PAUL PRAYS FOR THE CHURCH
People who love their church, they get on their knees and they pray for it, and that’s exactly where we find ourselves in Ephesians today. Paul is on his knees, praying for his church. Like me, he was the founding pastor of that church, and he loved those people, and he couldn’t be with them. He was in Rome and the church was in Ephesus. And he was in Rome because he kept talking about Jesus, and so they imprisoned him.
I’ve not been there, it’s on my bucket list to get there, but from what I understand from friends of mine who have visited what is supposed to be Paul’s jail cell, it’s basically a hole in the ground. You can envision this. And there are basically grates, multiple men stacked upon one another in the hole. No bathrooms, no running water, no fresh food, no light, and the further you are in the hole, the worse it is for you because of the obvious. Anything that happens above you falls on you, and with no bathroom and such, it’s a pretty grotesque place to be.
Well, it seems to be that that is exactly where Paul finds himself. He’s somewhere down near the bottom of that hole, it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s dirty, it’s cramped, his body is broken. He’s a man who’s been beaten, shipwrecked, homeless, left for dead. You can look at his story as one that it is miraculous that he’s even alive. He says he bears the marks of Jesus on his body. He’s suffered a lot in his love for Christ, so much so that on one occasion they actually thought he was dead. A mob attacked him, threw him outside of the city thinking he was dead, and then he was, in fact, unconscious or God brought him back to life, and he got back up and came back into the city to preach some more. That’s Paul.
So you can imagine this man and how hard it would be for him to get down on his knees. That’s not an easy thing for him to do, but it’s certainly a humble thing for him to do. And he’s praying. He’s praying for his church, and he’s praying for his people, and he’s praying for the forward progress of the gospel of Jesus.
So as we get into this section, “I Am Heard” in Ephesians 3:14–21, it’s actually a prayer. It’s a prayer from Paul in jail that he is writing down and sending to his church, and a lot of Ephesians involves prayer. Roughly half of the book is prayer. It’s prayers, prayer requests, prayer reports. They’re woven through the entire book, and the big idea is that there is no such thing as a faithful Christian church without a praying Christian people, that prayer is what sustains the forward progress of the health, and growth, and life of the church. So, Paul’s praying all the time for the church, and I need you to know that I’m praying for you all the time, that the leaders are praying for you all the time, that prayer is exceedingly important.
I would just ask you, not out of guilt but out of gladness, would you please be praying for our church? Would you please be praying for our church? Pray individually every day. Pray if you are married and/or have a family every day, maybe even over dinnertime.
PRAYER IS PERSONAL
And ultimately, I want you to see how Paul prays for his church, and so I’ve got an acronym for you, and we’re going to walk through P-R-A-Y-E-R. I did it, I spelled the whole word. Okay, so here’s where we’re going to go. We’re going to start with this. He says and he teaches us that prayer is, first of all, personal.
Ephesians 3:14, “For this reason I bow my knees.” So, Paul is saying, “I’m praying.” It’s a personal thing. It’s something that you need to decide that you will, in fact, do. And sometimes in the Bible, people sit to pray, sometimes they stand to pray, sometimes they’re lying in bed and they pray, and here we see that the Apostle Paul is kneeling in prayer.
Kneeling in prayer was actually fairly uncommon in the Bible, but you think about it, it really is an act of surrender. What happens in war? If you surrender, you get down on your knees. Let’s say you’re a criminal who’s caught in the act, you get down on your knees. It’s an act of surrender, it’s an act of humility, and it shows the disposition of the heart through the direction of the body. But you can pray sitting down, you could pray standing up, you can pray walking, you could pray lying down, you could pray on your knees, but might I submit to you that it’s good sometimes for us to get down on our knees in a humble position of submission and surrender and pray. And that’s exactly what Paul is modeling here for us.
I’ll tell you a couple things about prayer. Prayer includes silent prayer because God knows your thoughts. And for some of you, you know this, but some of you, this is brand new. A prayer can be silent because God knows your thoughts. It can be out loud where you’re just talking to God. It can be alone, all by yourself. It could be in a group with other people.
Prayer can include journaling as you’re thinking it out. And some of you are like that, you like to journal out your thoughts. It’s a form of prayer; God’s there with you. It’s a way of communicating.
Prayer also includes singing. My youngest daughter Alexie is nine and she loves Jesus, and part of her connection with him is singing, so she’s always making up songs, and that’s how she prays to God. And sometimes when she memorizes Scripture, she’ll put it to song so that she can sing it to God. So for her, I’m convinced that song is a language of prayer for her, and God accepts all of those, and he welcomes all of those.
GOD ALWAYS ANSWERS
Every time we pray to God, he always answers our prayers. Now, some people will say, “Yeah, I prayed and God did not answer my prayer.” Yes, he did, he answered it, “No.” He answered it, “No,” okay? Sometimes God answers prayer, “Yes,” sometimes God answers prayer, “No,” and sometimes God answers prayer, “Later.” Those are his three answers, but God hears and answers every single prayer.
