(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

It is important to understand exactly what Paul prays for. This is not especially easy because the prayer is not expressed in the straightforward style we are used to. When we make a request we all know the benefit of doing so in plain language. This prayer is not couched in plain language!

(B) The Approach.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. v14.

This verse describes the why, the how and the who of Paul's prayer. We will examine each separately:

(1) The why: the prayer's motivation.

Paul writes, for this reason. He is praying for a reason. What reason? The apostle is surely referring back to what he has written particularly about all God has done for the Ephesian Christians. He has rescued them from their sin. They have been brought to life in Christ and included in the family of God. By so doing God abolished all distinctions between them whatsoever. This puts the Ephesians under an obligation to God.

Marcus Maxwell writes in his commentary: He (God) has called the Church into being to offer him worship and service. Therefore the writer prays that the Church will be granted strength to fulfil its role.

I wonder how often we think of the church along these lines. Many Christians think of the church as an organisation to provide them with a service. They want it to supply them: with an emotional lift, a lot of interesting activities, friends and a safety net in times of trouble. So Christians shop around like consumers for the church that suits them best.

(2) The how: the prayer's method.

Paul knelt to pray. This was not usual among the Jews. The Pharisees stood on street corners or in the Temple to pray. See Luke18v11. Whenever a Jew knelt to pray it was because he was overcome by great emotion. For example, when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (See Luke22v41) and Paul and the Ephesians prayed together at his departure for Jerusalem. (See Acts20v36)

How often do we pray fervently for Christ's church. Our prayers are often routine, stale, perfunctory, routine - even sleepy. (If we prayed standing up it would at least keep us awake!) We might pray with emotion when we are ill - or someone we love is in trouble - but we should pray like that for the well being of the church.

(3) The who: the prayer's mentor.

The story goes that one time when Bill Moyers was a special assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson he was asked to say grace before a meal in the family quarters of the White House. As Moyers began praying softly, the President interrupted him with, "Speak up, Bill! Speak up!" The former Baptist minister from east Texas stopped in mid-sentence and without looking up replied steadily, "I wasn’t addressing you, Mr. President."

Paul addressed his prayer to the Father - a special kind of father - one whom Paul calls, the father from whom his whole family on earth derives its name.

What does this mean? My family name of Reed refers back to my earliest ancestor of that name - to the founder or originator of the large extended family of Reeds. This is particularly important in some cultures. For instance in Scotland members of a clan, like clan MacGregor, accept that they have a common ancestor. The apostle Paul called himself a Benjamite. He belonged to the tribe of Benjamin and could trace his origins back to the youngest son of Jacob.

God is the father that every family on earth and in heaven owes its origin. He is our creator - the father and creator of us all. See Eph4v6.

God has rights as our creator, rights that no earthly father has. He has the right to our worship and praise. It is not for nothing that the Lord's Prayer begins: Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be your name. We owe God the most heartfelt and sincere respect and honour. We should approach him with reverence.

(C) The Application.

We examine next what Paul applied to God for. We need to take care what we ask for as this story illustrates:

A young man walking along the beach comes across an old bottle washed up by the tide. He picks it up, pulls out the cork and out pops a genie.

The genie says, "Thank you for freeing me from the bottle. In return I will grant you three wishes." The man says, "Great! I always dreamed of this and I know exactly what I want. First, I want one billion dollars in a Swiss bank account."

Poof! There is a flash of light and a piece of paper with account numbers appears in his hand.

He continues, "Next, I want a brand new red Ferrari right here."

Poof! There is a flash of light and a bright red brand-new Ferrari appears right next to him.

He continues, "Finally, I want to be irresistible to women."

Poof! There is a flash of light and he turns into a box of chocolates.

Well, Paul gives us a guide to what to ask God for. He requested for the Ephesians:

(1) Inner strength. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with all power through his Spirit in your inner being.

To put it simply, Paul prayed that the Ephesians might have inner strength. I take this to be strength of character. This is needed to resist the many temptations Christians face - temptations to: self-indulgence, self-pity, laziness, give up, retaliate, boast, criticise, bitterness, greed, worldliness and so on. To overcome these sinful tendencies qualities like self-discipline, cheerfulness, conscientiousness, self-control, humility, generosity and endurance are needed.

