The reactions of our church family were amusing when we first introduced the idea of systematically praying through the Church Family directory. As we began to list people’s names for prayer in the bulletin each Sunday, there were those who asked “what’s wrong with Mr. and Mrs. Soandso that we are praying for them?” This practice can also cause us to wonder just what we should pray about for others, especially when we don’t know them. And what would we want others to be praying for when they are praying for us?
Taking a good look at our prayer life can help shine the light on what is important to us. One of the most difficult courses for me while in seminary was called “Clinical Pastoral Education.” It also turned out to be one of the most beneficial. As we students took to the hospital wards in the role of chaplains we were required to submit on a regular basis “verbatim reports” which were our written recollections of an entire conversation with a patient. We would then take turns being on the “hot seat”; handing our verbatim reports to our student group, who would then ask all manner of questions, including very often “why on earth did you say that?” It was not too long before most of us realized that our “pastoral” conversations with patients were often really more about us and our concerns, than they were about the patients. You can learn a lot about yourself by taking good note of the things you talk about, or fail to talk about! It would be an interesting exercise to do the same thing with our prayer lives; imagine what we might learn about ourselves if we prepared verbatim reports on our conversations with our Lord. Perhaps you can take a moment to think through your most recent prayers. What do you learn about yourself from them? What do they say about what is really important to you?
The content of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 can be a wonderful challenge for us with regards to what we pray. Paul can become a wonderful mentor to us if we are willing students of prayer. When Paul prays for the Ephesians, what does he pray for?
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (Ephesians 3:16 NIV)
WHEN PAUL PRAYS FOR OTHERS, HE PRAYS THEY WILL EXPERIENCE POWER. I suspect many of us pray for escape from our troubles, but Paul prays for strength and power. Looking back on my life, I am glad for the times God did not answer my prayers for escape – the strength He has given me instead has had a much bigger and better impact.
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3:17a NIV)
WHEN PAUL PRAYS FOR OTHERS, HE PRAYS THEY WILL EXPERIENCE A NEARNESS TO GOD. There could be no more loving prayer for another person than that they experience a closeness with God. Many of our prayers for others lack eternal dimensions. Praying for for one’e relationship with Christ can change their lives for better and for good!
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, (Ephesians 3:17b NIV)
WHEN PAUL PRAYS FOR OTHERS, HE PRAYS THEY WILL ACQUIRE A GROUNDING IN GOD’S LOVE. While many people celebrate Mother’s Day today, many others struggle to celebrate having experienced hurtful relationships. How much hurting would have instead been celebration had there been a greater grounding and rootedness in love?
may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. (Ephesians 3:18,19a NIV)
WHEN PAUL PRAYS FOR OTHERS, HE PRAYS THEY WILL HAVE A DEEPER KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. The NIV translation here supplies a bit of interpretation, the Greek text not containing the words “is the love of Christ.” While the NIV translators help us to understand what the width, length, height, and depth might refer to, the original Greek texts do not tell us. Some suggest it refers rather to God’s power. Perhaps it should refer to everything about God! But verse 19 makes it clear that if we don’t know the love of God, we don’t know God.
that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:19 NIV)
WHEN PAUL PRAYS FOR OTHERS, HE PRAYS THEY WILL BE FILLED WITH ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD. Imagine a life marked by the beauty of God, the holiness of God, the wisdom of God, the patience of God, the compassion of God, the love of God, and the glory of God. This and more is what Paul prays others will experience, and while we may think that this would require a miracle, we are quickly reminded in the next two verses that our Lord is in the habit of granting them!
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20, 21 NIV)
If you are like me, then our passage will inspire you to take your prayers up a notch. Let’s pray!