Praying Our Faith | Chris Absher

3 months ago

Sermon Transcript:

Well, as many of you probably know, we finished up the Philippians sermon series last weekend. How many of you really enjoyed the Philippians sermon series? Alright. Lots of hands. I thought it was absolutely fantastic. I would encourage you, if you missed a weekend, to go back and check that out. They’re all on our website, GraceSarasota.com. I’d encourage you, too, the next time you read Philippians, use those as a study resource as you go through them. But it was a fantastic series. Next weekend, Pastor Chip is going to begin a brand-new sermon series called “Baggage Claim.” It’s going to be super, super great.

Now, let me tell you, I think any weekend is a great time to invite somebody to Grace, but this new sermon series is going to have some incredible, practical things for us to do. Practical things for us to take home. It’s going to be life-changing information. So, of all the weekends, next weekend is the one to not just be an inviter, but to be a bringer. So, I want to encourage you to do that. If you have unchurched friends, family, or neighbors that you’ve been on the fence about — “Should I invite them to Grace?” — next weekend is the time to bring them here. They’re not going to regret it. You’re not going to regret it. It’s going to be a really great series.

But we’re here, this weekend, so we’ll spend a little bit of time together. I want to start just by kind of laying some things on the table, and being super, super upfront with all of you. I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I pray, if I’m being honest, I’ve found that a lot of my prayers tend to be all about me. I don’t know if any of you are that way, but I just find that when I pray, it’s like, “God, help this situation to go the way I want it to go. God, if You could just change that person’s heart and mind about that thing so that they’ll agree with me a little bit more, that’d be super great because they’re really frustrating me.”

Like, let’s be honest. We pray those prayers. So, what I have found, though, is that when we read the New Testament, when we read prayers in the New Testament, if I’m being honest with myself, they don’t sound anything like the kinds of prayers that I pray. My prayers tend to be about me and the things that I want. So, what I want to do, this weekend, is look at a prayer that Paul prayed in the book of Ephesians. We’re going to see that this prayer is very different than, perhaps, the kinds of prayers that we would pray. So, I’m hoping that as we read this prayer, we’ll learn a lot about what it looks like to pray, how we should understand prayer, how we should understand ourselves in relationship to God. I think it’s going to be really, really helpful for us.

But before we go to the prayer, we’ve got to have three points of setup to make sure we rightly understand this prayer. You hear Pastor Chip say it all the time, how important context is. So, we’ve got to make sure we understand the context of this prayer. So, the first thing we have to know in this setup is that we have plural “you’s.” Every single time we read the word “you” in this particular prayer, it’s plural. It’s not about me as an individual. It’s not just about you as an invidious. Everything in this prayer is about a group of believers, the Church. So, every “you” that we’re going to read is plural. So, we’ve got to know that. It’s really a strong tendency of ours, I think, when we read. We tend to read the Bible alone, very often. We sit on the lanai, we have a cup of coffee, we’re reading the Bible, and it’s kind of natural that every time we see the word “you,” we’re like, “Hey, that’s me. That’s who it’s talking to.”

But every “you” in this particular prayer is a plural “you.” The second thing we’ve got to keep in mind, as we read this prayer, is the centrality of God’s glory. I don’t know about you, but most of the time when I pray, I don’t know if I’m even thinking about God’s glory. I’m praying, “Let this go my way. Help this to work out the way I need it to work out. God, could You help me out over here?”

But for Paul, God’s glory is both going to begin the prayer, and God’s glory is going to end the prayer. So, everything inside that Paul prays about is through the lens of God’s glory. But I think, sometimes, when we think about the glory of God, we kind of envision it, even though wrongly so, as God is way off, far, up there, and we’ve got to somehow get Him some glory. But for Paul, God’s glory can’t be divorced from God’s love. So, in this prayer that Paul’s going to pray, it’s all about God’s glory, but it’s in the context of God’s love for us, and God’s relationship with us. So, those are three things we’ve got to keep in mind. We’ve got plural “you’s,” God’s glory begins the prayer and ends the prayer — it’s the context we have to read this through — and God’s love is central to what Paul is doing in this prayer.

So, with those three things in mind, let’s jump into the prayer in Ephesians 3:14.

