Summary: Paul helps us understand what a privilege prayer is.
The new church treasurer was struggling to open a combination lock on the offering safe. He had been told the combination, but couldn’t quite remember it. Finally he went to the pastor and asked for help. The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial. After the first two numbers he paused and stared blankly for a moment. Finally he looked serenely heavenward and his lips moved silently. Then he looked back at the lock, and quickly turned to the final number and opened the safe. The treasurer was amazed. “I’m in awe of your faith, Pastor,” he said. “Oh, it’s really nothing,” the pastor answered. “The combination is printed on a piece of tape on the ceiling.”
I didn’t quite know how to start today’s sermon about prayer so I looked up prayer jokes online. As you can imagine, there are a lot of them. It seems that to many prayer itself is a joke. After all you can’t see the God to whom you are supposedly speaking, and how often has this God answered your prayers? Isn’t prayer nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of those who offer them? Since I assume that you are all Christians, you would never agree with observations like that. However, if we are so certain that God hears and answers our prayers, why aren’t we more fervent in our prayer life? Why is prayer often an afterthought? As we continue our sermon series on the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul will give us a God’s-eye view of prayer so that we better appreciate this unique gift and privilege.
When you pray, what kind of posture do you adopt? Do you fold your hands, close your eyes, and bow your head? That seems to be the most common practice in our circles. Listen to the posture Paul said he adopted when he prayed. “For this reason I kneel before the Father…” (Ephesians 3:14). Paul wasn’t the only one to kneel when he prayed. Jesus did that when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his death. And an early church historian reports that the Apostle James spent so much time on his knees in prayer that his knees were as calloused as those of a camel! Although I’m not suggesting that kneeling is the only posture we may adopt when we pray, we should at least consider why Paul and others would take such a prayer posture. By kneeling what were they saying about the God to whom they spoke? Weren’t they confessing that he was their Lord and that they were his servants?
Is that our attitude when we approach God in prayer, or do we treat him like a restaurant waiter who we expect to do our bidding? And once God has done what we have asked him to, do we expect him to keep his nose out of our business, the way we expect a restaurant waiter to refrain from hovering over our table while we’re eating? But God is not our waiter whose sole purpose is to do our bidding. Paul said about God at the end of today’s text: “…to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:21).
God is the one that every person of every generation is to glorify and serve. Therefore Paul’s prayer posture is one that we might consider adopting. Even if we can’t physically get down on our knees, we certainly can mentally do that when we approach God in prayer. We will want to do this, for we are not God’s equal. He is our Creator. He is our Lord. He is the one we are to serve with all our lives.
So does that mean we should stop praying to God while dressed in our PJs, head on our pillows, and half asleep? Bedtime prayers are a staple in Christian homes. But are they really appropriate? I mean would you ever address the Prime Minister dressed in your PJs, head on your pillow, and half asleep? You would if the Prime Minister was also your father! And isn’t that what Paul called God, his “Father”? This is the interesting thing about prayer. While we want to be humble in the way that we approach God because he is our Lord, since he is also our Father we can approach him without fear, confident that it’s OK to fall asleep in his arms, as we often do when we fall asleep in the middle of our bedtimes prayers.
There is no better place to be than in the arms of our heavenly Father, for Paul wrote: “[He] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Isn’t that a stunning verse? No matter how good your imagination, no matter how ridiculous your prayer requests may seem, God has the power to deliver and do even more than we ask! But if that’s true, why doesn’t God answer more of our prayers? Although Paul said that God can do more than we can ever imagine, he didn’t say that God would do whatever we ask. That’s because not everything we ask for is what’s best for us. And so just as your earthly father didn’t buy you a candy bar every time you asked for one, though he could have, so our heavenly father doesn’t say “yes” to every request we make of him because he knows the things that we ask for aren’t always for the best.