How Are Paul’s Prayers Different Than Our Prayers?
As a celebration for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary my husband, Gary and I saved, sacrificed, and trained to carry backpacks across Italy on a Eurail Pass. Now, that Gary has graduated to heaven I am especially grateful we took the time and the money to take such a priceless trip. While we were in Rome after seeing the catacombs and the coliseum, we decided to visit the Mamertine Prison where both the Apostles Paul, and Peter were separately imprisoned. I can’t even imagine writing a positive message from that deep hole, and yet Paul did. The ceiling was, so low neither Gary nor I had the ability to stand up straight in the cell. At the top of the ceiling in the center was a round hole that was Paul’s only window or light source, and when it rained it became his leaky roof.
When Paul chooses words like “riches or lavished” in the book of Ephesians to describe the abundance and unmerited spiritual wealth we find in Christ, it is easy for us to forget he is writing from a rotten prison. Paul’s heart was so enthralled with Jesus his mind became fixed on eternity, because of this he often overlooked his earthly troubles. Look at his prayer in Ephesians 1:15-23
15) For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16) I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17) that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18) having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19) and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20) that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21) far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22) And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23) which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all. ESV
How is Paul’s prayer different than our prayers?
When we analyze Paul’s prayer we see him asking God for spiritual blessings to be given to the church in Ephesus. We also seek spiritual blessings in our prayers, but if we are honest we would see that most of our prayers are consumed with asking for God’s intervention in temporal needs. Did the church in Ephesus not have worldly needs? Oh yes they did, the believers in Ephesus had some serious problems. In the book of Acts we learn that the great city of Ephesus was the epicenter for the worship of the goddess Artemis. People came from throughout the known world to this port city in Asia minor, which is modern day Turkey, to worship and purchase idols of Artemis. When the silversmiths discerned Paul’s teaching would destroy their ability to market Artemis’ image a riot broke out in Ephesus and a great uproar filled the city. The Ephesians felt the veneration of idols were essential to a strong economy in their city and this attitude made the life of the believers in Ephesus much more difficult. This conflict is only one example of the intense religious persecution the early church would suffer under the Romans, and yet Paul does not ask God to free the Ephesians from this trial in his prayer. Why?
Paul believed spiritual blessings were more important than temporal blessings. Remember, Paul is writing this prayer from a less than ideal location, prison. Let me be clear it is never wrong to ask God to meet our physical needs, it is just curious that in this prayer and the other one in Ephesians 3:14-21. Paul only asked for spiritual blessings. Do you think that while Paul physically suffered for his faith he gained a special insight?
Paul knew that inner spiritual strength was more important than having our troubles disappear. He knew that spiritual blessings would strengthen us now, so we could not only endure the trials of this world, but would even show us the riches of eternity.
1) God wants us to know what is the hope to which he has called us.
Our hope is that the God who created the universe can be known. And, that specifically he desires to know us! The Greeks had more than one word to describe “knowledge”. In verse 18 the Greek word translated “know” means: to understand, to recognize, come to know, or to experience. The hope to which God has called us needs to be understood, it needs to be recognized, and even experienced and felt. This phrase, “the hope to which we have been called” is an interesting phrase to explore because we know from verse 15 that the believers in Ephesus already possessed a substantial faith in Christ Jesus that Paul admired and they had readily shown a deep love for all the saints. But, Paul wanted more for these believers.
Why would Paul want their knowledge of this hope to grow?
Paul knew that experiencing this hope would give their hearts greater courage. Jesus’ call is a call to a relationship with him. God is always pursuing us and even after he has caught us he wants us to come to know him deeper. Sometimes scripture calls this pursuit “eternal life” and sometimes it is referred to as “the abundant life”. For example in John 17:3 Jesus said, “And, this is eternal life that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ who you have sent.” ESV Eternal life is more than a spot we reserve for ourselves in heaven when we die. Eternal life is a relationship that starts on this earth, but extends into eternity and will last forever. Paul wants our faith in Jesus to grow and become our heart’s desire. Paul knows if our perception of this undying hope increases it will make a huge difference in how we live out our lives in the present. Paul who writes from a damp prison truly understands the liberating effects of this eternal hope.
