We’ve been reading the book of Ephesians together and we’ve seen that it opens with a burst of praise which describes God and some of the things He has done for us, but then, after that description, it takes a turn in verse 15 and Paul, who is writing all of this, tells us he is praying to the God he just described, asking Him to help us know Him more.
Read with me:
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
We find here that Paul makes one broad request, that the Christians in Ephesus would know God better and then he asks that this might happen in three specific ways: that we would know the hope of our calling, that we would understand the riches of God’s inheritance, and that we would comprehend the greatness of His power as seen in what He has done in Jesus.
We’ll spend time unpacking each of those later, but this morning we want to consider the fact of Paul’s prayer and the nature of his general request, that Christians would know God better. So, let’s pick up where we left off last week and continue making some observations about Paul and prayer.
When you read through the Bible, and you look at the books God used Paul to write, you discover that praying for people was an important part of Paul’s life and ministry. There is a fundamental connection in his life, between theology and prayer. It’s on display right here in the opening chapter of Ephesians: first, a burst of praise to our great God in vss 3-14, and then a prayer offered to Him in vss 15-23. There is a vital link between the two because what you believe about God affects what you ask of God.
In Paul’s case, what he believes breeds both worship and warfare. Paul thinks of prayer as going to war spiritually for the souls of men. Later in this letter he’ll say:
Eph 6:12 we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
And he believes that wrestling is done through prayer. Paul believes prayer changes things in the real world.
That needs to challenge us. It needs to grab our attention and make us really ask the question: do we?
Do we believe all of this? Do we believe there are spiritual forces at work in this world? Do we believe that prayer is a real thing? Do we believe it’s more than just an emotional palliative, a spiritual therapy, something that calms the nerves? Do we believe that time spent in prayer can be time spent wielding spiritual weapons?
Do we believe praying for people IS a way of “doing” things for them? Do we believe that praying for our kids is as valuable as actually taking the time to teach them something? Do we pray this way for the people we minister to? Do we follow Paul’s example?
I think we’re prone to forget what’s really possible through prayer. And I think Paul knew we are prone to forget it, and that’s why he was praying that the Christians in Ephesus would have a greater awareness of God, that they would remember God and increase in their knowledge of Him, that they would have “the eyes of their understanding opened.”
Last week we said three things fed Paul’s prayer life: his theology, what he knew about God; his experience, the things he had already experienced personally about God’s promises and presence in his life, and finally, his awareness, awareness of the needs and situation he was praying for. And that order is important, because it shapes the way he prays. First God, then our memories of what He has done, and then our immediate needs. If we reverse that order, if we focus on our needs and the things we are aware of first, we pray differently, don’t we?
Paul describes his prayers at least a half dozen times in the Bible, and when you read them something very convicting occurs. You start to notice that he prays differently than we do. His prayers, and most of the others we find in the Bible, focus more often on spiritual issues than our modern prayer requests. Think about it: when was the last time you heard someone ask for prayer for a medical condition? And when was the last time you heard someone ask that God would give someone the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, that He would enlighten the eyes of their understanding; that they would know what is the hope of His calling?
It seems like we’re probably getting something wrong; we’re missing something when it comes to prayer.
Now, that is not to say that we can’t ask God for the simple stuff of daily life. It’s not to say that we can’t come to God for help and healing and comfort and all the things that fill our prayer lists. People came to Jesus all the time when He was on earth asking for healing and He healed them. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to ask for our daily bread. James says that if anyone is sick they should call for the elders of the church and ask the elders to anoint them with oil and pray. So, obviously, it’s OK to pray for these things. But honestly, we often get so caught up in praying for the specific answer we think is needed, that we skip over the great emphasis we see time and again in Scripture which is on things like knowing more of God and having the strength and courage to follow and trust Him.
So, let’s consider Paul’s general request, that the Christians in Ephesus would know God more.
This probably comes as no surprise to many of you, but Fairfax County is one of the most educated places in the nation. The national average is that one third of the adult population of the United States, over the age of 25 has a bachelor’s degree.  That’s not bad.
But here in Fairfax County we almost double it.
– 57% of women have a bachelor’s degree and 25%, or 1 in 4, hold an advanced degree
– 63% of men have a bachelor’s degree and 33% hold an advanced degree
And that’s in a county with a population of 1.1Million people in 2016.