So what are the glorious riches at our disposal? What are the resources God provides by which we can develop strength of character? We need to be pragmatic and realistic about this. It is not my experience that God just dishes these qualities out. Strength of character is something acquired over time by using the resources available to us. These are:

    (a) Prayer itself. Many a son and daughter has been strengthened just by talking a problem through with their father. The very act of talking to God will often clarify an issue or put it into perspective.

    (b) The Scriptures. These are a veritable treasure trove. They tell us about Jesus. Treasures abound in his saving work, example and peerless teaching.

    (c) The Holy Spirit. He is the one who like a wise friend comes along side to help. The Holy Spirit doesn't do everything for us. He doesn't dole out self-control, generosity, graciousness or humility. The Spirit is the Holy Assistant who enlightens, gives counsel, guidance and adds value to our service.

I don't want to boast about my character! Many of my friends would say I haven't much to boast about! However, I feel justified in claiming to be persevering. But this doesn't mean that during the twenty two years I have been secretary of my small church I haven't been tempted to give up. People have left, the members have not always supported me and I have been criticised for my unorthodox views by leaders of the association of churches to which my church belongs. But I have been able to persevere through the means listed above. I have talked to God about my setbacks; I have remembered the advice of the writer to the Hebrews: Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Heb12v3); I have experienced the Spirit impress upon me the truth of Paul's advice to the Corinthians: Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. WHAT RICHES - to keep me persevering!

(2) The indwelling Christ. I pray .... so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

The 'so that' linking verses 16 and 17 is misleading. It suggests that Christ dwelling in the heart is conditional on strength of character. This is not the case. Paul is working through a list of requests and this is the second of them.

Paul prays that Jesus might have first place in the affections of the Ephesians BY FAITH. If we really believe in him then he will be the one we love the most.

Do we believe in what he:

    (a) Has done for us - died to save us from our sins.

    (b) Is doing for us - pleading for us in heaven as our Great High Priest.

    (c) Will do for us - raise us from the dead at his Second Coming to enjoy a life of eternal bliss.

If we believe in Jesus we know our:

    (a) Past has been changed. Our sins have been blotted out. The slate has been wiped clean. The debt has been cancelled.

    (b) Present status is a special one. We are children of God and joint heirs with Christ.

    (c) Future is amazing for we shall see Jesus and be like him sharing his very nature and glory.

If we truly believe in Jesus and know all he has done for us, pleasing him will be our number one priority; we will put him first - not our employers, our friends, our family or ourselves.

Perhaps one of the ways of making this real is to answer the question, "Is there anything I would change if Jesus came to stay the week." Would it affect the books on my shelf, the TV programs I watch, my conversation, the amount of time spent in prayer or Bible reading, what I shop for, the people I entertain, the number of services I attend or the way I work. If there are things I would change perhaps, I should change them now!

(3) The inspirational principle. And I pray that you being rooted and grounded in love ...

If Jesus takes the first place in our affections we shall love and obey him. Love will be the chief, ruling and inspirational principle of our lives.

Think for a moment what the natural loves achieve - what a husband will do for the wife he loves, what a mother will do for the son she loves and what a daughter will do for the mother she loves. Think of the huge sacrifices that love makes. Love forgives, overlooks failings, hopes for the best and serves with no thought of reward.

Jesus said if we love him we shall love one another. Do we forgive our fellow Christians, support and help them, encourage and sustain them, show them affection and respect. These are the things Paul prays the Ephesians will display in their church life.

I love the portrait Corrie ten Boom paints of her father in her book, 'In my Father's house.' In another of her books Corrie describes what happened after she, her sister Betsie and her father were arrested for harbouring Jews during the German occupation of Holland in the Second World War. They were taken to Gestapo headquarters in The Hague. The chief interrogator took pity on Mr ten Boom and said, "I'd like to send you home, old fellow. I'll take your word that you won't cause any more trouble.

Mr ten Boom replied, "If I go home today, tomorrow I will open my door again to any man in need who knocks."

That is love in action! Mr ten Boom was not released from custody and 10 days later he died.

Corrie's father often used to say, When Jesus takes your hand He keeps you tight. When Jesus keeps you tight He leads you through life. When Jesus leads you through life He brings you safely home. Mr ten Boom - that gracious Christian man - was rooted and grounded in love - AND JESUS BROUGHT HIM SAFELY HOME.

