There is something powerful about intercessory prayer. As you sit with a family (especially in a time of crisis) and sincerely begin to pray with them, honest emotion often begins to reveal itself in the one who is the focus of the prayer. Tears may flow freely. There is something about hearing someone pray for you that brings a comfort that is deep and unique. Genuine and heartfelt prayer cuts through our defenses and draws us closer to God and each other than at any other time.
In the book of Ephesians we are given the blessing of two of Paul’s prayers for the people of the church in Ephesus (the end of chapter one and the end of chapter 3). I believe both these prayers also are given for the church at large (i.e. for us). Both prayers are so “on target” that they have become models for the way we can and should pray for each other. Today we look at the first of those prayers in Ephesians 1:15-20.
If you remember after the heartfelt explosion of praise in the first 14 verses Paul writes,
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,
Why Paul Rejoices
Paul rejoiced at the evidence that the Ephesians were among those who truly belonged to the Lord. They were among those who truly believed. He gives two reasons for this conclusion.
First, they have faith in Christ. Pay attention to these words. They have faith in Christ, not simply in God. Many people believe in God who are not followers of Christ (for example, Muslims believe in god). In fact, even James tells us that even the demons believe in God! Most of our friends tell us that they “believe in God”. However, the god they believe in may not be the God of the Bible, but rather a god of their own construction and imagination. They have designed a mental image of God which they worship and this is really no different than constructing a physical idol.
The Ephesians have faith in Christ. This is more than simply having knowledge of Christ or good feelings toward Christ. There are lots of people who like Jesus. They admire Him as a teacher or think He was a stirring figure from history. If asked on a census questionnaire, many of these people would check the box that says, “Christian”. This is not the same as having faith in Christ.
To have faith in Christ is to embrace the truth about Him and then abandon everything else and follow Him just like the disciples of Jesus did when they left their fishing nets and followed after Him. Faith means believing the truth about Him so fully that it changes the direction of our lives.
The second reason Paul believed the Ephesians were sincere followers of Jesus was because they had a love for all the saints. Not everyone who says they have “faith in Christ” has a love for their fellow man. Some become aloof and judgmental. If we remain in that state we show that we do not have the love of Christ working in us.
True faith in Christ will transform the way we see other people. It impacts the way we live in the here and now. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote,
A Christian is a man who has a new test for everyone and everything. When he meets a person for the first time he does not look at his clothing, he does not look at his general external appearance. That is the carnal way of judging people. He does not ask himself, Where has he come from, what school has he attended, what is his bank balance? Those are no longer his questions or his tests. He is interested in one thing only now. Is he a child of God, is he my brother in Christ? Are we related? (324)
As Christians we must see beyond a person’s background, politics, income level, or appearance. We will learn to see people as created in the image of God . . . people with whom we may spend eternity.
One good way to describe Hell is to view it as the height of self-absorption; everyone is so wrapped up in themselves that they slowly perish. I remember a vivid word picture. After death a room was observed where there was a large group of starving people who sat around a table full of food. The arms of these people were like long spoons. They could not reach the food without the spoon. However, the elbow joint was missing. Consequently, it was impossible to feed yourself. The only way to survive was to feed and be fed by each other. However, since everyone was more concerned about themselves than the other guy . . . they starved.
A true believer is one that is moving beyond selfish preoccupation. Paul knew the Ephesians were true believers because he saw the effect of that faith in the way they treated each other. If your Christianity does not impact how you treat other people, it is not really Christianity!
So here’s the key question: Can the same be said of us? Do we have faith in faith or do we have faith in Jesus the Christ? I become frustrated when people say, “You just have to believe!” The question I want to ask is: believe what?
- In our ability or in the human spirit?
- That everything will work itself out? (positive mental attitude)
- That “the system” will work
The Bible tells us that the only belief that will help us is a belief or trust in the promise of the Father, the work of the Son, and the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Do you have that kind of faith? Is it evident in the way you live?
What Paul Prays
If your faith is in Christ, then Paul’s prayer can also apply to you. It is instructive to notice what Paul prays,
16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
We would be wise to pray this prayer for each other.
That We May Know Him Better
Our greatest need is to know God more fully. It is not to have our problems vanish; to have more stuff; or even to know more information. Our greatest need is to have a true, deep, real, knowledge of, and relationship with, God. This is our greatest need, our great privilege, and the highest end to which we can achieve.
We are often short-sighted.
- We pursue sex instead of love
- We want to be part of the status quo more than we want to be a person of conviction
- We pursue awards rather than character
- We want academic degrees more than we want an education
- We want a quick profit rather than we want quality
- We are more concerned with our appearance than with our health
- We pursue an absence of conflict rather than true reconciliation
- And sadly, we pursue religious practice more than we pursue the Lord Himself
If we are honest, we know it is foolish to be so short-sighted. Many of us have experienced or seen the wreckage that comes from living in such a way. We know that doing the right thing really is best in the long term.
God calls us to something greater . . . He calls us into a relationship with Him. He wants us to know and trust Him fully. He wants us to experience His love not simply study it. When we come to Jesus for forgiveness and new life we begin the process of changing our life.
In a good marriage you are always growing. It is not enough to recount the beauty of your wedding day or talk about the good times you had when you were dating. A good marriage is one where the relationship is deepening and growing. Partners study each other and continue to do so even as each of them changes and grows. They learn what every twitch or raised eyebrow means. They communicate a great deal without words because they know what the other is thinking. They understand their mates’ vulnerabilities and their strengths; likes and dislikes. They know when they are listening and when they are not. Abiding love and true intimacy develop over time.
This is the way our relationship with God should be. He wants us to be fascinated with His greatness. He wants us to want to spend time with Him more than we want to do anything else. He wants us to learn to love Him as much as He loves us.
