The Power of Prayer
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 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. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:15-23 NIV)
Word of the Lord…
There is a children’s story (The Book of Virtues, William J. Bennett) called, “The Magic Thread” In which a boy, named Peter is flawed by an attitude of impatience. Always dissatisfied with his present condition, Peter spends his life day-dreaming about the future.
One day while wandering in the forests, Peter meets a strange old woman who gives him a tantalizing opportunity — the chance to skip the dull, mundane moments of life. She hands Peter a silver ball from which a tiny gold thread protrudes. “This is your life thread,” she explains. “Do not touch it and time will pass normally. But if you wish time to pass more quickly, you only have to pull the thread a little way and an hour will pass like a second. But I warn you, once the thread has been pulled out, it cannot be pushed back in again.”
This magical thread seems the answer to all of Peter’s problems. It is just what he has always wanted. He takes the ball and runs home.
The following day in school Peter has his first opportunity to put the silver ball to use. The lesson is dragging, and the teacher scolds Peter for not concentrating. Peter fingers the silver ball and gives the thread a slight tug. Suddenly, the teacher dismisses the class, and Peter is free to leave. He is overjoyed! How easy life will now be. From this moment, Peter begins to pull the thread a little every day.
But soon Peter begins to use the magic thread to rush through larger portions of life. Why waste time pulling the thread just a little every day when he can pull it hard and complete school altogether. He does so and finds himself out of school and apprenticed in trade. Peter uses the same technique to rush through his engagement to his sweetheart. He cannot bear and wait months to marry her so he uses the gold thread to hasten the arrival of the wedding day.
Peter continues this pattern throughout his life when hard, trying times come, he escapes then with his magic thread. But sadly, almost in a blur, when he comes to the end of his life, Peter realizes the emptiness of such an existence. By allowing impatience and discontentment to rule him, Peter has robbed himself of life’s riches moments and looking back he has no treasured and loving moments and Peter missed all the opportunities to walk through valleys, learn the great lessons of life and also acquire meaningful memories with his family and going through the process with all of it’s gifts to be discovered one by one. With only the grave to look forward to now, he deeply regrets ever having used the magic thread.”
It’s a powerful story of what happens if we just focus on getting to the next thing. The story teaches us how important it is to embrace those hard parts of life. It’s natural to want to avoid those parts, but God uses them powerfully and we need to embrace it.
I think one of the ways this natural tendency is revealed in our lives is through our prayers. Are our prayers just about getting to the next thing or do they embrace the process of getting their? Do our prayers simply echo Peter’s desires to get to the next thing (but with Christian words), or do we embrace God doing a greater work in us through those things. Too often we miss the power of prayer because we are not focused on the right things, the greater things, the deeper things.
In this passage Paul instructs us on prayer and shows us the true power of prayer. Its not about just getting to the next thing, but focusing on a deeper work in us. I want to look at three ways that through prayer we embrace the deeper work and power of God.
- Prayers of Thanks
Paul begins by giving thanks for the people. Paul genuinely cares about them and he cant stop giving thanks (I do not cease to give thanks (Eph 1:16 ESV).
Often we go to prayer as a way to get, get, get. Prayer has power to change us. There is s scene in Finding Nemo where some seagulls are in the water wanting a pelican to throw them a crab. The seagulls are looking at the crab in the pelican’s hand and are all just chimmering “Mine, mine, mine, mine.” As a parent you laugh at this scene, and it also drives your crazy. You know how young kids can just focus on getting that thing. The only difference in adults is we hide our wants a little better.
Paul gives thanks in prayer. Its not just “mine, mine, mine.” Do our prayer look like Paul or an impatient child. Are we content with what God has provided. Do we or can we enjoy it?
You can tell a lot about a person by what they prays for. Robert Murray Mccheyne said, 'What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more.'
What you ask God for reveals who you are. Power in contentment and gratefulness. He gives thanks for their trust in Christ. He recognizes how great the work of Christ is and that they have received.
- Prayers for a Spiritual Work
Paul also goes deeper than what we normally pray for. The primary focus of his prayer is on people experiencing a spiritual work. He wants them to grow up into what Christ has done for them. Recall the great spiritual realities mentioned in chapter 1 that we have in Christ. Paul now prays that we grow into those realities.
Paul’s focus is that they might have a deeper knowledge of God and what he has done for them. I used the NIV translation here because it better reflects the purpose clauses that are in the greek.
- He prays for a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Eph 1:17 NIV)
- 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, (Eph 1:18 NIV)
He prays that they might know God. He prays for the eyes of their heart to be opened (v18). Eyes of your heart. Does that make sense to you? We don’t think of organs having senses. But this highlights that the truths of the gospel need to go from our minds to our hearts. It needs to be internalized. It’s not enough to be around it or even to intellectual comprehend. A lot of people can articulate theology really well. Can tell you all about grace, but then they are jerks about it. The eyes of their hearts are closed to the truth the speak.
Do you pray for the eyes of people’s hearts?
Paul is praying for an entire church, and many believe Ephesians was written as an encyclical that would be shared with other church and that is why there are not a lot of personal connections to people like there are in other books. May have been expectation this book was written for multiple churches. “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.” (Col 4:16 ESV)
But even with that it is profound that Paul doesn’t not just pray for their needs. He lived in Ephesus for several year. He knew they had needs. But he wasn’t concerned with their church growing more, he wasn’t concerned they get more stuff, or that Suzie gets a new wagon, bigger house or new iphone or that Aquilla sells more tents, or that Andronicus back issues are heal. He focused on the bigger issues.