(4) The incredible possibility. I pray .... that you may have power, together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep .... and to know the love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of the fulness of God.

This verse is the inspiration of the Sunday school chorus:

            Wide, wide as the ocean,
            High as the heaven above,
            Deep, deep as the deepest sea,
            Is my Saviour's love.
            I, though so unworthy,
            Still am a child of His care;
            For his Word teaches me
            That his love reaches me

It might help us to simplify Paul's statement by paraphrasing it. Paul prays that the Ephesian Christians might know the extent of Christ's surpassing love because then the church will be the fullest expression of what God is.

Max Lucado tries to convey just how much God loves us like this: If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he'll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and he chose your heart. Face it, friend, he's crazy about you."

The love that Jesus has for us is not less than God the Father's love for us.

If we know Christ's love experimentally, if we are dependent upon it, humbled by it and grateful for it; if we exhibit Christ's love practically by serving others as he served us and display generosity, benevolence and forgiveness; if we do this collectively, all using our gifts for the benefit of one another and the wider community - THEN the church will be a powerful testament to God's wisdom, love and power.

God's decision to let fallen men live on and the sum total of wickedness, pain and misery this produced, his strange plan of redemption, the awful ordeal he prescribed for his son - all will be vindicated if the church is infused with the love of Jesus.

(D) The Accolade.

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.

It is hard to know what to call this exactly. It is not really a benediction. Paul is not asking for a blessing on the church. In this verse there is:

(1) An acknowledgment.

Paul acknowedged all the amazing things God can do through his church. It is not difficult to illustrate the truth of this fact. Dame Cicely Saunders, a staunch Anglican, was the founder of the modern hospice movement for terminally ill cancer patients in Britain. She began her work in the 1960's. Today many hospices exist. But their existance is not soley due to Dame Cicely Saunders. Innumerable Christians have made, and continue to make, a vital contribution to the establishment and running of hospices. Money and time is freely given to ensure that the work goes on.

The same could be said about the staggering achievements of John Wesley, William and Katherine Booth, William Carey, Hudson Taylor and so many other heroes of the Faith. They did not work alone. God worked through his church to bring down blessings upon their service. For example Hudson Taylor decided on June 25th, 1865, to minister to the millions of China, "West of the Mountains, South of the Clouds, North of the Lake" - Inland China. At Brighton, England, on furlough, he opened a bank account for ten pounds in the name of. "The China Inland Mission." His initial goal was twenty-four workers. The next May twenty-four sailed. Then there were seventy more. And another hundred. And finally more than eight hundred missionaries ministered across the far-flung miles of China's interior. Together they laid the foundations for the incredible church growth in China during last 50 years of the twentieth century.

What is the secret of the success of both individual Christians and Christians acting collectively?

Sometimes I expect my electric kettle to have boiled but find the water still cold. What has happened? I have forgotten to switch it on! On other occasions I put bread in the toaster and after five minutes no progress has been made. The toaster is not plugged in!

There is a sense in which we must be both switched on and plugged in to achieve great things. Dame Cicily Saunders was switched on by circumstances - the experience she had of loved ones dying of cancer. But as she prepared to establish the first hospice Cicily plugged into God's power by faith. She deliberately took a verse from Psalm 37 as her inspiration: Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in him; he shall bring it to pass. AV.

(2) A heartfelt desire.

What does the devotee - like a football supporter - want for his team? Glory! He wants to see his team triumphing in all aspects of the game.

What does a loving wife desire for her husband, a father for his son, a mother for her daughter? Each desires that the one they love will get their just deserts in their chosen walk in life. My brother, Philip, is hugely gratified that his beloved daughter Beccy is achieving success as an artist and is selling her pictures.

The children of God long to see God glorified in his church. If he is glorified in the church then he will be glorified in the Son because the church belongs to the Son.

God's glory will be fully displayed and his joy completed at the marriage feast of the Lamb when Christ takes possession of his Bride - the church. See Rev 21v2.

            The bride eyes not her garment,
            But her dear bridegroom's face;
            I will not gaze at glory,
            But on my King of grace, -
            Not at the crown He giveth,
            But on His pierced hand.
            The Lamb is all the glory
            Of Immanuel's land.

And the Father will be there - rejoicing in the glory of his Son and in the glory of his Bride.

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net