Some things that happen in prayer: number one, I think prayer is primarily to change us. I don’t think it’s always primarily to get God to do something. It’s not like God’s in heaven and resistant, and if you yell at him, he’ll do it. You don’t need to make God be good and you don’t need to move God to be good. Sometimes prayer is us talking to God so that our will aligns with God’s so that we’re the one who changes.
This is why God sometimes tells us in the Bible to pray for our enemies, so that our hearts wouldn’t get embittered toward them, that we’d still have love and affection toward them. The prayer there is not necessarily just to change our enemy, but it’s to change our attitude toward our enemy.
So prayer is oftentimes to change us. How many of you, there’s something you really, really wanted, you started praying about it, and you’re like, “Gosh, God’s changing my heart on this. I was hoping that wouldn’t happen. I was hoping he would just give me what I want, but instead he’s changing what I want. He’s changing me.” So number one, sometimes prayer just changes us.
Number two, sometimes prayer does cause God to act. He will hear and in love he will respond and he will act, and so sometimes, yes, prayer is to have God respond and to act.
PRAYING, NOT GRUMBLING
I’ll tell you some things that prayer does as well. It keeps us from grumbling and gossiping. Grumbling is when we’re unhappy and we’re just sort of leaking and talking about it. I’ve certainly been guilty of this. Paul here has a lot that he could be grumbling about. “I’m in jail again, I’m impoverished again, and there are two guys above me again.” There’s a lot he could be grumbling about. He’s not grumbling, instead he’s praying.
And so the key is this, friend: as we hit difficult circumstances in life, and few of us will hit circumstances this difficult, we can either be praying or grumbling. Grumbling is where we leak, and we complain, and our attitude is sour, and our disposition is dour. And prayer is where we’re talking about the exact same things, but we’re talking to God about them and working them out in relationship with him.
So what I don’t want you to do is pretend that everything’s okay, and everything’s fine, and you’re not struggling, you’re not hurting, you’re not suffering, everything’s great. I’m not saying that. I’m saying be honest, but be honest with him, because he can handle it, and work it out with him. And once you’ve worked it out with him, maybe then you can talk to other people about it.
That’s what is happening here. Paul’s been in his jail cell talking through his circumstances with the Lord, working it out with the Lord, and then he writes this letter to the church. He allows others to get a window into where his heart’s at after he’s prayed it through with the Lord.
Who do you talk to first? Who do you call first? Is your first instinct, “Text them, call them, e-mail them”? Make sure it’s always him. First person we’ve got to talk to is the Lord.
PRAYING, NOT GOSSIPING
It keeps us from grumbling, it also keeps us from gossiping, and gossip is when you talk about someone rather than to them. And you may be frustrated, not know what to say or to do, or you’re annoyed. Let God be your lightning rod in prayer.
You read this in the Psalms. The Psalms are, in large part, about prayer. And a lightning rod—as you know, when a storm comes, a lightning rod grounds out the storm. Otherwise, things blow up. Let’s say there’s a storm in your life and you’re really frustrated. Prayer grounds it out. Say, “God, I’ve got to talk to you about this. I’m really frustrated, this is really hard.” Talk it out, pray it out, sing it out, think it out, worship it out, work it out. Let the Lord be the lightning rod. Don’t blow up on your friend, don’t blow up on your neighbor, don’t blow up on your kids, don’t blow up on your spouse. Let the Lord ground it out in prayer.
There’s a lot here that Paul could be very angry and frustrated about. He can’t be with his church, he’s serving Jesus, he’s not broken the law, he’s being punished again, and he could die in prison for all he knows. He’s single, he doesn’t have a wife to comfort him, he doesn’t have children, he’s a lonely, broken, older man who is in prison again facing a potential death just because of the hardness of his life. But in prayer, he’s grounded it out with the Lord so he can then have a different attitude and disposition toward the people that he is writing to and to us today.
So, first of all, prayer is personal. He says, “I bow my knees.” He says, “I’m praying. I’m praying all the time, I’m praying a lot, I’m surrendered to God, and I’m talking it all through, and I’m praying for you.”
PRAYER IS RELATIONAL
His second point is that prayer is relational. Ephesians 3:14–15, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” Two things here: there’s a family and a Father. There’s a family and a Father, and the family is the church. I really need you to understand this. We’re a family. We’re a family, and what happens sometimes, particularly in the Western world, church is viewed as a purveyor of religious goods and services, and then people treat the church like it’s a business and they become customers, and consumers, and critics, and complainers. We’re not a business, we’re a family.
