Series Title: Our identity in Christ
Message: ‘Prayer for the Church’
Text: Ephesians 3:14-21
Introduction: I found this story in ‘Our Daily Bread’ It’s not going to happen, Aunt Julie. You might as well erase that thought from your mind.” “I know it’s unlikely,” I said. “But it’s not impossible.”
For several years, my niece and I have had variations of that conversation regarding a situation in our family. The rest of the sentence, which I said only occasionally, was this:
- I know it can happen because I hear stories all the time about how God makes impossible things happen.
The part of the sentence I said only to myself was this: “But they happen only in other people’s families.”
Recently my pastor has been preaching from the book of Ephesians. At the end of every service, we say this benediction: PP: Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20–21, ESV)
This was the year God chose to do “immeasurably more” in my family.
- He replaced indifference with love.
How did He do it? Beats me. But I saw it happen. And why should I be surprised?
- If Satan can turn love into indifference, certainly God can change indifference back into love. (Julie Ackerman) (End Quote)
Some of you have been telling me things here will never be the same when I retire. And you know what? That’s absolutely true.
- I’ve been praying that things will be different… God’s heart is to always do a new thing in the church, to move us further towards the purpose He has for CBC.
And that can only be done with a new vision, a new sense of servanthood, a new priority of Christ and yes, a new pastor.
But it will be a transition, perhaps a difficult one, in some ways. So,
- how do we get through this transition,
- how do we continue to follow God’s guidance,
- how do we look for and call a new pastor?
PP: Prayer my friends, lots and lots of prayer. That’s what we’ll see in our text.
Truth is, when a pastor retires or moves on to a different church, churches often experience; infighting, power grabs, offerings drying up, servants refusing to serve.
- And more often than not, it’s because of a lack of prayer for the church, by the church…
- and remember, you, each one of you are the church, you… are CBC.
So, what is it that will need to change to make CBC
- a lighthouse to the lost,
- a shelter to those who feel they don’t belong
- a place of healing for the broken
- and a place of respite and joy for the saved?
ILL: PP: Francis Chan once wrote: “Years ago, my friend from India drove me to a speaking engagement in Dallas. When he heard the music and saw the lights, he said “You Americans are funny. You won’t show up unless there’s a good speaker or band. In India, people get excited just to pray.” (Jeff Strite) (end quote)
Prayer my friends, prayer is what will make a difference here at CBC in the coming months and years.
Background: The Christians in the church at Ephesus were facing a particularly difficult time.
We read about that last Sunday. They were about to lose heart. Pastor Ray Steadman explains it this way:
- PP: When an athlete is in an endurance contest of some kind, he presses on and on, though his legs begin to turn to rubber and his breath comes heavily and he experiences real physical pain. He keeps going nevertheless. And when he finishes, we say, “What a great heart he’s got. He’s got the morale, the stamina, to stay with it.”
- PP: But when you lose heart — you lose stamina, you lose morale. You come to the place where you say, “What’s the use?
- Why keep going? I can’t make it.” And you give up.
That’s what Paul sensed was about to happen there in Ephesus. They were about to give in, lose heart. So he says, “I am concerned. Don’t lose heart. The situation isn’t the way you think it is.”
And, as we have seen, he teaches them some wonderful truths to show them why they ought not to lose heart. (end quote)
Then he closes with the great prayer that’s our text this morning. PP:
Friends, God doesn’t want you to lose heart just because I’m retiring. God will be doing a new thing… and He wants you to see it. And the instrument He has given to us to see what He’s about to do.. is prayer.
Transition: Open your Bibles to Ephesian 3:14 where we’ll find Paul’s prayer for the church. I want to say that the outline for this message is from Warren Wiersbe. I believe he saw that the heart of this text, is prayer.
- Ephesians 3:14-15 The Invocation
PP: For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.
For what reason? So that they might not lose heart. Chapter three verse one starts the same way. It seems Paul took a bit of a bunny trail in verses 2-13.
- In verse 14 he gets back to addressing what he said in verse 13…So I ask you not to lost heart.
What was his answer to not losing heart?
- Let me tell you a few things about how Paul starts his prayer for the church.
This is Paul’s Invocation, the beginning of his prayer for the church and it starts as all Invocations do, by centering on God.
