How should the church pray? - Ephesians 1:15-23
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
What would you talk about if you had an opportunity to speak to the Queen? After the formal bow or curtsy and the obligatory, “Your Majesty”, what would you say? What topics are off limits? Which ones would she delight for you to bring up? TV, hobbies, family, money, politics, religion?
There is a page on the Royal Website called Greeting the Queen. Here is the opening paragraph, “The Queen meets thousands of people each year in the UK and overseas. Before meeting Her Majesty, many people ask how they should behave. The simple answer is that there are no obligatory codes of behaviour - just courtesy.”
It’s unlikely I will ever meet the queen but one of the astounding privileges of being a Christian is that we get to address the first member of the Trinity as our Father. We should endeavour to feel the enormity of this access.
What should we say? It’s easy to feel like a startled rabbit in the headlights. The danger then is we offer either general pious generalists or get consumed by our immediate physical concerns.
The good news for us is that there is help. We can learn what to pray.
The Bible is God’s word. It contains many prayers that can teach us what God longs for us to to speak to him about.
Today we’re going to focus on a prayer that the apostle Paul prayed 2000 years ago but which we can learn from today.
Two things to focus on.
- What Paul thanked God for (Vs 15-16)
- What Paul asked God for (Vs 17-23)
First, what Paul thanked God for (Vs 15-16)
Look at verse 15. Read verses 15-16.
It’s easy to see what he is thankful God the Father for. The faith in Jesus and the love for other Christians that he knows these Christians have.
Evidence of being a Christian? Not simply believing in a God and trying to be kind. Faith in the Lord Jesus and love for Christians. How is Christian love demonstrated? Turning up. Taking an interest. Sharing life. Praying. Sharing possessions. Partnering together.
What would you say to someone who says, “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian”? What would Paul say? If you have no contact with other Christians then you cannot love them and so you lack the evidence of being a Christian.
But it was a different story for these churches Paul was writing to in this letter. He had heard great things about them. As a result Paul was smiling like a Cheshire cat!
Why does he thank God for what he has heard about?
Can you imagine how it would sound if we bumped into a group of veterans who had served in the D-Day landings and we said after hearing their stories of bravery and sacrifice, “I thank your local postman for all you did.” It’s got nothing to do with him!
It would be different if we met some of the Manchester United team that played under Alex Ferguson. Then we could say, “I thank Alex Ferguson for the way you play.”
Why does Paul thank God for the faith and love that he hears about? Look again at the opening three words of verse 15. For this reason. The reason he thanks God is revealed in the first 14 verses. It’s the truth that these qualities only exist because God the Father chose them, predestined them, allowed them to hear the gospel and gave them new life by his Spirit.
We long for Riverside to grow both numerically and in maturity. How difficult is this? We need the power of God.
How is the power of God normally seen in our day? Conversions and continuing transformation.
How are we to respond when we see the other Christians who have gathered today and contemplate their faith in Jesus and their love? Turn it into thanksgiving. “Father I thank you for…Thank you so much for…”
Secondly, what Paul asked for (Vs 17-23)
Paul asked for two big things
- To know God better
- To know God’s plans better
First, to know God better.
Look at verse 17.
His desire is to know God better. He is not interested in simply knowing things about God but knowing God.
This should make sense to us. Think about how relationships. of love work. We want to know the person. Indeed a sign of love is learning about the other person so we know them better.
C.H. Spurgeon once preached a sermon, “The Immutability of God”, in which he said: “Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity…Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a bed of rest, refreshed and reinvigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling waves of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of God.”
Or as J.I. Packer puts it in his book Knowing God: “We are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfold, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul … Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are.”
How can we know God better?
Paul asks for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to be given to these Christians. The Holy Spirit is the one who authored the Bible. He was instrumental in providing this book of revelation for us. It is a book all about God. If we want to know God we need this book. But we also need the author of the book to help us. Amazingly we have the author of the Bible living within us. Reading the Bible is not an academic thing. It is a spiritual thing.
Watch out for pride. The pride that says I don’t need the Spirit. Or the pride that says I can’t understand it. We all can.
I thought we already had the Holy Spirit? Yes we do. Paul’s prayer is that the Spirit who lives within them already takes more and more control of them.
He keeps asking for this. Let’s make this prayer a persistent request.
John Piper, “Treat prayer the way you treat eating and sleeping and doing your job. Don’t be hit and miss about it. Don’t assume it will fill in the cracks of other things. Dealing with God in prayer deserves more than a dial-up on the fly.”
Two benefits of praying this.
- Our pleasure will increase
- God’s praise will increase
This is also how we praise them more effectively. If someone asks us, why we love someone we don’t have to give them a general answer. So if you want to praise God more then know him more.
Second, to know God’s plans better.
This is the focus of verses 18-23.
The first thing he prays in verse 18 is for the eyes of our hearts to be enlightened. Not our physical eyes but our spiritual eyes to be opened to spiritual reality.
Three specifics are mentioned.
- Verse 18. In order that we might know the hope to which we have been called
The sure and certain future that we have because of what Jesus has achieved.
We need confident hope to live well know. To make sacrificial decisions in the here and now.
- Verse 18. In order that we might know we are the Father’s glorious inheritance
God longs to delight in us in the future. He longs to bring joy to our hearts now.
- Verse 19. In order that we might know God’s power
How much power? This power has already been demonstrated in two events. The resurrection of Jesus. The ascension of Jesus. His current role as Ruler of the universe. Head over everything for the church. The people of God are not a minor part of the plan. We are central to everything.
This great power is for us!
The church is described as the body of Jesus. In verse 23 we are told Jesus fills everything in every way but also that his fullness is in the church.
What does this mean? The church is not a building but his people. If you want to meet Jesus then meet his people. Why? They have his book and they have his Spirit. So they have his words and through his words and his Spirit they are being transformed to be like him.
We need to know this power for us as we consider three things.
- Our fears that we might not make it.
Power is working for us and in us now.
Why don’t we feel this power? Two reasons.
First, we are not aware of the presence and power of sin in our lives that is being conquered by God’s power.
John Piper, “If you are feeling healthy, you will be thrilled with the power of your medicine, only if you know the deadly power of the disease it is holding back. If you are forgiven and have any measure of victory over sin in your life, you will be amazed at the power of God, only if you know the indescribable depth and power of sin.”
Second, we are not aware of the demonic power coming against us.
John Piper, “If you feel safe, you will be thrilled with your protector, only if you know the deadly power of the enemy he is holding back. If you have any measure of freedom from demonic control, you will be amazed at God’s power toward you now, only if you know the indescribable power of Satan.”
- Our uncertainties about how future things might be possible.
How will God raise our bodies? What about those who have died young, what will they look like? Will we know people? How can we gather for worship and explore? How will we keep in contact as we travel?
- Our lack of confidence that the church will grow.
All sorts of people with so called power holding us back. Ideas and cultural moods that threaten the growth of biblical Christianity.
Let’s be praying that God will open our spiritual eyes to the truth of the spiritual world.
More more we can say to God. But let’s ensure we are thanking God for his dramatic work in the lives of Christians and asking him to continue to help us know him and his plans better.
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