It says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,”

So, we’ve got to stop right there. What is the “for this reason?” Paul is bowing his knees before the Father, and he says he’s doing it for a particular reason. So, what is that reason? Well, if you read Ephesians 1-3, we learn that the reason is that Paul is rejoicing that the Gentiles have been brought into the family of God. Those who once were far off have been brought near. You who once were not part of the family of God now are part of the family of God. God’s eternal purposes are being worked out in Christ Jesus. So, Paul is excited, so it’s for this reason that he prays. If God is doing all of this, and there’s a people of God who are being constituted, Jew and Gentile, Paul has a prayer for this new people. So, that’s why he’s praying, and he bows his knees before the Father. Then, before he starts to pray, he makes a qualifying phrase. Who is this Father that Paul is praying to?

Well, he’s the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. Now, that’s super, super important that we understand. What is Paul doing here? Well, we’ve got a congregation that he’s speaking to who is both Jew and Gentile. The Gentiles never would’ve understood themselves as God being their Father. No. The Jews would say, “You know what? You guys are on the outside. We’re the children of Abraham. You’re not the children of Abraham. God is our Father. God is not your Father.”

So, Paul wants to be like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, man. That is not how it works. You Gentiles have been brought into the family of God. So, I’m praying to a Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”

And Paul will make this same point even more explicitly when he’s talking to the Corinthian church.

In 1 Corinthians 10:1, he says this: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,” — and most of them are Gentiles — “that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,”

Now, were the forefathers of the Corinthian Christians there in Egypt? Did they go through the sea? Were they under the cloud in the wilderness? They weren’t, actually. Paul’s making a theological point. He can say, so confidently, “You Gentiles have been brought in, and you’re so much a part of the family of God now that I can say it was actually not just the Jewish fathers, but it was your fathers who were in the wilderness. Your fathers went through the sea. Your fathers were under the clouds.”

So, what’s Paul trying to say? Well, I’m trying to tell you that Paul would say this whole story of God working with humanity is your story. It’s our story. This is our family history. It’s our fathers who passed through the sea and who were under the clouds. So, that’s who Paul is praying to. He’s praying to a Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. So, there’s the setup of the prayer.

“I’m praying for a reason, that God has brought the Gentiles into the family of God. I’m praying to a Father. Who is that Father? He’s the one from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”

So, the stories that we read in Scripture, that’s our history, He wants them to understand. So, now he begins his prayer. This is what he says:

“…that according to the riches of his glory…”

God’s glory is the very first thing that starts off this prayer. It’s going to be the framing device. It’s going to end the prayer, as we’ll see, but it starts off with the very first thing Paul prays. So, everything else that we’re going to read in this prayer should be read through the lens of “this is all according to God’s glory.” It may not be about us. It may not be about what we want. Everything Paul’s going to pray is going to be according to the riches of His glory.

He prays, “…[that you may be] strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,”

Now, let’s be honest. When we read a passage of Scripture like that, sometimes we say, “This is so awesome. I’m strengthened with power by the Spirit. So, when I go into that job interview tomorrow, it’s all going to go my way. Not only am I going to get the job, but they’re going to offer me more than the job posting said they would offer me because I’m strengthened with power by the Spirit.”

But that’s not really the context of this prayer. Right? It’s all going to be for the glory of God. Any strength that Paul says, “I want you Ephesians to have it,” it’s going to be according to the riches of God’s glory. So, we’ve got to look back to where we’re talking about. We’re strengthened with power according to the riches of His glory. But remember, glory, the glory of God, is not some far off concept that has nothing to do with our relationship. Paul wants all of this to happen for one reason. So that Christ may dwell in your hearts. It’s not just about giving a far-off God glory. All of this is so that God would dwell in the hearts of the believers. And Paul is making a really important point here. Maybe you’ve been a Christian for a long time, or maybe you’ve been around Christianity for a long time, and the phrase of, “Okay. Jesus dwells in my heart. I’ve invited Him into my heart.”

We’re like, “Yeah, yeah. I know all about that. That is old hat to me. I’ve got it. Cool thing.”

Well, for Paul, that is not old hat. That is exciting news because, in Ephesians 1:6, he’ll say, “Christ is the beloved of God.”

Now, here, the one that God loves dwells in your hearts. So, Paul’s making an argument that if Christ dwells in your hearts, and He is the one who God loves, then you are the one that God loves simply because Christ dwells in your heart. You didn’t have to do anything, you didn’t have to earn it. All of you who are there at the church in Ephesus, it’s just because Christ dwells in your heart. So, that is Paul’s prayer. Then he’s going to keep going.