Now, family has revenue, family has expenses, family has a business side to it, and we certainly do and want to be good stewards, but how many of you pray for your grocery store every day? You all chuckle. “Lord, thank you for the grocery store. I love the grocery store. I pray for all the vegetables and the fruits, and the people who are both fruits and vegetables that go to the grocery store. And Lord, I pray for the staff, that they would love one another, and that they would work hard and long. And I pray that they would be unified in their mission to bring tasty food and snacks to us all.” You don’t pray for your grocery store, right? Why? Because it’s a business.
Church isn’t a business, it’s a family. You should pray for your family. The people you pray for, my assumption is, they feel like family to you. Maybe it’s your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, your aunt, your uncle, your cousin, or your friends, the people you love. We tend to pray for the people we love the most, right? Because they’re family to us. Church is family. God’s people are family.
Be praying for our family, be praying for the whole family, be praying for more people to join the family. Pray for the strength, health, well-being of our family. And I tell you this because if you pray for the church, you’ll see the church as family, and if you don’t pray for the church, you’ll see the church as business. And what happens in a consumer relationship, a transactional relationship is you’re always trying to get the most by giving the least. That’s business. Family’s not like that. Family is you give generously so that the whole family would be blessed, and so I really need you to understand when he uses that language of family, it’s really important that we all see our church that way.
He says that this family is in heaven and on earth, so some of our brothers and sisters are already in the presence of the Lord, so part of the family’s up with the Lord and part of the family’s down here on the earth, and one day there’s going to be a great family reunion in the kingdom of God where all of God’s people are together forever.
GOD IS A FATHER
It’s a family, and it’s all held together, he says, by the Father. Okay, you’re going to see in the next section of verses, he mentions the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ, so the whole Trinity is here in prayer. Let me back up and explain a little bit on the Trinity. The Trinity is one God in three persons. All Christians have always believed this. This is the biblical teaching on the nature of God. What that means is that God has love and affection, conversation, communion, and union in and of himself.
So because our God is a God who speaks and a God who listens, we’re made in his image and likeness to speak to him in prayer and to listen to him through Scripture, and that’s why we pray. That’s why trees don’t pray; they don’t bear the image and likeness of God. This is why animals don’t pray, because they don’t bear the image and likeness of God. They’re not made in the image of the Trinitarian God of the Bible with the ability to communicate with one another and with God as we do.
And when it comes to prayer, we are to pray to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. Let me explain this. So, the Holy Spirit lives in the children of God. He brings new life. He brings the love of Jesus to us and the forgiveness of sin. Jesus is the second member of the Trinity, took upon human flesh, came out. He lived without sin, he died in our place for our sins, he rose as our Savior, he ascended back into heaven, and the Bible says that he’s our mediator. He takes away our sin and reconciles our relationship to God. So God is in us through the Holy Spirit, God is mediating for us through Jesus, connecting us to the Father. So when we pray, we pray by the power of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus, to the Father.
So most of the time when we pray, we pray, “Heavenly Father, Father, dear Dad,” pray like that. Some people ask the question then, “Well, can I ever pray to the Holy Spirit?” What do you think? Yeah, you can.
Let’s say you want to ask for power to obey when you’re being tempted to sin. “Holy Spirit, please empower me now because I’m tempted to sin but I don’t want to, and I want you to get me through this by your power.” Sure, you can ask him to do that.
You know that the Holy Spirit gives you spiritual gifts to serve. It’s totally acceptable to say, “Holy Spirit, you give gifts for me to serve. Help me discover what my gift is so that I can serve.” That’s a perfectly acceptable way to pray.
We know that the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of Scripture, so when you pick up the Bible, it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Holy Spirit, thank you for inspiring the writing of Scripture. Please now illuminate my understanding so I’d understand what you want me to know from the book you’ve written.”
Sometimes it’s okay to just pray to Jesus. Let’s say there’s a moment where you’ve sinned and you’re convicted by that, and you remember, “Jesus died in my place for my sins, and I’ve always kind of known that, but right now I really feel the significance of that in this moment.” Stop and say, “Lord Jesus, thank you. Thank you that when you were tempted like I was, you didn’t give in like I did. And thank you, Lord Jesus, that when you went to the cross, you went there to die for this thing that I just did. And thank you, Lord Jesus, that you’re not going to punish me, but you’re going to forgive me and help me. And next time I’m tempted to do this, let me remember your sacrifice and your affection for me.” It’s okay to pray to the Holy Spirit, it’s okay to pray to Jesus, but the majority of our prayers are by the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father.
Now, let me unpack this. He talks about the family and he talks about the Father. This is the most important thing I’ll ever tell you on prayer. The most important thing I’ll ever tell you on prayer is that God is your Father. If you understand that God is your Father, prayer makes a lot of sense and prayer becomes very easy. If you don’t understand that God is your Father, prayer becomes complicated and difficult in a way that it quite frankly shouldn’t.
