Sunday, March 12, 2017

What Did Paul Pray For?

Once again, we're going to be taking a look at the topic of prayer. This time we're going to look at one of Paul's prayers. Actually, we'll be looking at his description of what he was praying for when it came to the saints in Ephesus. My goal in this is to help you to understand yourselves and your situation a little better and to consider what might be some new things for you to include in your prayers. Listen to what Paul wrote.

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:15-23

Here's the first thing I want you to notice. It's when Paul writes,

having the eyes of your hearts enlightened…

I just find his choice of words so very interesting. He's praying for enlightened eyes. He wants these people to see some things that they aren't currently seeing. But it's not some physical reality that he wants them to see, but rather certain Spiritual realities. So, he takes this idea of enlightened eyes and associates it with the heart. For every person, the heart is who they are, down deep. So, Paul is praying for something that goes deep. He is asking God to create some deep change, some serious growth, in these saints. Paul aims for the heart.

Now, what exactly was it that Paul wanted them to see more clearly? He wanted them to see, to really understand, three things: hope, inheritance, power.

that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe …

Hope, inheritance, power. Let's take a look at each of these.

Hope. Paul isn't referring here to something that we do, our hoping for something. Here, he's using the word 'hope' to refer to the thing that we hope for. This is something yet future that God has called us to. So, what is this thing that we hope for? Well, to use the language of the Apostles' Creed, it's the life everlasting. It's the age to come with all of its beauty. Whatever the details of the age to come, it will all be more amazing than we can now understand. And every day will be better than the one that came before it - forever.

Now, why would Paul pray that the eyes of the hearts of those saints would see this hope more clearly? Here's just one reason. The lure of this world. It is so easy - whether we are talking about the saints of the first century or the saints of the twenty-first century - to focus on the here and now: the job, the kids, bills, health concerns, retirement and lots of other things. They can be distracting. Seeing our hope clearly frees us from the burden that these things can be. And they really can be a burden. They can so easily become worries that we stress over, that eat away at our time and our energy. And all of that can lead to poor decisions, decisions rooted in fear instead of trust. Seeing our hope clearly and embracing it, frees us to live well now in this world.

Consider something Paul wrote elsewhere.

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Because he embraced the hope of the age to come, he could say that dying was gain for him. He knew that he would leave behind much, but dying would still be gain. And having this hope of the age to come didn't result in Paul sitting around doing nothing as if this life didn't matter. No, he was very busy being involved in people's lives. Seeing his hope clearly freed him from these burdens and their fears so that he could live this life well.

Here's something for you to consider. To sincerely believe that 'to die is gain' is not something reserved for apostles. It is to be something that every Christian sincerely believes. I say that because being freed from the allure of the world - to be freed so that we can live for Christ - is to be true of every Christian. So, a question for you to ponder. Can you say with Paul, 'to die is gain'? If not, is it because the eyes of your heart need to see your hope more clearly?

Next, inheritance. Now, it's important that you hear clearly what Paul wrote. He wanted them to see,

the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.

The word that probably grabs your attention is 'inheritance'. And that's certainly understandable. But there is another word that you need to notice first so that you can understand that word 'inheritance'. It's the little word 'in'. The inheritance isn't for the saints. It's in the saints. Paul isn't writing about our inheritance, what we get to enjoy later. He's already mentioned that. He referred to this as 'his glorious inheritance', the Father's inheritance. This is something the Father gets to enjoy. And what He gets to enjoy is us. We are the riches of His glorious inheritance. It's in us. Now, there's something worth thinking about.

This notion of the Father's inheritance is a theme that pops up quite a bit in the Old Testament. Here's just one example.

For Yahweh's portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance. Deuteronomy 32.9 NASB

We are His inheritance. The Father gets to enjoy us.

This explains something important about the saints, about who we are. We have been told, and are continually told, so many lies about ourselves. Some of those lies feed our pride. They tell us that we are wonderful because of our skill or ability or achievement. Then, there are the lies that tell us we are worthless because we don't have some skill or ability or achievement. They are all lies. But the sad fact is that we believe them. And it is our belief in those lies that makes us feel the way we do about ourselves, sometimes so very proud and other times so near to despair that we hate ourselves. That's true now, and it was true back then. So, Paul prayed that those saints would be blessed with eyes of the heart that could see the truth. The Father thinks that we are wonderful. We are the inheritance that He gets to enjoy. And this is true, gloriously true, only because of Jesus. It's only because Jesus has come to be our Savior that we become the Father's inheritance. So, even though we so often screw things up, and do that royally at times, it doesn't change the Father's opinion of us. He thinks we are wonderful.

So, listen to this from the prophet Zephaniah.

Yahweh your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17

The Father is ecstatic over you, warts and all. I hope that the eyes of your heart can see that more and more and more clearly.

Imagine a people who really get this, who really understand who they are to the Father. On the one hand, no pride. It's clear that there is nothing to be proud about. Even our best isn't that good. And yet, on the other hand, there is no despair, no hating yourself. After all, the Father delights in you. This is who you are, the Father's inheritance. And that changes how you can live each and every day.

And now, power. Well, our hope hasn't yet arrived. And there are too many days when we still believe the lies, feeling nothing like people whom the Father actually enjoys. Can that change? Oh, yes. But none of this will change by our trying harder, being more disciplined in our Bible reading and prayer or anything like that. What it will take is the power of God. The Father has the kind of power that is needed. After all, He raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at His right hand. He and He alone can change our situation.

Now, for one thing that helps us to understand that our situation is not just a little problem. We can handle small problems - well, maybe if they're really small. But dealing with these issues, the ups and downs of believing these glorious truths of the Gospel and then not believing them very well at all - dealing with that will take more than what we can muster, much more. Dealing with the difficulties of our situation - and changing them - will take the power of God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

Think about it. We're talking about confronting the world, the flesh and the devil. Who can deal with that unholy trinity? Not us. But our Father can. And that's exactly what He is doing, powerfully dealing with these obstacles to our progress. And when saints see the reality of the power of God at work, when they see that with the eyes of their hearts, it turns them into optimists. Sure, there are days that are so dark and depressing. But our hope is sure. One day it will only be sunshine and happiness - forever. Sure, there are times when we do stupid things, absolutely stupid things. And yet, it's still true that we are the Father's inheritance. He still thinks we're great. And He always will. It is as the eyes of our hearts are enlightened to see these things, to really get them, that we look at the rest of life differently. The difficulties are still there, but we see them in a different light. We see them accurately, as obstacles that the Father can powerfully overcome. As a result, we are able to live well as disciples of Jesus.

Let me remind you of what I said earlier. 'My goal in this is to help you to understand yourselves and your situation a little better and to consider what might be some new things for you to include in your prayers.' I would encourage you to meditate on what I've said. This sermon will be posted online if you need to review something. But consider the Gospel that I've preached to you this morning so that you can see yourself and your situation more clearly, so that you can look at your life more in terms of the Gospel of Jesus. And then, consider the things you pray about. Would it be good for you to also pray for the things that Paul was praying for, to pray about these things for yourself and for the rest of us as well?

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