, I need to phone Gordon about our meeting. And I need to arrange the new roster. OOPS. I’m supposed to be praying. Where was I? Oh Yeah!)
Praying. Thanks God for our friends. The ones who know you. And for those who don’t. (Which reminds me. I need to drop off that drill to Jim down the road. And I really need to invite Mike and Helen over for dinner. And, before I forget, I better go and do the shopping for dinner tonight.
Does YOUR prayer ever sound like THAT?
Prayer often seems to be something we have to get through. So we can get onto the IMPORTANT stuff. The stuff that MATTERS. That makes a difference. That achieves something.
But that’s not what THE BIBLE teaches about prayer. Prayer is something God WANTS us to do. Something that DELIGHTS him. Something that IS important. That DOES make a difference.
And so, at the start of a New Year, it’s a great time to stop for a moment. And spend some time letting God re-shape our priorities. Learning from Paul the sorts of things we should be MAJORING on. And the things, perhaps, we need to be LETTING GO of as we begin 2007. That’s what we’ll be doing for the next few weeks.
The first prayer we’re looking at is in Eph 3. And the first question Paul answers for us is WHY PRAY? Have a look at it there in v14. The very first phrase.
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father,
For WHAT reason? WHY does Paul pray for the Ephesians. The FIRST place to look/ is in the paragraph that comes BEFORE. That’s from the start of Ch 3. But if you go back up to v1 of Chapter 3, you see ANOTHER “For this reason”
3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-
And then he goes off on a tangent, talking about himself, and the ministry he’s been given. He finally gets back on track in v14 again. For this reason. So to find WHY Paul prays, we have to go back into Ch 2. So jump back there for a moment.
Just skim your eye down the words there in Ch 2. It’s all about God’s great purposes for mankind.
V1. The Ephesians were in their sin. Objects of God’s wrath. But then, v4,
.. because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
And then, from v11, he describes how this means the Gentile Ephesians have now become THE PEOPLE OF GOD. Which leads to the final truth. In the last paragraph of Ch 2. V19.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,
Both Gentile and Jew – one people, one household – brother and sister. With Jesus, v20, as the chief cornerstone of the whole building. And then, v22,
22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Why pray? Because God has done a wonderful thing in making us his people. Just like the Ephesians, WE were objects of wrath, headed for destruction. But because God LOVED us, he made us alive in Jesus. We are part of his people. A people he LIVES IN by his Spirit.
We ask the question, WHY PRAY? A better question is why WOULDN’T you pray to a God like that? To a God who’s done SO MUCH. And has such an incredible purpose for you.
And so, because Paul knows these truths, he PRAYS. V14, “For this reason I kneel before the Father”.
And he prays for three things. Three good things to pray for. But three things Christians have misunderstood. He prays for POWER. That’s in v16. Then he prays for KNOWLEDGE. That’s v18 and 19. And finally, in v19, he prays for FULNESS.
Power, knowledge and fullness. Paul PRAYS for them. But perhaps not in the way SOME people might like to understand them. So let’s look at his prayer a little more closely.
Firstly POWER. Look at v16.
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
The NIV translation is a little misleading here. It makes it sounds like one things leads to the other. “I pray that A, SO THAT B might happen”. But there’s no “so that” in the Gk.
So it really becomes two parts of the same prayer. Listen to it again, without the SO
16 I pray … that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 … that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
So Paul is talking about the same thing in two slightly different ways. He wants God the Father to strengthen the Ephesians with power THROUGH HIS SPIRIT IN THEIR INNER BEING. WHICH IS ANOTHER WAY of asking for CHRIST to dwell in their hearts through faith.
That’s how Jesus understood it. In Jn 14.16 he talks about the Holy Spirit coming. And then in the next sentence talks about it as being Jesus himself being with them.
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever- 17 the Spirit of truth. … you know him, for he lives with you and WILL BE IN YOU. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I WILL COME TO YOU.
JESUS HIMSELF promises to be with us THROUGH THE PRESENCE OF HIS HOLY SPIRIT LIVING IN US.
So, Paul is praying that God the Father will strengthen the Christians by means of His Spirit working in their inner being. WHICH IS THE SAME REALITY as Christ himself dwelling in their HEARTS.