I can still remember, I was a new Christian in college and I wanted to learn how to pray. I didn’t know how to pray. I grew up Catholic. Some Catholics love Jesus, I wasn’t one of them. I always say it’s not the Church’s fault, it was mine. I don’t have anything critical to say, but we had to memorize prayers of dead guys growing up, so Act of Contrition or the Prayer of St. Francis. We had to memorize certain prayers. So, the only thing I knew was like a short list of prayers by dead guys, and I didn’t know what the words really meant. You know, “beseech,” and “thou,” and “for art thou.” Like, I don’t know, whatever, just say it fast and hopefully, you know, it gets delivered to the right address. I don’t know.
Then I became a Christian in college and I went to my first Bible study where they were all praying, and they were talking to God, and I didn’t know how to do that. I’d never heard anybody pray conversationally, and I never heard people just talk to God like he was alive and cared.
So I started buying Christian books on prayer, and every one made me feel worse. The first one was like, “And this guy prayed every day for eight hours.” You’re like, “Oh no, I just—” And the next one is like, “And this guy prayed every day for ten hours.” You’re like, “Oh now I’m—oh gosh.” “And then this guy wore out the side of his bed. He had hardwood floors and there were deep ruts from his knees because he lived there.” I’m like, “Oh gosh, these guys are varsity, man. I don’t know if I’ll ever—wow. I’ve got to go get a hardwood floor, I’ve got to—you know, I’ve got so much to do.” And all I did is I felt bad. Looking at people’s prayer lives, I just felt bad. I felt like they’re amazing and I’m not.
And then over the years, God in his grace allowed me to become a dad. And as soon as Ashley was born, the whole world looked different to me, to be totally honest with you. I can still remember holding my firstborn daughter and just thinking, “Wow, I’m a dad.” I always wanted to be a dad, and I got to be a dad of a little girl. That taught me more about God, I think, than any experience in my whole life, being a dad. “Oh, God loves me like a dad? I know what this feels like. God’s committed to me like a dad’s committed to his kids. Whoa, if that’s true, that’s pretty amazing because I know how much I love Ashley.”
God’s a Father, God’s a Dad, and so when we pray, we’re talking to our Dad. So, here’s my big idea. Don’t focus too much on prayer; get to know your Dad. If you get to know your Dad, talking to him is going to be pretty easy. You’re not going to worry about the—like, my kids don’t—you know, they don’t put together an outline, and try to get all their points right, and practice it so they can come and talk to me. They just, “Hey, Dad?” “Yeah?” We just talk.
God’s a Father who loves his kids, and this is a revolutionary concept. As you read the Old Testament, I found about a dozen times only that God is referred to as Father, and it’s always nationally, never individually. Jesus comes along and changes everything. Some sixty times in the four gospels, we hear him refer to God as Father, very personal, that he is the Father and that Jesus is the Son of God. For those who are Christian, our identity now is he is our Father and we’re the sons of God. And the result is that as Jesus talks to God as Father, he actually uses the word “Dad” or “Daddy.”
My kids call me Papa Daddy. It’s like that. It’s very loving, very affectionate. It’s the kind of thing that a little kid that had a dad that they totally loved and the dad totally loved them, and if Dad got home from work, it’s the first word that a kid like that would say: “Papa Daddy!” I got home last night from a preaching trip in Missouri, and on the front door of the home is a welcome home love letter from Gideon. The door opens up, all my kids are running. Alexie and Giddy are the first ones, and there are love letters all over the wall from my kids. First word out of all of their mouths: “Daddy!”
Jesus said pray like that. So, if you want to understand prayer, don’t look at the most religious, devout people. Look at kids who really love their dad and have a dad who really loves him, and see how they interact and communicate, and that’s a better example and training for prayer than anything else I can think of. Jesus, when he was asked, “How should we pray?” he says, “Pray like this: Our Father, Dear Dad.” And here, Paul is echoing the Lord Jesus, reminding us that God is our Father.
Now, for some of you, you’re going to struggle with this, because you had a bad dad, tons of father wounds. For the first time in the nation’s history, we have a fatherless epidemic. Forty percent of kids tonight go to bed without a father. For the first time in the nation’s history, the majority of births to women thirty and under are out of wedlock, meaning the kid doesn’t have a dad and perhaps never will.
Some of you didn’t have a dad; some of you had a dad that was a bad dad. What I don’t want you to hear is the language of Father and then throw all of that onto God. Start with God and what the Bible reveals about God, and then judge your earthly father by your Heavenly Father, but don’t assume that there’s a correlation necessarily between your earthly father and your Heavenly Father.
So, for all of us men, and I want to say this to the men: should God give you the grace, the great gift of being a father, know that we carry a very sacred name, a title, “father.” And if we love, and honor, and cherish, and bless, and nurture, and protect, and enjoy our kids, they’re getting a little bit of a reflection of the Father’s affection. And if we are poor fathers, abusive fathers, negligent fathers, selfish fathers, distracted fathers, angry fathers, we’re really blaspheming a sacred title called “Dad,” that God in his kindness is gracious enough to share with those of us who are distinguished with the great honor of becoming a dad.
