Powerful Praying with Paul – 2. Beyond Your Dreams
One of the best ways to learn how to pray is to study the prayers of the Bible. We learn a great deal about the content of prayer and the intensity with which we should pray. Content is obvious but the concept of intensity may be new to some people. Moses, Daniel, David, Paul - prayed with fire in their souls.
Prayer - The Window of the Soul
What we pray for, we care for. We all pray for what concerns us. The reverse is also true. What we don’t pray about, we don’t care about. We cannot escape this truth. We can say all we want about how much something means to us, but if we never bring it before God in prayer, we cannot truly say that we care deeply about it.
At least 3 things hold us back in prayer. 1. We fear that we don’t pray often enough. 2. We worry that we won’t use the right words or say the wrong thing. 3. We think we don’t have enough faith - we’re sure we don’t have enough faith to be heard by God.
These prayers are given to us as models - guides to help us frame our thoughts as we come before the Lord in prayer. This is one of the greatest prayers in the Bible. “A prayer for the impossible.” We looked at the prayer in Ephesians 1 - prayer that the eyes of the heart might be opened to know God better. If the first prayer is for enlightenment, the second prayer is for enablement. If the first prayer is for knowledge, the second is for power.
Strength Where We Need it Most
Focus on the main request in v. 16 - Paul prays that God might “strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” Paul prays for one thing - he asks God to strengthen the Ephesians by the Holy Spirit on the inside so that they can fulfil God’s will for them. Though this prayer has many parts and builds to a big climax, there is only one basic request.
This is extremely relevant because so many things sap our strength: discouraging circumstances, monotonous routine, physical weakness, personal failure, unwanted interruptions, unfinished responsibilities and unresolved conflicts. Any one of those things could knock us out of commission, but often 2 or 3 of them hit us at the same time. Then we are knocked to the floor and find it hard to get up and get back in the fight.
Seen in that light, this is a prayer for something most of us desperately need every day—spiritual strength. When we feel weak, prayer can be difficult or almost impossible. In those moments, here is a prayer that is always appropriate.
When you are weak, you need strength. To be “strengthened with power” means to be made powerfully strong so that you can overcome the obstacles set before you. When you are made strong in the inner man by the Holy Spirit, there will be power to blast out the unbelief, power to overcome despair, power to rise above anger, power to keep going when you would rather quit. This power is put to work in the “inner self” or the “inner man.” That “inner man” is the control room of life where every great decision is made. This is the place where we need the most help.
“Lord, This Hurts!”
Most of our prayers fall into 2 categories: 1. Pain-avoidance. “Lord, this hurts. Make it stop.” 2. Change of circumstances. “Lord, I don’t like this. Change it, please.” No one likes pain and no one enjoys difficult circumstances. It’s natural to pray that your pain would stop and that your circumstances would improve. The problem is those 2 categories can overwhelm all our prayers so that we never pray for anything else.
Where was Paul when he wrote Ephesians? He was in prison in Rome. He was chained at all times to 2 Roman guards. He never mentions that fact until almost the end of the epistle. His request is not, “Pray that I will get out of here,” but rather “Pray that I will be bold for Christ even though I am in chains.”
Our greatest need is for spiritual power on the inside. No believer ever advances so far that he doesn’t need God’s power.
“You’re Only Human!”
I am only human. I’m not as hot as I think I am. I’m not as strong as I think I am. I’m not as wise as I think I am. I’m not as good as I think I am. And you’re not either. I’m human and so are you. We’re all in the same boat together, all of us desperately in need of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us on the inside.
So the prayer is not, “Lord, take away my burdens,” but rather “Lord, give me stronger shoulders to carry the load.” It is a prayer for spiritual strength to do the work God gives us to do. We need this in 3 areas: 1. To do our daily tasks with joy. 2. To resist temptation with courage. 3. To endure persecution gladly.
“This is my path, Lord, the path you have chosen for me. Make me powerfully strong in the inner man to walk where you are leading.” That’s the heart of this magnificent prayer. Everything else flows from this basic request.
3 Results of Being Strengthened by the Spirit -
1. Christ Dwelling in Our Hearts by Faith v. 17a
The prayer is that Christ might be “at home” in your heart. It’s the picture of a man at home in his own house. There is a difference between a house and a home. A house is a building, a home is a dwelling place. It is very possible for Christ to be “in” your heart but not “at home” there. Suppose I go to visit a very nice home. The lady of the house says, “Pastor, make yourself at home.” I look around and appreciate the beauty of the home, how well appointed it is, how nicely everything is arranged. It is lovely in all respects, but I do not feel at home there. I don’t know where anything is. I don’t know where the bathroom is, I don’t know where the living room is, and (most importantly) I don’t know where the remote control is. How can a man be at home if he can’t find the remote control? If you come to my house, you’ll see a man fully at home. I know where everything is, and if I don’t know where it is, I know where to look for it. You can rest assured that when the rugby or cricket comes on, I’ll know exactly where the remote control is because it will be right beside me!
Until Christ is at home in your heart, he will always seem like a stranger to you even though he lives in you. He’s not just watching me, he’s with me. He’s not just with me, he’s in me. He’s not just a visitor, he’s at home in my heart. This is the first result of being strengthened in the inner man by the Holy Spirit.
