TEXT: Ephesians 1:15-19a
SERVICE VIDEO: youtu.be/4pdLWYwrt0w
What are your prayers like? Is it grace before meals? Quick “thank you, God” prayers when you dodge a fender bender? Do you have a certain time and way you pray on a regular basis? Do you tend toward prayers of praise? Of thanks? Of confession? Of asking God for help? All of those are valid ways to pray, and there are more! Likewise, there are many kinds and forms of prayer in scripture, from praise to thanks to confession to petitions to lament and more.
This summer we’ve been digging into different elements of our worship service to see why we use them and how we might understand and experience them more meaningfully and deeply. Even within our service we pray in different ways. I often pray before the sermon. I pray at the Lord’s Table. We pray a prayer of confession most Sundays. We sometimes pray the “Lord’s Prayer” together.
We also take time every Sunday to pray prayers of intercession and petition. The formal name for this element is the “Prayers of the People” though I often label it “Prayers of Intercession” in our bulletin. Most Sundays I lead that prayer, informed by our e-mail prayer ministry, our prayer ministry, and my own interactions with folks. Sometimes Eric or Christy will lead, or one of our elders. And sometimes we have times of open prayer and you actively pray prayers in this corporate community setting. Those are all “Prayers of the People.” And a little later in the service Christy will lead you in this important element of worship.
This morning I want to look at the particular form of prayer in which we pray for the needs of others, also called intercessory prayer. It is at the heart of the “Prayers of the People.” It is not the only way to pray, but it is an important way to pray!
The Example of Jesus (John 17)
Earlier this summer Jim Hinton preached on the “Lord’s Prayer” in which Jesus taught his disciples how to pray using the short prayer we often use in worship. I won’t go back through that this morning.
The disciples also learned how (and when) to pray by observing the example of Jesus. Scripture records multiple examples of Jesus praying, and since those prayers are recorded, it seems evident that some of the disciples were near enough to hear or were otherwise present with him.
John 17 records one of the lengthier prayers of Jesus in which Jesus prayers for his disciples and those who would come after them and believe. It’s one of the passages I’ve taught and preached on many times over the years. It’s where Jesus ask God not to remove those followers (that’s us!) OUT OF the world and to protect them from becoming indistinguishably OF the world. Jesus asks the Father to protect and empower them as they are sent INTO the world in the way he was sent.
There’s much to unpack there about our identity, mission, and purpose in the world, but the main thing I want to highlight this morning is that Jesus is praying for his followers and even praying for us. That’s intercessory prayer: to pray for others, for God’s will and purpose and protection for them.
Let’s look a little more deeply at two other passages in which this kind of prayer is modeled.
A Prayer of Paul (Ephesians 1:15-19a)
Ephesians chapter one is one of the most beautiful and compact statements of what God has done in Christ to be found in scripture. The first fourteen verses describe the salvation of God that at once the power, love, mercy, and grace of God toward all who believe. It is described as an inheritance and a gift that God has intended, planned, and enacted from the beginning. And after that long burst of theology, the Apostle Paul moves into a prayer. It begins with thanks for those in Ephesus who have believed and received this salvation-gift from God. And it moves into intercession, with Paul praying for the Ephesians to understand at the heart-level just how rich and glorious this salvation is.
Let’s look at it in some detail:
Having just described the work of the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith and salvation in Jesus Christ, in verse 15 Paul is reminded of the faith of the Ephesian Christians. This leads him in v. 16 to be thankful, “I… do not cease giving thanks for you.” And then he goes on to describe how he prays for them (“making mention of you in my prayers”).
v. 17 – He prays that God may give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the (true) knowledge of Him
v. 18 – He prays that the “eyes of your heart” may be enlightened, so that you will know…
These are more or less the same thing – Paul is praying that the believers in Ephesus would have wisdom, revelation, true knowledge, and deep (heart-level) understanding. Of what? He lists out three things…
- The hope of His calling
- The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints
- The surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe
Paul will also go on to say quite a bit in the following verses about Jesus power and authority. But let’s focus on the three parts of his prayer for a moment.
He is praying for them to know the “hope of His calling.” Remember, Jesus calls disciples; Jesus calls followers. Jesus calls all who trust him to “come and follow me.” This is something we can and should pray for anyone in our life who believes in Jesus. But what is the HOPE of that calling? It is that wherever Jesus leads us, he is there. We don’t follow him into abandonment or lostness or meaninglessness, but into God’s will and purpose and blessing. Our calling is hopeful because we are seeking God’s Kingdom!
