Prayer That Works: Praying to the Father, for the Spirit, to Fill the Church with Christ’s Manifold Love (Ephesians 3:14–21)

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Prayer That Works (Ephesians 3:14–21)

In recent years, few passages have captured my imagination more than Ephesians 3:14–21. That is to say, few texts of Scripture have struck me with such a vision for the need for prayer in the church and prayer for the church, and hence my own need to pray more for the church.

In Ephesians 1–3:13, Paul outlines a glorious vision of the church created by Christ’s cross and unified by God’s Spirit. And in Ephesians 4:1–6:24, Paul instructs the church how to walk with God. But in between, he connects these two halves with a prayer for the Father to give the Spirit in order for Christ’s people to overflow with his love. In addition to being a glorious trinitarian prayer, this prayer sums up all Paul has said about salvation and sets up all he will say to the church about walking in the Spirit.

As I said, for all that I’ve read (and preached) about prayer and the church, no vision of prayer in the church has been more instructive for me than this passage. And I pray that as you study this passage, or listen to this sermon, or dive into the resources below, you too will catch a vision for what God wants to do in the church, and why prayer to the Father, for the Spirit to fill his people with the love of Christ is so vital for triune glory of God to be seen in the church. Speaking personally, Ephesians 3:14–21 helped crystallize the need for such prayer, and I pray it will catalyze you to pray as well. Continue reading

Praying for the Inner Man: D. A. Carson on Ephesians 3:14–21

huy-phan-100866For 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 hearts through faith
— Ephesians 3:14–17 —

When I preached through Paul’s prayers a few years ago, I read D.A. Carson’s A Call for Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His PrayersIn that book, Carson recounts how we should think about Paul praying for the “inner man” (Ephesians 3:16). That section struck a deep nerve with me, and as I prepare to preach that passage this Sunday, I share it with you.

Most of us in the West have not suffered great persecution, but all of us are getting older. In fact, sometimes we can see in elderly folk something of the process that Paul has in mind. We all know senior saints who, as their physical strength is reduced, nevertheless become more and more steadfast and radiant. Their memories may be fading; their arthritis may be nearly unbearable; their ventures beyond their small rooms or apartments may be severely curtailed. But somehow they live as if they already have one foot in heaven. As their outer being weakens, their inner being runs from strength to strength. Conversely, we know elderly folk who, so far as we can tell, are not suffering from any serious organic decay, yet as old age weighs down on them they nevertheless become more and more bitter, caustic, demanding, spiteful, and introverted. It is almost as if the civilizing restraints imposed on them by cultural expectations are no longer adequate. In their youth, they had sufficient physical stamina to keep their inner being somewhat capped. Now, with reserves of energy diminishing, what they really are in heir inner being is comin out.

Even for those of us who are still some distance from being senior citizens, the restrictions and increasing limitations of the outer being make themselves felt. My body is not what it was twenty years ago. Every time I take a shower, a few more hairs disappear down the drain never to be seen again. I have arthritis in two or three joints; I have to watch my intake of calories; my reaction times are a little slower than they used to be; in a couple years I shall need reading glasses. And someday, if this old world lasts long enough, I should waste away, and my outer man will be laid to rest in a hole 6 feet deep. Yet inwardly, Hall insists, in the inner man, we Christians are being “renewed day by day.”

The Christians ultimate hope is for the resurrection body. But until we receive that gift, it is our inner being that is being strengthened by God’s power. In a culture where so many people are desperate for good health, but not demonstrably hungry for the transformation of the inner being, Christians are in urgent need of following Paul’s example and praying for displays of God’s Mighty power in the domain of our being that controls our character and prepares us for heaven. (184–85)

Few reflections on prayer or the spiritual life have arrested my attention like these words. Why? Because as a man still young in ministry and relatively young in my Christian walk (compared to those who have walked with Christ for 30, 40, an 80 years), I wonder, “Is my outward maturity more a mark of spiritual strength or a good memory? Do I obey the commands of God because faith motivates love, or because disobedience would impugn my reputation?” Continue reading

Our Mission Trip to Iceland: A Sunday Morning, Coffee House Update

IMG_0514On Facebook, I’ve had a chance to share a few updates from our mission trip. Today, as we get ready to go to church (at 2pm UTC), we are stopping in a local coffee shop—the Flagship Coffee House of the North Atlantic—and stopping to give a brief update on our trip. So, here are six highlights from the trip.

Six Highlights from Iceland

The Landscape

The first thing to mention about Iceland is the stunning beauty of the Iceland. The word Reykjavik, which hosts about 80% of the population (280,000 of 340,000), means “smoky bay.” The reason: Iceland is situated on a volcanic rock jutting out of the Northern Atlantic. Accordingly, it has beautiful black beaches, rocky mountains, long bays (called fjord), and rainbow-filled skies. In short, the landscape looks like something from a C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien novel—and that’s fitting because both were affiliated with Iceland.

