Sermon: Epiphany III – How to Pray for Our Friends in Christ
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-20)
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The Lord be with you.
Few things are more human than the urge to pray. If we have sense, we human beings recognize our limited ability to make things happen, to extricate ourselves from the dilemmas we find ourselves in, or to fix what is broken in ourselves and in the world. And so, our hearts cry out.
- Sometimes in our hearts we feel that we are lost and without direction. And so we cry out for wisdom, for guidance, for a way out of the wilderness.
- Sometimes in our hearts we feel small and weak. And so we cry out for strength.
- There are times when we feel frustrated and angry. And so we cry out “Why?” and we protest and complain and demand justice. Sometimes in our anger we curse, and little do we know it, but we are praying.
- When we get ill or find ourselves in frightening or discouraging places with regard to our health and well being, we cry out for healing, for restoration and recovery, for comfort and wholeness in our bodies and minds.
- Sometimes we get sad. We lose someone we love. The weight of the world and our worries presses down on us and we stumble beneath burdens too heavy for us to bear. We cry out for relief, for someone to hold us and reassure us that we are not alone and that all will be well.
- There are pleasant times when we feel deep joy in living, when all is right, bright and happy in our world. In those seasons our hearts cry out with a spirit of contentment, gratitude, and praise.
- When we think of those we love, we find that our hearts are always crying out for them — for their health and well being, that they will be established and successful in life, that they will be happy, secure, and well taken care of.
We are human, therefore we pray. We may not always voice these heart-cries in times of formal prayer. More often, these prayers are just part of the way we think and feel and breathe and act each day.
Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians is filled with prayers. In fact, a case can be made that the entire first three chapters of this letter is written in various forms of prayer. He begins by blessing God for all his blessings, and then just keeps meditating on all those blessings, pausing along the way to pray for his friends in Ephesus that they will be able to grasp and appropriate them in their hearts, minds, and lives.
Chapter three ends with one of these prayers, the one I read just a few minutes ago. It is a wonderful example of how to pray for each other as friends in Christ.
Notice first how Paul prays that his friends may be filled with strength in the inner person by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now there’s a prayer we all need. Paul doesn’t focus on the circumstances the believers in Ephesus are facing on the outside, but rather prays that God will help them on the inside, no matter what they’re going through.
That’s where we need God’s help most of all too, isn’t it — on the inside. You know, in that secret place where you lack self-confidence, where you feel weak or ill-equipped to handle the demands of life. The inside, where you may be still reeling from some trauma you have experienced that keeps you anxious and afraid. The inside, where you regret some bad choices you’ve made and you feel guilt and shame that’s hard to shake. The inside, that part of you that you want to hide and not reveal to anyone else. Paul prays that God’s Spirit will strengthen us with divine power right there, right where we all need it most when life’s relentless issues and challenges rise up.
And then Paul prays that his friends may be filled with God’s love, as Christ makes his home in their hearts. He prays that they will be rooted and grounded in love — that love will be the source and the foundation of everything they think, say, and do. And he prays that God will fill them up with the kind of love that is so vast, so rich, so profound that it’s really beyond understanding or description.
Paul puts his finger right on what we really need, right? Strength and love.
Strength to bear up under pressure and the trials and temptations that accost us. Strength to persevere, to keep pressing on through the various seasons and circumstances of life with all their challenges and complexities. God’s strength, to carry us in our weakness, to sustain us when we get weary, to empower us to follow the path of Christ.
And love. Love to embrace life as God’s gift and to relish it. Love to devote ourselves to the lifestyle of Christ — serving our families, our neighbors, our communities, our world. God’s love, to overcome our laziness, our selfishness, our prejudices, and our pride.
I hope you will pray this way for me. And I will try my best to always pray this way for you. Strength and love. Love and strength. It all comes from Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith. So let’s pray for each other that Christ may fill us and bless us each day.
May the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom. Amen.