The Priorities of Prayer.
What kinds of things do you pray for? What requests comprise your prayer life? If we made a transcript about the kinds of things for which you most frequently prayed… what would we conclude about your priorities, about what you think is most important? Health and healing from disease? The provision of money and daily necessities? The addition of more people to your church? Protection from your enemies? Deliverance from besetting woes or temptations? Listen, those are all good things to pray for. We see examples in the Bible of people praying for those kinds of things. But those shouldn’t be the only kinds of things that we pray for.
We get some insight into the way a pastor ought to pray for his church when we come to the letters of the apostle Paul. There Paul tells these churches that he loved… exactly how he prays for them. And he actually does this quite frequently, we couldn’t possibly consider all of them in the time that we allotted to us. And so let’s look at one prayer in particular that Paul records for us, in Eph. 1:15-23. Here we will see some of the priorities that ought to shape a pastor’s prayer life. Having meditated on the innumerable blessings that believers have received in Christ, Paul writes: “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 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, 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, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 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. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
There’s a lot that we could say, and Paul says a lot of wonderful things about the Lord here. But notice the things that he asks the Lord for: There in verse 17 he asks the Father to give them the Spirit. Not so that they can speak in tongues or perform miracles… but so that the Ephesians would know God better. Look at verse 17, he asks God to give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, or some translations say “so that you may know him better”. Paul wanted the church to know God better. And friends, that’s because one of the most important things in all of the world is for a Christian to know God better.
Many of the people in our churches are going to be tempted to settle for a lot less than that. You see, a lot of people settle for a lot less than knowing God. Many Christians have only the vaguest sense of who God is and how he relates to them. Other Christians settle for knowing a lot about God. They could teach a theology class or write a dissertation on the attributes of God. But that’s not what Paul is praying for here. He is praying not that they would know more about God… because just knowing a lot about God doesn’t mean that you know Him. It doesn’t mean that you live and love and suffer and rejoice and persevere in light of the precious relationship you have with your God. So Paul prays that the church would know him better. The word here in the original Greek for “knowledge” is epignosis. It means “deep, thorough, passionate knowledge”. Paul wants the Ephesians, with all of their faith and love, to know him deeply and better. And so that must be our priority as well.
Pastor, ask the Holy Spirit, the spirit of wisdom and revelation, to build up your church’s knowledge and understanding of God! Let nothing deter you from this pursuit. Don’t waste your life chasing miraculous signs and gathering crowds. Go hard after knowing God. Pray for it, look for it, invest your life to get it for yourself and to help others get it as well. But it’s not just a vague knowledge of God in the abstract that interests Paul. No… he prays that they would have knowledge, and in verse 18 he says it another way: he prays that their eyes might be enlightened. He prays that they would have new eyes. He prays that they would have new vision.
Specifically, he prays that they would see three things. First, that they would see the hope to which he has called them. Usually we think of hope as being something, a sort of wild-eyed desire for something uncertain. But for the Christian, our hope is rooted in something rock solid. Our hope is rooted in God’s election before the foundation of the world, it is sealed in us by the Holy Spirit, the down payment of the future blessing that we will receive. God has called us, and for that reason we have hope that we will go to be with him in heaven, that we will see God and be free from sin and death forever. God will one day wipe every tear from our eyes. That is our hope; that is what we know we have in Christ. According to I Peter 1:3, we have a “living hope”. According to Titus 2:12, it is a “blessed hope”. According to Hebrews 6:11, it is a “sure” hope.
Friends, this hope makes all the difference. We live in a world where we rarely think about the future and we never think about eternity. But it’s our hope for the future that is key to the Christian life. It gives us the power to endure difficulties and losses here in this life. Hebrews 11 talks about the saints of the OT who endured difficulty with faith, because they trusted that the world was not their home, that the Lord was preparing a better place for them. And so Paul prays for the church to have eyes to see… to really truly know the hope they have in Christ.
The second thing that Paul wants them to see is God’s riches. Look at the end of verse 18. This is an amazing truth. Paul prays that the church at Ephesus to have their eyes opened to the fact that God considers his church to be his inheritance. Paul is praying that the church will appreciate the value that God places on them. Think of it, God owns the entire universe. Everything that exists, the Taj Mahal and the Hope Diamond. But we are his treasure. He bought us with the precious blood of his beloved Son. He looks at us and considers himself rich.
And Pastor, I hope that I don’t have to remind you that God doesn’t treasure us because anything in us is so lovely. We aren’t God’s treasure because you’re so clever and handsome. We are God’s treasure because he chose to love us. He decided to love us and treasure us because he did. This should move us to wonder, to awe, to love and gratitude towards God. And it should move us to pray for an ever-increasing sense that we are loved like this.
Well, the third thing that Paul prays the Ephesians would know is the great power of God. Look at verses 19-20. Paul is stacking up his synonyms here, trying to give some sense of expression to these truths which can’t be captured by human language. Paul talks about the immeasurable greatness of his power, the working of his great might. And where is this power most clearly seen? In the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. What power could possibly bring a man back to life after being crucified? None on earth certainly. Only heavenly power could raise Jesus from the dead – and that’s exactly what happened. We might be tempted to doubt God’s power. Does God have the power to help you? You struggle with besetting sins… does God have the power to change you. You have difficult relationships… Does God have the power to help? Your children are struggling, your job is in limbo, your health is failing… Does God have the power to help? Look to the resurrection. Look to Easter and the risen Christ. If God the Father can raise Jesus from the dead, can there be anything in your life that God can’t handle? God doesn’t simply have enough power. He has immeasurable riches according to the working of his might. He has all of the power and strength you could ever dream of!
Later on in Ephesians 3:20, Paul writes “God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” This resurrection power is at work for us and in us. It has saved us from our sins, it is sanctifying us, making us holy. But most of the people in our churches live like it were not so. Because of ignorance or disbelief or sin they live like a power tool that’s not plugged in.And so we must labor to help them make the connection… and we must pray that God would make it happen.
Friends, can you see what Paul is praying for the church? He prays that their eyes would be enlightened to hope, riches and power. He doesn’t pray that they would be given these things. He doesn’t pray that they would receive these things or that they would someday come into these things. No, he prays that they would have eyes to see what they already have! They already have every spiritual blessing in Christ (1:3). They have hope, they have an inheritance in heaven, they are God’s treasure, they have God’s power working on their behalf.
Pastor, your church has all of these things. Every spiritual blessing. The resurrection power of God. All of it is there for them. All they need are the eyes to see it. Think about a problem in your church right now… a situation that seems like it could never end well…. a situation where your pastoral capacities are being stretched. Could you begin to pray, along with Paul, that those people (if they are indeed in Christ) would begin to see the great love of God, the unshakeable hope that we have in Him, and his immeasurable power to change us? Could you begin to pray for yourself, that you would shepherd the flock of God… seeing them this way and seeing yourself this way? God has promised to be there for you with everything you need because he loves you in Christ. Pray that God would give you and your people new eyes. Pray along with Paul that your eyes would be enlightened so that you can see what you already have in Christ.
Pastoral ministry is hard work. We are inadequate for the task. But we have a God who is more than able to do far beyond all that we ask or imagine. And so we should be driven to pray. And let’s do that now.
Mike McKinley serves as the senior pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church