Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sermon: Ephesians 1: 15-23 Praying in Christ

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 is writing to 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 us who are in Christ. 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?

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? But Paul’s not finished there. He prays that they will have the eyes of their heart enlightened, to see God better, and to know him.

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 what is 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.

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.

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.’

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 not only raised Christ from the dead, but also seated him at the right hand of God – the position of power and authority, high over all rulers and authority and power etc.

This is the power of God that is working in you and for you, for us who are called to his hope, and receiving his inheritance among his saints.

Perhaps we, like the Ephesians, need to be reminded of these things that are ours through the gospel of Jesus. Maybe 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. Pray for these things in their life.

How will your praying be changed as a result of our reading? 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 under the headship of Christ, for his glory.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 12th February 2012.

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