Paul writes: I bow my knees before the Father. Bowing in prayer is a sign of humility.
- PP: James 4:6 says God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
- It’s only when we approach God in prayer, humbly, that we receive His grace, and help.
- Now, we don’t have to bow when we pray, but it is the image Paul wanted to show us that reflects the importance of humility in prayer.
Paul then calls God, Father. PP: He does that 42 times in his letters. It’s the same word Jesus used when He referred to God.
- It shows a special intimacy that was unknown to the religions of Paul’s day, or ours.
It shows to Whom we pray. We don’t sit around a dinner table and just say what we’re thankful for. We say to Whom we are thankful.. and that’s God our Heavenly father, from whom all good things come.
Paul adds from Whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. The context is the church, the families mentioned here are the multitude of local churches all over the world. And he’s telling all of them that there are no division in the Church… we are all one family.
- No male/female, no Jew/Gentile, no black/white, no Asian/Pilipino, no old/young, no rich/poor, no divisions, none.
- We are all one family because God has made us all one in Christ Jesus.
Transition: When we pray for the church for this church, always remember to start with God, our Heavenly Father and that we come to Him humbly.
- In verses 16-19 we’ll find Paul’s petitions or requests to God for the church.
- Ephesians 3:16-19 The Petition
PP: That according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Paul focuses on the spiritual needs of the church with the belief that when God answers them, the people will choose to follow God’s leading in all the other matters. Remember that’s Jesus’s example of prayer:
- But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
That’s not to say we don’t pray for healing, other physical things. It’s to say that our first priority in prayer is the spiritual health of the church.
Next notice that Paul acknowledges how His prayer requests will be answered.
Crying out to God, His Father, he says it would be according to the riches of His glory He may grant you. This tells me a few things:
- Every good and perfect gift comes from God our Father.
- God’s resources to help and provide for us are limitless.
- And we receive answers to our prayers, because God grants them to us, He chooses to bless us out of love. We deserve nothing. It’s all grace.
Then Paul begins to make his requests.
First: to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith
Christians… get weary, confused, they lose heart, their faith becomes weak, unable to handle what the world throws at them.
- Paul’s asking God to build their faith, to strengthen them, on the inside; their will, their mind, their heart.
So that they’ll remain faithful, to stand up under trials, to have victory over temptation, to serve passionately, and to live reflecting Jesus to others.
What Paul’s requesting here is not that the Holy Spirit would indwell Christian, no, we have the Holy Spirit in us by faith in Jesus.
- What’s he’s requesting is that the power of the Holy Spirit in us, would be unleashed into our lives.
I’m compelled to mention this… Faith.
- PP: Faith in Jesus is not passive, it’s not Jesus take the wheel.
No. It’s an active, it’s linked in the Bible to obedience.
- It’s making daily choices to obey God, to depend upon God in each and every circumstance of life,
- and then act in a way that’s consistent with God’s Word and leading.
PP: Paul’s main idea here I believe is this, he’s praying that we, the local church, would have a life empowered by the Holy Spirit, one that’s totally dependent upon God, so that we would live a life of…faith.
Second, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
Paul’s talking about God’s love for us, about the love of Jesus… for us.
- You see, it’s our belief that God loves us, that grounds us, that’s the deep roots that hold us steady in life’s storms.
- It’s Jesus’ love for us that’s our sure foundation when all else around us is crumbling apart.
As best as we can this side of Heaven, Paul’s asking God to help us understand, us individual and us plural,
- the fullness, the completeness, the unequalled, incomparable love that Jesus has
- for you, individually and corporately as His church.
Friends, this the language of a heart, the cry of passion that
- desires only God, seeks only God, needs only God.
And that passion, overflows when Paul speaks of Jesus’s love for us in very broad categories: breadth and length and height and depth. These are not meant to be literal, it’s the language of passion.
- It’s meant for us to see, to know, to understand as best as we can,
- the fullness, the completeness, and the endlessness of God’s love for us.
ILL: Our Daily Bread gives us this example of what that kind of love looks like: PP: In 1826, the British author Thomas Carlyle (boy he looks like a charmer) married Jane Welsh, who also was an accomplished writer.
She dedicated herself to his success and served him wholeheartedly. Because of a stomach ailment and a nervous disorder, he had a rather ornery temperament. So she made special meals for him and tried to keep the house as quiet as possible so he could do his writing.
