Who Am I 7) I Am Heard

I Am Heard

Text: Ephesians 3:14-21

 

Last week we looked at the fact that Paul is suffering for the gospel in prison. This week we’re going to look at the fact that while in prison Paul prays for the church in Ephesus. In the most difficult circumstances Paul prioritizes prayer. And as a church we also recognize the priority of prayer, in fact prayer is one of our six critical success factors. We’ve highlighted six things that we believe are critical to achieving our mission as a church. We believe that the only way we’re going to transform people’s lives is if we proclaim the gospel to them, what we call evangelism; if we teach them what it means to follow Jesus, what we call discipleship; and if we connect them into small groups. Fourthly, we will only achieve our mission if we raise up new leaders in our church. Fifthly, we really need to focus on making people feel they belong to our church, or hospitality. And finally, and most importantly, we believe that all of these things will only bear fruit if we bring them before God in prayer. We believe prayer is essential in fulfilling the mission of the church. It’s not for no reason that the only priorities of Jesus’ disciples was to ‘4 …give [their] attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. (Act 6:4)’ As Elders we made the decision last year to go from one meeting a month to two meetings a month, just so we could spend more time in prayer. Personally, this is the single greatest area that I need to grow in. l need to pray more.

And the reason why we pray is because we believe that God hears our prayers, that he cares about what we pray for, and that he answers our prayers. To the question: Who am I? As followers of Jesus we can answer: I am heard! This morning for my sermon I’ve pinched Mark Driscoll’s outline, which is the acronym P.R.A.Y.E.R. But before we start let’s stop and pray.

 

Dear Heavenly Father, as we discuss the topic of prayer this morning, we ask that Your Holy Spirit will work in us. Lord, we ask that Your Spirit will open up our minds so that we will grow in our understanding of who You are and how we can approach You in prayer. Lord, we ask that Your Spirit will open up our hearts, that You might convict us of our lack of intimacy with You, and that we may be challenged to pray without ceasing. Lord, help me to teach Your word faithfully, and help each person sitting here this morning to apply Your word to their lives. Lord, grow us in our commitment to talk to You through prayer. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

1) Personal

So PRAYER, the P in PRAYER stands for ‘personal.’ Prayer is personal. Paul starts, ‘14 For this reason I kneel… (Eph 3:14a)’ Paul isn’t encouraging others to pray here, this is Paul praying himself. This is Paul’s prayer on behalf of others. The first thing I want you to understand is that the point of prayer is that you talk to God. Prayer isn’t about others talking to God for you, it’s about you talking to God. Prayer is all about you and God. Prayer is personal.

a) What should you pray?

So what exactly can you pray about? Paul mentions his reasons for praying. And his reasons are what he has been talking about in his letter: How the Christians in Ephesus have received every spiritual blessing in Christ; how they have been saved by grace through faith in Christ; how they have been reconciled to one another and to God through Christ’s death on the cross; and maybe because Paul is in prison, and while he can’t physically be with them, he can certainly pray for them. But Paul gives us a number of other reasons why he is praying which we’ll look at in a moment. But in a nutshell, you can pray about pretty much anything. A classic guide to prayer is the acronym acts – adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Or I encourage you to study the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, what we call the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. You can talk to God about whatever is on your heart.

b) How should you pray?

But how should you pray? Should you kneel or stand or sit? Well in our text Paul kneels, or ‘bends the knee,’ as the Greek has it. But in Bible times kneeling to pray was rather unusual. The usual way to pray was to stand with arms raised. In Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector, ‘11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed… (Lk 18:11a)’ while ‘13 …the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even look up to heaven… (Lk 18:13a, cf. Mt 6:5; Mk 11:25)’ But despite the cultural norm there are no rules about how you should pray. You can pray kneeling or standing, sitting or walking, or even lying down. And you can pray anywhere. You can pray in the car, or at work, or at home, or in your bed. And you can pray anytime, in the morning, or at night, or any moment in between.

The point is: are you praying? Do you practice the personal discipline of prayer? If you were to rate your personal prayer life how would you rate it? One to ten, where would you put yourself? I rarely pray, I occasionally pray, I regularly pray, I constantly pray? This morning if I do nothing else I want to encourage you to pray.

 

2) Relational

Secondly, prayer is relational. Paul continues, ‘14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. (Eph 3:14-15)’ Probably one of the most important things to know about prayer is who you are praying to. When you pray, you are talking to God. And the most amazing thing for us as Christians is that God is our Father. People who go through difficult circumstances often cry out to God, ‘God help me!’ But Christians cry out to their dad. Jesus taught us to pray, ‘9 …Our Father in heaven… (Mt 6:9b)’ The key to prayer is understanding that in Christ God is no longer the God of wrath and judgment, rather he becomes our loving heavenly Father. The point of prayer is getting to know God as your heavenly Father. Prayer is all about talking to God like you would talk to your dad. Of course unlike our earthly fathers our heavenly Father is perfect. Some of us may have grown up without a dad at all, but according to the Bible God is, ‘5 A father to the fatherless… (Ps 68:5a)’ In Christ, God can be the father you never knew, God can be the father we always wanted.

So I want to ask you this morning: How do you see God? Do you see God as someone unapproachable, someone distant, or uncaring? Do you see God as just some force that you can manipulate if you do or say the right things? Or do you see God as your heavenly dad, someone who cares about you deeply, someone who wants you to come to him with your needs and concerns? And do you see prayer in terms of that relationship? Do you see prayer as one of the ways that you express your love for your heavenly Father? Do you see prayer as one of the ways you can develop your relationship with God? Prayer is relational.

 

3) Asking

Thirdly, prayer is about asking. Paul writes, ‘16 I pray that out of his glorious riches [God] may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Eph 3:16-17a)’ Paul is asking that God would do something for him. We call this type of prayer ‘supplication.’ Supplication basically means someone small asking someone big for help. And just in case you’re not certain – we’re the small people, the people in need, and God is the big person, the one with all the power and authority, the One who can meet our needs. And I want you to notice three things in Paul’s request.

a) God will strengthen them

Firstly, Paul asks that God will strengthen them. Paul is asking God to do something for someone else. We call this type of prayer, ‘intercessory prayer.’ Paul is interceding on behalf of the Christians in Ephesus. He asks God to strengthen them with power through his Spirit in their inner being. Basically, he’s asking God to fill their hearts with the Holy Spirit. Paul’s desire is that the Christians in Ephesus will experience the power of God at work in their lives. Paul knows that without God’s activity we can’t become the people that God desires. Like Paul, we know that we will never succeed in transforming people’s lives unless we ask God to transform them by the Holy Spirit. Real transformation only happens as God strengthens us with power through his Spirit in our inner being.

b) That Christ may dwell in their hearts

Secondly, Paul asks that Christ may dwell in their hearts. In fact, Christ dwells in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, so in a sense these two requests are really one request. That word ‘dwell’ is a significant one. In Greek there are two words that describe dwelling in a house. The first word is paroikeō. Paul uses it in chapter 2 verse 19 where he calls Gentiles, aliens. Sure they are living there, but they don’t belong there, they are foreigners. The other Greek word is katoikeō, which implies a sense of permanence, of belonging, and that’s the word Paul uses here. Jesus doesn’t come and live in our hearts like a stranger, or an alien, he’s not someone who doesn’t really belong. Rather Jesus comes to live in our hearts for good. Jesus makes his home in our hearts. Mark Driscoll talks about the difference between a hotel room and a home. You don’t bother to fix up a hotel room because you don’t plan to use it for very long, it’s just a place you’re passing through. But with a home it’s different. You want to leave your mark on your home. You want it to be comfortable. You want it to be how you like it, and so you make changes, you do some renovating, you knock stuff down, you add stuff, you repaint and redecorate. And that’s exactly what Jesus does in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. He starts to transform us so that we begin to look like him, so that he feels more and more at home in us. Paul knows that if we are to become the sort of people God wants, it will only happen if Jesus dwells in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

c) God’s glorious riches

And Paul asks for God to strength us by the power of the Spirit, and for Christ to dwell in us, not because we deserve it, but because of God’s glorious riches. Paul isn’t trusting in our inherent worthiness, rather he’s trusting in God’s extravagant grace, the fact that God has inexhaustible resources at his disposal and that he is incredibly generous with them. In fact, Paul is asking that God would give himself. Paul prays to God the Father, that God the Son, by God the Spirit, would dwell in our hearts so that he might give us the spiritual strength that we need.

So often we pray for stuff that, in the scheme of things, doesn’t really matter. But Paul cuts right to the chase, he asks for what really matters, the only thing that matters, that God’s people might be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus might dwell in their hearts. What is it that you pray for? Do you pray that you might be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit? Do you pray that Christ might dwell in your heart? Do you pray that your life might be transformed by God’s internal activity? And do you pray for those things for other people, for your brothers and sisters here at Westside, as well as your brothers and sisters in the wider church? What is it that you ask of God?

 

4) Yearning

The fourth thing that Paul says about prayer is that it is yearning. When Paul prays it isn’t some dry formal thing, he gets emotional. Paul expresses his heart for the Christians in Ephesus. He says, ‘17 …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... (Eph 3:17b-19a)’

a) To know Christ’s love

The first thing that Paul yearns for is that the Christians in Ephesus, and us sitting here today, may know Christ’s love. Paul talks about Jesus’ love for us in four ways.

i) Rooted in Christ’s love

Firstly, he reminds us that our lives are rooted in Christ’s love. Like a tree finds its stability and nourishment in the quality of the soil, so our lives find stability and nourishment in the love that Jesus displayed for us on the cross. Our prayer life is rooted in Jesus’ love for us. That’s why we say our prayers ‘in Jesus’ name.’ Our prayers are only possible because Jesus, out of his great love for us, died on the cross. It’s only because of our faith in Jesus’ death that it is possible to approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph 3:12).

ii) Established in Christ’s love

Secondly, Paul reminds us that we have been established in Christ’s love. In the Greek it’s: our lives have been built on a foundation of love. Jesus talked about how a wise person builds their house on a good foundation, on solid rock, while a fool builds their house on a bad foundation, on sand (Mt 7:24-27). As Christians the foundation of our lives is the love of Jesus displayed on the cross. If you build on any other foundation then what you have built will eventually crumble and fall.

iii) The extent of Christ’s love

Thirdly, Paul prays that we will know the extent of Christ’s love. Paul’s point is that ‘yes, you have been saved because of Christ’s love displayed on the cross, your life is rooted and established in love, but do you really grasp just how amazing that love really is? Do you grasp just how wide it is? It’s wider than east is from west, that’s how far he’s removed your sins through his blood shed on the cross. Do you grasp just how long it really is? It’s longer than the beginning of the universe to its end, in fact it will last all eternity. Do you grasp just how high it really is? It’s higher than the heavens are above the earth, in fact Jesus left the heights of glory and humbled himself to death on a cross. Do you grasp just how deep it really is? It’s deeper than the deepest sea, in fact because of his death our sins have been cast into a bottomless pit to be remembered no more. That’s why Paul prays for the power of the Spirit in our inner being, so that all the saints, so that every Christian, might understand the full extent of Christ’s love for us.

iv) The greatness of Christ’s love

Finally, Paul prays that we might understand the greatness of Christ’s love. According to Paul, Jesus’ love for us surpasses knowledge, it is beyond understanding. Maybe that’s what we’ll be doing for the rest of eternity, trying to understand and appreciate just how much God loves us in Jesus Christ.

The point is that Paul yearns that we might understand the love that Jesus displayed on the cross when he died for our sin. Is that what you yearn for, to understand Christ’s love for you? Is that what you yearn for your brothers and sisters in Christ, that they might understand Christ’s love for them? Is that what you yearn for the lost, that they might finally see Christ’s love displayed for them on the cross?

b) To be filled with God

Paul yearns that we might know Christ’s love, but he also yearns that we might be filled to the brim with God. Paul prays ‘19 …that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:19b)’ Paul has already made it clear that we have God living in us, but what he yearns for is that God will fill our lives in every way. If you look at a measuring jug you see lines all the way to the top. Paul’s desire is that we don’t just have a little bit of God, but that we are filled with God, that God influences every part of our lives, that God controls every decision that we make, that God is glorified in everything that we do. Paul prays that since we have God living in us that God would fill us.

