Praying to the Sovereign God
Ephesians 1:15 – 23
Praying to the Sovereign God
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a famous Welsh preacher once said Preaching is comparatively easy compared to praying. Because when one is preaching, he is speaking to people, but when he is praying, he is speaking to God.
So that means today, I’ve got the easy job, The difficult job comes later for all of us, in our prayers.
I don’t know whether you agree with Martyn Lloyd Jones, you might find it quite easy to pray.
But in lots and lots of conversations I have with Christians, I hear things like,
“I find it difficult to pray,
I wish I didn’t find it difficult,
I don’t know what to pray,
I don’t know what’s right to pray for someone else,
And it seems to me that for lots of Christians, our theology, the things we believe and know about God, don’t shape our prayers the way they ought, or the way it could.
How does what we know about God’s sovereignty shape the way we pray?
Or our understanding of a person’s value, how does that inform our prayers?
So today we start a short series to address some of those issues, and with the hope that we might be able to shape our prayers, in the light of prayers that we find in the Bible.
What we’re not doing in this series is a systematic theology of prayer, that is, looking at every place in the Bible where we’re taught something about prayer in order to build up a complete picture.
We’ve chosen 4 prayers, out of around 650 different prayers recorded in Scripture, so we’re really just scraping the surface.
And today we start with a prayer from the Apostle Paul, one of the messengers of the early church, and what we find in Ephesians 1, is a description of a prayer. Paul says, “When I pray, this is what I say.”
Give thanks for God’s sovereign work of salvation
And so if we’re to shape our prayers according to what we find here, lesson 1 is give thanks for God’s sovereign work of salvation.
Verse 15, For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
Because this series is a little different from out normal pattern of working our way through books of the Bible week by week, we find ourselves here jumping in part-way through an argument,
See there, For this reason, well, “for what reason?”
What’s Paul’s reason for giving thanks?
If you have your Bible there, look up at verses 3 to 14. That section is one huge run-on sentence in the original. No points for grammar for Paul!
This is a 203 word sentence about God’s sovereign work in salvation, and it’s like Paul doesn’t even stop for breath, he’s just so excited, so thankful for everything that God has done for his people.
And then at verse 14 he takes a breath, for this reason, I thank God. Sitting here in prison in Rome, I’ve heard, that what God has done for you in Christ is just overflowing into your lives, your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints
And because it’s God’s sovereign hand that has brought this faith, and this love, Paul kind of explodes in thanks to God.
And if you’re a Christian person here today, Paul would say the same things about you.
These are the acts of God’s grace that he was worked sovereignly in your life.
His sovereign choice, verse 4, choosing people, who have absolutely nothing about them to make them , choice-worthy, if that’s a word!
In God’s sovereignty, he predestined us, Paul says, verse 5,
He redeemed us, verse 7
He’s given wisdom and understanding,
Made known the mystery of his will, that is to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under Christ.
That’s God’s will for the world,
For your life,
And God has made this will known to you.
For this reason, I have not stopped giving thanks
Andy and I were talking this week, about praying with our kids, because the kids’ prayers are just about all “thank you” prayers.
“Thank you for Mummy & Daddy,
Thank you for chocolate biscuits,
Thank you that we could go to the park today”
As we get older, it’s easy for the “thank yous” drop out of our prayers, and we find ourselves mostly asking for things.
Maybe that’s not you, but I know I’m like that.
But on the occasions when I do get around to saying “thank you”, what actually am I thanking God , for?
And when I stop and think about my prayers, I realise I tend not to give thanks for the reasons that Paul does.
I’m more likely to say “thank you for the chocolate biscuits” than for God’s sovereign works of salvation.
Sometimes it’s a bit more honourable than that!
Dear God, thanks for whose who serve in our kids ministry
Thanks for the people who are working hard to put Carols by Glowstick together.
And it’s great to give thanks to God, for the good things that people do.
But how much bigger is Paul’s picture?!
“I say thank you to God, because in his sovereignty, he has won salvation for you.
I have not stopped giving thanks, because God chose you,
He predestined you,
He adopted you,
He redeemed you,
He’s made known to you the mystery of his plans for all of creation.
And the great works that you’re doing,
Your faith and love,
Your transformed life,
Are all a result of what God has already done for you,
And so it’s right for me to give thanks to God.
If I came round to your house for a meal, and , I’m not looking for invitations particularly, but, If I did, Maybe you’re a family with kids, and you’ve cooked a magnificent meal, but your kids are actually the ones who serve us at the table.
How do I thank you?
Should I say, “thank you that little Johnny scooped the food onto my plate. He did that so well”?
Well that’s a nice thing to say, but it doesn’t even acknowledge the hours and hours you spent in the kitchen, preparing the meal, in order for little Johnny to scoop it onto my plate.
See without God’s sovereign choice,
Without his work in adoption, and redemption
, and revelation, there would be no faith or love or anything in the lives of the Ephesians.
Just like the things that our kids ministry workers do, that I want to give thanks for, they wouldn’t be happening.
Without God’s choice, and adoption, and redemption, and revelation, we wouldn’t have Carols by Glowstick team, for me to give thanks for.
Do you see that everything which we rightly want to acknowledge and give thanks for, actually has its source in God’s sovereign work in people’s lives.
So I’m not saying, don’t thank God for our ministry leaders, or for other people.
I’m not saying don’t thank God for their hard work,
Don’t thank God for the kind of lives that they live.
The Scriptures would just have us start our prayers in the right place and go on from there.
And do it continually
As we shift then into the next little section, I think it’s worthwhile to note Paul’s devotion to prayer.
Let me read those verses again.
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, , 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I , keep asking etc etc.
Do you get his point? Not that every second of every day he’s praying, but continually and regularly, and diligently, he prays.
This is more than just the Jewish pattern of 3 times a day, morning, noon and evening.
Perhaps you don’t have this deliberate pattern of prayer.
We can react so strongly against anything that sounds like legalism, that we miss out on patterns and habits that might actually be helpful for us.
Could you say this to your friends, I have not stopped giving thanks, , I keep asking,
Pray that people will know God better.
Paul also teaches us that that we should pray that people will know God better.
Verse 17, I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
Paul’s already said at the beginning of that enormous sentence, in verse 3, that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ, and yet he knows that the Ephesians can still grow in their understanding of what it is to know God.
And what he prays particularly, is that the Spirit of God, will give them wisdom and revelation.
Andy Buchan taught me what wisdom is, and how it differs from knowledge. He says, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is actually a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put a tomato in a fruit salad!”
We get our money’s worth out of him, don’t we!
Wisdom is a special kind of knowledge, and in the Bible, Wisdom is to do with knowing God’s will and his saving purposes, and how God’s plans and purposes centre on Christ.
Revelation is how God enables us to understand these plans and purposes.
And Paul already gave thanks that the Ephesians had come to know God’s saving plans, now he prays that they’ll understand even more.
But did you notice the so that?, Paul’s prayer is that they might be given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
Not just , have wisdom for the sake of wisdom.
Not , receive revelation simply to inquire into the heart of God.
It’s to know God better.
That’s the end point.
That’s why he’s praying this prayer.
Paul wants the Ephesians to know God better, specifically, to know God , in Christ , better.
The word “to know” there is related to that word we used to find in the King James Version, “Adam knew his wife Eve, and she gave birth to a son” and if you ever read that as a child you were mildly confused!
But such is the sense of intimacy conveyed by this word, “to know”.
That’s what Paul prays for the Ephesians.
I wonder if we pray for people like that.
Do we pray that they would know God in Christ, like this?
Maybe it’s even worth scribbling down in your leaflet now, the names of 1 or 2 people, you could pray this for, that they might know God better.
Pray that people will know their hope
Moving on then, we find that there are 3 other things, that we can be praying that people will know.
Firstly, we can pray that people will know their hope.
Verse 18, 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.
The eyes of your heart, that’s not bad anatomy, that’s Old Testament language. We would talk about “opening your heart” or “opening your mind”,
Paul prays that the Ephesians’ hearts and minds will be opened, in order that they might know their hope.
Christians sometimes talk about “our calling”, our calling to Christ, what’s really interesting here, is that in the original language, Paul doesn’t speak of “the hope of your calling”, but actually “the hope of , his calling.”