“…so that Christ dwells in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love,”

And how does that happen? Well, context would tell us it’s because Christ dwells in you. The only way we, as believers, can be rooted and grounded in love, get our relationships with other people right, love them how we need to love them, and care for them how we need to care for them as if Christ dwells in our hearts. This vertical relationship has to be right to get these horizontal relationships right. I know you’ve heard Pastor Chip say it, time and time again, and I think it’s as true as true can be. You can’t be right with God and wrong with people. I think Paul is saying that exactly right here. If Christ dwells in your heart, if you’ve gotten this relationship right with Jesus, then you ought to be rooted and grounded in love. It’s not because you’ve figured it all out or you’ve figured out exactly how to love everybody perfectly all the time, but if Christ dwells in your heart, then the desire of our heart should be to be rooted and grounded in love.

Once that happens, Paul says, “…[that you] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,”

Of what? Of God’s love. But what is Paul saying here, exactly, if we’re going to grasp and comprehend the love of God? Well, this word “to comprehend,” we think of it, maybe, as, “Okay. I’m going to put these propositions together, and then I’m going to arrive at a conclusion. Therefore, I now can say I comprehend that conclusion. I’ve got all this mentally worked out.”

Well, that’s not really what Paul’s saying here. This word “comprehend” actually means “to apprehend, to grasp, to lay hold of.” It’s a very active verb. Paul’s saying, “I want you guys to get it down in your bones. I want you to reach out, experience it, and have it for yourselves.”

But watch. The only way that we’re going to comprehend the height, the breadth, and the depth of the love of God — super key phrase. We’re going to do it with all the saints. Together. If we’re going to comprehend the love of God, if we’re going to lay hold of it, if we’re going to experience it, if we’re going to really know what it is, we do it together.

That’s why one of our culture points, here at Grace — you can see it on a big canvas out in the lobby — is “Our Father.” We do “us,” not “I.” We do life together, and we do ministry in teams. It’s because of verses like this. If we’re going to comprehend the love of God, it’s going to be together with all the saints.

Then Paul prays, “…[I want you] to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,”

Isn’t that a kind of interesting turn of phrase? I want you to know something that actually sort of surpasses knowledge, that maybe you can’t really know, exactly, all the time and in every way. But I think the reality is Paul is saying, “I want you to know the love of Christ with all the saints.”

Let me give you a practical example of why I think this is the case, and why what Paul is saying here is so true. Let’s say that you have a spouse who is sick and not doing well. So, now, it’s on you, and you alone, to take care of the kids, to take care of the house, to work, to take care of your spouse. Of course, you’re worried about your spouse and what’s going on. I’m sure most of us have been in a situation like that. When you are, of course, you can still say, “Yeah. I know the love of Christ. I know that God loves me. I can say that and believe that as true.”

But how much more do you know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge when somebody from the church gives you a call and says, “Hey, I’m 30 minutes away with some hot food. I’m going to walk in. I’ve got some cleaning supplies. I can clean your kitchen while you eat, and I can take care of you. What do you need for tomorrow? I’ll go get that for you.”

How much more, then, do you know the love of Christ? Because it was demonstrated to you, you did it together with all the saints. That’s how we know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. And only when we do all of that together can we be filled with all the fullness of God. Then Paul starts to wind down his prayer.

He says, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,”

Now, let’s pause right there. How many of us have either done this ourselves, or we’ve seen this verse posted somewhere all by itself, and we said, “Alright. This is incredible. God’s going to do more abundantly than all I ask or think. I’ve been asking for the 2022 model. I’m going to get the 2023 model. I’m so excited. I know that’s going to happen because God does more abundantly than all we ask or think.”

You laugh because we know how crazy that is. That’s not what this passage of Scripture is talking about. What has Paul been asking for in this entire prayer? Well, he’s asked, according to the riches of His glory, that they would be strengthened with power, that Christ would dwell in their hearts, that they would know the love of God, together, with all the saints. Those are the things that Paul has been asking for. So, Paul says, “I am so confident that God is going to do those things because God’s going to do even more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”

So, the context here is so important, and all of this is going to happen according to the power at work within us. And what is the power at work within us? Well, Christ is dwelling in our hearts. So, of course, it’s so natural. We want to read this verse and say, “Okay. God’s going to make everything go my way. I’m praying that God is going to handle this situation for me. It’s all going to work out in my favor.”

Maybe that’s true. Does God love to give good gifts to His children? He absolutely does. But this passage of Scripture is more about bringing God glory. That’s what this passage of Scripture is really about. It’s not all about getting what we want. It’s all according to the power that’s at work within us. And I know it’s about the glory of God because that’s the very next thing that Paul says.

