We’re beginning a new section in the book of Ephesians this morning.
Last week we finished looking at verses 3-14 which was one long burst of praise that focused on the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and all God has done for us “to the praise of His glory.” And now, he’s going to tell us that he prays to the God that he just described, thanking him for what is happening with the Ephesians, and asking Him to do even more.
Read with me if you will, it’s going to be a little thick at times, but we’re going to get more familiar with the flow in the coming weeks as we dig into what he’s saying:
Eph 1:15 Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
This morning I want to make a few general observations about Paul’s prayer, and then in the coming weeks we can make our way through more of the specifics.
If you’re taking notes, I want to look at:
– the constant nature of Paul’s prayer, the way he persists in regular prayer;
– the catalyst of Paul’s prayer – what provokes him to pray; and
– the content of his prayer, what does he pray about?
But first, let’s stop and think about where we often go wrong in our own prayers and how what we learn here might help.
The first thing that can wreck our prayers is when we try to be too formal. Some people feel like we have to use ancient, formal, language when we talk to God, but Jesus said to call Him Abba, Father. How do you talk to your dad? With respect of course, but is it formal or friendly? That’s how we should we speak to God, with familiarity, with openness, guarded by love and respect.
Some people also rely on memorized prayers and we all let certain catch phrases slip in, “Lord, we just…” or “Lord, please bless this food to our nourishment” or a rushed, “we ask this now in Jesus’ name Amen.” It’s OK to use these phrases, it’s OK to follow a formal prayer, it’s OK to use a written prayer, but we need to stay engaged with what we’re doing and not slip onto autopilot lest our prayers begin to feel hollow, superstitious, and frivolous. And if that happens, it’s only a matter of time until we stop going through the motions at all.
So when you pray, remember you’re talking to somebody. You’re not alone. You have someone’s attention. It’s real communication.
But, avoid another error some people make in prayer and that is becoming ecstatic, all worked up and intense. Some people think you really have to woop it up to be heard, one commentator noted that some preachers sound like “professional wrestlers hyping an audience” when they pray. That’s funny, but only because it’s true. It’s a powerfully accurate imagine if you know what he’s talking about, isn’t it?
But look, you don’t have to hoot and holler to get God’s attention or really scrunch your face up and furrow your brows and speak 100 words a minute in order to hold God’s attention. He actually wants to hear you pray. He’s ready to listen.
Which leads us to a third point about prayer, and that is, there’s no need to drone on. Jesus told people, don’t think you’ll be heard for the sake of your many words. There’s no value in vain repetition, there’s no value in saying the same thing over and over.
Now, let me clarify that a little bit though, because Jesus also told stories commending people who were persistent in prayer. Persistence is good. It’s good to be an advocate and keep bringing something up. But there’s a difference between bringing it up again and going on and on. Frequent prayer is good, long-winded prayer is not necessary.
In fact, we’re going to see this morning that Paul is a big advocate of constant prayer. He says,
Eph 1:15 Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers:
When you understand, like Paul, who God is and what He has done, and you become aware of the great need for God in people’s lives and situations, you can’t help but pray regularly. And if you pay attention to what God is doing, you can’t help but give thanks regularly. And so, if you read through the Bible, you find Paul mentioning prayer all over the place and frequently emphasizing the constant and continual nature of prayer. He had a relationship with God and that relationship was driven by regular communication just like any of our relationships with other people.
He tells the Colossians:
Col 4:2 Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving;
He tells the Thessalonians:
1 Thes 5:16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
He tells the Romans:
Romans 12:12 rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, continue steadfastly in prayer
And at the end of this letter to the Ephesians, after telling them how much he prays for them, he’s going to encourage them to pray for him and for others as an act of spiritual war. He gives this famous analogy of a soldier’s armor and weapons and likens them to the spiritual conflict raging in this world, so he tells them and us:
Eph 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints
“Praying always with all prayer” you get the idea that Paul expects prayer to be a regular part of our lives, an essential part of our lives. I like to say cordless is great for a drill, but it’s terrible for our walk with God; He wants us to stay connected, He wants to keep communicating.