Alexie, when she was little, she said it this way. She said, “I’ve got two dads!” She said, “One’s in heaven and one’s on earth and they both love me with all their heart.” She’s pretty poetic and always happy. I said, “That’s right. You have a Father in heaven and a father on earth, and the father on earth was sent here by the Father in heaven, and the Father in heaven adores you, and he sent me here with his heart, and he’s given me the great blessing of being your dad.” So men, let’s covenant together that by the grace of God, we’ll be good dads who love our kids and show them something of the Father’s affection.
But for those of you who don’t have a dad or a good dad, the Bible says that God is, quote, “a Father to the fatherless.” Here’s your identity. Here’s your identity: you’ve all got a great Dad. We’ve all got a great Dad. We’ve all got a great Dad. One of the most defining features of someone’s life is who their father is, right? I mean, so much of who you are is really determined by who your dad is. We’ve all got a great Dad. Better than that, we’ve all got a perfect Dad who loves us with a covenantal love and affection. He’s our heavenly Father, and that he adopts us into his family and we’re his sons and daughters. And his heart is always open, his ear is always open, his arms are always open.
Once we know that, you know what we’ll do? We’ll run to him and we’ll talk to him, amen? We’ll run to him and we’ll talk to him. So, the key to prayer, the most important thing I can tell you about prayer: don’t focus on prayer; focus on the Father. As you get to know the Father, prayer just sort of happens pretty easily. Okay, so it’s relational. Prayer is relational and it’s with our Father.
PRAYER IS ASKING
In addition, he goes on to say that prayer is asking, and he’s going to make a request. So it’s okay to make requests to God. The Bible says by prayer and supplication to make our requests known to God. Ephesians 3:16–17, “That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
Here’s the big idea: God is independent. He doesn’t need anyone or anything. We are dependent; we need God for everything. Here’s the big idea: God doesn’t need you, he wants you and he loves you. That’s even better. It’s like a family that adopts a child. They don’t need the child, they want the child, they love the child. God’s a Dad like that. So, God isn’t looking to take from us, doesn’t need us. God’s looking to give to us because we need, and so we bring our requests to God. We ask him for help. Jesus tells us, “Pray for food, daily bread.”
Here, Paul is praying for his people that they would have the power of the Holy Spirit working in them and through them. And he talks about, “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” How many of you, when you were a kid, somebody said, “You need to accept Jesus in your heart”? You ever heard that? One time, in the whole Bible, that’s ever said, and it’s right here, that’s it. Accepting Jesus into your heart, “That Christ may dwell in your heart through faith.”
Now how many of you in reading this, you say, “It’s a little confusing. I thought they were Christians and now he’s asking that Jesus would ‘dwell in their hearts through faith’?” And the language here is home. There’s a difference between a hotel and a home, right? Big difference.
How many of you have checked into a hotel and thought, “I’ve got to go to Home Depot. I’m going to paint this wall, I’m going to change the blinds. The sink is dripping, I’m going to have to go get some tools and fix that leak. While we’re at it, the carpet is very dirty. I think I shall clean—” Never done that, right? Why do you not do that at a hotel? Because you’re not going to stay there. It’s not your home.
Now what happens when you buy a home? For those of you that have bought a home, condo, whatever it is, you buy it, what do you do? You start working on it. You notice that? You keep working on it. “We’re going to paint this room.” Then all of a sudden you’re like, “Well, now it makes the hallway look ugly, now we’re going to paint the hallway. And now the cabinets look horrible, we’re going to paint the cabinets.” You’re like, “Oh, now we’re going to change the lights.” Let me tell you, once you start, you’ll never stop until you see Jesus. You’re going to be working on that home all the time because you’re going to dwell in it, because you’re going to live in it, because it’s going to be home to you.
And what he’s praying is that the people would understand that Jesus does not want to live in us like a hotel but a home. He doesn’t want to just check in, be with you for a couple hours, and then move on. He doesn’t want you to live your life independently, separated from him, and then just invite— “Oh Jesus, I’ve really made a mess. Could you hang out with me for a day or two, clean up the mess that I made? Could you move in to my life and then move out so I can get back to the life that I want?”
What he’s saying is that Christ dwells in us, Jesus dwells in us through the person, and the presence, and the power of the Holy Spirit, and that God wants our life to be his home. Jesus wants to move in to your life, and he’s going to start working on all of it. Now, he may pick an area of your life to work on first, and then when he’s done with that, he’s going to move in to another proverbial room and there’s going to be another project. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, when he dwells, when he stays, when he resides at the center of your being, he is doing a renovation project on every aspect of your whole life.
