Scripture: Ephesians 1:15-23
It is an old story, so it might be one that you have heard before. It was in the first year of life together for a newly married couple. One of the dishes that the wife of the couple was best at making was a pot roast recipe, so she made it fairly often. The husband happened to notice something peculiar though. As she was preparing the roast, she would cut off one portion of it and throw it away before finish the prep work and putting the roast in the oven. He noticed that she did this every time in more or less the same way. Now it was not a huge amount of meat that was being thrown away, but it struck him as odd so he asked her why she did that. She thought about it for a second, but the only answer she could really give is she did it that way, because that is how her mom always did it. When asked why her mom did it that way, the woman had no idea. So she called her mom and asked, why she cut off the end of the pot roast before putting it in the oven. There was silence, and the mom replied, she does it that way, because that is how her mom always did it. To get to the bottom of the mystery, the woman calls her grandmother, and ask why she always did it that way. The grandmother said, “They did not have a lot of money back then, so for the longest time the only pan they had was a little small and the only way to make the roast fit was to cut part of it off.”
We tend to learn from observation, and we tend to do what we observe without every thinking about why we do it that way. It tends to be our standard default to do things the way we have always done them. This is not just true for cooking habits, but it can be true for spiritual habits as well. For instance the way we pray tends to be something we learn early and approach in much the same way. I have grown up in the United Methodist church, and every church I have ever been part of has a similar approach to prayer. In all of these churches, members of the church, lift up their concerns for other people to pray for. This is good and biblical. The book of James tells us to pray for one another and it tells us the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective. Yet in all of these churches I have noticed the way we pray for one another is the same. From church to church to decade to decade it is the same approach. The way we tend to pray for others is we tend to predominantly focus on the physical and we tend to focus on the bad. We tend to pray for people’s bodies or illnesses. We tend to pray that people would get better or that the results will be favorable. Again, there is nothing wrong with this. In fact it is valuable, and I truly believe that prayer can make a difference. At the same time though, I think there is more to prayer than praying that people get better or stay healthy.
Much like the pot roast, perhaps one of the reasons why the way we pray for each other stays focused on just getting better or not getting sick is because that is how we have always done it. That is what we grew up learning, it has worked, and we have never really questioned it. This morning’s scripture can then serve as invitation for us to think a bit differently about prayer. In this morning’s scripture, Paul gives an example of how to pray that is much different than how we usually go about it. We can learn from the example Paul gives here, and the way we pray for one another can take on a new element that has the potential to be world changing.
This morning’s scripture comes from Ephesians, which is a little different that the other letters of Paul preserved in the bible. Often Paul’s letters are to address specific issues or specific questions. This letter does not contain those elements, but instead it contains general encouragements and instructions better following Jesus in God-honoring lives. The church in Ephesus is one that Paul helped found, and it is an area he spent a considerable amount of time in. Since he left though either the church has grown quite a bit or it expanded into neighboring towns and villages. Paul was writing this letter for the benefit of those who had come to know Jesus in the Ephesian community since he had left the area. That is why Paul begins this morning’s scripture with “ever since I have 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.”
The rest of this morning’s scripture details the prayers that Paul has for these believers, and it so different than how we tend to pray for one another. Paul does not focus on their physical needs but rather he focuses on the spiritual needs. Likewise, Paul does not focus on the immediate issues or the current struggles the believers are facing but rather he prays for the kind of faith that they he hopes they can grow into having. This stands in stark contrast to our normal way of praying. We tend to focus on immediate needs, and the needs we tend to focus on are physical or health related. It is rare for us to pray for people when they do not have something wrong, and it is rare for us to pray for spiritual growth of each other. By looking at what Paul prayed for I think we can enhance how we pray for one another.
Of course what exactly Paul is praying for the Ephesians may not be the easiest thing to parse out. The language used in this scripture is poetic by nature. For some people that really works, but then for others when they hear “I pray the eyes of your heart may be enlightened that you may know the hope to which he has called you”, it instantly causes a look of confusion and questions of what does that even mean? Examining this scripture, and trying to put it into plain language, I think we can find three specific things Paul is praying for here.
