Prayer focus

Sermon: Sunday, 25th June, 2023
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: Ephesians 3:14-21

One of the privileges we have as a church family is that we can pray for one another. A useful tool for encouraging us to do this has been the church directory. We can work our way through the list of names and make sure we pray for everyone on a regular basis. Three times we have used our church facebook group to help us to do this in a disciplined way. Perhaps it is time to do it again. But when we pray for each other, what should we pray for? There might be specific needs or problems that we know about and it’s good to pray about those. I think it’s fair to say that most of our prayers for ourselves and for others are focused on external circumstances – for good health, success at work, that our children would excel at school, for safety in travel and for personal happiness. Should we pray for such things? Yes, we should. Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer and says that we should pray for our ‘daily bread’- our everyday needs. However, this ought not to be the focus of our prayers. It’s not the focus of the Lord’s Prayer. And so, it is good for us to return again and again to Paul’s prayer with the simple question – what does Paul pray for, and what can I learn from his prayers? That’s what we are going to do this morning. We will remind ourselves what kind of things we ought to pray for.

1. Paul prays for power

When he prays for others, he asks (verse 16) that the Father would strengthen the Ephesian Christians with ‘power through his Spirit in your inner being’. Do you pray that others in the church family might know God’s power? We should. Again and again, we find Paul making this request in his letters.

What kind of power is Paul praying for? Is it power to perform miracles? Is it power to become healthy and wealthy? No. He prays for God’s mighty power to be at work so that Christ might dwell in our hearts through faith. But that leads us to another question – is it not true that all Christians already have Christ dwelling in us? Yes, that is perfectly true. ‘And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.’ (Romans 8:9) So, what does this mean? It means that we are not praying for something new, but to experience more and more of Jesus in our lives. To experience more of his influence. We’re praying for a closer walk with Jesus.

The key word here is ‘dwell’ and this is a strong word. This word ‘dwell’ is not something temporary, like staying in a hotel or an air B&B for a few nights. This word means to take up permanent residence.

I think the best picture to help us understand this is to think of a young married couple buying run down, badly decorated home, which is barely fit to live in. The roof leaks and the garden is wild and there’s so much needing to be done it is overwhelming. However, bit by bit, over time, one room at a time, the house begins to take shape and the house slowly becomes a home. That’s a bit like what happens to us when we become a Christian. Jesus moves into our dilapidated hearts, and begins a renovation project which will last the whole of our lives. So, we pray, ‘Lord, I know these attitudes in my heart are wrong – please help me to get rid of them. Please replace the hatred with love. Please replace the selfishness with kindness. Please replace the outbursts of anger with self-control.’ And Jesus, the great builder and interior designer, works in our hearts, making us more like him.

Why do I need you to pray that I would have power? Because I am weak. Why do I need to pray for the Spirit to empower you? Because you are weak too. The truth is, we desperately need the power of Christ in order to cope with the everyday things of life. We need Jesus’ power to resist all the temptations which will come our way. If you depend on your own strength, it will be a disaster. We need Jesus’ power to help us raise our families. We need Jesus’ power to help us go to our work and to do our work for his glory, and so that we can share with those in need.

The Christian life is not an easy life. In fact, it’s a constant battle between living selfishly and living for God. ‘For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.’ (Romans 7:22-3) As we pray for one another, ask God to strengthen others with his power.

Here’s a challenge for us: is there a particular room in your house that you don’t want Jesus to touch? It might be at work – you are being a bit ruthless in your behaviour and pride yourself in that and don’t really want to change. Or perhaps there’s a room with a sinful habit you have, and you don’t want to give it up. Or perhaps it is your viewing habits. We need to ask Jesus to come into all of the rooms, and change all of them.

2. Paul prays for the perception of God’s love

Paul wants us to grasp the dimensions of God’s love for us. Often, I will pray that God will help me to love him more, and that is a good prayer. But here, Paul is asking that we would grasp the enormity of God’s love for us. It’s a love which doesn’t just have three dimensions but four: ‘And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.’ (Ephesians 3:17-18)

Notice that in verse 17 Paul says that Christians already know something of God’s great love for us. He says we are ‘rooted and grounded’ in that love. It is when we remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross in our place that we become most aware of that love. However, here’s the truth of the matter, I still don’t have an adequate appreciation of how much God loves me, and neither do you. And that’s exactly why we need to pray for the supernatural power of God to help us to grasp and lay hold of and rely on God’s love more.

My wife loves to swim in the sea and in lochs. I’m not so confident and so tend to just paddle around the edges. And I miss out. When it comes to God’s love, do you want to just paddle around the edges of it, only thinking about it a wee bit? Or do you want to swim in that love, making it your key thought every single day?

Human love can be a fragile thing. Sometimes people can even say the words to us, ‘I just don’t love you any more’. But God will never say that to his children. When did God’s love for us begin?

‘For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.’ (Ephesians 1:4)

‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:38-39)

‘I have loved you with an everlasting love.’ (Jeremiah 31:3)

‘The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Galatians 2:20)

Paul also wants us to know that experiencing the love of God is not something which we just do in private. Verses 17 -18; ‘And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…’

“It takes the whole people of God to understand the whole love of God.” (John Stott)

What does this mean? Well, we gather each Sunday to worship Jesus together, and there’s something powerful in that togetherness. We have fellowship together, sharing how God has been helping us and strengthening us, and as we hear about that, we too are strengthened. We need each other in order to grasp God’s love!

Verse 19: To be ‘filled to the measure of all the fullness of God’ means to become a mature Christian. Don’t we all want to become mature Christians? What’s the secret? The secret is to understand just how much God really loves us! It’s God’s love which energises us as Christians.

‘For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.’ (2 Corinthians 5:14) If you are compelled to live for God out of guilt, that will never bring fruitful results. If you are compelled by self-righteousness, convincing yourself that you are a good person, that won’t work either. Lasting fruit will only come from our lives if we are compelled by the love of Christ.

Let’s think of God’s love as rich, fertile soil, in which we will grow. That’s actually what Paul is saying to us here. He says (verse 17) that we are ‘rooted’ in this love. In other words, the love God has for us contains all the nutrients and goodness we need in order to flourish spiritually. Again, all the more reason why we need to grasp this love more than we do.

Let’s also think of God’s love as the foundation of our lives. Paul uses this image too in this passage. He says (verse 17) that we are ‘established’ or ‘grounded’ in God’s love for us. We all know what happens to buildings with weak foundations. When the storms come, they are liable to collapse. The same is true of us. When the storms of life come our way, the disappointments in relationships, the difficulties at work and with health, the persecution, the financial troubles, if we don’t have Jesus as our foundation we will collapse under the weight of these things. But if Christ’s love for us is our foundation, we will be able to withstand the storms, in his strength.

Friends, let’s keep on praying for one another as much as we can. And when we do so, add these specific requests to our prayers, that we would know God’s power at work within us, and that we might have the life-changing ability to better appreciate God’s love for us. This is the kind of soil that we need in our lives, so let’s ask for it.

Let’s end our time in this passage marvelling at the dimensions of God’s love. It is so broad that it encompasses men and women, rich and poor, and all the nationalities of the world. It is so long that it is a love which predates the existence of the earth, and will go on, unbroken, into eternity. It is so high, that it will take us up to Heaven one day. And it is so deep that Jesus was willing to stoop down and come into this earth to save the worst of sinners like us.