Summary: Paul's second prayer for the church in Ephesus is a great model of how we can pray for our church and for other churches today, for God to strengthen his people with power.
PRAYING FOR THE CHURCH
We’ve now come to the sixth and last in our mini-series on prayer. We first looked at Gideon’s prayer for guidance. Then we spent two weeks on the Lord’s Prayer. Then we had two weeks on Daniel’s prayer of confession on behalf of his people. Today we’re going to look at one of Paul’s prayers for a church. Specifically, it’s the second of two prayers Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus.
All the prayers we’ve looked at have given us models for how we should pray. But the prayer that we’re looking at today is a model for how to pray that we, as western Christians, need to particularly give attention to.
I mentioned in one of my earlier talks that in the past four years, three surveys have been carried out in the UK to find out HOW MUCH Christians pray. Each survey found that about 30% of people who say they are Christians in the UK say they don’t pray! It’s like being married but never talking to your wife or husband. That would indicate that the marriage is really dead.
But what about the Christians who do pray? How do they pray? What do they pray for?
In the UK the organization TearFund commissioned a survey in 2017 which asked questions about how people pray. It used closed-ended questions, so people’s choices were limited, but the survey included the choice of praying ‘For the activities of your local place of worship.’ Out of all the options, this was the area that people prayed about least.
[Slide, survey results. Included at the end (A)]
So, it rather looks as though praying for our church is something which western Christians aren’t all that good at.
In this talk we will look at HOW Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus. But we may be jumping the gun to think about HOW to pray for the church if many western Christians aren’t praying for the church at all. We need to get to the starting line before we talk about how to run.
I keep saying ‘western Christians’ because there are some other groups of Christians who have been very good at praying for the church. I think particularly of Korean Christians. The percentage of Christians increased from about 2% in 1945 to about 30% today - and Korean Christians are renowned for being serious about prayer. As I was preparing this talk I came across a doctoral thesis by a Korean named Seung Kang. I have no idea who he is, but he wrote his thesis on the subject of ‘Prayer and church growth in the Korean church.’ I had a quick look at it. I can't summarise his thesis in one sentence but he clearly takes it as a given that a church which prays grows and a church which doesn’t pray doesn’t. Priscilla [my wife] and I spent a long period in Azerbaijan where we helped lead an underground church. Our experience there would absolutely support this principle.
Anyway, let’s move on to the passage.
At the outset we should recognize that this is a difficult passage! There are at least three aspects of the passage that are difficult.
DIFFICULTY 1. In verse 15 Paul talks about God the Father and says, ‘from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.’ That’s a difficult phrase to understand.
DIFFICULTY 2. In verse 18, Paul writes, ‘may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth…’ – and then he stops! The breadth, length, height, and depth of what?! We don’t know. So that’s difficult.
DIFFICULTY 3. Third, Paul’s prayer is one very long sentence. It’s difficult to know how the different bits connect. Paul says ‘that’ three times. But we’re not sure if he means ‘SO that’ or ‘AND that.’ No one is really clear if Paul is praying for something and then explaining why he’s praying for it or if he’s praying for two or three different things. The Bible translators don’t agree and the commentators don’t agree.
All these things make this a difficult passage. My strategy will be to tackle the first two verses and the last two verses quite quickly and then try to get to grips with verses 16 to 19. These verses are the core of what Paul is praying for the Ephesians. In this way I hope we’ll grasp the big things Paul is saying and not get bogged down in the difficulties.
THE FIRST TWO VERSES
We need to set this prayer in context! We can’t skip this. So please look at verse 14. Paul writes, ‘For this reason I...’ For what reason? If you have your Bibles, look at verse 1. Paul starts chapter 3 by saying, ‘For this reason I…’ Paul was about to launch into a prayer at the beginning of the chapter but then he got distracted. It happens to the best of us. So, when Paul says, ‘For this reason…’ we have to go back to chapter 2 to find the reason. There are two big headings in chapter 2 in my Bible and they’re really enough to show us the reason Paul is praying. The first heading is ‘By Grace Through Faith’ and the second is ‘One in Christ.’ So, Paul believes God is willing to give grace to those who approach him in faith. And he believes that Christians are ‘One in Christ.’ He has a connection with the Ephesians. He feels a sense of responsibility towards them, a concern for them. So, he’s motivated to pray. Hopefully we have a similar belief in God and feel a similar sense of responsibility towards fellow Christians in our church.