So for those of you who are in the trades: you’re a carpenter, you’re a plumber, you’re a brick layer, you’re a carpet layer, you’re a roofer, whenever you’re working on a project, I want you to remember this verse. Remember, “Jesus wants to do the same thing in my life that I’m doing in this house.” He wants to make it a better and better home for the Holy Spirit. Every time you’re working on your house, friends, every time you’re doing a project, you’re cleaning it, you’re fixing something, you’re painting something, you’re mending something, you’re rearranging something, I want you to think of this verse. It’s not just that we’re working on our homes, it’s that we’re the home for the Holy Spirit, and he’s always got a project he’s working on in us.
I don’t want you to see this as a discouragement. And some people see this as a discouragement. They’re like, “Okay, we dealt with that and I thought, ‘Finally!’ and then Jesus showed me this, and now I have a whole other project.” It’s because he loves you, and he wants the whole home to belong to him, and he wants your whole life to be a good place for you and he to dwell together as friends, so don’t be discouraged.
I was dealing with somebody recently who said, “I can’t believe that this issue has come up.” I said, “You know, that issue’s always been in your life, and Jesus simply has not started working on it until now because he was working on other things prior to this, and this was so important that you weren’t ready for it yet, but you are now, so it should be really encouraging. It’s the project that’s taken a little while to get to because it’s a very difficult one. I want you to be encouraged.”
And he’s praying, and I’m praying, that you would welcome Jesus into your heart, the center of your being, through faith, and that the power of the Holy Spirit would continually be showing you areas and ways that we can become more like him, amen?
PRAYER IS YEARNING
So prayer is personal, it’s relational, it’s asking, and it’s yearning, it gets kind of emotional. Ephesians 3:17–19, “That you, being rooted.” Roots are important, right? Roots are very important. Anybody ever grow anything? “And grounded in,” what? “Love.” So, the root system of the Christian life is the love of God. “May have strength.” Love of God makes us strong. “To comprehend with all the saints.” That’s your identity again. You’re righteous, you’re forgiven in Christ. “What is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” It surpasses—you have to experience it. “That you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
He’s talking about the love of God for his people, and what he’s saying is, “Yes, study the Bible. Yes, even do the word studies. Yes, read all the theologians. But there’s even a place where it goes beyond knowledge and you have to just accept, and experience, and enjoy the love of God.” I’ve been married to Grace now—we’re coming up on our twenty-fifth anniversary of our first date. And when we first got married I knew that she loved me, and now I know that she loves me because I’ve experienced it over, and over, and over.
God wants you to experience his love, and for some of you, this means you need to sing, you need to pray, you need to raise your voice, you need to raise your hands, you need to get a little emotional, okay? I know that our whole church started in Seattle, you know, which is a dark place, and people don’t get happy, and we don’t even like pop music because it has brightness to the lyrics.
You know, and then we go down to Portland, which is even darker. And then, you know, it’s just like golly, Molly. And then in Orange County, they’re a little happier, you know? And over in Albuquerque, well, at least the Hispanics show up and occasionally bring a bucket of joy with them to try and help the party get started.
But you need to know that for us, it really is a demonstration, an affection, an overflow. I would have been really, really, really bummed last night when I got home if the door would have opened, my kids would have been, “Hello, Father, and the Greek word for ‘hello’ is ‘whatever.’” I would have been like, “Seriously?” I want, hey, you’re smiling, you’re running! “Dad, good to see you, Dad!” Oh yeah, okay. I can tell that you love me because there’s an enthusiasm, there’s a joy, and it’s not manufactured. It’s not Mom behind them saying, “Alright, if you run to Dad, you get ice cream.” “Hey Dad!” You know, it’s not that. There’s a genuine affection.
God wants us to know of his love in a way that surpasses knowledge. This doesn’t mean that it’s contrary to the truth, but that it’s the truth of Scripture exploding in the heart of the child of God—joy. So, after the sermon, don’t leave. Sing loud, raise your hands, they’re right here, right? Pray, talk to God. There should be a joy that wells up.
Sometimes we can grieve, we can quench, we can resist the Holy Spirit, so we don’t pray, we don’t sing. Well, what we’re saying then is, “I don’t want to know the love of God. I don’t want to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. I don’t want to be filled with all the fullness of God because what if I get emotional? What if I get out of control? What if I’m one of those people who gets happy and starts praying all the time and sings in their car?” Please do.
Do you know the love of God in Christ? If you do, there’s a yearning to experience that, to feel that, to know that, to enjoy that. So Jesus loves you. When I tell you that, how does that sound? Do you doubt it because you’re suffering? Do you disbelieve it because you’re sinning? Do you disregard it because it’s trite? You’re like, “That’s what little kids sing in the song.” Do you dismiss it because you’re busy? Receive it. There are not a lot of people that probably love you, and there’s no one who loves you as much as Jesus, and there’s nothing as important as knowing that Jesus loves us.