What Paul is saying here is you don’t need God to do something new for you. You need to have your eyes and heart opened so that you better know what he has already done for you.
The one thing we most need is to know God better. He wants them to have a deeper knowledge of (ESV also kjv):
- What is the hope of his calling.v 18a.
- What are the glorious riches of his inheritance among the saints. V18b
- What is the immeasurable greatness of his power to us who believe. V19
Paul wants them to know this things about God. That is his burden. We just want to get through the exam. Let me pass this class and I am on to the next. God give me a job, give me a spouse, don’t let this surgery kill me. What is better, having our need met or having a deeper knowledge of the power, hope, and inheritance that we have in God.
“It's remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances.” Tim Keller
Paul is praying for Christians. It is possible to be in the church and not have your eyes opened and hearts enlightened.
If your surgery goes well or you pass your midterm, but you don’t go any deeper in your love and knowledge of God was it a success? What if our whole life was like that? Just getting to the next thing. What if we prayed for God to show us his power, the greatness of our hope. Would you rather your unbelieving neighbor have a good surgery or him come to know this power and hope? Then why do we settle for only having our problems fixed.
Now that doesnt mean we don’t pray for surgeries and exams. Some of you are thinking I am not telling Keith I’m getting operated on. We ought to pray for our daily bread, that is small daily need. But are we praying equally for the deeper things. Are we praying for a bigger view of God. Are we praying for him to change us internally.
"Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" (Luk 24:32 ESV)
This is similar to the proverb give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. We often pray for fish, but God wants us to have something bigger, a bigger view of him that fills us for all of life. A hope that doesn’t fade in hard times.
We live in a culture that has so much stuff, but inside we are hurting, depressed, burnt out, scared and worried. Materialistically rich and spiritually bankrupt, and can’t help think God is answering our materialistic prayers. Let us pray for a greater work a spiritual work in ourselves and others.
- Prayer rooted in the Gospel
For Paul the power of prayer is rooted in the knowledge of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. It is the work that we need our eyes open to. It is also the chief place we see the power of God. v20-23 are an expansion of the power of God that P. prays for the Ephesians to know.
God’s power is seen in the resurrection and ascension. Glory through pain and suffering. He works through weakness. He triumphs through sacrifice. This was the way of our Savior. It is the way for us.
Resurrection, enthronement, supremacy, headship.
That power is like the working of his mighty strength,
- 20 which he exerted in Christ when he
- raised him from the dead
- and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,
- 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
- 22 And God placed all things under his feet
- and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:15-23 NIV)
Jesus died for our sins. He was raised to new life. In him we have the promise that we will be raised too. In him we have hope and victory. Paul lists out the many things that Jesus is over. I think he does that because he knows how easily and quickly our minds are drawn away from it. I think our greatest need is to behold the power of the gospel in Jesus Christ.
The same power at work in raising Jesus is at work in you, and me, and your friends. We need spiritual eyes to see the power of God.
His “power is made perfect in weakness." (2Co 12:9 ESV)
Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2Co 1:9 ESV)
In our weakness we need the power of God that is in the gospel. To be reminded JEsus is ruling and reigning. Life is not out of control. We need strength to do the right thing. Power to love when others aren’t loveable. Power to say the right thing when other say the wrong. Power to stand up when others to do wrong. Power to put down our work and turn off the computer when we are feeling burned out. Power to care for our kids. It all comes through knowing Christ.
If we knew his exceeding power we would fling away despair. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is waiting to raise the drunkard from drunkenness, the thief from thievery, the liar from lying, raise the PHarisee from self righteousness and the sadducee from unbelief.
I want to encourage you to pray for a bigger view of God and for him to do a spiritual work in the lives of you and others.
This Wednesday is lent. Lent is a fast that has been part of the liturgical calendar of the church. It reminds of Jesus forty days in the desert and has been seen as a way to prepare our hearts and minds for Easter. I want to encourage you to find a way to participate in it or in some kind of fast.
Fast that the eyes of your heart might be enlightened.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:6-8 NIV)
We have so much stuff, and i think the eyes of our hearts get covered by of all the stuff we have. We have a lot of crutches that we lean on instead of God. Upset eat something, anything. Watch a movie or youtube clip. We need to remove some of these and make room for God. These crutches also create unhealthy lifestyle patterns. Consider what you can do to remove some crutches.
- Fast social media, screens, television. I know that may seem inhumane but it actually is the way most of the world has lived. Use your phone less. Talk to a friend, your spouse, read your Bible. Be fully engaged with those around you.
- Fast food. Go 40 days without food like Jesus. Or find other ways to seek God. We are surrounded by food and it is hard to completely avoid. Do whole 30 and do it not to look better but to find wholeness in God. When you long for a giant slice of pizza tell God you want him more than that.
- Fast television (sports). I have done that before but am not doing that this year because TN actually has a chance in the NCAA tournament. “A man has to know his limitations.”
- Fast Work: Pause in the middle of your day to get away. Go for a walk. Find a quiet place to read a scripture and pray about it. Do it for an hour or five minutes. Take some time off and get away on a spiritual retreat. Read the word and pray.
Let’s also pray and fast for a work of God in our own hearts and minds. In our friends, church, that one person the Lord put on your heart to reach out to.
Are we going to get to the end of our lives to find God answer our prayers for next things but we are still dull and blind to greater spiritual realities? If we are going to avoid that then we ought to pray for great things now.
Are you content to have a dim view of God. A small God who doesn’t demand much, accomplish much, or promise much, and allows you to meander on your way with little inconvenience. Or do you long for more. Have you seen enough to know that even though you do not see as you should you know your greatest need is a better understand of him.