He says, “…to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

So, he begins the prayer with glory. He says, “All of this I’m about to ask is going to be according to the riches of His glory.”

Then he ends the prayer with glory.

“All these things that I’ve prayed, it’s not about us, it’s not about me getting my way. It’s not about everything being easy in life. It’s all so that to Him would be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, forever and throughout all generations. Amen.”

So, that’s the prayer. I don’t know about you, but that sounds nothing like the prayers that I usually pray. It’s different because I prayed prayers about me, and Paul’s praying prayers about the glory of God. He’s praying that rather than making everything go his way, God would do everything God’s way. So, these prayers are so different from what we’re used to. I think there’s a lot that we can learn from these prayers. So, I want to give you four things to think about. Some things that I think are practical and real in ways that can change our perspective when we pray about whatever situation we may be going through. Just four things for us to think about.

The first one is that God’s family story is your story. God’s family story is your story, it’s my story, and it’s our story. We tend, so often, as we read the Old Testament and the story of God’s faithfulness to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to King David — we read the New Testament and what God has done, and we read Church history and the faithfulness of God, and then we read ourselves as if we’re an island.

“None of that stuff really has anything to do with me because I’m just me.”

But the reality is Paul doesn’t want us to think that way because this whole prayer, remember, he tells us, “Who is this Father that I’m praying to? Well, it’s the one from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. That’s the Father that I’m praying to.”

He is your father, which means everybody is your brother and sister, and their story is your family story. Then he says it again in 1 Corinthians 10. That it was our fathers who passed through the sea. It was our fathers who were under the cloud. He wants these Christians in Ephesus, and also in Corinth, to realize, “What you read about, the faithfulness of God that you read about in the Scriptures, is God’s faithfulness to your own family.”

So, to put it succinctly, I would say God’s faithfulness to them — to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to King David, to the Apostles, to the Church. God’s faithfulness to them is the same faithfulness God has for you. And how does that change the way that we pray? We don’t have to pray, “God, I just want to remind You that there’s this situation here. You said You’d be faithful, so I need to spend a lot of time praying that You’ll be faithful.”

Instead, we pray, “God, I know that You’ll be faithful. I already know it. I’ve read my family history. I know that You’re true. I know that You’re good. I know that You’re working all things together for my good, according to Your purposes, because You loved me. So, God, now I’m asking, rather than, ‘God, be faithful, be faithful,’ I know that You are faithful, so help me to be a person who is a vessel for Your glory and for Your honor, in any situation.”

That is a different kind of prayer. That changes everything about the way that we pray. The second thing that I would tell you from this passage of Scripture is that we need each other to grow into mature Christians. That word “need” there is not an accident. It’s not that it’s better to have each other, or that it’s kind of nice to have some other people to help us grow into mature Christians. No. For Paul, we absolutely need each other if we’re going to grow to be the people God has called us to be. Remember, at the beginning, I told you that every “you” that we’ve read in this passage is a plural “you.” It’s about the Church. It’s about a group of believers doing this thing together. So, I just want to go back through the passages, super quickly, and show you all the places where it says “you.” Let’s talk about how important that is.

For Paul, he says, “…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you…”

The Church. All of us together. Not just one as an individual, but I’m praying that you’ll be strengthened with power. You, as in all of you, together, that Christ would dwell in your hearts, all of you, together. Then Paul says, “That you, all of you together — not just an individual, but all of you, as a community, being rooted and grounded in love, I want you to have the strength to comprehend the breadth, the height, the length, and the depth of God’s love. But you can only do it together, with all the saints.”

It’s not just me and Jesus. It’s not just you and Jesus. We do this thing together.

Then Paul will say, “…and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you…”

Not just me, not just you, but all of us. You, the Church, may be filled with all the fullness of God. So, for Paul, the Church is the one strengthened with power through the Spirit. The Church is the one rooted and grounded in love. And we can only grasp God’s love together, with all the saints. The Church is the one filled with all the fullness of God. It’s about more than just me. It’s about more than just you. It’s about all of us. It’s about what God wants to do, through Grace Community Church, here in Sarasota and around the world. It’s about more than just me or you. So, I would encourage you, if you’re here this weekend — and maybe you just kind of come to slip in and slip out. There is so much more than just that. This is a community. This is a place where we absolutely need each other. So, if you’ve not plugged in with a group, or you’ve not served with people, or if you don’t know anybody, I would just encourage you to stop by the welcome area after service. We will help you get plugged in. We’ll help you meet people. We’ll help you be the person God has called you to be. And that happens. We grasp the love of God together with all the saints. We need each other.

