Within the pages of the Bible, we discover that Christians are the wealthiest people on this planet. I’m not speaking of material wealth, but rather speaking of the great blessings that money cannot buy: things like a clean conscience, a pure heart, peace of mind, healthy and loving relationships, and the guarantee of a Father’s love and care.
Warren Wiersbe shares an illustration that explains the sense of desire that can be attained simply by understanding what God has already made available to believers.
Yet so often we are like William Randolph Hearst, who invested a fortune collecting art treasures from around the world. One day Mr. Hearst found a description of some valuable items that he felt he must own, so he sent his agent abroad to find them. After months of searching, the agent reported that he had found the treasures. They were in Mr. Hearst’s warehouse. Hearst had been searching frantically for treasures he already owned! Had he read the catalog of his treasures, he would have saved himself a great deal of money and trouble.[i]
Too often we are like William Hearst in that we are seeking for the very things that have been already provided for us as believers. God’s promises to us need to become the greater reality in our lives, rather than what our feelings dictate to us. How than can we be transformed? How can we experience the richness of life that Jesus Christ promised us? Paul in writing to the Ephesians is focusing on our spiritual riches. In Ephesians chapter one we discover what it means to be a Christian and learn about our spiritual identity. It is one thing to hear about what we possess, but another to experience the reality of it in our lives. It begins by asking. Notice as we move away from that incredible sentence found in the first part of chapter, we see Paul’s conclusion. Paul prays for the believers. In communing with God in prayer, much of what God has promised, becomes ours. Yet, we often struggle with prayer. We struggle with how we ought to prayer and what we ought to pray for. Ephesians 1 closes with one of the most powerful prayers in the bible. Paul begins by giving us his reasons for why he prayed the way he did, and as we shall discover, and how to go about praying for God’s riches to be our portion.
Many times our reasons for prayer is based on our needs alone. Paul, however, gives us a wider scope for the reason we ought to pray. We notice that his prayer here is intercessory in nature. In other words, it is God centered and others focused. He prays not because these believers here are doing so poorly, but rather for the very opposite reason: he prays for them because they are doing so well. Most of us stop praying in those situations. Yet there is never a time when we ought to quit praying. The bible tells us that we should ‘pray without ceasing.’ Think about the last time you prayed for somebody who was doing well. It is not something we usually do. This doesn’t negate praying for those in need.
There are two other things that stand out in my mind about Paul’s prayer. He prayed continuously, which isn’t surprising, but he also prayed for people he didn’t know, which may surprise us and is a wonderful example to follow.
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.[ii]
He had heard about their faith, which suggests that he did not know these people, yet he prayed for them. Paul was concerned about those whom he had never met. Paul then goes on to explain why he is praying for them. Their lives were expressing faith. Faith is not just intellectual belief. Biblical faith is far more than that. Their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ was being demonstrated by their lives as it was manifested in their loving behavior.
The faith described here is not the initial act of appropriating faith when they were saved, but the day by day faith exercised in the Lord Jesus for daily living.[iii]
In the letter that James wrote, he challenges us in our faith life that faith is ongoing, active, and produces positive outcomes.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?…
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.[iv]
The apostle Paul recognized that these believers exhibited real faith because of their loving attitude and action toward their fellow believers. Our society will only grasp the gospel message when they see the love we demonstrate toward each other. Loving actions are the litmus test of the legitimacy of our faith.
One of the critical elements of a healthy church family is the expressions of love that we have for each other. Usually, we pray for those who are in conflicted relationships, but here Paul is motivated to pray for people who are said to be loving each other. Vince Lombardi, the great coach the Green Bay Packers, who won two NFL championships, was asked what the difference was between a great team and a championship team. He stated, ‘The difference was that the championship team loves each other.’
Kenneth Wuest describes that God kind of love as what is being described here.
The word love here is the Greek word, agape, referring to that love produced in the heart of the yielded believer by the Holy Spirit.[v]
God forgive us for not praying for those we don’t know, the requests and needs that are on the hearts of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Help us to remember each other in our prayers. Particularly, let us never stop praying for those who are doing well in their lives. Praying for each other will do far more for the kingdom of God than any other activity we engage in. It demonstrates our dependence upon God.
But Paul doesn’t just give us his reasons for his prayer for these believers. What is significant is what he is praying for. We also need to focus our attention, not on why Paul prayed, but the way he prayed. We may agree that we need to pray, but what should we pray for? What was it that Paul was praying for? This is the key to receiving God’s riches. Here in our text, we find three specific requests that God desires to answer. These three areas that, when answered, will bring us closer to God. Let’s look at how we ought to pray.