It becomes, as he says, the root that nourishes the totality of our whole life, and the Holy Spirit wants you to be filled with the fullness of the experience of the love of God, how high, and wide, and deep, and long is the love of God. The early Christian church, it was common for them to actually get a cross and to put these words, “breadth, length, height, depth,” on each of the four sides of the cross. They would hang it up as artwork in their home. They’d go back to this verse in memory of the Lord Jesus, the greatest act of love in the history of the world as Christ died in our place for our sins.
God demonstrates his love for us in this, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. No greater love is there anyone than he would lay down his life for his friends.” The Bible connects the cross of Jesus to the love of God, and the love of God has never been seen any more clearly on the earth than in the sacrifice of Jesus to make enemies friends and to adopt wayward kids into the family of God so they’d have a Father. How wide, and long, and deep, and high is the love of God, and it all culminates at the cross of Jesus.
PRAYER IS EXPECTING
Prayer is also expecting, it’s anticipating. He’s going to hear and he’s going to answer. Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do—” The next two words, just look at them. Big statement, right? Yes or no, big statement? “Far more.” Big words. “Far more abundantly than all we ask or think.” Some of you are like, “Oh, I’ve got a big idea.” It ain’t that big. “According to the power at work within us.”
So, we pray, we pray expecting. Whatever you can ask for, God can do far more. Whatever you can think of, God can do far more. Not just more, far more. This is an invitation to ask. This is an invitation to ask, because the person who can do far more is your Dad. Well, that’s convenient, amen? That’s your Dad. It’s amazing to think that there’s a God out there somewhere who can do far more than we can ask or imagine, and then to know that he’s our Dad, and he adores us, and he loves his kids, and he invites us to ask. Seems like we should be asking, amen? We should be asking and expecting that our Dad hears and answers prayer. Like I told you, sometimes he answers, “Yes, “ sometimes the answer is “No,” sometimes the answer is “Later,” but the answer is always, always given.
How’s prayer going for you? What are you praying for? Who are you praying for? I’ll tell you, as I look at the people in our church and I see you, God has done far more than I ever asked for or imagined. Recent media interview asked, “So, did you see this coming?” Uh, no. I saw a church of a couple hundred, maybe. He’s saved far more people, he’s loved far more people, he’s brought far more people. There are far more friendships, and marriages, and children, and physical healings, and spiritual deliverances, and changed lives than I ever asked for, or I ever even thought of. Pray big, and part of it is it’ll allow you to live your life with hope.
Now, if that’s not enough, let me give you one more, since we’re all here, okay? So here it is. Prayer is expecting. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” God doesn’t want to just do things for you, God wants to do things in you. This power of God unleashed through the Holy Spirit, it’s not just God at work in the world, it’s also God at work in us.
You know what? If you’re in Christ, you are changed. If you’re in Christ, you are changing. If you’re in Christ, you’ll constantly be changing. Your thinking will change, your desires will change, your appetites will change, your habits will change because the power of God is at work in you.
Okay, this is your identity. Some of you say, “I’m not a powerful person.” Right, that’s why the Holy Spirit’s in you. There’s the power. Some of you say, “Well, I only have power to do evil.” That’s right, and then you receive Christ, you get the Holy Spirit, now you have the power to do good, and to worship God, and to act holy, and to love others, and to be generous, and the power of God is at work in you.
I’ll tell you one of the most beautiful things in this whole life of mine is seeing the power of God at work in the people of God. It’s wonderful. People flat out change. They change because the power of God is at work in them. So I don’t want you to think that you need to change for God. I want you to know that God’s power is available to change you if you’re yielded, and willing, and available, and submissive, and you’re joining God in the work that he’s doing in you.
I would ask you, what’s he trying to do in you right now? What’s he trying to work on, change, empower, make new? I don’t know what it is, but you do, and I want you to know that the change is possible because the Spirit is powerful. There’s so much hope here, do you get it? We live in a day when the number one category of prescription medication is anti-depressants. Everybody’s depressed, everybody gives up hope, everybody tries, everybody fails, everybody quits. Plan B, Jesus loves you, the Holy Spirit’s in you, God’s your Dad, he’s listening, talk to him and you’re not on your own. Good news, good news, right?
PRAYER IS REVEALING
Last one, prayer is revealing. Ephesians 3:21, “To him be glory in the church.” Let me just hammer that—it’s not just a personal, individual relationship with Jesus. It’s that and the family of God. Alright, Zac, my thirteen-year-old son, cannot just have a personal relationship with me. He’s got two brothers, two sisters, and a mom. He’s part of the whole family. He can’t just walk in and say, “I only have a relationship with Dad. It’s a personal relationship with Dad.” No, buddy, you’re part of the whole family: your sisters, your brothers, your mom, we’re all in this together.
You have a personal relationship with God, but it’s not solely a personal relationship with God. You’re also, if you’re a Christian, part of the church. You’re part of the church. And so he’s praying for the church, he’s talking to the church, he’s encouraging the church to be the church, the family of God.
“To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” He ends his prayer perfectly with the glory of God. He starts it with the Fatherhood of God, he ends it with the glory of God, and everything is to be directed toward the sum and purpose of the glory of God.
Let me explain this. He says, first of all, that the glory of God is most clearly seen in Jesus Christ. This is where Jesus says, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” This is where Colossians says that he is the image of the invisible God. Glory is reflected. When the sun comes out, right, and then it reflects off of a lake, or off of a windshield, or off of a mirror. It’s reflected glory is what it is. Our lives, individually and collectively, are to reflect the glory of God, to show the glory of God, to show the world the difference that Jesus makes.
The Bible speaks of glory, in our English Bible, about 275 times. It’s a massive mega-theme of Scripture, and it means the splendor, beauty, magnificence, radiance, heaviness, weightiness, prominence, preeminence, luminescence, splendor, majesty, holiness, purity, worthiness, and superiority of the God of the Bible. And so when we pray, what is revealed is, what is the glory in our life? Who do we live for? What do we live for? Why are we here? What are we doing? What’s the point of it all? And it’s to reflect the glory of God.
Saint Augustine, an early church father, was right. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Once the issue of glory is settled, all the issues are settled.” You don’t know what to do in your marriage? It’s not what does he want or what does she want, it is, what does the Father want? In your business, it’s not what do you want, what do they want; what does he want? In your friendships, it’s not what do you want or what do they want, it is, what does he want? Once the glory issue is settled, all the issues are settled.
You say, “I don’t feel like I’m getting glorified.” You’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to reflect his glory. “I’m not getting what I want.” That doesn’t matter, is he getting what he wants? “Well, this is not what I want to do.” That’s not the question. Is that what he wants you to do?
We have a massive glory problem. The whole world is addicted to self. “It’s about me, it’s about my hurts, it’s about my wants, it’s about my needs, it’s about my income, it’s about my convenience, it’s about my reputation, it’s about my, my, my life.” No, it’s not. That’s why everybody’s miserable and it’s not working anywhere. It’s about the glory of God. It’s about the glory of God.
I promise you this: when you live for the glory of God, you have joy because that’s what you’re made for, and when you’re doing what you’re made for, you’re joyful. Paul here is single, in a jail cell, suffering to the glory of God. So, whatever your circumstance, don’t think, “But my circumstances are unique, and particularly difficult, and there are a lot of variables.” Alright, if you pull out the tough card, he’s got a better hand, amen? You’re going to lose that round.
There’s always an opportunity to glorify God, and even if you’re suffering, it’s an opportunity to glorify God. Once the glory issue is settled, all the other issues are settled. Let us together covenant by the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work in us to ask the question, “What would glorify him?”
I had this with a couple yesterday. They are fighting, they are registered for divorce, they have their attorneys, they’re finalizing their paperwork, and they have little children. I was talking to them, just a very brief conversation in another state. I said, “What do you want?” She said, “Well, I want out.” I asked him, “What do you want?” He said, “I want out.”
I asked them, “Have either of you asked God what he wants?” They looked at me like, “No, we probably should have, huh?” Yeah, not a bad idea. Go ask your Dad what he wants. I said, “Well, what do you think he wants?” They said, “We don’t know.” I said, “Well, let’s ask him right now. Let me pray.” We’re praying, boom. “What did he say?” She said, “He wants me to forgive him.” I asked him, “What did he say?” “He wants me to forgive her.” I said, “So, what would glorify God?” They said, “We’re not going to get a divorce. We’re going to figure it out,” because that will glorify God. That’ll glorify God.
If you ask the question, “What will glorify God?” you’ll end up with a very different answer to most of the questions that you ask in your life, but it’ll always be the right answer.
Lord Jesus, as we see the example of Paul that he keeps praying for the church, help us to continually be praying for the church. It’s good to pray for ourselves, Lord. It’s good to pray for our friends and family, but it’s really important that we don’t forget to pray for the church family. And so Father, we thank you that we can say that you’re our Dad and that we’re a family. Help us to have hearts that are inclined in prayer toward one another. Help us to not see church as a business, but a family. Lord Jesus, I thank you so much that right now, the Holy Spirit is in us, that you’re mediating for us, and that as we talk to the Father, our prayers go directly to him. And so we thank you for that, and we rejoice in that, and we pray now in Jesus’ good name, amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.
When we pray, we’re talking to our Dad. Prayer can be silent or aloud. You can pray alone or in a group. God always answers prayer with: yes, no, or later. Prayer can cause God to act, but oftentimes prayer is to change us. Praying also keeps us from grumbling and gossiping. From Paul’s prayer for his church, we learn that prayer is personal, relational, asking, yearning, expecting, and revealing.