And the third thing that I would tell you is that God’s glory should be central in our prayers. God’s glory should be central in our prayers. And I’ve already told you that’s not often how my prayers sound. So, I was just real about that, and I think most of us are probably that way. But God’s glory has got to be central in our prayers. It was for Paul. He begins the prayer, “I’m praying that you’ll be strengthened with power according to the riches of His glory. Everything I’m going to pray is according to the riches of God’s glory.”

Then he ends the prayer, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, [it’s going to be] according to the power at work within us [Christ dwelling in our hearts],”

All of that Paul prays so that, “…to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

How does that change the way that we pray? Because I’ve already told you, and been honest, that I oftentimes pray, when I’m in a situation of whatever kind, “God, please let this go differently so that it’s easier for me. God, please change this person to think more like me, so this is a little bit more convenient. Please help this work out for my sake. It doesn’t really matter how it affects other people.”

That’s how we tend to pray, but how different would our prayer be if we prayed, “God, I’m praying that, according to Your riches and glory, You use me in this situation? Not just that I would get my way or have everything go my way, but use me, in this situation, to be an intentional neighbor, to reach people, to reach the unchurched. God, may You be glorified.”

That is a different prayer, and we approach the whole situation differently if we prayed that way. The fourth thing I want to tell you and leave you with is this: You are the supreme object of God’s love. You are the supreme object of God’s love. Remember, we can’t divorce God’s glory from His relationship with us. It’s not just about there’s a high off God, who’s far away, who we’re trying to give glory to. He wants to have a relationship with us. This whole prayer that Paul prays, he says, “I want Christ to dwell in your heart. I want all this strengthening with power according to His riches in glory to happen so that Christ will dwell in your heart.”

And to Paul, that’s so important. He’s made an argument in Ephesians. In Ephesians 1:16, Christ is the beloved. Christ, in the book of Ephesians, is the one who God loves. Now, Christ, the one who God loves, He dwells in your hearts through faith. And what does that mean? That means that you are the object of God’s love simply because Christ dwells in you. Not because of anything you’ve done, not because you’ve worked it out and gotten it all right all the time, but simply because Christ dwells in you. Now, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t love all the people of the world. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in Him would have eternal life. And it was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us.

But the reality is if you’ve put your faith in Jesus, and He dwells in your heart, then God’s love for you is so secure. Your eternity with God is so secure. We spend — let’s be honest — so much time, as believers, wondering, “Does God love me?”

We expend so much mental energy, praying, “God, can You just remind me that You love me? I’m just worried, right now, that maybe You do or maybe You don’t because I did this, or I thought that. So, I’m all stressed out.”

Sometimes we spend decades, as believers, worried about that. But Paul would say, “I don’t want you to feel that way.”

Paul tells the Ephesians, “I want you to know the love of Christ, not kind of hope that you understand it, once in a while, not maybe feel it on the weekend, whenever you’re here. No. I want you to know the love of Christ.”

And John puts it this simply. He says, “Whoever has the Son has life.”

Period. If you have asked Jesus into your heart, you have life. It’s done. It’s secure. You don’t have to worry about it. Then John will continue to say, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

He says, “I want you to know it, not to be all worried and stressed about it.”

So, to put it this way, I would say that God’s love for you and your eternity is secure simply because Christ dwells in you. And how does that change the way that we pray? Rather than having to pray, “God, please just tell me that You love me. Remind me that You care about me. God, give me strength to do all these good things so that I can get back in Your good graces.”

That’s not the way we have to pray. Because of this, we can pray, “God, I know that You do love me. Because I know that You love me, use me in this situation to joyously do all the things. You’ve called me to do.”

We’re not burdened to do the good things to get in God’s good graces. But because we’re already in God’s good graces, and He loves us, we joyously say, “God, use me for Your glory.”

That is a different prayer, and one that I think we all need to learn to pray. So, we’re going to sing a final song together. It’s a simple song. It’s just about the simple Gospel that we believe. It invites the Church to say “amen” again and again. So, my prayer for all of us, if we know all of this, if we know who God is and what He’s done for us, that our eternity is secure, that He will be faithful, rather than praying, “God, remind me, in this moment, that you love me,” it’s, “God, I know that You do love me.”

So, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus forever and throughout all generations. So, would you join me in prayer, for just a moment? Then we’ll sing a final song together. Let’s pray.