God loves us and we will never mature past our need to acknowledge his loving nature. Our infant faith must enlarge to an emotional rest where we are convinced God is for us no matter what the circumstances are that we are living with.
2) God wants us to know what the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints are.
Who is doing the inheriting in this prayer? This is the important question. If we look at how the word “inheritance” is used through out the New Testament and in Paul’s other writings (Ephesians 1:14, 5:5, Colossians 1:12) we see the inheritors are the believers of Christ. For example in Ephesians 1:14 we read this about the Holy Spirit, “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it…” ESV Paul is teaching that Christ followers are the inheritors and the Holy Spirit who lives within us is our guarantee we will come into this spiritual wealth.
What are these glorious riches we inherit in Christ? Look at Paul’s words to the elders of the church in Ephesus in Acts 20:32. “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” ESV Paul is asking that we would experience the rich legacy of relationships, teaching, comfort, help and support we find among the body of Christ.
We are endowed with these riches when we participate in the fellowship among those saints who are being sanctified. Ours is a joint inheritance where we learn to rely on and bless each other. The word “sanctified” begs for a definition and sometimes the simple definition is the best. To be sanctified is to become what we already are in God’s eyes. When God looks at us he see us through Jesus’ glorious work on the cross. The word “Saint” in the scriptures is not used to describe extraordinary Christians, but every day believers. It is this transforming power of Christ’s sacrifice that invites us into sainthood, not our behavior. Sanctification is the lifelong process of growing to look like Jesus. Someday in heaven we will all perfectly reflect Jesus’ image. Today, Paul desires our hearts would be enlightened so we could begin drawing on this inheritance while we still walk upon the earth.
Even in our conflicts with each other our lives can be enriched as we grow and learn how to relate to each other with greater honesty, kindness and emotional strength. In Prov. 27:17 the Bible says, “Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another.” ESV One of the more painful aspects that Covid inflicted on us was our isolation and separation from our faith community.
In Christ, I have inherited a wealth of spiritual and physical resources to help me survive and process the death of my husband. And, all these riches have passed to me through the hands of loving Christians. Whether it is my friend Jenny coaching me on how to buy my first car without my husband, or my brother-in-Christ, Rick, stepping forward to sell my camping trailer on Craig’s list, the support of the saints of God have deeply enriched my life and met my needs. Like the hope to which he has called us, we begin enjoying our inheritance in Christ while we still reside on the earth. It is also a blessing of eternity.
Another way we can gain access to this spiritual wealth is by studying the writings and the lives of the saints who have gone before us, or who might come from a different culture. Writers of past generations or from another country will expose us to biblical truths that are often neglected in our day. Reading truthful biographies of flawed individuals will enrich our lives. Digging into church history will unveil the commonness of all our struggles. Trust me, there is a glorious inheritance of wisdom, courage and experience in the trials of the saints that will protect us, and we can emotionally relate too. Can you imagine the leisurely conversations we will someday enjoy with spiritual greats like the Apostle Paul, Hudson Taylor, Corrie ten Boom or Elizabeth Elliott? If I could recommend only one book on Christian history it would be a biographical history of missions by Ruth Tucker, called From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. Tucker’s honest portrayal of imperfect people that God’s still chose to use was liberating for me.
3) God wants us to know the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.
Paul wants our hearts opened to this power. Have we truly experienced this immeasurable power? God wants us to have confidence in his strength. After Paul makes this statement he is now going to describe the power of God. Look again at Ephesians 1:19-21.
19) and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20) that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21) far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. ESV
This is the dynamic power God employed to raise Jesus from the dead and then, seated him above all earthly and spiritual powers. And like our inheritance, and the hope to which he has called us, we become versed in this resurrection power while we still live on earth. In the glory of heaven we will more fully know it when we are truly raised from the dead, but our learning experiences begin now. What a great prayer Paul has prayed here.
God wants us to know three things
1) what is the hope to which we have been called – our hope that the God who created the universe desires a relationship with us,
2) what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints – a joint inheritance we only experience as we live among other Christ followers, and
3) what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.
Why is it significant that we begin owning these spiritual riches on earth before we die?
How can we now more fully explore this inheritance found among the saints?