THE FIRST REQUEST WE NEED TO ASK GOD OUR FATHER TO GIVE US IS THE SPIRIT OF WISDOM AND REVELATION
What we need can only come through the work of the Holy Spirit, who is the One who gives us wisdom and revelation. Here we find one of the operations of the Holy Spirit in the human heart. We cannot receive spiritual truths apart from His work giving us the understanding. But this understanding is not just the accumulation of information, rather it is the quickening work of the Holy Spirit making truth real to us, in order for us to know God better. Our greatest need is to know God, and then to know Him better. This can only be attained through our continuous communion with Him in prayer. Notice the expression, ‘I keep asking.’
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.[vi]
We learn from people who know God intimately. Paul’s prayer reflects his spiritual condition. What our heart desires is expressed in our prayers. Handley Moule (1841-1920) wrote:
They [believers] are to be thankful and never to rest in respect of the realization of what they have discovered. ‘He who says Enough, writes Augustine, somewhere, is already a lost man.’ If the Christian is indeed one who has caught a genuine glimpse of ‘the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ: how can he not be sure that he has still before him indefinitely greater discoveries there, [we go from] from glory to glory?’[vii]
What is he saying? There is so much more to learn when it comes to knowing God. One of the exciting aspects of being a Christian is that we can still get to know God better. New discoveries regarding the nature and character of God can be discovered by the individual believer. Moses prayed for God to show him His glory. In another letter Paul wrote:
I want to know Christ and the power – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.[viii]
Life is filled with experiences where we can get to know God better, especially in times of testing. Abraham was a man that continually grew in his understanding of God. Nearing the end of his life, Abraham experienced the greatest test of his faith. God spoke to him about offering up his promised son Isaac. We find the story in Genesis 22, where we read that Abraham got up early and took his son to a specific mountain.
On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you (Italics mine).[ix]
How many caught it? Abraham believed that they would both return. Here is where we need the New Testament to make clear to us what this really means.
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’
Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from the dead.[x]
Abraham had a revelation of the power of God regarding the resurrection. But as we turn back to Genesis 22, we see God’s wonderful provision there on the mountain; a ram caught in the thickets, a substitute for his son. Jesus said in John 8:56, ‘Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’ Abraham saw God’s provision for the life of his son. On that mountain of testing Abraham discovered some powerful truths regarding God. He anticipated the resurrection of his son. He knew that God had promised that this son would have descendants, and if God was allowing his son to die, then God would raise him from the dead. Abraham discovered that God gave a substitute for the life of his son. He also called God, Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who has seen and provided. He learned of the heartache of a father giving up that which was his greatest joy, his son. Did God reveal to Abraham that which He was about to do, regarding His own Son? God wants to reveal Himself to us. He desires a greater intimacy with us. Here in these passages God revealed a number of profound truths regarding His nature.
So often in our tests we grumble and complain, rather than seeing that God wants to reveal Himself to us. Notice how God revealed Himself to the Israelites in the wilderness. What did they see? The problems and the challenges. They did not appreciate the power and grace of God overcoming the difficulties. God is a very complex person. As finite beings we have the privilege of getting to know an infinite being. A growing relationship with God will not be boring. That is impossible! Now it is possible to get to know someone here on this planet so well that the person seems quite predictable to us. But that should never be the case with Almighty God. One of the reasons we become so disturbed with God is that just when we think we have Him all figured out, He does something, or He allows something in our lives, that we do not understand in the moment.
THE SECOND REQUEST WE NEED TO ASK GOD, OUR FATHER IS TO HAVE THE EYES OF OUR HEART ENLIGHTENED
What does Paul mean by this expression, that the ‘eyes of our heart is enlightened’? What does the bible mean by the word heart? When we think of the word heart, we think of our emotions, but when the bible speaks of heart, it includes all aspects of our personality. When the bible speaks of the heart, it is speaking about our mind, our emotions, and our will. The problem with our lives lies right there, with our hearts. If you carefully study the Sermon on the Mount, you will discover that Jesus is addressing heart issues. As a matter of fact, we can have an intellectual understanding of truth but our hearts can be disengaged from the truth. It is amazing how hard- hearted the Pharisees were toward Christ. Here was the light of the world shining in all of His glory, yet their hearts were closed to him. Jesus even upbraided his own disciples after the resurrection as their hearts were keeping them from truly understanding the significance of the event.
He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken![xi]
Notice how Jesus’ words were impacting these two disciples on the road to Emmaus after resurrection Sunday.
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?[xii]
Notice the expression, their eyes were opened, their hearts were burning, as the Scriptures were coming alive to them. Christianity is a heart religion. It is about engaging our entire personality.
Why was the Apostle Paul praying that the eyes of their hearts needed to be enlightened? In order for them to know the riches that God has given to us as believers. Those riches are in Christ, as Paul has outlined for us earlier in the chapter. Paul prays that they will understand such concepts as adoption, election, redemption, forgiveness of sins, the sealing of the Holy Spirit to name a few.
I pray also 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,[xiii]
This expression could mean either God’s inheritance that He has in us or that as believers, we are His inheritance or both. Throughout the Scriptures we read that God’s people are described as His inheritance.
I prayed to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, do not destroy your people, your own; inheritance.[xiv]
God’s inheritance, then, is in the sons of men, who, by their own choice and act, permit God to mark them with the impress of His own image.[xv]
The tragedy is as human beings we choose to mar the inheritance of our Maker by our sin. Brandt in his book ‘Praying with Paul tells the story of “a building contractor who was an expert at his trade.
Years of diligent and careful work established his reputation for fine craftsmanship. Then his daughter was married and the young man became apprentice in her father’s business. Soon he, too, had become expert in the trade and assumed a leading role.
In time the contractor decided to take a prolonged vacation and to leave his son-in-law in charge. The next project was a beautiful home. He gave blueprints to the young man and instructions to build as usual, using only the finest materials and workmanship.
But the son-in-law had different ideas. He decided to cut corners, use cheaper materials, and not to be so concerned with fine craftsmanship. He would make big money! Finally the job was complete, but in every way the building was inferior-from foundation to roof.
When the contractor returned, his son-in-law proudly handed him the keys to the now completed home. But imagine his chagrin and grief when his father-in-law joyfully announced, ‘Son, before we left on our trip, mother and I made a decision. We agreed that it would be a great pleasure to share our inheritance with you and our daughter while we are yet alive. Therefore, we planned that the house you would build in our absence would be yours. Here is the key.[xvi]
Tragically, this is our story. We destroy God’s inheritance by living in rebellion to Him, but we also destroy ourselves in the process. God, however, takes our brokenness and creates something of eternal value. What we are in Christ has eternal significance. Let us not despise what God is doing in our lives.
What strikes me about this expression is that God’s inheritance is in the ‘His Holy people’ or as some translation put it in the ‘saints.’ Notice the plural expression. For those who act as if we have no need for each other as believers, they miss that God’s inheritance is in the saints. The church is not one single believer, but rather many believers. It is not just about me it is about us. It is not the idea of independence, but rather interdependence. It is not one congregation, but rather the various expressions of God’s body in a community. This is a message that needs to be heard in our independent, individualistic society.
THE FINAL REQUEST WE NEED TO ASK GOD, OUR FATHER, IS TO UNDERSTAND HIS POWER ON OUR BEHALF
Here Paul describes for us in various terms the power of God that is working in our lives. So often as believers we focus on ourselves, and our weaknesses. Listen to God’s provision on our behalf.
And his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength, he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.[xvii]
God has given to us the same power that resurrected Jesus from the dead. What we need to understand was that we were once dead in our sins, but God raised us to life through His mighty resurrection power. That same spirit that raised Jesus from physical death, has raised us from spiritual death. Paul uses four terms relating God’s ability and power on our behalf: power, working [energy], strength and might.
There is given to the church, and for the church’s benefit, a head who is also head over all things. The church has authority and power to overcome all opposition because her leader and head is Lord of all.[xviii]
It is a statement expressing to you and me the authority that we have as believers. Seeing that God has given to the Son this great authority because of what He accomplished on the Cross over death, He has imparted to us, that same authority. The power of Satan is under our feet. The church is the body of Christ, therefore Satan’s power has been broken in our lives. His only recourse is to deceive us into thinking that we are still under his authority.
I love the imagery found in the book of Joshua, chapter 10, where Joshua and his army defeat five kings. They have captured the kings and placed them in a cave. Then after the battle they go back, and roll away the stone.
When they had brought these kings to Joshua, he summoned all the men of Israel and said to the army commanders who had come with him, ‘Come here and put your feet on the necks of these kings.’ So they came forward and placed their feet on their necks.
Joshua said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the LORD will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.’[xix]
Friends, we are on the winning side. We have the power in the name of Jesus, to see great victories won. But victories mean that there will be battles to fight. Our weapons are not material weapons, but they are spiritual ones. It is as we pray that great battles will be won. Paul describes this same idea as we just read in Joshua. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (Romans 16:20).”
I want to conclude with a powerful testimony of spiritual battle and victory. Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, shared a dramatic answer to prayer.
Up until age 16, my oldest daughter was a model child. But then she got away from the Lord and involved with a godless young man. She eventually moved out of our house and later became pregnant.