What are the riches of the glory of His inheritance? Paul has spend some time in the first part of Ephesians 1 describing this. It is salvation, purposed by God in Jesus Christ. Paul uses language like “riches” (v.7), “lavished” (v.8), and “inheritance” (v.11) to describe this salvation. It’s not barely enough for our saving, but a super-abundance of God’s mercy, grace, and love, poured out on us as adopted children (v.5) of God. The language of “inheritance” is the language of belonging to God’s family, of God being our Father. In Christ we aren’t just visitors in the presence of God, but sons and daughters of the King… a rich and glorious inheritance, indeed!
And what is the surpassing greatness of God’s power toward believers? He will go on to say in vv.19b-23 that Christ has all authority, power, dominion, and rule – all things are subject to Him. This is whom we follow and serve; this is who has saved us, adopted us, and claimed us. We don’t have a puny Savior, but one who is powerful. Again, a reason to have hope in our calling!
So, it might be easy for this to morph into a Sunday school lesson, a time of instruction on the details of God’s grace for our salvation. But this is not instruction time; it is prayer-time! Paul is pouring out these prayers to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, that the Holy Spirit might bring his readers and us into not just head-knowledge, but heart-knowledge of these things. That is intercession and this prayer is for you as well as the Ephesians.
That leads me to say that this is not the only type of prayer of intercession – praying for another believer to have heart-knowledge of what God has and is doing in their life. It is a GREAT model of how to pray, however. Try praying this prayer for different people in your life (and even yourself), inserting their name into verse 18… “I pray that the eyes of the hearts of my children – Walker, Abby, and Liz – may be enlightened to know the hope of His calling….”
This wonderful prayer also convicts me that I am guilty of praying generically and superficially: “God bless this person; God bless this person.” Have you ever wondered how you could possibly pray for more than 30 seconds or a minute? Use the intercessory prayer of Jesus in John 17 or of Paul in Ephesians 1 as an example of how to expand the simple prayer for the Christian faith and life of someone you know. And that’s just one thing to pray about! You can also pray for the salvation of friends and loved ones who do not believe. You can pray for the health or recovery of those who are sick. What these prayers of Jesus and Paul show us is not the only topics to pray about, but the way in which our prayers can deepen and expand on any number of topics.
Opportunities to Pray
Today I am talking about our time of intercessory prayer in our worship service. And certainly this type of prayer is fitting for your personal prayer time any time and anywhere! I hope you are encouraged as I am to deepen my own personal prayer life, both in who I pray for as well as how I pray. John 17 and Ephesians 1 are both great models for prayer, and I’m glad to point you to others if you want some other models for prayer.
I would be remiss to not also remind you of all the opportunities we have to pray in the life of the church.
Many of our classes and small groups have a significant time of prayer when they meet. This can be a great opportunity not to just list prayer concerns, but to enter into prayer together on behalf of others. The church staff meets every Monday and prays for the congregation, moving through 5-6 households each week. The elders and deacons pray for the congregation and other prayer concerns every time they meet. Christy prays with the youth whenever they meeting, inviting their prayers alongside her own. We have a small team of in-person pray-ers who meet every Friday morning here at the church to pray together for needs and concerns of the congregation. That is open to anyone! Many of you are also on our e-mail prayer distribution, which offers you plenty in the way of content if you want to intercede for others. I hope you do pray through that list on a regular basis! And I know many of you who hear about a need or concern who will stop then and there and pray with whomever is nearby.
I hope you will look for opportunities to pray and to deepen your prayer life. We often think of it as a burden, but it is really such a gift from God to be able to pray!
In Everything, Pray (Philippians 4:6-7)
I want to end simply by reading Philippians 4:6 to you. It comes in the context of Paul writing the Philippian church about their unity and lives together following Christ. So while the verse itself may sound like a prayer for oneself, it surely also includes praying for those around you as well. This is intercession.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Paul goes on to say that God will grant His peace as you pray in that way. Have you ever experienced that peace as you pray or after you pray for a situation, as you entrust a need or concern or situation to God?
We are going to sing a bit more (about prayer) and also have a time of intercessory prayer together that Christy will lead. And then we will conclude the service singing a beloved hymn that declares, “What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.” It is our privilege to pray, not only in thanks and praise, but to bring every concern and need before the Lord. Amen.
Some Music Used
- When Morning Gilds the Skies (arr. Austell)
- A Living Prayer
- I Love the Lord
- Open the Eyes of My Heart
- Reckless Love
- Sweet Hour of Prayer
- What a Friend We Have in Jesus