Our Bible passage this morning is almost entirely made up of a prayer. Last week we heard Paul reminding his readers of the many blessings they – and we – enjoy as Christians, as those who belong to Jesus and are saved by grace, and now he moves on to pray for his readers – and by extension for us. In verse 15 we see that their reputation is of a church community whose faith in God and love for each other has been noticed by others – news of the way they’re living their lives as Christians has reached all the way to Paul who is languishing in prison. In some of the New Testament letters it seems that Paul feels that he has to give his readers a good telling off, but this isn’t the case there. Knowing this, Paul launches into telling them he hasn’t stopped giving thanks for them and that he has remembered them in his prayers (v.17).
This challenges the common assumption I think we all have – that we only pray for people when they really need it. That’s what our prayer list is for isn’t it – and I’m glad we have it as we can remember those in particular need. But Paul suggests here that whether life is going well, or whether we’re facing a time of particular challenge, we need prayer – and we need to be praying for each other.
Prayer is adding fuel to fire that’s already burning. When someone’s doing great they need your prayer, whether fires going out or whether the fire is raging because people are doing well. Prayer is very important in times of crisis and those that are not.
So, I want to encourage you to keep on praying for each other as a church family. Notice who’s around you. Think about those who we’ve not seen for a while. Go back to a church address list from a year or so ago.
So, how do we pray for each other? What can we learn from Paul’s prayer? Firstly, he begins by thanking God for them – that’s a good place to start. Thank God for those he has given us to journey with in our life together.
Then he goes on to pray the following …
17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
What we can immediately notice here is that he doesn’t pray for their circumstances at all. It’s interesting, because we pray for someone who is sick, that they’d get better, or that they’d get that job or for an end to a particular crisis they’re going through. Paul doesn’t do this. Instead of praying for their circumstances, he prays in verse 17 that we would be given “the Spirit of wisdom” – God-given wisdom, that whatever circumstances we’re facing in our lives, that that this becomes an opportunity for us to draw closer to Jesus in relationship. The Spirit of wisdom that Paul refers to is no less than the Holy Spirit, the fulfilment of the Christmas promise of Immanuel, God with us, Jesus’s personal presence with us at all times, whatever we’re facing. Paul is praying that whatever we go through, whether it’s a time of hardship or difficulty, that this experience would lead us to become aware that God is right there with us, that through this circumstance we wouldn’t see this difficult circumstance as God abandoning us but the opposite – this is an opportunity in which Jesus is with me so I can understand his grace and presence for me much deeper than I ever have before. He prays that the circumstance would open up new levels of growth and maturity as we see how Jesus is present with us through his spirit.
So, we can pray for each other in this way, that we would lean on Jesus and through whatever we’re facing, come to know God better – his unending love for us, his constant presence with us – and that we may be given the wisdom we need to respond to our circumstance in the right way.
So, how else could we pray for each other?
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
Again, Paul’s prayer is about renewed insight, a deeper understanding – that we would see more clearly. What does he pray we would see clearly?
- The hope to which he has called you
- The riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people
- His incomparably great power for us who believe.
Let’s break this down a bit,
The hope of God’s call
As Christians we are to be people of hope. We worship the God who raised Jesus from the dead. We can walk through the darkest valley and can do so knowing two things – that we are never alone, because God is with us and also that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. That, thanks to our faith in Jesus our destiny is safe in his hands. The world may seem dark and chaotic, but it won’t always be that way. Jesus will return to make all things well once more. This is our hope.
How many people do we know who could do with that hope today? Have we shared this hope with them? It may be the most important thing we do.
But there’s more to hope than that – it’s not just about the hope of heaven, but it’s hope for today. Paul writes of the hope of God’s call. When God called us into relationship with him he did so with purpose for us. John Stott summarises this as follows ..
“His call was not a random or purposeless thing. He had some object in view when He called us. He called us to Christ and holiness, to freedom and peace, to suffering and glory. More simply, it was a call to an altogether new life in which we know, love, obey and serve Christ, enjoy fellowship with Him and with each other, and look beyond our present suffering to the glory which will one day be revealed”
We will each have a God-given purpose and task too. It may not hit the headlines, but it doesn’t lessen its significance in God’s eyes.
