To pray for strength and power is to pray for particular things. Often, when we pray for these two particular things, we have in mind what we need them for. Spend a bit of time reflecting together on this…
What do you understand strength to mean, and has there ever been a time when you prayed for it? What was that prayer like? Or possibly, what was that season of your life like and how did God deliver?
How do you understand the word power (particularly in the context of prayer)? Has there ever been a time when you’ve prayed for it? Did God come through how you expected?
Sometimes, we take a little too much ownership over the factors which have put us in right standing with God (known as justification). Paul is clear that we are God’s handiwork. These passages from Ephesians 2:8-10 and Ephesians 2:18-22 offer a corrective view of how we got to where we are today in our relationship with God.
What does it mean to you to be called God’s workmanship? Which other verses in these passages affirm the resolute sovereignty of God in relationship with your justification? In other words, how do you see Paul glorifying God by giving Him the credit for our salvation?
This powerful view of God’s sovereignty in our salvation is what Paul has in view as we dive into the passage for today. Read Ephesians 3:14-19 together.
Pastor Matt asked about the power Paul speaks of in Verse 16. Take some time to discuss the questions he asked; what is this power? Who mediates this power? Where does this power operate? And what or who is the source of this power?
Here are 3 points regarding this power which should serve to give us hope.
What does it mean to be strengthened with power by the holy spirit in our inner being. Paul is talking about sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit. The inner man, character, thoughts
Paul is praying for the supernatural in the domain of our character, a process which prepares us for heaven. He said that it is only when we yield to the Spirit the control of the inner man that we begin to live to the glory of God.
This passage isn’t the end of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. The way Paul was going to call them to live in the second half of Ephesians was only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Look at these 2 passages together. Try to identify the activity of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers.
Now on to comprehension. Read Verse 18-19
That statement… "The Strength to comprehend." Comprehend what exactly? Have you ever considered that you actually need the strength of God in order to comprehend this?
Pastor Matt quoted D.A.Carson, “Apart from the power of God helping us to comprehend the limitless dimension of the love of Christ we will have too little appreciation for it.”
What do you think of this statement? Is it accurate and fair?
We experience the truth of love when we see it in action, in motion. This often happens through suffering and persecution. Would you agree? Why is this?
Filled with all the fullness of God. This basically spiritual maturity. Paul assumes that we are not as mature as christians as we could be if we just grasped the magnitude of the power of God. But grasping the sublime massiveness of God’s love takes power, because his love is of a scale beyond our comprehension. The blessing though, is the answer to this question… where does Paul say that the power to comprehend actually comes from?
Pastor Matt said that this power, rarely, if ever, comes to the person not spending time in scripture. God has declared His love for us through his word. Would you agree?
How is your comprehension level? We each struggle with different things all the time, and our capacity to comprehend what God has done for us through Christ shifts with our situations, mentality, and emotions… This is why it’s important that this power comes from God, not us.
God makes good on his promises. Ephesians 3 closes with a doxology.
“20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Praying for power, and for strength. This is a beautiful invitation to each of us and to the church corporately. Take some time, and reflect on the things which have monopolized your time this week. What thoughts, worries, or concerns have kept coming to the forefront of your mind over the last span of time for you? Consider these in light of what Paul prays for the Ephesian church.
Read Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 3 to yourself as if he’s praying for you by name… (read your name into the blank spaces)
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you _________ to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your heart ________ through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength 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, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now _________, pray with me to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
You can take this and pray if also for your life group, and on an even bigger scale, pray it for Ness!
Now as you walk through the rest of your week, maybe make this your prayer every morning. Before the day begins, ask this for yourself, your spouse, your family, your church, your neighbourhood, your co-workers, your students. Whoever you come into contact with, lift them up to be strengthen with power to know Jesus!
Each of us live our life in the midst of a host of constantly changing circumstances. Think about just the smallness of your world as a child and how much more pain, suffering, and trials you're aware of now that you're an adult. For many, the natural inclination is to be somewhat reactionary in our prayer life, reacting to circumstances. Yet Paul casts a different vision for our potential prayers. Read Ephesians 1:15-23 together.
This prayer is broken down to three basic parts. The petition, the purpose, and the practicality.
Petition - Colossians 1:9
To be filled with the knowledge of God’s will.