Is that what you yearn for, that God would fill your life, that he will become everything? Is that what you pray for others, that instead of playing at being Christians they will give their lives to Christ? Our prayer for you, our desire, our vision, is that you will be transformed into a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, that you will understand Christ’s love for you, that you will be filled to the brim with God.

 

5) Expectations

Next, prayer is all about our expectations. When you pray do you expect only small things? Maybe you don’t expect anything at all? But when Paul prays he prays to the God ‘20 …who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine... (Eph 3:20a)’ Whatever it is that you’re asking God for He can do something even better. God can do more than you could even imagine. Paul wants us to pray big, because we believe in a big God. But then Paul talks about, ‘20 …[God’s] power that is at work within us. (Eph 3:20b)’ What God really wants to do is to change us. The ‘immeasurably more’ that Paul is thinking of is how much God can do in our lives. God wants to change your thinking. God wants to change your desires, and your appetites and your habits. God wants to change your relationships, your marriage, your work ethic. God wants to take people far from him and make them more like him. God wants to take sinners and turn them into saints. God wants to take people destined for hell and make them fit for heaven. One of the most exciting things I get to see is how God changes people’s lives. God turns anger into compassion. God turns addictions into freedom. God turns judgemental people into gracious people. God transforms people, and God can transform your life. Is that what you pray for, that God would transform your life, that he might do the impossible in you? Is that what you pray for other people, that God would transform their lives? And do you pray with great expectation, that God will not only answer your prayer, but that he will do even more than you asked or even imagined? Do you pray big and expect bigger?

 

6) Revealing

Finally, Paul says that prayer is revealing. Paul finishes his prayer with ‘21 to [God] be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Eph 3:21)’

a) God’s glory revealed in the Church

Firstly, Paul prays that God’s glory is revealed in the Church. Mark Driscoll talks about how glory is like reflected light. Like the sun reflects off water, so God’s glory, God’s character, ought to be reflected in our lives. And while that is true for each one of us individually, it’s even more true for the church. The Church should reflect God’s glory. When people look at us as a community of people they should see God’s character, his love and grace and sense of mercy and justice.

b) God’s glory revealed in Christ

In fact, we should reveal God’s glory in the same way that God’s glory is revealed in Jesus Christ. Elsewhere Paul calls Jesus ‘15 …the image of the invisible God… (Col 1:15a)’ And Jesus himself says, ‘9 …Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (Jn 14:9b)’ Jesus revealed to the world what God was like, because Jesus was God in the flesh, that’s what we celebrate at Christmas, the fact that God came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. So just as Jesus revealed God’s glory so we as individuals and as a church are to reveal God’s glory.

c) God’s glory revealed forever

Finally, Paul prays that God’s glory will be revealed forever. Paul’s ultimate desire is that God will be glorified for eternity.

Do you pray for God’s glory to be revealed? Do you pray, ‘God, it’s not about me, it’s not about what I want, it’s not about what’s easiest, it’s about what You want, it’s about what will bring glory to You’? Is that our prayer as a church? ‘It’s not about what makes us comfortable, or our personal likes or dislikes, it’s about what God wants, it’s about what brings God glory!’ How much are our prayers about us and what we want, instead of God and what he wants?

 

This morning I want you to know that in Christ God hears your prayers. So I encourage you to pray. Pray on your knees, pray standing up, pray in the car or in your office, pray in the morning or at night, whatever you do develop the personal practice of prayer. And pray to God as if was your dad, because in Christ he is. He loves you, and he cares about you, and he wants you to talk to him. And ask God stuff. Ask God that he will strengthen his people through his Spirit, and that Christ will dwell in their hearts. Ask God that people will grow in their understanding of Christ’s love, and that they will be filled to the brim with God. And when you ask expect God to do big things in your life. And when you pray, pray most of all that God’s glory will be revealed. Amen.

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