If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. (St. John 15:7-8)
Nowadays we all have a multitude of gadgets – cell phones, DVD players, GPS systems, laptop computers. I’m able to perform basic tasks with them, such as check my e-mail, write a sermon, call a friend and do a few other bare-bones actions. So when tech-minded friends start making my computer and my phone buzz and whistle, I stand amazed at the untapped potential of those gadgets. I never seem to make the most of them!
That’s akin to driving on the highway and seeing a shiny red sports car plodding along at 45 miles an hour. Or seeing a 6-foot-5, 260-pound tuba player in the band at halftime of a football game. Talk about untapped potential.
Sadly, I’m convinced that’s the best way to describe many of our prayer lives: untapped potential.
You and I pray every week for the laundry-list of ailments (and well we should; it is one of the wonders of the Christian faith that the eternal God would draw near to you and me in Christ and care for us, body and soul, so deeply), and then we add that conciliatory tag at the end of our prayers: “If it be thy will.” Of course, we always ought to pray for God’s will; but I wonder if you and I don’t expect too little of God when it comes to prayer.
For that matter, I wonder if we even pray for the best things.
This morning St. Paul gives you and me an apostolic example of powerful prayer – prayer that pleases the Lord God. He gives thanks for the Ephesian Christians’ true faith in Jesus, and he asks the Father to grow them in this true faith.
As you study Ephesians 1:15-19, you see that Paul knows a secret: every believer in Christ is a miracle wrought by God. And that’s why Paul prays expectantly, and boldly, for them to grow in their knowledge of Christ.
This is powerful prayer that reaches its potential. This is how you and I need to be praying.
Prayer that pleases God and reaches its potential is, first, thankful for the miracle of other Christians.
You’ll remember that St. Paul had labored for more than two years in Ephesus, creating affectionate ties with the church in that place. When he learned that, by the gracious and miraculous working of God, sinners were being brought to saving faith in Jesus, Paul was moved to continual thanksgiving to the Father for their conversion.
Observe that the Ephesians’ faith in Christ was a true, sincere faith, not mere lip service to the Gospel. Paul gives thanks not only for their faith in Jesus but also for their “love to all the saints”: as Scripture everywhere teaches, love for Christ always results in love for your brothers and sisters in the Lord. The essence of the law is to love God first and your fellow man as well; and true, Christ-like, sacrificial love – which desires the very best in Christ for everyone around you – is possible only by Jesus first loving you. But if he does love you and has redeemed you, you will love other believers.
(It bears mentioning that Paul refers to Christians here as “saints.” A saint is, literally, a “holy one” of God, washed in the blood of the Lamb and clothed in his righteousness. You and I tend to think of the saints as some lofty class of super-Christians, but the fact is you and I are saints in Jesus. Take heart!)
Paul’s prayer included thanksgiving that God clearly had brought the Ephesians from death to life in Christ. This was a genuine miracle, and it sparked prayers of gratitude from the apostle. It’s important to see that Paul’s prayer included other believers, and it concerned spiritual blessings from the Lord. Now, it is always appropriate to give thanks to our Father for the earthly blessings we enjoy. In fact, continual thanksgiving will encourage you to pray more as you remember the goodness and kindness of our Father in Heaven.
But the greatest blessing of all is salvation in Jesus Christ. What joy to see Jesus at work in your life and in the lives of those around you! Even if you had no earthly bread, if you had the Bread of Life you would be full forever.
You and I need to prioritize in our prayers and give thanks for God’s saving work in us and in others. Physical healing is wonderful, but it doesn’t compare to the healing that Jesus brings you and me from sin and guilt. If you indeed know the riches of being forgiven in Christ, you will pray thankfully without ceasing for the wonder of the Gospel – in your life, and in that of every believer.
Powerful prayer that reaches its potential, secondly, asks God for growth in the true faith of Christ.
Thanksgiving for God’s mercies in Jesus will motivate you to pray for even greater blessings from the Father. This clearly was the case for St. Paul, who didn’t stop with thanksgiving but continued on in petition for the Ephesians.
Part of the apostle’s encouragement in prayer was that he knew to Whom he was praying: the God of our Lord Jesus, the Father of glory, Who is infinitely kind to His children. When Paul spoke of God as the Father of glory, he obviously expected the Father to answer His prayers perfectly and powerfully (even if not always in Paul’s time frame). You and I frequently have to visit doctors and mechanics and carpenters who might or might not be able to address our physical needs; but we do have a Father in Heaven Who can meet every need perfectly. This is another encouragement to call on our Almighty God in prayer.
Mindful of God’s goodness and ability to answer prayer, Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians’ spiritual growth, especially regarding their knowledge the Lord. Of course, knowing the Lord involves understanding key doctrines; but it’s so much more than that. The full Hebrew and Greek sense of “knowing the Lord” involves intimacy with Christ and a daily walk with him, seeking his pleasure in everything.
Paul prayed the Father would give them greater spiritual enlightenment as the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation filled their hearts and minds. To be sure, each of you has the Holy Spirit in His fullness at your conversion; without His working to give you a new heart to believe in Jesus, you wouldn’t even have faith in Christ. It is appropriate, though, to pray for a greater outpouring of the Spirit’s wisdom as you study God’s revelation to us – His Word – and apply His Word to every aspect of your life. More than anything, you and I need to ask the Spirit to inform us as we study the Word and seek to walk in its light in a sin-darkened world.
In particular, Paul prayed the Ephesians would grow in their understanding of three things: their hope, their inheritance and God’s power. It was God the Father who called them from death to life – a call that came outwardly in the preached Word but, especially, inwardly as the Spirit drew them to Jesus. And this call gives hope: not a “wish,” which is how the world conceives of hope, but a certainty of Heaven based on the unfailing promises and character of the living God. As they understood this hope, they also would grasp the inheritance the Father has laid aside for us, His children, in glory. Paul prayed they would more and more appreciate what a blessing it was to be part of God’s family en route to the New Heavens and New Earth.
The apostle then prayed they would know the exceeding greatness of God’s power to those of us who believe in Jesus (which faith comes as a result of God’s miracle-working power to bring us from death to life). Next time, Lord willing, we’ll examine more of what Paul says about the power that God makes available to you and me in Christ. For now, note that the same power by which the Father raised the Son from the dead is in you and is available to you through prayer. So think of all the challenges you face daily. Perhaps there is someone at work who tests your Christian charity. Perhaps you’re battling a secret sin about which only you and the Lord know. Perhaps you have unbelieving loved ones, and you question if the Lord really can save them from Hell.
Pray that the Spirit would reveal God’s power to you more and more everyday as you search His Word and think on your own miraculous conversion. Ask Him to encourage you in hope as you grow in expectation of the inheritance that awaits you.
If you and I prayed for this kind of growth, what would the church – and the world – look like?
I said earlier that every Christian is a miracle. That’s true, because only God could convince you and me of His existence, and of our need to be cleansed of our sin and reconciled to Him by Jesus. Faith in Christ as your Savior isn’t a man-made contrivance: it is the miraculous gift of God.
That miraculous working of God ought to inform and to encourage you and me to pray, with thanksgiving, for growth in the knowledge of the Lord. Most Christians, it seems, pray in hopes of receiving a miracle from the Lord.
You and I must pray – thankfully, biblically, and powerfully – because we are miracles of the Lord.