Tim Mackie, who is part of the team that brought the amazing Bible Project, expresses hope like this …
Our hope is that my present circumstances don’t determine the meaning of my life. My life may be rubbish, the state of the world may be horrible, but I believe in a God who brings life out of death, who came among us to personally bear the result of all the bad things we do on the cross, and to reverse that into life and bring more and more life to anyone who reaches out to hold onto Jesus as the best thing they’ve got going for them.
So let’s not forget this hope – and when we pray for each other let’s pray we’d be anchored by this hope.
Secondly, he prays that we would see
The glory of God’s inheritance
So often we are caught up in the crises that hit us, personally, nationally and globally. Just in the past week, we’ve heard of a loss of confidence in the prime minister and calls for him to resign in the wake of a party that took place in Downing Street while lockdown restrictions were imposed, a member of the royal family is embroiled in a scandal, omicron seems to be everywhere, the NHS and schools are in crisis, we have bin strikes locally, a police stand off that has endured for much of the week, and cricket fans can’t even find respite, because once again the Aussies are thrashing us. And many of us hind ourselves beset by difficulty of one kind or another. It all gets a bit much and gets to the point that these circumstances are all we can see. They’re like a fog that limits our vision. I remember walking up to the top of Skiddaw with a friend a few yearas ago. The fog descended on us about halfway up and got thicker and thicker the higher we went. When we reached the top it was so thick, the only way we knew we reached the summit was because there was one of those concrete markers. A few days later my friend Tim returned with his children and walked to the top. It was a clear, sunny day. He could see for miles around. When I’d been there, the lake, the villages and hills were there – their reality hadn’t changed, the clouds just stopped me from seeing that. It can be like this for us in our lives. Paul invites us to take a moment to remember that beyond the clouds there is an inheritance laid out for us. Look out, he says, look out and see “the riches of God’s inheritance in you.” What does that look like? Again, here’s John Stott.
“We are told that we shall ‘see’ God and his Christ, and worship him; that this ‘beatific’ vision will be a transforming vision, for ‘when he appears we shall be like him’, not only in body but in character; and that we shall enjoy perfect fellowship with each other. For God’s inheritance (the inheritance he gives us) will not be a little private party for each individual but rather ‘among the saints’ as we join that ‘great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb’”
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it! Thanks to Jesus, this will be ours.
Thirdly and finally, Paul prays that we would come to know
The greatness of God’s power
This power from God is, incredible as it seems, available to us. … and, Paul goes on to describe just what kind of power this is.
That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Tom Wright explains what Paul is getting at here …
“For Paul, the greatest display of power the world had ever seen took place when God raised Jesus from the dead (verse 20). Nobody had ever been raised bodily from the dead, before or since. … This power of the creator God at once sets itself apart from, and establishes itself as superior to, all the ‘powers’ that people might ever come across. The risen Jesus, in fact, is now enthroned, on the basis of this power of God, over the whole cosmos. And at the centre of Paul’s prayer for the church in the area, which he now reports, is his longing that they will come to realize that this same power, the power seen at Easter and now vested in Jesus, is available to them for their daily use.
Far too many Christians today, and, one suspects, in Paul’s day, are quite unaware that this power is there and is available.
If someone says, ‘Well, I don’t seem to have much power as a Christian,’ or, ‘I can’t see the power of Jesus doing very much in the world,’ that simply shows that they need this prayer of Paul. Paul doesn’t imagine that all Christians will automatically be able to recognize the power of God. It will take, as he says in verse 17, a fresh gift of wisdom, of coming to see things people don’t normally see. And this in turn will come about through knowing Jesus and having what Paul calls ‘the eyes of your inmost self’ opened to God’s light.
That power, the power which raised Jesus and which will transform the whole world and flood it with his glory, is in fact already available for us (verse 19). This doesn’t mean we can become conjurors, performing spectacular tricks to impress people. Many of the things which God’s power achieves in us, such as putting secret sins to death and becoming people of prayer, remain hidden from the world and even, sometimes, from other Christians.”
God’s power is available for us today, to help us keep going, to stay faithful when it’s tough, to keep loving against the odds, to keep forgiving when it hurts, to persevere in doing good when the easiest course would be to give up – God can help us with these daily miracles.
So, how can we pray for each other – that God would open our eyes and truly see what’s in our hands. For a deeper revelation of God’s presence with us, a fresh infusion of hope and a sense of perspective that the crises that beset us aren’t our true reality – that beyond we have an inheritance God has won for us, and that we would know and be filled with the power of God to help us to live to the praise of his glory.