For the past two weeks we have taken a little break for our celebration of God’s provision of the Passover Lamb, our Savior, who came to take away the sins of the world—your sins and my sins. The past two weeks have been so wonderful. To be able to understand that the suffering, the sacrifice of Jesus, was not a random event in history, but that it was the culmination of all of the sacrifices of the Passover lambs throughout history, beginning with the Hebrews while still in Egypt—this is one of the most moving and overwhelming lessons that any follower of Jesus can ever learn.
Today, we are going to go back to our study of Ephesians. In our time in God’s Word this morning we are going to read, and marvel at, one of the most moving and overwhelming statements about God that is found in all the Bible. Before we read Ephesians 3:20-21, let me go back and share with you a prayer that Paul prayed for the brothers and sisters in Ephesus. If you will turn with me to Ephesians 3:14-19 and let’s read together.
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19 NIV)
Paul is on his knees. He is interceding for the brothers and sisters in Ephesus. He is asking God to do something more than fix their problems. He is asking God for a greater blessing than financial prosperity or physical health or mental and emotional stability or a happy life. Paul prays that God might “strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” He prays that “you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Armitage Robinson wrote, “No prayer that has ever been framed has uttered a bolder request.” To pray that we who are finite might be filled with all of the fullness of the Infinite, with all of the fullness of God, is the most extravagant prayer that could ever be prayed, and yet Paul was known for being bold in his prayers for the Body of Christ.
Let me give you a couple of examples of what I am talking about. Paul wrote to the brothers and sisters in Philippi and let them know that he was praying for them. What was he praying? Turn to Philippians 1:9-11 and let’s find out.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 NIV)
That is a bold prayer don’t you think? To pray, believing that God would cause our love to be set on this ever increasing, never diminishing, trajectory that would lead us to an increasing understanding and depth of insight that would enable us to fully discern what is best, that we would be pure and blameless until Jesus’ return, and that we would be filled with the fruit of righteousness through our walk with Jesus—now that is a bold prayer!
Paul had friends in Colosse. He never visited the city, but that didn’t stop him from praying boldly for the followers of Jesus in Colosse. Compared to other cities like Ephesus or Laodicea, the city was insignificant. Colosse’s glory days had faded largely because the Romans had rerouted the road system. No major road running through Colosse meant that commercial trade went elsewhere, but that didn’t diminish Paul’s bold prayers for the brothers and sisters to be people of influence. In Colossians 1:9-12, we can read the content of Paul’s prayers.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:9-12 NIV)
That is a bold prayer. Paul’s prayer doesn’t arise from the strength of the followers of Jesus there in Colosse. No, he is praying that they will be strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that they may have great endurance and patience. His prayer doesn’t arise from the fact that they are noted theologians who know everything there is to know about God. No, he is asking God to fill them with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Paul’s prayer doesn’t arise from the fact that they are living lives worthy of their calling. No, he is praying that they will live a life worthy of the Lord and that they might please Him in every way.
I could go on and on sharing with you the bold prayers of the Apostle Paul on behalf of the followers of Jesus. He has not allowed the mess he had encountered in Corinth to keep him from praying boldly for the believers in that city. Paul didn’t allow the fact that he had been driven out of Thessalonica to stop him from praying boldly for the followers of Jesus in that city. Paul knew the city of Ephesus was filled with corruption, paganism, commercialism, idolatry, and hedonism, but that didn’t prevent him from praying boldly that the believers would be filled with all of the fullness of God.
We need to pray like the Apostle Paul. We need to pray more boldly, don’t we? What is it that keeps us from doing so? Well, I’m sure there are many answers to that question, but I can think of a couple that I hear often.
First of all, the longer we live the more skeptical, or maybe I should say, “realistic,” we become. “Realistic” doesn’t sound quite so negative does it? The longer we live the more we come to know that oftentimes dreams don’t come true, tragedy happens on a regular basis, and trials seem to be the trail that we most often find ourselves walking. We’ve prayed for God to do “great” things, we’ve prayed for God to heal our sick loved ones, we’ve prayed for God to intervene in all kinds of situations, but it just hasn’t worked out like we hoped it would. These experiences leave many of us wondering “What’s the use in praying?” We tell ourselves, “God’s going to do what He’s going to do. I just have to accept it.”