Here again we see Paul’s understanding of the sovereignty of God.
Not only is it his calling, God who calls people to himself, but the way you come to understand the hope held out in that calling, is not through your own means, but by having God enlighten you, by having God , enlighten your heart.
There’s that line in The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas (Du-mah), Until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words,--'Wait and hope'.
And that’s true in a particular way of the Christian life. Not because we don’t know the future, but actually because we do know what God has in store, and Paul would have us be praying for each other, that we would know that hope.
Hope that extends beyond the grave,
Hope for a resurrection,
Hope for eternal life,
Hope, even for this life too, it’s not just something that starts the other side of death.
My prayer requests for other people, are all too often , just physical.
Again, I’m not saying it’s wrong to pray for physical needs, but here Paul reminds us of the value of praying that other Christians’ eyes will be cast forward,
That God himself will convince them, more strongly, day by day, of the hope that is theirs because they are in Christ.
One commentator I read this week said that hope is the opposite of despair.
And it’s easy for Christians to despair, isn’t it?
My Christian life isn’t progressing as I wished it would.
My relationships are just , hard work.
I keep stumbling over the same sin, sometimes I don’t even stumble, I just run headlong into it.
Our world and our society, seem to be deliberately setting a course away from Jesus, as quickly as they can.
Yeah, it’s easy to despair.
Who can you pray for this week, that God might in a sense, crack open their heart, and pour into it, the hope of his calling?
Maybe someone in a tough ministry situation.
Maybe someone in a tough family situation.
Maybe someone who’s praying and praying and praying for their non-Christian friends.
Pray for the hope of God’s calling.
Pray that people know their value in Christ
A prayer to know hope,
Next is a prayer that the Ephesians will know their value.
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
For a long time in my Christian life, I read the second half of verse 18, and I thought, yep, I know what this is talking about, this is about my inheritance, this is about the things that I get from God.
Now, we got an inheritance once. A relative of Kathy’s passed away, and it was actually quite a distant relative, but because Kathy’s father and grandfather had already passed away we got a cheque for a thousand dollars or something, and it had barely hit mail box before we spent it on a dishwasher!
So I know what an inheritance is! It’s good stuff I get!
But Ephesians 1 isn’t talking about my inheritance is it?
This is talking about God’s inheritance.
Again, this is Old Testament language, Deuteronomy 9:26 for example, God’s people are talked about as his inheritance, his treasured possession.
Paul prays that the Ephesians will know their value in God’s eyes.
Because of everything that God has done for us in Christ, as outlined in that massive run-on sentence in 3 - 14, we are God’s treasured possession.
We’re God’s inheritance.
We don’t get the dishwasher, we are the dishwasher! If I can extend the metaphor!
What a way for God to choose to describe us.
Nothing about us, remember, to make us choice-worthy, and yet he sees us as of such value, because he sees us, in Christ.
When you pray for your Christian friends, is that how you see them, as God’s glorious inheritance?
When you pray for them, do you long for them to know their great value?
Do you pray that every day they will grow deeper and deeper in the knowledge of the supreme value that God has placed on them?
Do you pray that people you know, Christian and non-Christian won’t seek value, in other places, by other means?
I think this is not exclusively, but especially important in our prayers for our kids and youth. Our kids are growing up in a society with a whole different schema of what makes you valuable , how you achieve worth, and that ranges from how well you perform on the sporting field to how sexually available you make yourself.
Please pray, that the kids and young people you know, those in this community, the ones we’re praying for at Mount Barker high, will know and seek their value in Christ, that they will understand what it is to be God’s inheritance.
Pray that people know God’s power
Thirdly, we can pray for people, that they will know God’s power.
Starting at verse 18 again, I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, in order that you may know, the hope to which he has called you,
the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
And Paul really can’t help himself. As soon as he mentions God’s power, he then just goes off on this little praise tangent, down to the end of the chapter, which just goes to show that tangents in prayer aren’t always a bad thing!
That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Sometimes if I look at my own life or the world around me, it’s easy to kind of come to the conclusion that , well obviously God’s not very powerful,
Or if he is, well, I don’t have access to that power,
Or he chooses not to exercise that power too often.