2. Growing Comprehension of the Love of Christ v. 17b – 19a
A growing personal experience of love of Jesus Christ. All Christians experience the love of Christ. But love has many dimensions. “I pray that you may grow in your daily experience of the love of Jesus.” “I pray that you will come to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” No matter how far you go in your knowledge of Christ’s love, you will never come to the end of it.
When a man and woman meet and date and fall in love, their love is real and true, but it is not complete. On their wedding night, they will experience love in a deeper way, but there is much more to come. As the years go by, romantic love gives way to a love that springs from a deep personal commitment made stronger and more profound by the changing seasons of life.
Now take that principle into the spiritual realm and you will understand what Paul means by the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ. The early church took this as a sign of the cross. The “breadth and length” stood for the crossbar on which the arms of Christ were nailed. The “height and depth” stood for the vertical piece to which his legs were nailed. It is a fitting image because nowhere is the love of Christ more clearly seen than at the cross where Jesus died for us. Christ’s love is broader than the universe, longer than time, higher than hope, deeper than death. As we are strengthened by the Spirit on the inside, we will come to a new comprehension of his love for us.
3. Fullness of God in Our Lives v. 19b
This is the whole goal of the Christian life. Don’t water it down. “Filled” has the idea of being dominated by something. If you are filled with rage, then rage will dominate your life. If you are filled with love, then love dominates your life. If you are filled with joy, then joy dominates your life. When you are filled with God, then God himself will dominate your life.
This is an amazing thought—to be filled up with all the fullness of God. Don’t shy away from the implications of this truth. As believers we have been created to be the containers of God. He desires to pour his life into ours and to fill us until we’re full.
Suppose you have a big jar of muddy water that you desire to see become a jar of clear water. What’s the quickest way to make the transformation? Take a hosepipe, place it in the jar and turn on the water. As the clean water rushes it, it flushes out the muddy water. If you let the hose stay in the jar long enough, the muddy water will eventually be completely displaced by the clean water.
This is a parable of the Christian life. All of us are like that big jar of muddy water when we come to Christ. Some are muddier (and slimier) than others, but all of us are unclean when we find the Lord. It is the work of a lifetime to replace the muddy water of our sinful inclinations with the pure water of God’s holy character. This is the answer to our bitterness, lust, greed, hate, envy, impatience, dishonesty and unfaithfulness.
If we believe that in Jesus Christ dwells all the fullness of God (and we do), and if we believe Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (and we do), then we may believe that in our lives this week the fullness of God, the beauty of God, the grace of God, the mercy of God, the holiness of God, the kindness of God, all that God is may fill us and drive out the evil—the lust, greed, impatience, unbelief, critical spirit, and the angry intolerance that holds us back. As the Holy Spirit changes us, the perfection of God is reflected in us.
“God is Able” v. 20, 21
This prayer can be answered because God is able to answer it. Paul isn’t saying, “I hope this will happen but I’m not sure about it.” We all live with a certain degree of inability: “Remember, you’re only human.” We live in a “hope so, maybe so, might be, I’m not sure” kind of world. That’s okay. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit your weakness when you really are weak. In contrast to that we have this magnificent statement that God is able to do whatever it takes to answer this prayer.
God’s ability is “off the chart.” It can’t be measured. It’s so great it can’t even be imagined. Teaches us the “exceeding, abundant, immeasurable, infinite ability of God.” There are no limits to what God can do. We can’t even imagine what God can do.
“God Can Do Anything Now”
It is not our prayers that mark his ability. He can do far more than we can pray. It is not our dreams and hopes that mark his ability. He can do things we can’t even dream of. He is not limited by our prayers, our problems, our dreams or even by our meagre theories about who he is.
How should we apply this? Let me first apply it to this church. Suppose that the Apostle Paul were the pastor of WPBC. Do you think he would be impressed with what we have done here? “This is amazing"? I don’t think so. Would he go, “Wow! You’ve got Power Point!"? I doubt it. If Paul were the pastor of this church, I think that every time he lifted his eyes to heaven he would hear God saying, “I can do more in this church than you have yet asked or thought.” That would lead him to pray for power and then step out in faith for the Lord. God can always do more.
Then there is the personal application to be made. When you are weak, pray to be strengthened in the inner man. This is a prayer God will always answer. As you pray this prayer, asks God for these 3 things as a result: Christ might be at home in your heart, a growing comprehension of the love of Christ and the fullness of God in your life.
Our greatest need is lack of strength - so pray this prayer. Our greatest temptation is to make excuses or to seek better circumstances - so pray this prayer. As we pray this magnificent prayer, we will discover a Trinitarian answer. The Holy Spirit will strengthen us. Christ will indwell us. God himself will fill us. Father, Son and Holy Spirit unite to answer this prayer.
Your Prayers Are Too Small!
I emphasize the simplicity of our response. There is one crucial word that I passed over – v. 17 - that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” How simple this is. Pray in faith and all these things will happen to you. Faith and nothing else is required by God. Jesus comes in when faith opens the door. He brings the fullness of God with him. So, then, on the basis of this text: Pray boldly! Pray big prayers to a big God.
“Heavenly Father, thank you that your provision is far greater than our need. We come in Jesus’ name, deeply conscious of our weakness and our doubt. Grant us fresh faith to believe in you. We gladly lean upon the arm of your omnipotence. Teach us to pray big prayers that you might be honoured in a big way among us. Thank you that what you have done is only the beginning. Be glorified in our midst, in this church, today, tomorrow and forever! Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”