For those of you that are married, think about what your relationship would be like if you only spoke to your spouse as much as you speak to God? There would be a problem, right? Why? Because communication drives relationships. Paul knows this and takes advantage of it. As we’re about to see, Paul knows God, and he knows he has God’s ear, so he’s going to take advantage of every occasion he has to talk to God about what’s going on.
So, let’s take a look at the catalyst for Paul’s prayer – what prompts Paul to pray with such constancy? What is so different about him?
You might want to say, “He’s an apostle, he’s a saint, he’s holy, it’s what people like him do.” Well, let me be the first to tell you, you can get all wrapped up in the day-to-day aspects of ministry and totally lose sight of prayer and your own personal relationship with God. What do you think causes pastors to fall in sin and disqualify themselves from ministry, embarrassing themselves, their families and the church? It sure wasn’t because they were staying so focused on maintaining a tight relationship with God; it wasn’t because they were spending so much time in prayer!
We all struggle to make a priority of prayer; we all find excuses to put it off. But here’s what was going on with Paul, he had three crucial ingredients: theology, experience and awareness.
Let’s start with his theology and experience because it turns out what you think about God has a profound affect on how you pray and whether you pray.
Paul both praises and prays because he knows God. And that knowledge takes two forms: intellectual knowledge, data and facts, and personal experiential knowledge. Paul knows about God from the scrolls he has read, the sermons he has heard, but also from his first hand experiences with God. And that knowledge of God, that rich, meaty, internalized theology, provokes him to praise God but then also to pray. He knows God and he knows that God cares and God is able. He knows that God is interested.
Consider the very flow of this letter. He opens by identifying himself, greeting his audience, blessing them with the reminder of the grace and peace they experience from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and then he bursts into this tremendous string of praise for all that God has done: He has blessed us with every blessing in the heavenly places, He has chosen us and made us holy and blameless in Christ, He has made us accepted – He has given us a place to belong, He has redeemed us the spilled blood of His perfect Son, He has forgiven us of all our sins and showered us with riches of grace which He makes abound to us, He has predestined us and given us an inheritance and sealed us with the Holy Spirit as promise of even greater things to come.
How could you know a God like this and NOT pray?
So, after praising God for all these things in verses 3-14, now he says, “Therefore” or “For this reason” in verse 15 and launches into his prayer. His theology, what he knows and has experienced about God, pushes him right into it; and if you read what he has written in the Bible, you know that Paul actually prayed a lot and for a lot of things because he knew a lot about God.
And this fact, the fact that Paul prayed often and for a lot of things, is interesting and frankly, convicting to me. Because even by modern standards, Paul was a very important and well-connected man. He had a lot of people to think about and respond to. He had a lot of people looking to him for guidance and counsel, a lot of people wanting to share their problems or ask him a question, a lot people wanting to know if he could take a look at this or give them five minutes of his time. He felt a tremendous responsibility for people and churches all across the Mediterranean basin and this burden more than anything else he went through, weighed on him most heavily.
So what did he do about it? What did he do about all their issues and all his own concerns? He prayed. He could have done many more ‘practical’ things – he could have written another letter, met with another person, taught another Bible study. He only had 24 hours in his days too. So why did he take time to pray for people? Because he thought prayer actually WAS doing something.
Now think about that – and ask yourself the question: how many of the issues in my life, how many of the problems I’m facing, how many of the projects I’m tracking, could actually benefit from prayer? If instead of rushing into next week full force tomorrow morning, what if you actually spent some time in prayer for the things you’ve got coming up? Would it make a difference? I think it would I don’t think God would view it as time wasted.
I mean, here’s Paul, he just finished telling us we’ve been chosen from before the foundation of the world, he’s told us we are predestined for salvation by God, he gives us the sense that God has known everything from the beginning, and instead of taking this fatalistic approach, as if everything was completely pre-determined and was just going to run it’s course no matter what, as if God had written some program and it was just working it’s way out, Paul says he prays for real things to happen. He prays for things and people to change and he believes these prayers actually do change things.
