A Prayer for the Church
The Book of Ephesians contains two prayers. The first prayer appears in chapter one and is offered by the Apostle Paul for the Ephesian church. It is an expression of his heart’s feeling toward them. The second prayer is found in chapter three, and takes on a broader scope. We read, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21).
In this prayer, Paul starts out by praying for just the Ephesian church, and then it seems as if he enlarges his prayer so that it literally encompasses believers throughout all ages—a prayer that extends to us, and one that would be practical for us to pray as well. It is a prayer for the Church, and the Church still needs prayer! We are the Church, because we have committed our lives to the Lord. And those of us who are followers of Christ need to pray for one another.
It is interesting how the experiences of life can change our perspective. I was in Ephesus a year ago. Of course I had read about Ephesus in the Word of God, but I had never been there before. My perception of the city and my feelings toward the Book of Ephesians were completely altered by that trip.
My wife, Kim, and I had the opportunity to walk through the ruins of what had once been a magnificent city. Prior to our visit, we had no idea what a large area housed the city. To our surprise, we learned that only about twenty percent of ancient Ephesus has been excavated. Our tour guide related some of the history of Ephesus, and pointed out various landmarks. We realized that we were standing where an ancient people had lived—people who lived, breathed, experienced life, and had hopes and dreams just like we do. I was consumed with thoughts of who these people were. What were they thinking? What were they doing? What were their lives like? As we walked through those excavated pathways, I thought, This is where Paul the Apostle walked! We are seeing places that he saw. He was familiar with these buildings; he knew and loved the people who lived here.
When we read the Book of Ephesians, we see that Paul cared for the believers at Ephesus. He prayed for them and nurtured their spiritual lives. They were faithful Christians, and he was doing all he could to help them. So as we look at this prayer, I wonder: Could this prayer be a model for us to help us to do likewise for the believers of our day? Could we use it not only to frame the right words to pray, but to help us remember what it is that God wants us to accomplish as a group of believers?
If we put what Paul was saying into a one-sentence overview, it is basically this: “With sincerity borne out of urgency, I call upon God to help us to know Christ in such a way that He can do marvelous things through us for His own Name’s honor and glory.” That is the essence of what he was saying in these verses.
We will consider five key aspects as we focus on this prayer for the Church: posture, person, purpose, potential, and praise.
Verse 14 begins, “For this cause I bow my knees . . .” Before each of our services in this church, many of us meet in a room designated for prayer. We get on our knees and together make an appeal to God for the meeting before us, and for God’s will to be done in the lives of our brothers and sisters. Prayer requests regarding needs in the Body of Christ are brought to our attention, and we kneel and pray for the needs that have been shared.
Kneeling is more than just a physical activity. It is more than a symbolic gesture. When we kneel, our posture reveals the posture of our hearts. Kneeling down reflects our submission to the One we wish to honor. In cultures where a monarch is the ruler, it is not uncommon for people who come into his or her presence to kneel or bow, showing reverence. If a person would do that to show reverence to another human being, how much more should we do so before the God of Heaven!
This is not the only scriptural reference to kneeling when in prayer. In the Book of Acts, we read that one time when Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, he stopped in the coastal town of Miletus, which is not far from Ephesus. While he was there, he called for the elders of Ephesus to come to meet with him—the same group of individuals that we read about in his prayer for the Ephesians. He wanted to explain a few things to them, to give them some instructions, and to tell them of some serious issues that were confronting the body of believers. After Paul was done speaking, it tells us that he knelt down, and the elders knelt down as well. They assumed this position before God, and then the Ephesian elders prayed over their brother Paul. The posture of their bodies mirrored the posture of their hearts. And that is what it means to kneel before God—it is a way of showing reverence, submission, and honor to Him.
Before whom do we bow? The second part of verse 14 answers that question. It says, “. . . unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” We kneel before God, the Father of our Lord Jesus. It was critical for these Ephesians to know and understand a truth that we hold dear: that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, along with the Holy Spirit, comprise the divine Trinity. They are co-equal. They are co-creators of all things. When we pray, we are actually addressing the One who spoke everything into existence! When we consider that, is it difficult to assume a posture of submission and honor before Him? No! It is completely natural, absolutely proper, and that is what we do.
Paul assumed this posture before God for a purpose. Verses 16-19 tells us he prayed that God “would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.” What a rich group of verses!
Paul’s purpose in praying this prayer was that the Ephesians might be strengthened in the inner man. By extension, that prayer applies to us as well. And Paul did not simply say in this prayer, “Be strong,” and then move on to another topic. He told how believers can be strengthened. He explained that this strength comes through Christ dwelling in our hearts; it cannot happen any other way. We cannot have a relationship with God and speak with Him with a posture that is right if we do not have a relationship, so it starts with Christ dwelling in our hearts.
Then Paul went on to say that what we have in our hearts will grow out of love. The love of God in our hearts will be the motivating factor of our lives and it will bring spiritual discernment. It is not enough just to have love; we need to express it with spiritual discernment. We obtain that from our relationship with the Lord. We do not operate in this Christian life based on our own ideas, but we want God to help us do that which is right, and for that we need the discernment that comes from above.
Paul went on to pray that not only would we have Christ in our hearts and a purpose which grows out of love and brings spiritual discernment, but that we would know Christ’s love. Paul was not speaking of head knowledge, but of something that exists deep within our hearts. It is not a collection of facts we have learned, but a precious truth we have experienced. It has become a part of our very being.
Then Paul moved on to being filled with God’s fullness. It is part of human nature to partake of something we enjoy to the very fullest. All-you-can-eat restaurants are successful because people do not want just a little. They want a lot of what they like! As a matter of fact, they want all they can get—they want to be filled to capacity. If we naturally fill ourselves to capacity with things that are not spiritual, how much more could we be blessed if we were to fill ourselves at an “all-you-can-eat buffet” of the things of God? Think of the potential if our hunger for God were equal to our hunger for food!
We want to desire the things of God. And we do not want merely a measured amount of God in our lives; we want to be filled with the fullness of God. Verse 20 describes that potential. It tells us that He is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” What amazing potential! This is what God does if we live for Him. God exceeds our expectations; that is simply the way He operates.
How many times have we gone through challenging circumstances and wondered, How am I ever going to get through this? We call upon God and He comes to our aid and works out the situation in ways we could not have imagined. Many times we reflect later and just stand in awe, realizing we never could have worked it out as well on our own. Think about the times that you looked back and said, “Wow! God really did something marvelous.” That sense of “wow” is part of experiencing the potential of Christ in us. When God works, He goes beyond our expectations. That is just the way He is.
Paul concluded his prayer in verse 21 by saying, “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.” Ultimately our words and our service have a purpose; they are to be a sacrifice of praise to God. What we do should be for God’s honor and glory. He receives the glory when whatever we do originates in Him, is sustained by Him, and is done through Him. We can be channels of blessing. When God flows through us, all the praise goes back to Him. It is nothing in ourselves, and Paul recognized this. At the end of his prayer, he worshiped God for all that He had done. As he reflected on the One who gives “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,” he transitioned to a spirit of praise and thanksgiving.
We can have hearts full of praise as well. As we go to our knees before the God of Heaven, bringing our prayers for the Church worldwide and for each other, let us be sure that we are deeply rooted in the love of God. As we come with the right purpose, and look to Him for the potential we know exists in Him and through Him, He will do exceeding abundantly more than we can ask or think. And the result will be hearts full of praise to the God of Heaven. What a blessing can be ours as we follow Paul’s example in prayer!