There is another reason that I hear as to why we fail to pray with more boldness, and that is time. We believe that God can act, but we are busy people and we need God to act now. God doesn’t always act on our schedule or in the way that we want Him to act. Joseph had done nothing wrong, but he found himself falsely accused and thrown into prison. He would have loved to have gotten out as soon as possible, but he stayed in that prison for over two years. Samuel anointed young David as king of Israel, but he lived as a fugitive on the run from king Saul for somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 years before he ever became king. When Abraham was 75 years old God made a promise that Abraham would be the father of a great nation. If you are 75 years old and childless and the Lord tells you that you are going to be a daddy, you would think the baby would need to come pretty quickly don’t you think? For 12 years Sarah took pregnancy test after pregnancy test, but the only thing that turned “blue” was their mood. So, after 12 years Abraham and Sarah took things into their own hands and Sarah’s servant, Hagar, had Abraham’s baby. God said, “That’s not the way I planned it. That’s not the child I had in mind. I will bless you and you will be the father of a great nation.” It was 13 more years before the promised child was born. And through the ages every person who has ever walked with God has learned one way or another the truth of Isaiah 55:8.
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. (Isaiah 55:8 NIV)
If there is anyone here this morning who does not know the truth of that Scripture then you will. The reality of hardships and heartache that linger, and the passage of time, can easily lead us to lower our expectations when it comes to prayer. We are no different than those who were living in Paul’s day. Paul probably knew that there were skeptics, cynics, and realists in the church in Ephesus and that is why, after praying the bold prayer of Ephesians 3:14-19, he goes on and launches into the most glorious praise of God you will ever read. Look at Ephesians 3:20-21 with me.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV)
These two verses are called a “doxology.” Our word, “doxology,” is made up of two Greek words, “doxa,” which means, “glory,” and “logia,” which means, “sayings” or “utterance.” A doxology is words ascribing glory to God and these two verses are some of the most lofty found in Scripture.
After Paul prays his prayer for the folks in Ephesus, he turns his attention to the God who is able. What is God able to do? Well, He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. How is He able to do this? He is able to do it by His power that is at work within us. He can do more than you or I can even imagine my friend. I’ve known many people who believed that to be true for others, but they didn’t believe it was true for them. I have shared the hope and promises of God with folks who have said to me, “You don’t know what I’ve done. I’ve gone too far.”
On Wednesday of this week I was leading a new Bible study called, “When God’s People Pray.” We listened to the testimony of Danny Valasco, the man I told you about last Sunday. For a long time Danny wouldn’t give God a chance because, as he said, “I’ve gone too far.” I have a friend who has a child that has been using drugs for a long time and he has given up hope. He says, “God would have to do a miracle.” This verse reminds us that He can. There is an older couple here in our church who gave their testimony years ago in morning worship. They had been married for years and she said, “I use to sit across the table from him and get physically sick just looking at him.” She had given up hope that God could rekindle the love they once had. There are many of us that believe that we are “special” cases, we are exemptions to the truth found in these powerful Scriptures we’ve just read. Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote these words.
Now, I see, also, that if my case is very special, still I need not tremble or stand in dread of need. What if I require superabundant Grace? I may have it! If I need exceedingly abundant help, I can have it. Ah, if I need more Grace than I dare ask for, I can have it! Yes, and if I require more than I think, I may have it, for still my Lord is able to give it to me, and what He is able to do, He is willing to do. What comfort this should afford even to poor sinners who are far away from God. He is able to give you great forgiveness for the greatest possible sin! Sins that you have not yet thought of, He can pardon! Do but come to God in Christ Jesus and you shall find Him able to save to the uttermost. If this little hint is taken up by some despairing heart, it may give it immediate peace! It cannot be true that God cannot forgive, for in Christ Jesus, ‘He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above what we ask or even think.’ (Spurgeon, Charles. Paul’s Doxology. 1875)
He is able! His grace is able to reach the person who believes they have gone too far. His deliverance is able to rescue the addict or alcoholic. His power is able to rekindle the coldest of marriages. He is able to do far more than we can ever think or imagine, but we must go to Him in prayer. God yearns for His people to come to Him in prayer for everything. Prayer is the most intimate interaction given to us by God. God doesn’t want “institutionalized,” religious sounding monologues spoken by His people—He wants us to share our hearts with Him. Prayer is not mechanical. Prayer is intimate.
This past week I’ve spent a lot of time reading the stories of those who prayed with passion and conviction. I’ve learned some valuable lessons that I want to share with you this morning because they are important for us as individuals, but they are equally valuable for us as a church. Let me begin with Paul, the man who wrote the letter to the church in Ephesus. Paul wrote to a young pastor named Timothy and he gave him direction for how to lead the church he was pastoring. Paul said,
1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– (1 Timothy 2:1 NIV)
What did Paul place as a priority for the people of God? As important as preaching is, it wasn’t preaching. As important as music is, it wasn’t music. Paul says that the people of God are to be people of prayer. We are to make requests, prayers, and intercession for everyone. We are to offer thanksgiving to God. Paul went on, in the second chapter of his letter to Timothy, to say,
8 I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. (1 Timothy 2:8 NIV)
Some of you may come from churches where, for the entire worship service, people sit quietly with their hands folded in front of them. That may be the tradition you come from but Paul said to the early church, “lift your hands in prayer to God.” Do you know what uplifted hands signify? Upraised hands are a sign of surrender. It is the universal sign of surrender and we need to surrender our hearts, our fears, our insecurities, our sin, our anxieties, our troubles and burdens to God. Give them up! Hand them over! Let them go!
