In the last edition of The Contact I began a short study on the prayers of the Apostle Paul. The goal of this study is to reorient our own ideas and practices of prayer and conform them to the ideas found in the Scriptures. Though often unaware, believers are frequently shaped more by cultural ideas and contemporary thinking on prayer than by what God actually says about it in His Word. Prayer, commonly practiced, is seen as presenting a “wish list” to God of the pleasures and treasures we would like to receive rather than as one of the divinely order means by which God produces in us holiness, Christian character, and joyful fellowship with the Triune God. As I said in the last article, “He is to be pursued as my Heavenly Father whom I serve, rather than a heavenly bellhop who serves me.”
In this article I want to look at a few more prayers that the Apostle Paul offers in his letters. We will look at the things for which Paul prayed when he wrote to the Church in Ephesus. I encourage you to have your Bible open and follow along as you read what he had to say to believers in those passages. We begin with Eph. 1:15-23.
Paul has just laid out, in a clear and awe-inspiring manner, that our great salvation is completely the result of the work of the Triune God. Just a listing of the terms mentioned gives us many reasons for which to praise Him: blessing, chosen, holy, blameless, predestination, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, love, grace, inheritance, will, hope, sealed, guarantee, etc. Just meditating upon those truths is enough to keep the Christian heart overflowing with joy, praise, and trust in an on-going manner.
After giving a compact and encouraging teaching of both deep theology and divine assurance concerning our salvation, Paul then moves into a description of how he prays for the believers in Ephesus. After first saying that he give thanks for them, he proceeds to give them a lengthy list of things that he is praying on their behalf. Included in that list, he prays that they:
Would have a spirit of wisdom and of revelation that leads to a greater knowledge of God;
Would have their eyes opened to know their hope in Christ and the riches of their inheritance in Him along with all of the saints;
Would see the greatness of God’s power that was working in Christ through His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. (Imagine how a greater awareness of the power of God in Christ would help us see and respond to each situation we are in!)
Would see Jesus as high and exalted above all, far above anything or anyone else.
Wow! Imagine if we were to pray for one another in this way! Imagine every believer growing in deeper knowledge of and intimacy with God. Imagine every believer having a greater awareness of the wonder and majesty of Jesus Christ! Imagine every believer seeing Jesus as highly exalted, full of power, and working in our lives because of who He is! If we were to pray for each other in this manner, I believe it would ignite a spiritual revolution in our midst, as we became more God-centered and Gospel-focused in our prayers, worship, and service to others.
Paul gives a second list of prayer requests for the Ephesian believers in 3:14-21. He has just told them about the beauty of the Church, whereby God is sweeping Jews and Gentiles into the Body of Christ, displaying His wonderful wisdom to a watching world. Thus, each believer is to work, serve, and worship according to the “eternal purpose” of God in Christ (3:11), approaching His throne with boldness and confidence. After that marvelous teaching, he then prays for them that they:
Be strengthened in their inner being through the Spirit of God;
Have fuller faith in Christ;
Know more fully the love of Christ;
Be filled with the fullness of God.
Did you notice the Trinitarian nature of his prayers here? Paul prays for each believer to grow in a loving, faithful, worshipful, trusting relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Paul focuses his prayers on the believer becoming more like God – and of God getting more of the believer – than on simply asking that the believer gets more things from God. When we see that God in Christ is our true treasure, we want more of Him, not just settling for more things from Him.
In one last section on prayer in the Book of Ephesians, 6:18-20, Paul is speaking of the reality of the believer’s spiritual battle with the devil and the forces of evil. In this wonderful section on the “Armor of God,” there is a comprehensive nature to our struggle against the forces of spiritual darkness. It involves our attitudes, our actions, our position in Christ, and the tools God has put at our disposal. He ends the listing of God’s armor by focusing on the role and power of prayer. Thus he prays for the believers in Ephesus:
To have victory and power in spiritual warfare:
To stay active, awake, and alert in praying for one another.
He closes this section by asking believers to pray for him that he, Paul, preach the Gospel with boldness and power as an ambassador of the King of kings.
The one things that comes through clearly in the prayers of Paul is that he is Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered, and future-oriented in how he prays for believers. He does not pray for them to experience the things of heaven now (prosperity, healing, ease, etc.), but for the things that will prepare us for heaven (long-suffering, growing knowledge of God, wisdom, opportunities for Gospel ministry, etc.)
I am currently reading a book entitled, Gospel Wakefulness, by Jared Wilson. In a dynamite book that I highly recommend, Wilson takes the reader on a journey of being captivated by the Gospel, cherishing Jesus and who He is above all else. Though the whole book is worth reading and meditating upon, one passage captures well what we have been saying in this article:
“The way God administers to the broken, though, is contrary to our expectations and desires. We tend to think his ministry involves only the removal of the pain. But that is not the way that God works. In the same way that the crucifixion – itself the consequence of a sinful world and a dark culture – was a victory over sin and darkness, our brokenness itself is the means of apprehension of the riches of the gospel of God’s love. Where we always look for and request deliverance from suffering, the testimony of Scripture is mostly about what God wants to do for us in our suffering.”
These words ring with truth and reflect well what Paul has been teaching the Ephesian believers. In His wise and sovereign governance of all things, God often has to bring us through the rigors of His woodshop so that we can become works of art that display His glory. The pain, discomfort, challenge, and loss we face now not only teaches us the wondrous depth of God’s love and intimacy; it not only strengthens us for future struggles that will come; it also prepares us, shapes us, and molds us to be in His presence in the new heavens and the new earth.
In brief, the big picture of what God wants to do in us will affect how we pray and for what we pray. When we understand the God is shaping us to become like Jesus and preparing us for heaven, we will pray accordingly. We will desire Jesus as our true treasure and seek to become like Him, not just seeking the things we hope to receive from Him! I invite you to join with me in praying for and with each other according to the lessons learned from the Apostle Paul as he taught believers about prayer.