So, yeah, we’ve got some degrees hanging on the walls. We know a lot of stuff. At one time I knew a group of homeschooling moms in our church and the “least educated” of the bunch held an associate’s degree while her fellow home educators included a Medical Doctor, a PhD in Molecular Biology, a woman with her Bachelor’s in Chemistry from VA Tech, and another with her Bachelor’s in Biology from South Carolina State. And again, those were the homeschooling moms! Around here you just take it for granted that the lady coaching your son’s six-year-old soccer team has her PhD in International Affairs, it’s no big deal.
We are some educated people here in Northern Virginia. But for all that schooling, do we know what really matters? For all the things we’ve learned, and all the people we know, do we know God? Can we say with certainty, “Yes, I know Him.” And not just stuff about Him, but do we know Him personally?
All Christians know God. You can’t be a Christian without knowing God. And I don’t mean knowing about God. We’re not asking if you could pass a theological test, or if you could tell us something about the Bible, we’re asking: do you know God?
My son Chris is like a walking encyclopedia of statistics and standings for soccer, mainly Premier League, but he’s pretty good with Bundesliga and La Liga as well. He can tell you which team is in which place, who the leading goal scorers are, who the goal keepers are, and who played for whom last season. He knows all about the teams and their players, but he’s never had lunch with Jaime Vardy, or hung out with Thibaut Courtois. He can tell you who Gareth Bale played for before moving to Spain, but he can’t shoot him a text congratulating him for the latest goal. He knows about these men, but he doesn’t know them.
You could be the same way with God. You might agree, yes, there is a God. Yes Jesus is His Son, yes, He died on the cross for our sins. But does that mean anything to you or is it just doctrine, just facts, just stories you’ve been told since you were little? Could you, with confidence, describe your relationship with God as real? Could you say, “I know Him.”
Oh sure, there are times when He seems distant or quiet, and there are reasons for that, reasons we could discuss at another time, but for today, for right now, the question that must be faced is: do you know Him? Can you say with certainty, there have been times when you have absolutely, undoubtedly, unquestionably, been aware of your relationship with Him?
You should be able to say yes.
On the night before He was crucified, in the Upper Room, after sharing the Passover with His disciples, Jesus prayed a prayer that is recorded in the seventeenth chapter of John’s gospel:
John 17:1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
No greater authority than Jesus Himself said this is eternal life: that we may know God and Jesus Christ whom He sent.
Not know about. Not know the story of Him walking on water, or remembering the Beatitudes, or knowing bits of trivia like name of the man who carried Jesus’ cross for part of the march to Golgotha. No, knowing God. Knowing Jesus. Knowing the Person that all of those data points describe.
The facts are there, they are real, you don’t get to have some mystical, spiritual experience and call it God. It has to line up with what we find in Scripture, but are the things you read in Scripture the only connection you have with God? Is it all just data and facts and a basis for your morality, or is reading the Bible like reading the biography of a friend, someone you know?
You have to have an answer to that question. If it makes you uncomfortable, that’s good. You need to be able to say, with certainty, I know God, the God who has moved me from darkness to light, the God who has moved me into a relationship with Himself, the God who has adopted me, the God who has accepted me in the Beloved. Christianity is a relationship with God, not just a doctrinal quiz.
We tend to think of knowledge in terms of an intellectual knowledge; it’s flash cards and highlighters, classes and books. And that is part of it. There is a part of knowing that is purely intellectual. But there is another part of knowing that is experiential.
Let me put this in memorable terms for you: when the Bible talks about sexual intimacy between a man and a wife, it says, Adam knew Eve, Abraham knew Sarah, Mary asked the angel how she could become pregnant since she had not ‘known’ a man.
We even have shades of meaning in our modern use of the word. Think in terms of describing how we knew whom we would marry. Don’t we say things like “I just knew she was the one?” Is that because she popped out of some algorithm you had programmed? No, you knew your spouse was “the one” in a way you can’t clearly put into words. There’s a type of ‘knowing’ that consists of more than rigorous, sequential, logical thoughts.
Obviously there’s more at play here than just awareness of facts, there’s intimacy, there’s knowledge.