Just two weeks ago we celebrated Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem and the people shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9 NIV) We hardly ever hear what happened next. Jesus went to church. He entered the temple area and it wasn’t what God intended for it to be. Read along with me from Matthew 21:12-14.
12 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.'” 14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. (Matthew 21:12-14 NIV)
The people had turned God’s house into a Flea Market filled with religious merchandise. Business was being conducted in God’s house as men set up tables to sell doves, sheep, oxen, and other items. Money changers shouted out their exchange rates for the foreigners who had come to the temple, but needed to exchange their currency for the half shekel to be paid for the temple tax. The money changers were making a killing off of the people who had come to worship God. Jesus was livid! He turned over the tables of the money changers and the peddlers and said, “Out! Get out of My Father’s house! My house will be called a house of prayer…”
God’s temple, God’s house, in Jesus’ day was to be a “house of prayer.” That phrase, “house of prayer,” didn’t originate with Jesus. Long before Jesus was ever born God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said,
4 For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant– 5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. 6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant– 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:4-7 NIV)
Do you know what is interesting about the particular people highlighted by God in these verses? These were folks who were prevented from entering the temple. God says, “Let them come to my house of prayer! …My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Why is God so passionate about His house being a house of prayer for all people? God wants all people to seek Him, to draw near to Him, and to come into His presence. All people. That’s just not the way it is in society. There are walls and locked gates everywhere. Some folks are allowed in, but most are locked out. The door to God’s house is wide open…come. Come with your burdens. Come with your sorrows. Come with your joys. Come with your praises. Come and sit in His presence and fix your thoughts upon His glory and unbounded love for you. Come.
In the early Church we find them praying at every turn. They didn’t know what they doing. They were seeking to be faithful and follow the Lord’s lead at every turn so they devoted themselves to prayer. In Acts 2:42 we read,
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:41-42 NIV)
They were devoted to prayer. They didn’t talk about prayer, they prayed. After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples were a man down since Judas had betrayed the Lord and died. How did the disciples choose a new leader? Did they take resumes? Did they put an ad on “Craigslist” for a candidate? Did they brainstorm possible Fortune 500 CEO’s that might serve them well? You know they didn’t. They prayed. In Acts 1:23-25 we read,
23 So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” (Acts 1:23-25 NIV)
In Acts 12:1-5, we read where King Herod had Jesus’ brother, James, put to death. Herod then had Peter arrested. The followers of Jesus didn’t march on Jerusalem, they didn’t hire some high powered attorney—they prayed. Acts 12:5 says,
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. (Acts 12:5 NIV)
When the followers of Jesus were being persecuted they didn’t hire bodyguards, they didn’t retreat into some safe Christian cocoon, and they didn’t try to put a more positive spin on their message. They prayed for greater boldness. They prayed for the Lord to do even greater miracles.
In Acts 4, Peter and John had been arrested and eventually freed after being threatened with what would happen to them if they did not stop speaking about Jesus. When they got back to the other followers of Jesus, Peter and John told them their story. In verse 24, we read that after the people heard Peter and John tell their story, “they lifted their voices together in prayer to God.” Then, in verse 29-31 we read,
29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:29-31 NIV)
I pray that the Lord would shake this place, but after spending time in His Word this past week I’ve come to the conclusion that if it happens it will not be because of some great sermon or some great song—it will be because of prayer. We, as a church, must cry out to God.
You need to know that when those early followers of Jesus prayed for greater boldness the Lord answered their prayer. They spoke unashamedly about the Lord, they led others to Christ, and they suffered greatly. Prayer doesn’t necessarily get us out of trouble. Prayer draws us into the Father’s presence.
I know that there are many here this morning who need to draw near to the Lord. There are many of us here this morning who need to cry out to the Lord for help. You need to know that you don’t have to pray with eloquence, you just need to pray. You don’t need to pray with fervency, you just need to cry out. The invitation is there. His arms are open wide. Won’t you come? Won’t you draw near? Hebrews 4:16 says,
16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 NIV)
What is your need? He is able to meet your need. What is it that has you so stressed out? He is able to be your Safe Harbor on the turbulent seas of life. What is it that keeps you up at night? He is able to be your rest. You can bring your burden to Him knowing that He is able to do far more than you can even imagine, but you must come to Him. Won’t you do that right now?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 15, 2012