There’s this mind boggling passage a page or two over in your Bibles, in Philippians 1:19 where Paul is talking to the Philippians about the fact that he is jail, but he’s sure he’s going to get out eventually because of two things:
Phil 1:19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
If that just said, I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through the supply of the Holy Spirit, I could understand. But he says “through your prayer AND the supply of the Holy Spirit.” Paul knows God, and he believes that the prayers of the people who worship God actually make a difference; they actually change real things in this present world and have an affect on eternity even though God knows the end from the beginning. Now, that’s a mystery. I don’t know how it works, but I believe that it’s true. And so did Paul.
He knew data and facts about God, but he also knew God personally and experientially. He knew God in both the highs and lows of life. He wrote this letter to the Ephesians around the same time as he wrote to the Philippians – and you need to know that.
You need to know that when Paul says all these great wonderful things about God in verses 3-14, he’s in Roman custody. He doesn’t have the freedom to go wherever he wants and do whatever he wants. He’s not eating whatever he wants for dinner. He’s not getting a new coat this winter or going for a run to clear his head. He can’t go to church this weekend or get away from the city for a few days. And yet he still praises God, and prays for others because he has experienced God, perhaps more clearly and more profoundly in the pain than in the pleasures of life, but he knows God.
He has a godly confidence, a God-fidence, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).”
So now, in light of his theology, in light of what he knows about God, and his personal experience of those truths, we add his awareness of what is going in Ephesus and this is what produces his prayer. He says he has heard of their faith in Christ and the love it is producing so he prays to God giving thanks and asking Him to do more.
Eph 1:15 Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers:
So, what was he aware of in Ephesus? What was leading him to pray for them? What was the crisis or issue or emergency? Trick question: there wasn’t one. There was nothing wrong in Ephesus when Paul is writing and yet he’s still praying.
He writes Galatians to help solve a theological problem over what happens when people who are not Jews become Christians. He writes to the Corinthians because they’ve got all kinds of problems going on in their church. But when he writes to the Ephesians there’s nothing going wrong. He just wants them to know more about this great God who has saved them. He’s praying for them even though everything is fine.
And that needs to grab our attention, because most of us are less inclined to pray when things are going well. For too many of us, prayer is kind of like the fire alarm; you don’t pull it unless there’s an emergency. You don’t want to take the time to bother God unless it’s in the middle of a disaster or at the edge of a crisis.
But Paul is praying regularly for these Christians when everything is just fine. He’s giving thanks for people who had faith in God and love for others and then praying that God would do even more in and through them.
Thankfulness is an essential part of being a Christian, after all, our entire identity hinges on the fact that we have received forgiveness, we have received new life, we have been adopted, we have experienced the Holy Spirit coming to live in us, and all of this simply because we responded when it was offered. And if our theology is right, none of these things can ever be taken away from by force or even neglect. When life is at it’s absolute worst, the Christian, of all people, still has something to actually be thankful for. And that’s just the most basic. What else can we add on top of that?
Thankfulness should prompt us to prayer. Paul writes in his other letters about the essential role gratefulness plays in our relationship with God. He tells the Philippians:
Phil 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
And he tells the Colossians:
Col 3:17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Too often we make a big deal out of what we need. We pray and we pray over and over for something, we talk to people about what’s going on, we ask them to pray. Our minds are constantly thinking about it. And then, it comes to pass, and there might be a moment or burst of gratefulness, but all too quickly we glaze over it and move on to the next thing.
There’s nowhere near equivalence between how desperate we were before hand and how thankful we are after. For too many issues, our thankfulness is only a tenth, if that, of our desperation.
That’s not the balance that God wants in our lives. In fact, it’s likely the opposite. We should spend 90% of our time and energy thinking about what God has done, thanking and praising Him for it, like Paul opening this letter with a burst of praise, of thanksgiving, for all that God has already done, is doing, and has promised to do, and then bringing Him our needs and the situations we’re aware of. Think how that would transform our outlook on life!
Brothers and sisters in Christ, if we want to grow, to mature in the Christian faith, we need to be aware as much of what God has already done as we are about what we feel like we need Him to do. We need to remember that the God who has seen us through the past stands with us in the present facing the future. We gain faith for today and tomorrow by thinking back with thankfulness on what God did yesterday.
We have to stop here this morning, but next week we’ll take a look at what Paul starts asking for the Ephesians after he gives thanks.
Let’s pray. Snodgrass, 89.