The phrase for inner being is literally INNER MAN. It’s the same phrase Paul uses in 2 Cor 4:16-18.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though THE OUTER MAN is wasting away, yet THE INNER MAN is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Can you see the difference? Your INNER man is what God’s interested in strengthening. So often, it’s our OUTER MAN that WE’RE interested in. Our physical fitness, our looks, our health, our comfort, our fashion – our clothes or hairstyle. How we appear ON THE OUTSIDE. How other people see us. What people THINK of us.
But God is more interested in what we’re like on the inside. And God is even prepared for us to suffer PERSECUTIONS (that’s the light and momentary troubles he’s talking about) – for our OUTER man to suffer – for the sake of our inner man. Because that’s what will last for ETERNITY.
And so, Paul prays that God would strengthen us with power in our INNER MAN. That’s the area God’s interested in growing.
We’re concerned with growing old gracefully. But our hair goes grey, or fall out, or both, our joints start to creak and groan, our skin starts to wrinkle.
But for God, that’s not his priority. He doesn’t mind about your education, or your physical condition, your superannuation, or your suntan. He doesn’t care about your committees or your promotions, your achievements, or your connections.
He wants his Spirit to be building you up ON THE INSIDE, making you STRONGER, growing your faith and dependence and love for Jesus, your ability to stand firm, and building your hope for heaven.
Is that something YOU’RE working on? Are you LESS godly than you were ten years ago, or MORE? Are you MORE patient and tolerant and understanding and generous? Or are you becoming a y old man or woman?
When people look at you, are they seeing someone who’s outer man is fading away, but who’s INNER MAN IS BEING RENEWED – strengthened, improved?
That’s what God’s interested in for YOU. And that’s what he wants you to be praying for in OTHERS TOO.
But how can we CONTRIBUTE to that process? What can we do, other than PRAY? That’s what v17 helps answer. The prayer is that Christ would DWELL in our hearts.
Now, at first glance, that seems a funny thing to be praying for Christians. After all, isn’t Christ living in ALL Christians? If you don’t have Christ, you’re not a Christian!
But the word for DWELL means to ABIDE. TO MAKE A HOME. To be COMFORTABLE in. To be a good FIT in. Rather than just to VISIT. That’s a DIFFERENT word.
So what’s Paul’s prayer about? The picture’s of someone who buys a house. When he FIRST moves in, it doesn’t really suit. There’s so much he doesn’t like, so he sets about re-painting, fixing up . Then he extends, pulls down walls, and puts up new ones.
And, slowly, it becomes HOME. It used to just be a place where he lived. A HOUSE. But now it’s a HOME. That’s the sort of thing Paul is praying for the Ephesians. That Christ would be making his home in them LIKE THAT. Your heart, Christ’s home!
c. through faith
And he says that the process happens THROUGH FAITH. It’s as the Christian exercises TRUST in Jesus, submitting every corner of his life to Jesus, trusting his promises, giving him control, that Jesus is BETTER ABLE TO FEEL AT HOME THERE. Because he’s getting rid of the dark corners, the selfishness, the lusts, and the pride. The impatience and resentments, and bitterness.
It’s a gradual process. A LIFELONG process. But there should BE progress. Christ should be feeling more and more at home in YOU.
What areas of your life is Christ NOT feeling at home in? Open up the doors, and let him in! And be praying that exact same thing for OTHERS as well.
That’s Paul’s FIRST prayer. A prayer for POWER. As Don Carson puts it, Pray for “Power to be holy, power to think and act, and talk in ways utterly pleasing to Christ, power to strengthen moral resolve, power to walk in transparent gratitude to God, power to be humble, power to be discerning, power to be obedient and trusting, power to grow in conformity to Jesus Christ.” (p189)
Paul’s SECOND request begins in the second half of v17. It’s a prayer for KNOWLEDGE. (And we’ll work through this one more quickly). Follow along with me.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-
It’s a prayer that we might understand how much Christ loves us. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t know it already. If you’re a Christian then to SOME extent you understand how much Christ loves you. If you’re a Christian you’ve recognised that Christ has died in your place. But it’s something the Christian can HAVE a LITTLE of, but also know MORE AND MORE.
Paul actually says as much. Notice the condition he describes the Ephesians as being in? They’re ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED IN LOVE. That’s God’s love for them. They’ve been planted in the soil of love. They’ve had their foundations dug down deep into love. They only exist because of love. Like a plant exists because of soil, or a building because of its foundations.
