Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Praying With Power: A Sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on Sunday 4th May. Ephesians 1:15-23

I wonder how your prayer life is. I’m not asking if you pray – I hope you do. Rather, I’m asking how you pray. When praying for friends, do you know how to pray? Or what to pray for?

Wee Jonny was kneeling by the side of his bed one night, saying his prayers. Really loudly, he prayed: ‘God, please give me a new bike!’ His mum walked into the bedroom and said, ‘Jonny, why are you praying so loudly? God’s not deaf.’ ‘No,’ says Jonny, ‘But granny is.’ Jonny knew what to pray for, and how to pray for it!

You see, sometimes when we see friends, we might say ‘I’ll be praying for you,’ or ‘You’re in my prayers.’ But then when it comes to the praying, we don’t really know what it is we should be praying for.

Hopefully you, like me, want to become better in your prayers. You’re just not satisfied when your prayer life settles into the God bless the world and the church and the cat. Rather, you want to be praying specific prayers which make an impact on the situation, and help the person being prayed for. How do we do this?

Paul, in our reading tonight, is writing to the Ephesians. You might remember that in Acts 19, Paul arrived in Ephesus, preached in the synagogue there, until they threw him out, so he spent two years teaching and debating in the hall of Tyrannus. He then moved on, and there was a riot in Ephesus because the silversmiths and craftsmen didn’t like that people were becoming Christians and rejecting idols and shrines.

Paul is writing some time later to encourage the Christians in Ephesus. He opens the letter with an amazing outpouring of praise to God because of the great blessings that God has showered on those who trust in Jesus. These include the choosing for adoption, redemption, forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ blood, and being marked with a seal – the Holy Spirit – guaranteeing our inheritance.

It is for this reason that Paul gives thanks to God for them! Remember that Paul had left Ephesus to move on to other places to preach there too. But now he is hearing that they have continued in their faith, and also of their love for God’s people. What great news!

Notice, though, that Paul doesn’t congratulate the Ephesians for believing – rather he thanks God for their faith and love – who, as the earlier part of chapter 1 reminds us, pours out his glorious grace.

Paul thanks God for them at all times – he has not stopped giving thanks. But more than that, look at verse 16, he also remembers them in his prayers. Even in celebrating all that they have achieved (through God’s grace), he prays that they will continue. So what is it that Paul prays for them?

Look with me as we read verses 17-19. ‘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. I pray 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 his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.’

First of all, he prays that God will give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they will know him better. How much we all need that! Is there anyone who thinks that they don’t need to know God better tonight? But Paul’s not finished there. Paul prays that they will have their eyes enlightened. This is the prayer of the modern song ‘Open the eyes of my heart Lord’ – to see God better, and to know him. It also brings to mind the enlightening that Paul experienced after the Damascus Road encounter with Jesus. After the meeting, Paul was blind, until Ananias came and restored his sight.

Opening eyes can also be seen with Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings 6. Elisha was in the city of Dothan, and the king of Syria was getting fed up with him, because he always knew what the king was planning. So the king sent his army to besiege the city, and the servant of Elisha woke the next morning to find the army with horses and chariots. In a panic, he gets Elisha and asks what they should do.

‘“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hill full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.’ (2 Kings 6:16-17).

Elisha prayed that God would open his servant’s eyes so that he can see the full picture; how things really are. This is what Paul is praying for too – that the Ephesians will see the full picture.

This knowing God better, through the Spirit, through having their eyes enlightened, comes in three specific areas: hope, riches and power.

Paul prays that the Ephesians ‘may know the hope to which he has called you.’ Notice earlier in the passage, verse 15, that he was thanking God for their faith and their love. Now he’s praying that their hope will come onboard. Could it be that as Christians, we’re so concerned with the present, with getting our trusting right, and our loving right, that we forget about the hope that we have? When was the last time you considered the future that God has in store for us?

Notice, though, that it isn’t just a vague hope – it is intimately bound up in God – ‘the hope to which he has called you.’ The God who has blessed us with so much, is the God who calls us, and who is our hope.

Next, Paul prays that ‘you may know … the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people.’ In verse 14, Paul spoke of the Holy Spirit as ‘a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.’ Here he continues that idea, so that in knowing God better, the Christians at Ephesus will come to know the riches of his inheritance in the saints. In sharing together, they also share in God’s inheritance together – again, it’s not a vague inheritance, but intimately bound up in God and his people. If you flip over to chapter 2, you see this developed further, as Paul reminds the Gentile believers that they were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.’ (2:12) ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.’ (2:13) Now they share the promises and inheritance of God’s people.

Finally, Paul prays that ‘you may know … his incomparably great power for us who believe.’ Remember that we have been looking at how Paul thanks God for their faith and love, but continues to pray that they will move on, growing up to know God better, and that this knowing God better will help them to know the hope, the riches, and now the power.

Sometimes it can be easy to think that God is powerless. We might watch the news on TV, or read a newspaper and be overwhelmed by the devastation of war or famine. Where is God? Can God do nothing? Here Paul reminds the Ephesians that God has incomparably great power. It’s as if all through the passage he is running out of amazing and super-amazing words to describe God. This power, this work of God is working ‘for us who believe.’

Just think for a moment. Normally when we think of power, we think of it in negative contexts. So the power of weaponry or of bombs. Or the absolute power of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. But here Paul is reminding us that the source of power, the very heart of the ‘incomparably great power’ is God himself. The most powerful human power is like an ant bite to us, in comparison with the power of God – the Lord ‘Almighty’.

As an illustration of this power of God, Paul points to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. We all know that dead people don’t come back to life. Yet the power of God (which is working for us), not only raised Christ from the dead, but also seated him at the right hand of God – the position of power and authority.

Just last Thursday we remembered the ascension of Jesus, forty days after Easter. Here Paul reminds us of that, by showing us the power of God, so that Jesus is seated above all ‘rule and authority, power and dominion.’ In chapter 2 he speaks of us being ‘raised up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.’ (2:6).

If this is what the power of God does for Christ, then what will God not do for us, who has called us for his hope, and given us his inheritance among his people?

Perhaps tonight we, like the Ephesians, need to be reminded of these things that are ours through the gospel of Jesus. Maybe tonight you’re right at the start, and need to begin with that faith in the Lord Jesus. Or maybe your love for God’s people is weak, and needs to be encouraged and strengthened.

Or perhaps you have been in the walk for a long time. The road can seem long sometimes, and you need to have your eyes opened to see just how much God has in store for you, both now and in the future. And also to see the great power of God which is for us and available to us. Oh how much we all need these things ourselves, more and more.

Yet we must also remember that we have been listening in to Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians. While it is vital that we have these things ourselves, surely we must also be challenged to pray for others – not in the general sense, but in specific prayers. As someone said to me recently, specific prayers get specific answers.

Have some of your friends recently become Christians? Thank God for them – and thank God through them as well – let them know that you’re praying for them

How will your praying be changed as a result of our reading tonight? Let’s pray indeed that we won’t be satisfied with trite prayers and vague intercessions. Rather, let’s pray that we will be a praying people, so that we might know God better, and grow together as a church.

[I want to finish with another of Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians, from chapter 3: 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. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 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. ]

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