Thomas didn’t often recognize Jane’s helpful spirit nor did he spend much time with her. However, he wrote this about her to his mother: “I may say in my heart that she . . . loves me with a devotedness which is a mystery to me how I have ever deserved. She . . . looks with such soft cheerfulness into my gloomy countenance, that new hope passed into me every time I met her eye.”
We too have Someone who loves us with a devotedness that is a mystery how we as sinners ever deserved it! He is God the Father, “who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). His love is wide, long, deep, and high and exceeds our knowledge (Eph. 3:18-19).
Understanding and appreciating God’s love is so vital that Paul prayed for the Ephesians to be “rooted and grounded” in it. May that be our experience as well. (Anne Cetas) (end quote) PP:
Paul writes and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. He’s saying look, I… I just can’t… there aren’t the right words to express the love Jesus has for you and me, for us, for those who have placed their faith in Him.
- And then he adds what seems like the impossible.
Third, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. What a… prayer request.
- Can anyone understand all that it means?
- Have you ever prayed that for someone?
Paul’s praying that God would fill every part, ever area of their lives. That all of what God wants to be in us, would take up residence in our lives.
- The idea is we dwell with God, we walk with God, we live with God, we have deep fellowship with God… it’s God holding nothing back of what He wants for us…in us.
Christian, someone once said that PP: We are containers for God to fill with His presence.
- We need to let that sink in…
Transition: Paul has come to the end of his prayer for the church. And it’s… well there are no words except those Paul gives us.
- Ephesians 3:20-21 The Benediction
PP: Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
We’ve reached the great benediction of Paul’s prayer and what heights it takes us into God’s unimaginable love for us.
What we find here is a doxology of praise to God. It’s full of language that’s rich and weighty that comes from a heart that knows full well the wonder and blessings of God’s love.
It first recognizes God as the all powerful One, the only one who can do far more than we can ever hope or imagine…
- I don’t know about you, but I have a pretty good imagination. But I still have no true idea of all that God can and wants to do for me.
Paul then tells us that the power to receive all that God wants for us, is already in us, already working in us to conform us to the image of Christ.
In fact, in Ephesians 4:13-16 Paul will tell us more about that:
until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him Who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
There Paul’s speaking to us individually as Christians and corporately as His body, the church. I can’t wait to get to that text.
Paul’s praying that God’s glory will not only be present in the church, but that it will be displayed to all, for all time.
- Friends, the church, the local church, CBC is the place where God’s glory dwells, it’s the place God’s glory is to be revealed to the lost and dying world around us.
Paul is continuing to raise the importance of the church to an even greater level than he did in verses 1-13.
- The church, the local church is not insignificant nor is it optional.
- It’s the place God’s glory dwells,
- It’s the place the manifold wisdom of God’s grace is revealed.
- The church, the local church is not insignificant nor is it optional.
Conclusion: PP: Paul’s prayer is that the local church, made up of followers of Jesus, will not lose heart, will not give up.
- That God would pour out the knowledge and experience of His love to His people,
- so that they would be a light of hope for a world living in the darkness of sin.
I found this summary of Paul’s prayer in Barclay’s Daily Bible Study. ILL: Let us think of Paul’s glorious picture of the Church.
- This world is not what it was meant to be; it is torn in sunder by opposing forces and by hatred and strife. Nation is against nation, people against people, class against class.
- Within our own self the fight rages between the evil and the good.
- Christ uses the Church to go out and tell the lost of His love and of His mercy. And the Church cannot do that, until its members, joined together in fellowship, experience the limitless love of Christ. (adapted)
Folks, are you excited about the unlimited possibilities before you today? Are you trusting God to meet, not only your needs, but also the needs of our local church?
How about we all start praying like Paul did… for this local church..
- That God would show us His love, His grace and His much needed wisdom,
- as we move forward to find the man God has planned to lead this church, His church.
We do all of that, believing that God PP: is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us
And that in the process, God’s love might overflow flow not only in our own hearts but between us, as we seek to serve God and one another here at CBC… for God’s glory.
Look, life at CBC after I’m retired will not be the same… thank God for that.
He has something wonderful prepared for this small but amazing church. Trust Him. Because God loves His church. PP: