|Vol. 14 No. 8 August 2012||
T. Pierce Brown (deceased)
The manner and subject of our prayers are according to our knowledge and comprehension of God, and our practical relationship with Him. If we think of Him primarily as a Maker, Lawgiver or Judge, we will pray in certain ways. If we think of Him primarily in terms of the hope that we have of heaven, then our greatest desire will be for the strengthening of that hope and the ultimate attainment of it. That may cause the nature and subject of our prayers to be different. This does not mean that one is to be done in preference to the other. It simply means that as we are thinking of God in different ways, we will pray in different ways. Always, the more definite our awareness of the riches of divine grace we have in Christ Jesus, the greater will be the depth and breadth of our prayers.
Paul starts his prayer in Ephesians 3:14 with, “For this cause.” He was referring to the wonderful truths expressed in chapters one and two. He had discussed the marvelous grace of God and the fact that He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He had set forth the fact that we have been chosen and foreordained to obtain forgiveness in Christ, and though dead in trespasses, we have been made alive and to be joint heirs with Christ.
There is probably nothing more significant that we can meditate upon as we come to God in prayer than the nature and degree of the manifold grace of God. The proper awareness of it automatically causes humility, gratitude, thanksgiving, reverence, faith, hope, love and the determination to render steadfast obedience to our Lord. These are aids, not only to our own spiritual development, but also to getting the desired answers to our prayers.
When Paul then wrote, “I bow my knees to the Father,” he did not mean that he literally bowed, or that kneeling is the only acceptable way to pray. You may stand (Mark 11:25), fall on your face (Matthew 26:39) or have any other physical position. The primary thing is the spiritual position of humility, reverence, thanksgiving and awe with which we should approach God.
We may summarize and paraphrase verse 14 this way, “Because God has already dealt so wonderfully and graciously with you, I seek for you further blessings and ask for the highest possible benefits.” There is an interesting and paradoxical lesson here. God’s blessings always satisfy, but we are never to be satisfied with them! That is, He freely gives us salvation in Christ. This satisfies and gratifies me beyond expression. Yet, we are not to be satisfied merely with being saved. Most Christians seem to regard the sum and substance of salvation as a deliverance from sin and a reward in heaven. If that were all, it would be worth living and dying for.
These petitions of Paul help us to see more clearly that we should always want more of the things God has provided for us, and this honors, glorifies and pleases Him. We can understand this as we think of a simple illustration. Suppose a preacher were invited home to dinner by a gracious sister who had provided him with a luscious meal. He takes a small spoonful of beans, three grains of corn, the end of a chicken wing and a small glass of water. She urges him to have more, but he says, “No, thank you. I can live on this until I get back home where I can provide for myself.” He neither honors nor pleases her.
Many preachers and teachers point out that we should not be satisfied with doing the minimum. That is true, but my point now is that neither should we be satisfied with getting the smallest amount of blessings God has offered to us. The more of God’s blessings we thankfully receive, the more we glorify God.
Paul, in this prayer, presented possibilities that all too few Christians contemplate and fewer strive for and yearn to attain. There is another interesting thing: Those who have received the highest blessings are in real need of prayer. They need to be able to use properly those blessings to glorify God and be worthy of receiving even greater ones.
There is something exceedingly wonderful and precious in Paul’s next expression. He says, “That He would grant you according to the riches of His glory.” This prayer does not say, “According to the faithfulness of His people, nor even according to their needs,” although these are both involved very significantly in a prayer of this kind being answered. Paul was here still focused on God’s gracious willingness to grant exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think, instead of upon our small faith and smaller willingness to demonstrate what little faith we have. Paul penned, “Covet earnestly the best gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31), but our desires are often weak and our expectations small. Often, “We have not because we ask not” as James 4:2 suggests.
Paul’s desire for them should be our want for ourselves and our brethren. He prayed that they would be “strengthened with power by His Spirit in the inner man.” This is not some miraculous power that certain select ones can receive. He admonishes each of us, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). It does not come by lifting weights and taking vitamin pills. It comes by having the proper spiritual balance of food, exercise and environment.
The source of this strength is His Spirit, but it is not by some direct, miraculous means. It is found by following the command of Paul in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” It might dwell in you for a while simply by studying or memorizing. It will dwell in you richly as you practice what you learn until it becomes a part of your nature. John was told in Revelation 2:7, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.” He was not told, “Feel how the Spirit influences with divine enlightenment.”
The sphere of this spiritual influence begins with the inner man. Within each of us there is an inner man that needs awakening, feeding and strengthening. Until we are supremely conscious of the importance of the inner man, the outer man will never act properly. It is not enough to think of ourselves as animated beings to be covered with fine clothes, or even as rational beings, to be informed in the latest knowledge, trained in the use of scientific gadgets, or even guided by some moral standards. We must have a keen awareness that we are made in the image of God with great potential, ability and power. We have power to overcome any temptation of the devil, and power for service to God and our fellowman far beyond our normal thinking.
Paul reached toward a grand climax of this prayer when he said, “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” As significant as it is to be inspired by the memory of His loving sacrifice, as important as it is to strive to mimic Him and be like Him in our actions, it is more to be desired that He dwell in us by faith. Thus, as we become a partaker of the divine nature, we do what we do not as a matter of mere obedience to law, but because it is our nature.
The result of this is that we will be rooted and grounded in love. We will see more clearly and be moved more deeply to appreciate the breadth of His love. He has reached out to every creature. The length of it is portrayed by the length He went to redeem mankind – even to the cross. The depth of it is seen in the awareness that there is no sin so black that cannot be forgiven if the sinner will repent and accept forgiveness on the gracious terms offered by the loving Lord.
When we pray for enlarged spiritual ability, we may be thinking primarily of what it will do for us personally. There is nothing wrong with that, but the results of it are far wider than that. It will affect not only the joy with which we serve man under God’s direction, but aid in the salvation of many more souls and the glory of God.