First, Paul prays that the Ephesians will know Jesus. Paul prays that the Ephesians would have a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they might know Jesus more. Wisdom is not just knowledge. Wisdom is more than intelligence. What helps me know the difference is that intelligence is knowing that tomatoes are a fruit. Wisdom is knowing they don’t belong in a fruit salad. Paul’s prayer is not just that they know Jesus, but that the Ephesians can know Jesus enough to be like him and follow him. He prays for revelation, so that in the moment of everyday life the Ephesians will be able to be as Christ like as possible.
Paul goes a step further though when he prays the eyes of their heart would be enlightened, Paul is tapping into this idea that we find throughout the bible. Often the bible uses the “heart” not to describe the muscle that pumps blood around the body, but rather heart is the core of who we are. It is our most foundational and inner self. It is the guiding essence of our being. So Paul is praying that knowing Jesus, finding hope in Christ would be part of our very nature. Knowing Jesus is the foundation upon which everything else we think, say, and do is built upon.
Second, Paul prays for the Ephesians that they would find their place in the body of Christ. Paul specifically states that the church is the body of Christ, and as such is meant to fully embody Christ on earth. To be part of this body is to be part of a holy people. In this prayer, we find a reminder that Christianity was never meant to be about me and my Jesus. Christianity is meant to be lived out in community with one another as members of the family of God. We are meant to show one another and model for one another, what it looks like to live and love like Jesus.
Finally, Paul prays that the Ephesians would know the incomparably great power that is for them because they believe. This is the point that Paul dwells on the most in his prayer. He states that the same power that God used to raise Christ from the dead can be known by those who follow him. This echoes the words of Jesus we find in John 14, where Jesus states, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
This morning’s scripture records what Paul has been praying for the believers in and possibly around Ephesus. In the poetic language, we find a prayer that they would know and follow Jesus with all that they are. We find a prayer that they would find and see Jesus in each other, and we find a prayer that they would know the very power of God that can bring the dead back to life. This is so different than the way we pray for one another. We have been so conditioned to only pray for people when there are problems, and we tend to only pray for people when they request it. Notice that is not what Paul does here. He does not write because I was asked to pray for you, he wrote, “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in all of my prayers.”
I think it is worth keeping in mind just how Paul remembered them too, because he did more than pray for their needs. He prayed for their success, he prayed for their growth, he prayed for their impact. The way most of us have learned how to pray for others involves praying for their immediate needs and primarily focusing on physical needs. While that is all find and good, God answers more than just prayers of healing. This morning’s scripture shows us a different way to pray and God answers these kind of prayers as well.
When it comes to living our faith out, I think many of us want the same things. We want to point people to Jesus. We want this sanctuary to be filled because new disciples are being made, and new people are coming to experiencing the saving grace of Christ for the first time. We want to transform the world. We want to meet the needs of those around us so that the love of God- not poverty and not division- is what defines this community. So why are we not praying these things for one another? Why are we not praying that God would empower us so that we are the body of Christ, the hands of Jesus, that serve the world around us? Why are we not praying that God would use our witness and our testimony to proclaim the good news and help lead people to repentance? Friends, imagine with me how things might be different if we prayed those prayers for one another and God answered those prayers.
When historians make lists of the best American presidents, Abraham Lincoln is often in one of the top three spots. His time in office was cut short, it was difficult, but it was also a success. During his lifetime when asked about his successes Lincoln stated, “I’m a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.” Often knowing that someone believes in us and has our back is all that we need to be propelled on to be our best selves. How much more likely then is success, when we have someone in our corner who is praying for us? How much more empowered will be to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, when we know someone is regularly taking our name before the throne of God and asking the creator of the world that we would know the hope to which we have been called, the richness of being part of a holy people, and the incomparable power of God. Those kinds of prayers, have the power to change the world.
If you are brave enough, don’t just take my word for it. Find out for yourselves. Buddy up with someone and pray for one another. Don’t just pray for health, safety, and immediate needs but pray for each others faith. Pray for each other that you would better follow Jesus, becoming ever more Christ like in thoughts and deeds. Pray for each other that God would empower you to meet needs, to love others, and to make disciples. We follow a faithful God who hears our prayers and answers our prayers, including those kind of prayers.
So friends may we pray. May we pray for one another. May we not stop giving thanks for each other. May we pray for one another the way Paul prayed for the church of Ephesus, and through our prayers may God do more than we could ever fathom. Friends, that is my prayer for you, that I try to bring daily, that through you Jesus will be glorified, new disciples will be made, and that the holy spirit, working through you, will transform this world into a more compassionate place. I pray these things in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.