Powerful Prayers: Make Yourself at Home

(Note: For a few weeks , I will post the manuscript that goes with the audio (posted Tuesdays) from a sermon in the Powerful Prayers series. People have requested the sermon manuscripts many time, but I’ve always been reluctant to make it available for two principal reasons: 1) I never simply read a sermon, so what people read is not exactly what I spoke. The manuscript might be better or it may be worse but it will be different. And (2) because the sermon has not been edited for publication. With those caveats, here is The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation III (His Incomparably Great Power for Us Who Believe)

(Ephesians 3:14-19) For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Why pray? Or, to be more specific, why do you pray? To be more specific still, why do you pray for other people – friends, family, your kingdom comrades from Lockwood or other churches? We often talk about what to pray but seldom talk about why to pray.

I suspect – I know this is true of me – that we usually pray because we are aware of a need, of discomfort, or of danger. We pray when we see a threat to someone’s health or security or faith. And when we are unaware of a threat, we don’t think to pray.

That we don’t think to pray when things are going well betrays a faulty understanding of prayer and probably a false belief: that God left us here to muddle through and keep ourselves intact in the process. When that becomes more than we can manage, then it’s time to pray.

But do you see what this reveals about our view of God? We think he’s like the butler in a Jeeves novel – the smartest, most capable person around – who (for some reason) has nothing better to do in life than to get us out of scrapes and make us comfortable. But to think that is to misconstrue our purpose here and God’s, his role and ours.

The Apostle Paul doesn’t think of God as if he were “our Jeeves in heaven.” It’s not that he doesn’t want us to pray about our need—he tells us to do just that: to present our requests to God. But most of Paul’s prayers in the Bible don’t seem to come out of a sense of discomfort or fear or even need. They come out of a readiness to join God in what he is doing. That’s different than a readiness for God to join us in what we’re doing.

In verse 14, Paul says, “For this reason I kneel before the Father…” We’ve seen this before: Paul likes to explain the reason for his prayers. He told the Colossians that he had been praying for them ever since he heard of their faith and love. He told the Ephesians something similar. He was excited when he heard what these Christians were doing, and he wanted to support them with his prayers.

It’s a little tougher to understand what prompted this prayer. Once again, Paul mentions there is a reason behind it, but it is hard to be sure what that reason is. If you compare verse 14 to verse one, you will see they begin in exactly the same way: “For this reason…” But in verse 1, Paul interrupted himself with what amounts to a long parenthesis. (The NIV conveys this with a dash.) Most scholars believe that in verse 14 he finally comes back to what he stated to say in verse 1.

If Paul is just getting back to what he was poised to write in the first verse of this chapter, then the reason for his prayer must come out of what he said at the end of the last chapter. There, he wrote about what God has done to bring Gentiles, like the Ephesians and Colossians, into his people. He also wrote about what God is doing to build his people, Jews and Gentiles alike, into a magnificent, living temple in which God can dwell and through which God can act. That is tremendously exciting to Paul and it sends him to his knees in prayer.

However, I think Paul’s reason for this prayer must also include the truth he mentions in verse 12: that through Jesus, it is possible for people to bring their requests directly to God “with freedom and confidence.” That is too great an opportunity to miss, so Paul requests God’s help for the Ephesians’ role in the living temple project. That’s why he kneels before the Father.

Kneeling to pray was not all that common in Judaism. The normal posture for prayer was standing, with eyes lifted to heaven and arms raised. When someone kneeled – like Jesus in the garden or Paul on the beach with the Ephesian church elders – it was a sign of submission to God and of deep emotion. Paul was awed by the amazing wisdom of God in bringing Jews and Gentiles together in the living temple project. It was happening before his eyes and it brought him to his knees.

The principal request in this prayer is for God to give – Paul knows he is a giver – the Ephesians strengthening power. He asks him to do this “out of his glorious riches” or, better, “according to his glorious riches.” Paul is not asking God to deplete his riches by giving some of them to the Ephesians. He is asking the Father – the infinitely wealthy, incomparably generous God – to give in a way that is consistent with his famous largesse.

But Paul is not asking the Father to give these Christians money. He’s asking him to strengthen them; to give them power. Did you realize that God wants to empower you? He wants to you to be strong and capable.

Our culture talks a lot about empowering people: women, children, minorities, workers, gays, the transgendered, and, lately, even white men (though it’s usually white men talking about empowering white men.) Our society has a thing about power: it worships it. God doesn’t want us to worship power, but he does want us to use it.

When our culture empowers a person or a group of people, it divides them from other people. That’s how cultural power works: it raises some up by forcing others down. God’s power is not like that. It doesn’t divide. It unites. God’s power does not enable people to get their way. It enables them to walk together with others in God’s way. God’s power does not provoke resentment; it generates love.

Hold onto this thought: God wants to empower you. God, said C. S. Lewis, “seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.” He empowers us.

But why? What does God want to accomplish by empowering us? Why does Paul ask God to strengthen the Ephesians (literally) with power? Before answering the why question, Paul deals with the where question. Where is this strengthening power going? Paul says it is going to the “inner being” (or, as some translations put it, the “inner person”). It could also be translated, “the inside man.” Other than its lack of gender sensitivity, I prefer that. God has an inside man (or woman) working undercover in you, if you have been born again! And that inside man needs to be resourced, reinforced, and empowered, if the work is to succeed.

Look at verse 16, and let me to give you a more literal translation: “that he might give you, according to the wealth of his glory, to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inside man.” The word the NIV translates “strengthened” is used only three other times in the New Testament, twice of the boy Jesus, who “grew and became strong.” It is very important to God that you become strong – a great deal depends on it.

I’ve met parents who do not empower their children, even when they are twenty or thirty years old. I could almost believe they preferred their children to remain weak so they could control them. God is not that kind of parent. He wants his children to become strong.

There is an important reason for that. Look at verses 16 and 17, where Paul answers the why question: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…” Why? So you can be independent? No. So you can be tough? Not really. No, he strengthens you with power (verse 17): “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

That has always been the plan. It is “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints … which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27-28). God is transforming individuals from every race and people group so he can connect them to each other on the deepest level. A people who are strong enough to love, loving enough to sacrifice, and pure enough to become the temple through which God meets, receives, and transforms the world.

Another way of putting it is to say, as Paul did in chapter 2, that God’s people are “being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph. 2:21-22). For that to happen, Christ must live in each individual. As verse 17 puts it, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts.”

When Carol Leet’s four-year-old granddaughter, Amanda, went to the Pediatrician’s office with a fever, the doctor looked in her ears and said, “Who’s in there? Donald Duck?”

Amanda, with the forthrightness of a four-year-old, said, “No.” He looked in her nose and said, “Who’s in there? Mickey Mouse?”

Again she said, “No.” He put his stethoscope on her heart and said, “Who’s in there? Barney?”

Amanda answered, “No, Jesus is in my heart. Barney is on my underwear.”[1]

“Jesus is in my heart.” More precisely, Jesus is in our hearts: the hearts (or command centers) of every person who has faith in God and has confessed Jesus as Lord –the world’s rightful ruler and our leader. What we share with each other and with the Tiwi believers in Australia, with Wolof believers in Senegal, Papuans, Inuits, Ojibway, Quechua, Hmong, and every other people group you can name is Jesus in our hearts. He is the connector.

God is building something, something big, something great – a living temple in which he dwells and through which people encounter him – so it is absolutely essential that every believer in the world be linked.

Computing offers a helpful analogy. There is a supercomputer in Barcelona known as the MareNostrum 4. It is comprised of 48 racks with more than 3400 Lenovo computer nodes, each with two Intel Platinum chips, each with 24 processors, which means the main part of the computer has 165,888 processors. Cost to date (because it is continually growing) is something like a quarter of a billion dollars.