We went through a dark tunnel for two years and a half years. While wonderful things were happening at the church – we were renting Radio City Music Hall for large outreaches, starting other churches, my wife and our Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir were making albums, many were coming to Christ – no one knew I was hanging on by a thread. I often cried form the minute I left my house till I got to the church door, thinking, God, how can I get through three meetings today? My daughter…
But I didn’t want to make my need the focus. People are coming to the church because of their needs. Many live in ghettos, in violent, non-Christian homes. After Chrissy had been away for two years, I again spent some time away in Florida. I said to God, ‘I’ve been battling, crying, screaming, arguing, and maneuvering with Chrissy. No more arguing, no more talking. It’s you and me. I’m just going to intercede for my daughter.’ I told Carol to stay in touch with our daughter, because I was no longer going to talk to Chrissy; I would only pray.
I stayed in Florida until I ‘prayed through.’ God brought me to a new realm of faith so that when I returned to New York I stopped reacting as before to the discouraging things Chrissy did. I found a place in God where I could praise him even though the news from her was getting worse, which is a hard thing to describe. It wasn’t positive thinking; it was faith. Four months later, in February, we were in our Tuesday night prayer meeting (the choir and church leadership now knew about Chrissy, but we didn’t spread the news any further in the church). I had not talked to my daughter since November. An usher passed a note to me from a young woman in the church whom I felt was a spiritual person. ‘Pastor Cymbala, I feel deeply impressed that we are to stop the meeting and pray for your daughter.’ Lord, is this really you? I prayed within myself. I don’t want to make myself the focus.
At that moment Chrissy was at a friend’s home somewhere in Brooklyn with her baby. I interrupted the meeting and had everyone stand. ‘my daughter thinks up is down, white is black, and black is white,’ I said. ‘Someone has set me a note saying she feels impressed that we are to pray for her, and I take this as being from the Lord.’ Then some of the leaders of the church joined me, and the church began to pray. The room soon felt like the labor room in a hospital. The people called out to God with incredible intensity. When I got home later that night, I said to my wife (who wasn’t at the prayer meeting), ‘It’s over.’ ‘What’s over?’ Carol said. ‘It’s over with Chrissy,’ I replied. ‘You had to be there tonight. I just know that when we went to the throne of grace, something happened in the heavenly places.’
Thirty-six hours later, I was standing in the bathroom shaving. My wife burst into the room. ‘Chrissy’s here,’ she said. ‘you better go downstairs.’ ‘I don’t know…’ I said, having intentionally kept my distance from Chrissy for four months. ‘Trust me. Go downstairs.’ I wiped off the shaving cream. I went to the kitchen, and there was my daughter, 19 years old, on her knees weeping. She grabbed my leg and said, ‘Daddy, I’ve sinned against God. I’ve sinned against you. I’ve sinned against myself. Daddy, who was praying on Tuesday night?’ ‘What do you mean? What happened?’ I said. ‘I was sleeping,’ she said. ‘God woke me up in the middle of the night, and he showed me I was heading toward this pit, this chasm, and Daddy, I got so afraid. I saw myself for what I am. But then God showed me he hadn’t given up on me.’ I looked at my daughter and saw the face of the daughter we raised. Not the hardened face of the last few years. So Chrissy and our granddaughter moved back into our home. That was three years ago. Today she’s directing the music program at a Bible school and was married this past year to a man from our church.’[xx]
So, what difference does this make? Are we living the life God designed for us? Are we praying to get to know God better? Are we growing in our relationship with God? These are critical things when you consider how well someone like king Solomon began his spiritual journey but ended so poorly. Our relationship with God must be ever developing and growing.
[i] Warren Wiersbe, Be Rich: Are you losing the things that money can’t buy?, (Wheaton IL: Victor Books, 1986), 30.
[ii] Ephesians 1:15-16, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[iii] Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies: Ephesians and Colossians, 51.
[iv] James 2:14, 17.
[v] Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies: Ephesians and Colossians, 51.
[vi] Ephesians 1:17.
[vii] Handley Moule, Ephesians Studies, 44.
[viii] Philippians 3:10-12.
[ix] Genesis 22:4.
[x] Hebrews 11:17-19.
[xi] Luke 24:25.
[xii] Luke 24:31-32.
[xiii] Ephesians 1:18.
[xiv] Deuteronomy 9:26.
[xv] R. L. Brandt, Praying With Paul, 42.
[xvi] Ibid, 42-43.
[xvii] Ephesians 1:19-23.
[xviii] Francis Foulkes, Ephesians (Revised Edition), Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Co., 1989), 74.
[xix] Joshua 10:24-25.
[xx] Jim Cymbala, Keeping Connected to Spiritual Power, Leadership, Fall 93, 70-72.