Practicality - Colossians 1:10b-14
“bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
TAKING IT DEEPER:
While you’re still together, make a list on your phone (or a paper) and keep it with you. There are 2 parts to this list…
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Do you remember the first time you said, “I love you”?
What did you mean by that word, love? What was your hope for the person you were saying it to? What did you hope they heard or felt when you said it?
Obviously this is different than when we say that we love cheeseburgers, or hockey, or a good cup of coffee. In our contemporary culture, is the word LOVE by nature a relative term, subjective to the situation and the person who is using it? Or have we taken a profound concept that is not subjective, and made its meaning weak and empty through overuse or misuse? For either of these possibilities, what are the possible effects on how we understand love within the body of Christ, the church?
Read how John describes the substance of love in 1 John 4:7-12
Are John’s words here useful in establishing what the substance of God’s love really is? Use verse 10 in particular to evaluate your definition of love. Is it more than emotional?
Loving each other through prayer.
Read 1 Thessalonians 3 together to get a sense of Paul’s heart for the people of this 1st century church.
Paul exhibits, or demonstrates at least 4 things in this passage. Read each verse again and look at how these actions are described.
Walk through these 4 points together and discuss each in the context of your life at Ness.
How have you, or how can you….
Now make a plan. Keep it private or discuss if you want, but how will your prayer life this week be different as a result of the discussion today?
This week we gather for an evening of corporate prayer and fasting. As a result, we have no questions to accompany the sermon.
However, if you listen through and would like to post some of your own questions to the comments section we'll be sure to engage!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer noticed that in the Psalms, there are repeated requests for provision and protection. His conclusion of what this is, and how this leads us to Christ is startlingly relevant;
“It is striking to many earnest Christians as they pray the Psalms how frequently there occurs a petition for life and good fortune. When looking at the cross of Christ there arises in many the unhealthy thought that life and the visible earthly blessings of God are in themselves certainly a questionable good and in any case not to be desired. They then take the corresponding prayers of the Psalter as an early first stage of Old Testament piety that is overcome in the New Testament. But in doing so they want to be even more spiritual than God is.
As the petition for daily bread includes the entire sphere of the needs of bodily life, so the prayer that is directed to the God who is the creator and sustainer of this life necessarily includes the petition for life, health, and the visible evidence of God’s friendliness. Bodily life is not disdained. On the contrary, God has given us community in Jesus Christ precisely so that we can live in God’s presence in this life and then certainly also in the life to come. For this reason God gives us earthly prayers so that we can know, praise, and love God all the more. It is God’s will that it go well on earth for those who are devout (Ps. 37).15 This desire is not set aside by the cross of Jesus Christ, but is established all the more. And precisely at the point where in following Jesus people must take on many privations, they will answer the question of Jesus, “Did you lack anything?” as the disciples answered it: “No, not a thing.” (Luke 22:35).16 The assumption behind this is the teaching of the psalm: “Better is a little that the righteous person has than the abundance of many wicked” (Ps. 37:16).
We really ought not to have a bad conscience in praying with the Psalter for life, health, peace, and earthly good, if only like the psalm itself we recognize all these as evidences of God’s gracious community with us and thereby hold fast to the knowledge that God’s goodness is better than life (Ps. 63:4 , 73:25f.).
Psalm 103 teaches us to understand all the fullness of the gifts of God, from the preservation of life to the forgiveness of sins, as a great unity and to come before God with thanks and praise for it (cf. also Ps.65). For the sake of Jesus Christ, the Creator gives us life and sustains it. So God wants to make us ready, finally, through the loss of all earthly goods in death, to obtain eternal life. For the sake of Jesus Christ alone, and at his bidding, we may pray for the good things of life, and for the sake of Christ we should also do it with confidence. But when we receive what we need, then we should not stop thanking God from the heart for being so friendly to us for the sake of Jesus Christ."
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol. 5
We are called by the Psalms to dive in with a constant regularity, not because it is always what we want, but because it is precisely what we need. We need the words of the Psalms like we need water. Bonhoeffer writes,
“In many churches psalms are read or sung every Sunday, or even daily, according to a regular pattern. These churches have preserved for themselves a priceless treasure, for only with daily use does one become immersed in that divine prayerbook. With only occasional reading these prayers are too overwhelming for us in thought and power, so that we again and again turn to lighter fare. But whoever has begun to pray the Psalter earnestly and regularly will “soon take leave” of those other light and personal “little devotional prayers and say: Ah, there is not the juice, the strength, the passion, the fire which I find in the Psalter. Anything else tastes too cold and too hard” (Luther).8 Where we no longer pray the Psalms in our churches, we must take the Psalter that much more into our daily morning and evening worship. Every day we should read and pray several psalms, if possible with others, so that we read through this book repeatedly during the year and continue to delve into it ever more deeply. We also ought not to select psalms at our own discretion, exhibiting disrespect to the prayerbook of the Bible and thinking that we know better than even God does what we should pray. In the early church it was nothing unusual to know “the entire David” by heart. In one eastern church this was a prerequisite for an ecclesiastical office. The church father Jerome says that in his time one could hear the Psalms being sung in the fields and gardens.9 The Psalter filled the life of early Christianity. But more important than all of this is that Jesus died on the cross with words from the Psalms on his lips.10 Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure is lost to the Christian church. With its recovery will come unexpected power.”
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol. 5 (Kindle Locations 3514-3529). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.
Is happiness the absence of suffering? Well, possibly not all suffering is bad, possibly there is a just type of suffering. In Psalm 32, David calls our attention to the blessed feeling of having your sin forgiven. There's a suffering which we inflict on ourselves that can, if left unchecked, confessed, literally eat us alive. It is this type of suffering that Psalm 32 addresses when David writes, "For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”
A heart which tries to live autonomously, apart from the goodness of God will experience this type of crushing weight. Luther wrote, “Where do you find more pitiful, miserable words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? There you see into the heart of all the saints as into death, even as into hell. How sad and dark it is there in every wretched corner of the wrath of God”
The way out from under this wrath is confession, to be absolved and have one’s sin forgiven. David concludes Psalm 32 with this striking contrast between the wicked and the righteous, or to put it more plainly, between those try to deal with sin on their own, and those who look to God for deliverance. He says, “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”
Regarding praying this, and other Psalms, as personal confessions, Bonhoeffer offers us these deeply encouraging thoughts;
“But the question is not what possible motives stand behind a prayer, but whether the content of the prayer itself is true or false. Here it is clear that believing Christians have something to say not only about their guilt, but also something equally important about their innocence and righteousness. To have faith as a Christian means that, through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, the Christian has become entirely innocent and righteous in God’s eyes—that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). And to pray as a Christian means to hold fast to this innocence and righteousness in which Christians share, and for which they appeal to God’s Word and give God thanks. If in other respects we take God’s action toward us at all seriously, then we not only may, but plainly must, pray in all humility and certainty: “I was blameless before [God], and I kept myself from guilt” (Ps. 18:24 ); “If you test me, you will find no wickedness in me” (Ps. 17:3).24 With such a prayer we stand in the center of the New Testament, in the community of the cross of Jesus Christ. The assertion of innocence comes out with particular emphasis in the psalms that deal with oppression by godless enemies. The primary thought here is of the justice of God’s cause, which also, to be sure, vindicates the one who embraces it. The fact that we are persecuted for the sake of God’s cause really places us in the right over against the enemy of God. Alongside objective innocence, which can of course never be really objective because the fact of the grace of God likewise always meets us personally, there can then stand in such a psalm the personal confession of guilt (Pss. 41:5 , 69:6 ). This is again only a sign that I really embrace God’s cause. I can then ask even in the same breath: “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people” (Ps. 43:1). It is a thoroughly unbiblical and destructive idea that we can never suffer innocently as long as some kind of fault still remains in us. Neither the Old nor the New Testament makes such a judgment. If we are persecuted for the sake of God’s cause, then we suffer innocently, and that means we suffer with God. That we really are with God and, therefore, really innocent is demonstrated precisely in this, that we pray for the forgiveness of our sins. But we are innocent not only in relation to the enemies of God, but also before God, for we are now seen united with God’s cause, into which it is precisely God who has drawn us, and God forgives us our sins. So all the psalms of innocence join in the hymn: “O blood of Christ, O Lord of Righteousness / my Robe of Honor, my Adorning dress, / Before God’s throne I’ll be clothed with you / When in heavenly glory I’ll live anew.”
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol. 5 (Kindle Locations 3711-3735). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.
Our Podcast can be found on: