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Connections between the Bible and prayer: Two prayers in Ephesians

Saturday October 6 2018

Connections between the Bible and prayer: Two prayers in Ephesians

Of all the letters in the New Testament attributed to the Apostle Paul (ranging from Romans through Titus), Ephesians is unique because it contains two prayers. The prayer in the first chapter comes after a dozen beautiful verses about the blessings God has given us in Christ: adoption, grace, redemption, riches, an inheritance, and the Holy Spirit.

The prayer begins in verse 15:

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1:15-19)

The prayer builds on the previous paragraph of the letter because it refers back to the “riches of his glorious inheritance.” I find myself wondering how often I ask, as I pray for myself or others, that we might become increasingly aware of the inheritance we have received as adopted children of God and adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus.

In addition to an awareness of this glorious inheritance, the prayer focuses on enlightened hearts so that we might know the hope we have been called to and the greatness of God’s power for us. I do pray for hope and for power for myself and others, but not as often as I might. In this time of so much fear and despair, praying for hope for many of the people in my life would be a good idea.

Many aspects of this prayer are worth pondering as a fuel for our own prayers. If I were to pray for a “spirit of wisdom and revelation” for myself and others as we grow in our knowledge of God, what would I hope for as the outcome of that wisdom and knowledge? Paul has given three things he hopes the Colossians would know because of increasing wisdom and knowledge – hope, their inheritance in Christ, and God’s power.  In 2018, what do we need to know as a result of increased wisdom and knowledge of God? What words would we use to pray for those things?

Paul’s second prayer in Ephesians comes in chapter 3:

“I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power 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, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)

I memorized this prayer many years ago, and I have prayed this prayer for myself and for others many, many times. The second sentence – focused on power, Christ’s indwelling, faith, and love – is appropriate to pray for so many people in so many places of need.

The third sentence is delightfully circular. This part of the prayer always makes me smile. Paul is praying that we would comprehend something that he considers to be incomprehensible: God’s love. This sentence seems to me to capture something so significant about life in Christ. As days and months and years pass, as we try to abide in Christ, we grow in experiencing God’s love in new areas of our life. As we grow, we realize God’s love is even bigger than we can imagine, comprehend or experience.

I love the addition of “with all the saints” in the last sentence of the prayer. We learn to know God’s love in community with other followers of Jesus. That phrase motivates me to pray thankfulness prayers for the people in my life who have nurtured, and continue to nurture, my faith.

As I write this blog post, I am praying for my readers: “I pray that you may have the power 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, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18 and 19).

(Next week: more about Paul's prayers. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

I’m still trying to get out the word about my new book, Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century. Please let the pastoral care people at your church know about it. There are some clear and helpful reviews of the book on the amazon.com page. Just click on the book title in the first line of this paragraph.

Previous posts in this series:

          Connections between the Bible and prayer    
          The character of God and prayer      
          The context of the Lord’s Prayer                
           Instructions from the Apsotle Paul                   
           Paul's prayer in Colossians                        



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