It’s the sort of love that Paul’s already talked about. Back in Ch 1
Eph 1:4-5 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. IN LOVE 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ,
Or again in Ch 2 v4.
Eph 2:4-5 But BECAUSE OF HIS GREAT LOVE FOR US, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved
So, Paul’s prayer is that they’ll APPRECIATE what they’ve GOT. They’re IMMERSED in love – and they need to understand the EXTENT of that love more and more.
Note, it’s not a prayer to LOVE CHRIST MORE – as good as that is. … Perhaps it’s because as we understand what Jesus has done for us, that becomes THE KEY to how we can respond to HIM. As we grow in our understanding of Christ’s love for us, then we’re able to more deeply show love TO HIM. As well as Gratitude, service, repentance, submission, commitment, and loyalty.
And as Paul tries to get HIS head around it, he uses a GEOGRAPHICAL description.
He could have used ECONOMICS. “How much does Jesus love you?” More than all the money in the world!
He could have used ASTRONOMY. “How much does Jesus love you?” More than from one side of the Milky Way to the other
But instead he uses GEOGRAPHY. “How much does Jesus love you?” His love is WIDE AND LONG AND HIGH AND DEEP.
I like Matthew Henry’s explanation. His love is so WIDE, it covers ALL mankind – Jew and Gentile, Aussie and Arab. It’s so LONG, it will last for all eternity. It’s so HIGH, it reaches even to heaven itself. And his life is so DEEP, it descends to the depths of the most degraded sinner.
And to understand Christ’s love more / isn’t something Paul imagines a Christian can do ON HIS OWN. It’s not just about going up onto a mountaintop and meditating there until you find the answer. That’s not how Paul understands the Christian life. His prayer is that the Ephesians will grow in that understanding TOGETHER WITH ALL THE SAINTS.
It’s something we all do TOGETHER. We can each play a part in others understanding Christ’s love more. By being here on Sunday, by being in a home group, by singing loudly, by sharing prayer points, writing cards, making phone calls, praying for each other. Sharing and explaining and being excited by the depths of the love of Christ.
And to pray that someone will understand more of Christ’s love is a prayer you’ll never stop praying. Because you can never understand it COMPLETELY. Notice that Paul wants them to understand MORE what can never be completely understood. “To KNOW the love that SURPASSES knowledge”.
That doesn’t make sense, unless we’re asking it of a God who can gradually reveal these truths to us as we trust him. Gradually draw open the curtains on the wonderful sunrise of the love of Jesus.
We often SING about these things better than we say them. For a century and a half the church has sung these words
Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know;
Spirit breathing from above, Thou hast taught me it is so!
O this full and perfect peace! O this transport all divine!
In a love which cannot cease, I am His, and He is mine.
Heav’n above is softer blue, Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow, flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as I now know, I am His, and He is mine.
His forever, only His; Who the Lord and me shall part?
Ah, with what a rest of bliss Christ can fill the loving heart!
Heav’n and earth may fade and flee, firstborn light in gloom decline;
But while God and I shall be, I am His, and He is mine.
George Wade Robinson (1838-1877)
When was the last time it struck YOU? How unworthy you were? And how absolute and deep and weighty and costly Christ’s love for you is? Singing a song? A Bible reading? A poem? During prayer? Contemplating Christ’s during the Lord’s Supper, perhaps. Or during a sermon, or reading a book – something fresh strikes you, and you catch a glimpse?
They’re all great ways to be allowing God to give you the power to comprehend the love of Christ. So, if you’re going to be PRAYING THAT PRAYER, make sure you’re DOING those things as well.
SING it to each other. PRAY it for each other. Read and listen and sing and pray. Meditate on God’s character and actions.
And when we DO that, and our UNDERSTANDING of Christ’s love grows, and as Christ dwells in our hearts more and more by faith through the strengthening of the Spirit in our inner man. Then we begin to get closer to Paul’s goal for us. There at the end of v19. Eph 3:19
that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
And if THAT sounds like an impossibility. Then spend a few moments dwelling on Paul’s doxology. God can EVEN answer your prayers to filled to the measure of all his fullness.
Eph 3:20-21 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.