Some years ago, Virginia Polytech made its own supercomputer. It cost about 5 million dollars. They used faculty, technicians, and students to design a supercomputer from 1,100 off-the-shelf Apple Macs, and they built it one month. By linking every one of those computers, they made a supercomputer.[2] Similarly, by linking every one of us with the same operating system (Christ, not Intel, inside) God is making a living temple.

There is another kind of distributive computing known as quasi-opportunistic supercomputing, in which the processors are geographically separated, and yet are all connected or networked. The actual work is distributed through the various nodes across great distances.

That’s like Jesus’s people. Jesus unites them and is present in each of them by his Spirit, wherever they are. The network key, if you will, is faith in Jesus. Christ dwells in each person’s heart by faith (verse 17). So these believers are united together even though they may be separated by thousands of miles and have never met each other. They don’t even need to know what the others are doing. The one controlling the network knows that.

The goal, as we’ve seen before, is the universal rule over all things in heaven and on earth under one head, even Christ. That’s big. We are part of something big, the biggest thing in the world. So don’t be discouraged. The architect and builder of this greatest of projects knows what he is doing.

With all these illustrations, we may need to be reminded of the principal request of this prayer: that God will give these Ephesians power to become strong so that Christ can dwell in their hearts through faith. The word the NIV translates as “dwell” is used of a person settling down somewhere. For example, it is used of Jesus moving to Capernaum and making his home there. When we pray this prayer for someone, we’re praying that God will do what is necessary in that person so that Christ can settle in and make himself at home in that person’s heart – the command center.

Why do people need to be strengthened for that to happen? Because genuine conversion is like a spiritual earthquake. Christ is bigger than your heart. If he comes to dwell in you, you will need to be renovated. Walls will be knocked out, the structure reinforced.

Imagine the President of the United States was forced to relocate from the White House to your house. You say yes to having him come. What happens then? His forces come in, evaluate, and start changing things. You’ll need a fiber optic network. The entire house will need to be reinforced and shielded. A wing will need to be added here and another there. Walls moved, ceilings raised, tunnels dug, and on and on.

Do think having the president dwell in your house would require fewer changes than having Christ, the ruler of heaven and earth, dwell in your heart? You need to be strengthened for that. It is a major project.

A moment ago, I used the word “conversion” in regard to this project. Many people think of conversion as an instantaneous thing. I wasn’t a Christian. I converted. Now I am. But that’s not the way it works.

Conversion is a process that begins even before Christ comes to live in us. It begins with the Spirit’s work to prepare our hearts and minds. Then, when we say “yes” to God, the Spirit begins changing us on the inside. That’s what is in mind verse 16, where Paul prays for the Ephesians to be “strengthen[ed] … with power through his Spirit in [their] inner being” – the inside man. Conversion continues throughout a person’s life on earth (and, I expect, in heaven). That is why believers in Jesus keep growing, changing, and – if you won’t misunderstand me – getting “bigger”.

The process itself can be uncomfortable. Knocking out our carefully constructed walls can be painful. Raising the ceiling can be scary. The tools God uses to do that are sharp and disruptive. (But no one ever said that being a Christian is for wimps.)

That’s why God’s inside man or woman needs to be empowered. Paul asked God to give that power to the Ephesians and we should ask God to give that power to us. We’re going to need it!

Let’s take this seriously and start praying this prayer. Let’s try picking out three people we know – friends, pastors, ministry leaders, spouses, children – and pray this pray for them over the next week. Let’s ask our openhanded, power-sharing Father to empower them so they can be and do what God has planned for them. Let’s ask him to make them bigger so that Christ can dwell in their hearts by faith and they can know Christ is dwelling there. Let’s start, though, by praying this prayer for ourselves:

Father, I pray that out of your glorious riches you may strengthen us with power through your Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. Amen.


[1] Carol Leet, New York. Today’s Christian Woman, Vol. 18, no. 4.

[2] John Beukema, associate editor PreachingToday.com; source: John Markoff, The New York Times (10-22-03)

This entry was posted in Church, From the Pulpit, Prayer, Sermons, Spiritual life, Theology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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