Maybe you tend to struggle with the same sins over and over.
Maybe you’d like to be more diligent in some things, like prayer, Maybe you feel powerless against the temptations and distractions.
And for the Christians in Ephesus, who had come to Christ from pagan religions, this temptation to forget God’s power or to think it unavailable to them, would have been quite strong.
Ephesus was centre of worship for Artemis, also called Diana, known as the “great goddess.” She was thought to be queen over all the heavenly powers and all the powers of the underworld.
And in Ephesus, stood an enormous temple dedicated to Artemis. It was considered one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world, and Antipater, the Greek poet who compiled that list of the 7 wonders, once noted all the other things on his list, I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus;, but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted , to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, "Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on anything so grand"
With that in your backyard, God can look pretty small.
God can look powerless.
A Christian person can feel powerless.
Now we don’t have a shining temple to Artemis towering over us, but there are plenty of other things that seem so big and powerful, that they make God look small and weak, and they make his people feel even smaller, and even weaker.
A secular society, seeking to push God to the fringes and beyond
Our own constant struggle with sin,
The prayers that seem to go unanswered,
And yet, we, like Paul, can pray, that people will know God’s power, that has no equal in the world, despite any appearances to the contrary, and that it is power , for us.
When I was a kid I liked mucking around with batteries and motors and lights and stuff.
And if I pulled apart a toy car that ran on a 1.5 volt battery, I’d connect it to a 9 volt battery to see if the extra power made it go faster, and then I’d plug in a 12 volt batter to see the effect. Fortunately I never tried plugging it in to the 240 volts!
But that’s the incomparable nature of God’s power, It’s taking out the battery and plugging into the power station.
What would you choose as the ultimate demonstration of God’s power?
The whole , creating the universe is pretty good.
Holding the planets in orbit around the sun?
Answering someone’s prayer for healing?
But for God, one of those things is not more difficult than the others. It’s not like diving at the Olympics with a degree of difficulty for each attempt.
No Paul doesn’t choose the most tricky display of power, he chooses the most glorious. This is the power that raised Christ from the dead.
And this is the power that brings us from death to life.
This is the power that gives us the ability to choose to say “no” to sin. Despite our failings, we are no longer slaves to sin.
This is the power that enables us to resist the devil and to stand against his schemes, as Paul will go onto explain in chapter 6.
This is the power both to proclaim and to understand the gospel message, both of which are supernatural activities, which need God’s power in order for them to bear their fruit.
Who do you know, for whom you can pray this prayer?
Maybe you know people who have come to faith out of the occult, other religions, people who have a real fear of other spiritual powers.
I was talking to someone just a few weeks ago, who was describing a friend, who, for a long time, was struggling with sin, and then as the struggle got harder and harder, eventually just gave up, they felt completely powerless, and so gave up the struggle.
That person needs to understand God’s incomparably great power for us who believe.
Maybe you know people like that,
Maybe you know people who need to know and experience the power of God that raised Christ from the dead and will one day raise us from the dead, Christ’s people, those trusting in his life and death and resurrection.
Does this make it into our prayers?
When I was a uni student, I listened to a number of talks by a guy called Howard Hendricks, who is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, I listened to them on cassette, which if you’re a young person, is like an olden days iPod!
But Howie told a story about a town in Texas that had a single high school, which was destroyed in a terrible fire, and dozens and dozens of students were killed.
So a new school building was built and because of the memory of this tragedy, significant expense was put into installing what was described as “the most advanced fire sprinkler system in the world.”
When the school was opened, they ran tours, and this sophisticated sprinkler system was pointed out to everybody, and everyone “oohed” and “aahed” appropriately at its magnificence.
The years pass, the town grows, and a new wing gets added to the school, and in building the new wing, it was discovered that this world class sprinkler system, had never actually been connected.
Having seen the magnificence of God’s power in the resurrection,
In transformed lives,
In the ministry of the gospel,
What a tragedy, that those we know would not have the power that moves people from death to life available to them, because they’re not , connected, to use a fairly crude term.
So maybe some ideas for our prayers this week.
Do we pray that people will know God better?
That they will know their hope,
Know their value,
And know God’s power?