If our prayers perpetually sound like a shopping list to God, . . . What do our prayers say about our priorities?
~ View copy of sermon – (Ephesians 3: 14 – 21)
Sermon Title: IT ALL BEGINS WITH PRAYER / Ephesians 3: 14 – 21
Sunday, July 28, 2019
Ephesians 3: 14 – 21
Preached by Rev. Dr. Harold E. Kidd
IT ALL BEGINS WITH PRAYER
“For his reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man…” – Ephesians 3: 14-16
For the next three Sundays, I want to do a three-part Series on the Prayer life of Paul. We know Paul for many significant contributions in the growth of God’s kingdom. Amen. He was a church planter, a church builder, a preacher, a pastor, a Christian apologist making defense of the faith. He was a scholar writing approximately 13 of the letters in the New Testament. Paul was also, a great Prayer warrior. So many of his letters are seasoned with his prayers for the church.
Alexander McClaren, a noted preacher of the 19th century whose Sermons and books are still published today in one of his famous quotes said: “If you want to know what is in a person’s heart, what dominates their passion, concerns, priorities, listen to their prayers.” The contents of a person’s prayers are a fair thermometer of their spiritual condition. Our prayers disclose the treasures of our hearts.
If our prayers perpetually sound like a shopping list to God, rather than any extended periods just for praise, adoration and thanking God for all his blessings, it is a fair indication of where we are in our spiritual relationship with God. If our prayers are more grounded in God meeting needs than acknowledging God for His love and goodness that has already blessed our lives, then what does that say about our priorities?
What we are praying about says a lot about what’s important to us. As he was about to become king, God asked Solomon what he would ask of him, Solomon could have asked for anything, and because Solomon asked the Lord to give him wisdom so he might govern God’s people righteously, God was so impressed with the condition of his heart, that Solomon did not ask for himself but for wisdom on behalf of God’s people, God gave him what he did not ask for, riches beyond measure.
Jesus was obsessed with the will of God, and while He was in the Garden, He prayed “Let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but let Thy will be done O God.” Who we are shows up in our prayers. Ephesians is called one of Paul’s prison Epistles because he wrote it while he was in prison. What’s interesting about the majority of this letter, is that Paul in the letter does not focus on his own incarcerated condition which was by today’s standards far worse than, than it is now.
He is concerned about their unity, their growth in faith and in spiritual maturity. He is concerned for their understanding of all the riches of Christ they have received as heirs of the kingdom, amen, the moment they accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. So he wrote this letter. And as we move into the body of our text for this morning, Paul expresses his prayer in verses 14 – 21, because of his concern for them in verse 13. “Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”
Paul does not want them to be discouraged because of his imprisonment. When we have a heart for someone else or for the plight of others it can affect us. There are many today, who while not being in that number have been greatly affected in their hearts by the ICE raids on families seeking refuge here in the US. It can discourage you because of the reality of where it says this nation is going.
When someone we love is fighting the good fight of faith against some form of illness, it can discourage us, because we are aware of all they are going through just trying to make it. When we drive through our communities and cities and see a growing number of people living on the streets of our cities, it can become discouraging. The fact that our states and private industry are willing to spend more dollars in warehousing young black and brown men in prison as opposed to using these same dollars for education and career trades is discouraging. When we look at so many areas in our national life that could be better if our priorities were in the right place, giving value to people before profits, but is getting worse, it can discourage you.
So Paul’s prayer in verses 14ff is connected to his own current condition in verse 13. He’s more concerned about them than he is himself. Does not want them to become discouraged by his imprisonment but he wants them to be encouraged, because the afflictions which he is going through is in harmony with God’s will for the furtherance of the Gospel. Much like Dr. King who wrote Letter from a Birmingham Jail while he was in prison: rather than being on the constant go as a missionary from one region to another Paul’s imprisonment… is actually giving him time to write this much needed letter.
And notice what is the content of his prayer for them. “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.”
That He would grant you to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man and woman. He prays that they would be strengthened by the Spirit in the inner person. Paul recognizes that true strength that is able to carry one through the challenges and seasons of life is not obtained from the outside, but it comes from the inside. Our real strength does not come from our money or career or education, the people we know or the things we’ve accomplished.
It does not come from the outside. But from the inside through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Because the Spirit gives the fruits of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. The Spirit can give us the strength to love that overcomes hate. The strength to have some joy & soul peace in the midst of confusion and uncertainty.
The strength to possess courage in the midst of fearful and anxious situations. The Spirit gives us the strength in the fruit of self-control to say no when temptation come knocking at the door. And each victory will help you some other to win. So the Spirit strengthens us from the inside-out. And Paul prays that no matter the outward circumstances that could discourage them including his own imprisonment, they be strengthened in the inner man and woman.
She had it all, she was loved by millions, the voice of an angel, popularity, fame, Grammy awards, platinum albums, money, she was beautiful, yet she left us far too soon. When Kevin Costner spoke at Whitney Houston’s funeral, a part of his closing comments was: “The Whitney I knew, despite her success and worldwide fame, still wondered: Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me? It was the burden that made her great, and the part that caused her to stumble in the end.” But he closed in saying “Whitney you’re good enough.” What Whitney may not have realized is that God loved her just as she was, and with God it was never a case of her being good enough, or pretty enough.
When we try to live life from the outside-in, we can lose sight of the very strength God has made available to us from the inside out. When we live from the inside-out, based upon what God gives us by the Spirit in our inner being, our core, we discover no matter what, that we are good enough. So Paul prays that they would be strengthened by the Spirit in their inner being, the inner man and woman.
He prays that they be strengthened inwardly, but he doesn’t stop there. For he continues in this prayer for the church, “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints, what is the width and length and depth and height to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God”
“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” The secret of this strength is Christ dwelling in our hearts. Jesus will gladly come into our lives, if fact He’s waiting for us to invite Him in, He longs to have sweet communion and fellowship with His people, Yet, Jesus will not force Himself upon anyone nor demand we let him into our hearts and lives. In Revelations, 3: 20, Jesus is heard saying to His church, “Behold I stand at thee door and knock and if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to them, will sup with them and they with me.”
This Laodicean Church had become lukewarm, the Lord rebuked them because they were neither cold nor hot. Evidently, they had locked Him out. They were in the church, but He was not in them. One of the more famous paintings of this verse, is Jesus knocking at the door, but there is no doorknob or handle on the outside. Signifying that if Christ is to enter into our hearts, we must let Him in from our side.
Paul’s prayer was that Christ would make his home in the hearts of the believers. Not that he would be a periodic guest, or a frequent visitor, but that our hearts would become His home. His dwelling place, His abode. And when Jesus make His home in our hearts, we come to experience the fullness of His love for us.
His prayer is that we may be able to grasp the meaning of breadth, depth, length and height of God’s love which has no limitations. It’s as if Paul is inviting us to look at the universe -to the limitless heavens above, to the limitless horizons on every side, to the depth of the earth and seas beneath us, and understand “The love of Christ for us is a vast as that.”
In a world that is telling us more and more that we have little or no value. That people don’t matter. Taking a page from Kevin Costner’s remarks about Whitney Houston, Christ wants us to know that we are good enough, we are beautiful enough, that in the midst of our past sins and present inconsistencies, God still loves us with an everlasting love.
Paul is praying that we understand how very much God loves us, when we are in seasons when life is filled with more lemons than lemonade. There are still many people who have not yet received into their hearts the fact that “Jesus Loves them.” No person is outside the love of Christ. We may not be all that we can be or want to be, but in the fellowship of the church love of God says, you are loved!
Notice that Paul ends this 2-part petition with a doxology. Doxologies are short hymns of praises to God. When we begin our prayers with praise and end our prayers with praise it gives glory to God but it does something for our souls. It lifts the soul. It lifts our emotions. It takes us off of ourselves and puts our hearts at the very throne of God. When we pray a doxology. There really is no interpretation that is needed, because the doxology speaks for itself. Paul is in the middle of the letter, but stops to write, I just need to give God a praise report.
He may have got happy when he read what he wrote in chapters 1 -3 about majesty and excellency of God’s love give to us in Jesus“ Now unto Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.”: Amen.