So, when Paul says he wants us to know God, he has all kinds of things in mind, things like wisdom that we collect from objective sources, and revelation where God makes Himself known to us, but all of this ‘knowing God’ is intended to bring us into a deep relationship with God. At least, that is what Paul is praying for:
Eph 1:17 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
Paul wants those of us who already know God to know Him more. To know the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory.
The Bible tells us
Acts 7:2 The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’
After meeting God at the burning bush and being used by Him to free the people from Egypt, working miracles, and crossing the sea on dry land, Moses still prayed to God
Ex 33:18 “Please, show me Your glory.”
If you stop and think about that, it will really blow your mind, because even after all these things have happened, Moses says, “You’re hiding things from me. Show me more of who you are.” He wasn’t satisfied, he wanted more.
The prophet Isaiah describes this famous experience he had:
Isaiah 6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”
4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.
5 So I said:
“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts.”
Have you had that experience? Do you know God this way? Have you ever been made aware of His greatness and your own unworthiness? Have you ever felt the distance between you and God?
That’s the distance that God came to reach across by sending His Son.
John says in his gospel:
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
And why did He come?
Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Jesus came to bring us a greater knowledge of God, to shine light on things we didn’t fully understand. And to rescue us from the darkness that creeps into our souls. But here is the terrible truth.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
19 [But] this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
God wants to be known. He wants to bring us into a relationship with Him. And once we are in that relationship, He wants to reveal more and more of Himself, He wants a growing relationship. We know God personally in justification, we know Him increasingly in sanctification, and we will know Him perfectly in glorification. So there is a very real sense in which we know as much of God today as we are willing to know.
So let me bring all of this home this morning by asking: Are you ready to pursue the knowledge of God, aggressively, earnestly, to be surrendered to it? To stop chasing the knowledge of today’s headlines and start chasing God? You’ll never regret it. In fact, time spent discovering and experiencing God will actually better equip and suit you for what ever happens next in life.
What are you listening to on your drive? What are you watching in the evenings? What’s on your reading list? How could you use those times and opportunities to seek God and grow in your knowledge of Him? What podcasts could you be listening to? What audiobooks would help you understand God? What sermons could you take in?
Maybe instead of signing up for that Master’s program you could take a year and pursue greater knowledge of God – not just for the sake of data and credits, but for the sake of gathering fuel that could be set ablaze by the fire of experience?
My wife took two years and went to Bible College before pursuing her RN and it’s a decision she’s never regretted. I know another young lady who did the same thing, graduated from High School and went to Calvary Chapel Bible College, actually spent some time at the campus over in Hungary, in Eastern Europe, then came home, went to Community College before being accepted into a bachelor’s program here at George Washington University and then a follow on masters. She did a summer of study at Oxford and was eventually accepted into an internship at the UN HQ in Geneva working on issues related to at-risk-children. Then, a hurricane hit the Philippines and she was recruited to go and work for the UN in the affected areas setting up safe places for kids.
I know others who have gone on from Bible College and started their own business, joined the military, or found all kinds of other employment outside of ministry. But the knowledge they acquired has benefitted their souls in all the other things they’re doing. The awareness of and relationship with God that they cultivated during those days has laid a solid foundation for navigating the rest of life.
And it’s not late for you, whoever you are. You too could take classes on line or talk with one of the pastors about creating a reading list or playlist of things to listen to.
When Paul began praying that God would make Himself more known to the Christians in Ephesus, he was praying for all of them – men and women, young and old, servants and prosperous, educated and illiterate – all of them could, and should, grow in the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, all of them should have the eyes of [their] understanding enlightened.
And that happens when we spend time with the God of glory, asking like Moses and others to see more of His glory. Responding positively to the revelation we receive. There’s a sense in which we all know as much of God as we are willing to receive. He is willing to show us more, but are we ready to receive it? Do we want it?
Can we agree with David when he writes in the Psalms:
Ps 42:1 As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
In the coming weeks we will see some of the specific things that Paul wants us to know about God, but this morning we leave here asking the question: do I want to know more of God at all? Is it even something I’m interested in? He’s interested in you. He’s reaching out to you, are you ready and willing to receive?
Let’s pray. http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/p20-578.pdf  http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/demogrph/gendemo.htm