I read an account that has really challenged and convicted me,
The great pastor Harry Ironside tells of meeting a very godly man early in his ministry. The man was dying of tuberculosis, and Ironside had gone to visit him. His name was Andrew Fraser. He could barely speak above a whisper. His lungs were almost gone. Yet he said, “Young man, you are trying to preach Christ, are you not?”
“Yes, I am,” replied Ironside.
“Well,” he said, “sit down a little, and let us talk together about the Word of God.” He opened his Bible, and until his strength was gone he opened up one passage after another, teaching truths that Ironside at that time had never seen or appreciated. Before long tears were running down Ironside’s cheeks, and he asked, “Where did you get these things? Can you tell me where I can find a book that will open them up to me? Did you get them in a seminary or college?”
Fraser replied, “My dear young man, I learned these things on my knees on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in the north of Ireland. There with my open Bible before me, I used to kneel for hours at a time and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and to open the Word to my heart, and he taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I ever could have learned in all the seminaries or colleges in the world.”4
This man had come to know God rather than simply know about Him. Don’t you want this? I do. The natural question we have is: how do we move in this direction. How do you begin to know God better? Here are some suggestions…
- It must be a priority to us. We are all busy people. It is a truth of life: we give time to what is most important to us. If you want to know what is really the highest priority in your life, look at your calendar. When you have to choose between opportunities, what usually “wins”? This will show you what your true priority is. It may even reveal what your true “god” is. This is why so many people never get to know God: He is too low on their priority list! If we are going to know Him, we have to make time to know Him! It must be significant time. It should be as significant as some of the other things that get your attention.
- We must develop our life of prayer. You may be in a whole room full of noisy children but if your child begins to cry you immediately hear the cry over all the others. You know whether the child is mad, frustrated, or hurt. We have to learn to hear God’s voice in that same way. We need to be able to pick His whisper out of the cacophony of sound in the world and in our head. We do that the same way we learn to discern the cry of our child: by spending much time together, by listening carefully, and by tuning your ears and your heart to Him.
- We must read the Bible interactively. That means we must read the Bible as if God is speaking to us. We tend to read academically, trying to master information. There is information to learn. However, we must also read intimately, like you would read a letter from a dear friend. As we read we must ask God for clarification. We should careful check to make sure we have understood correctly (have you ever misinterpreted something someone wrote to you?). And once we have understood correctly we must take the information to heart. God will speak to us, guide us, encourage us, and comfort us through the Bible if we will listen.
- We need to be willing to step out in faith. We will never know what it means to follow Christ unless we actually try to follow Christ! It takes courage to do go in a different direction. It takes resolve to go against the current of contemporary thought. If we want to know God intimately we must be willing to risk obedience. God may call us to
- Talk to a friend about their spiritual life.
- Abide by the morality of the Bible even though it may mean being called a “prude”, or being labeled “judgmental” by the world.
- Act on that sense that God is calling you to a particular place of ministry.
- Give extravagantly to someone in need.
- Forgive someone who hurt you deeply.
- Pray with someone in need even though you are afraid you will appear silly.
- Visit someone you don’t know very well.
As we dare to trust God we will grow in our faith and in our relationship.
- Learn from others. We will learn about God’s greatness by talking with those who have walked with Him for a long time. We may do this through a Sunday School discussion, a formal small group, or even over a cup of coffee. Find someone who can mentor you in the faith.
- Finally, study. Though we don’t want merely an academic relationship with God, there is something to be said for learning more about God. We must deepen our understanding. Read books about the attributes of God, about spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible Study) and even theology. As you grow in understanding you will also grow in your desire to know Him more.
Paul understood that our number one pursuit should be to know God more fully and deeply but He doesn’t stop here. He asks for more.
That We May Know The Inheritance He Has For Us As Believers
Paul also asks, “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
Paul is praying that we might come to understand the blessing and privileges that are given to us in Christ. Think about it! God has given us,
- Forgiveness. Our past sin is erased from the books.
- Position. We are a “child of God” and are granted all the privileges that come with that position.
- Access. We can approach and seek God at any time without barrier.
- Freedom. We are free from the enslaving power of sin. We don’t have to follow that path anymore.
- Purpose. God has given each of us a meaningful role to play in the advancement of His Kingdom no matter how small that role appears to others.
- Hope. The fear of death is replaced by a certain Hope of eternal glory.
- Strength. We are given supernatural strength for times of heartache and trial and can know confidence where once we were filled with fear
This is only scratching the surface. Paul prays that we might begin to “get it” because if we do, we will pursue Him more passionately.
That We Might Know His Incomparably Great Power
We will look carefully at this next week. In the Greek Paul piles up words that mean power (such as the word for dynamite, and energy). He points out that the same awesome power that created the universe; the same power that raised Jesus from death; is the power that we have been given through Christ.
We are no longer helpless in the world. We are not helpless pawns in the chess game of life. We possess the power of the living God! There is NO POWER in this world that can stand against the power of God! We need not fear!
It is a magnificent prayer. I leave you with an assignment: memorize and pray this prayer. Pray it for your own life. Pray it for your friends. Pray it for our leaders and our country. Ask God to help you hunger to know Him more deeply and to live in His riches and strength more fully. Pray this prayer of Paul’s until it becomes your prayer, your heart, and your passion.
When we start truly hungering for these things our lives and our attitudes will change. We will make different choices. We will find a richer life. In addition, others will see the way you live, notice the way you talk, and they will be touched and perhaps even quietly worship when they hear you pray. Why? Because they will see something unique in this superficial world in which we live. They will see that you don’t merely know stuff about God . . . you actually know Him personally.