Prayers of the New Testament 3/4
Paul's prayer for the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:15-23)
It is so easy to enter a time of intercession for the church feeling discouraged. We recall the state of our local and national church, warts and all. We feel weak, with declining numbers in church and less influence in society. How then are we to intercede for our church? What model can we use?
In Ephesians 1 we find Paul interceding for the church in Ephesus with the intention of strengthening Christ’s church. He asks God to give the Ephesians spiritual insight. This study briefly encourages you to pray that God will strengthen his Methodist Church and open the eyes of our hearts to six things.
1. God’s activity (vv. 15-16)L~
Paul’s prayer is made in the context of what God has done and is doing in the life of the church. Ephesians 1:3-14 praises God for all the spiritual blessings he has poured out upon the church. Discouraged intercessors soon have their eyes opened and hearts lifted when they remember the gospel of salvation and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church. From praise, Paul moves to thanksgiving for the fruit of the gospel in the church (vv. 15-16). He had heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus, which was outwardly expressed in their love for all the saints. This resulted in constant specific mention of them in his prayers (v.16).
The recipients of this letter must have been encouraged. Perhaps their project seemed insignificant; their action a drop in the ocean of the need around them. Yet Paul had heard of this and was praying constantly for them. Are new initiatives in the church failing because of the lack of a word of encouragement and the promise of constant prayer?
Open our eyes Lord to what you are doing through your faithful servants.
2. The knowledge of God (v.17) L~
Paul’s prayer is not for the accumulation of knowledge about God, but for deepening of the relationship with God. He prays, 'that you may know him better' (v.17). This comes through the gift of 'the Spirit of wisdom and revelation' (v.17).
When God said to Solomon, 'Ask for whatever you want me to give you', Solomon asked for 'a discerning heart to govern your people and distinguish between right and wrong' (1 Kings 3:5 and 9). God was pleased with this request and granted him a wise and discerning heart to govern the people (1 Kings 3:12).
Surely we long for a deep and intimate relationship with God. We should therefore ask for the Spirit of wisdom and understanding that God might reveal to us his will and purpose both for the church and our lives.
Open our eyes Lord, we want to see you.
3. The hope to which God has called you (v.18) L~
This hope is God’s initiative. God has called us into relationship with him through the blood of Christ (2:12-13). He has called us to be members of the body of Christ using the gifts he has showered upon us to serve him (4:4-6 and 11-14). He has called us to an eternal destiny in heaven which, in the interim, is guaranteed to us by the gift of the Holy Spirit (1:14). This is our hope.
Whilst today we may use hope as an expression of clinging to a mere possibility, biblically hope is an expression of certainty underwritten by God himself (Hebrews 11:1).
Open our eyes Lord, to the hope of our calling.
4. God’s glorious inheritance in the saints (v18) L~
During discussions concerning budgets and assessments, it is so easy to concentrate on the financial restraints within which we exercise mission and ministry. From an earthly perspective we are struggling. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians and us is that the eyes of our heart may be opened that we might know 'the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints'. These riches are expounded as God’s grace (1:7), mercy (2:4) and kindness (2:7), the unfathomable riches of Christ himself (3:8) and spiritual blessings from God’s rich treasury (3:16 Amplified Bible). This is a prayer that we might look beyond appearances, to see the church as God does – a people equipped to display his glory in the world.
Open our eyes Lord, to our true potential.
5. God’s incomparable great power (v. 19-20) L~
Following a fire, a school in America installed a state of the art sprinkler system. Visitors to the school were proudly shown this system. Some time later, a plumber discovered that the sprinkler system had never been connected to the water mains.
On Pentecost Sunday many churches proudly speak of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. Unfortunately they have never made the connection that the incomparable great power that raised Christ from the dead is for them. Methodism was born in revival. We are being urged to pray for a new Pentecost. Our prayer must be that the Connexion continues to make the connection and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Paul seeks to describe the indescribable with four synonyms: power (dunamis), working (energia), might (ischys) and strength (kratos). The Holy Spirit who raised Christ from the dead can raise the church to new life (v.20). Paul is convinced that this is readily available to all who believe. Like our spiritual forebears, in prayer we must lay hold of God’s promise and wait to be equipped to fulfil our calling (Acts 1:8 and 14).
Open our eyes Lord, to the power of your Holy Spirit.
6. The supremacy of Christ (vv.20-23) L~
The antidote for discouragement is not to look at the membership of the church but the Head of the church. We see Christ raised and exalted above 'all rule, authority, power and dominion' (v.21). In humility, even to the point of humiliation, Jesus fulfilled his earthly ministry to be exalted once again to his place of authority (4:10). The Church is not an institution but the living body of Christ, called to reveal his character and fulfil his ministry today (v 23). In Christ we are not powerless, but empowered to be the full expression of Christ in the world.
Open our eyes Lord, to our true position in you.
Even after the year of Pray Without Ceasing, let us constantly remember the Methodist Church in our prayers and pray that God will open our eyes to all he wants to do in us and through us. As we make this prayer we wait expectantly for God’s answer.
Do you feel discouraged when you enter a time of intercession for the church? If so, do you find Paul’s pattern of praise and thanksgiving prior to intercession an antidote to discouragement?
Is there a circuit or church project you can encourage and support in prayer?
'More love, more power, more of you in my life' (Jude del Hierro). Are we too busy bringing our shopping list to God that we forget to pray for more of him?
How would you describe God’s glorious inheritance for you?
Explore further Paul’s description of the Holy Spirit. What words would you use to describe the work of the Holy Spirit?
Meditate upon the supremacy of Christ and reflect upon whether he is head over your life. If not, invite him into his rightful place.
The Revd Paul Wilson is a Superintendent Minister of the Alderley Edge and Knutsford Circuit and Deputy-Chair of the Manchester and Stockport District.
Headline Summer 2006 pp12-13