The Weather

Next, the weather. When I first thought of Iceland, I (wrongly) thought of ice, snow, blizzard, and sunless winters. And to be sure, Iceland is cooler than Virginia and darker in the Christmas season. But at the same time, it has been far more pleasant than I imagined. Our weather has been wet, but the houses are more than adequately warmed. With lava-heated water pumped into every home, windows stay open most of the time. And the landscapes and people more than make up for the Seattle-like wetness. Continue reading

Thanksgiving and the Glory of God: Why Giving Thanks is More Than a Casual Habit

praying handsI will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
— Psalm 69:30 —

Thanksgiving is a practice of politeness, etiquette, and good decorum. Right? It is what we (are told to) express when Aunt Lucille buys you a sweater when you want the Super Hero action figures. Or something like that. It is a Christian command, but one that is more happenstance than a daily discipline. Right?

Well, what does Scripture say? Could it be that thanksgiving is something far more essential than we typically think? However you consider it, I am increasingly convinced the discipline of thanksgiving is a central feature of what it means to be a Christian. With it the church of God will grow in grace and love and hope, but without it Christ’s church becomes bitter, fragile, and peevish.

Could it be that one of the greatest needs we have today is the cultivation of thanksgiving as a spiritual grace and habit of holiness? Could it be that we have too casually treated thanksgiving? Maybe its just me, but I think we could use a refresher on how important Scripture makes thanksgiving. Continue reading

Praying with Passion (Psalm 126)

rhythms-of-holinessAs we begin 2017, our church has taken January to focus on a handful of spiritual disciplines—personal and public. The first in our series is prayer. But instead of just commending its importance and techniques to help, I took the route of seeing how God forms desire for prayer in our hearts.

By drawing near to God, by remembering the promises of his Word, and by desiring with increasing anguish Christ’s kingdom to come, we grow more passionate in our prayer. Indeed, passion is not a word that simply means “with heighten emotion.” Rather, its original sense relates to suffering (hence “Christ’s passion”), and this is what we do when we pray—we entering into the sufferings of Christ and weep for his will to be done.

At first glance, this kind of praying may seem off-putting, but I believe, Scripture—Psalm 126 especially—teaches us that this is the kind of prayer that endures. So if you want to grow in prayer in 2016, consider what Psalm 126 says and how it fuels prayer. You can read the sermon notes or listen online. Discussion questions and resources are below. Continue reading

Like the Breaking of the Dawn: How Faith, Prayer, and the Holy Spirit Bring Spiritual Illumination

morningIn the Gospels, the disciples of Christ often appear as experts in missing the point. While seeing, they don’t yet see. Like an untrained miner, they do not yet possess and appreciation for the jewel that stands before them. Christ is the pearl of great price, the treasure of incomparable value. Yet, it took time for the disciples to perceive who Christ was and how he was bringing the kingdom of God.

The same might be true today. Although, we do not physically see Jesus Christ, we inhabit a world where the Spirit of Christ has been sent. While Christ’s absence may constitute some disadvantage to our understanding, the gift of the Spirit is a far greater advantage. As Jesus says of the Holy Spirit, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

Thus, contrary to what we might think, to have the Spirit of Christ in this age is better than having the physical Christ. For to have the Spirit is to have Christ and the Father—for he is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. And more, in having the Spirit of Truth, we have One who opens our blinded eyes, convicts our dull souls, and enables us to see and believe in the Lord. Indeed, by the Spirit-inspired Word of God we have access to knowing in ways the disciples struggled to grasp. Continue reading

Practical Counsel for Growing in Grace

discipline“Discipline yourself for godliness.”
— 1 Timothy 4:7 (NASB)–

Recently Donald Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Seminary (Louisville, Kentucky) answered a series of questions for Desiring God‘s podcast, Ask Pastor John. Dr. Whitney, who is arguably the foremost authority on evangelical spirituality, has been studying and teaching these materials for over twenty-five years. His book  Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is a modern classic and an illuminating study for growing in grace.

If you are not familiar with the Bible’s prescribed disciplines for spiritual growth, or you are and have not read his enlightening book, I cannot commend it enough. In the meantime, if you would like a primer on the disciplines or a refresher for why they are so important, take 30 minutes (or 5 seven-minute segments) to listen to his answers to these five questions. (I’ve included a teaser quotation from each interview). Continue reading

Recommended Reading: Ten Books on Prayer

praySunday I preached on the church’s calling to “pray for one another” (James 5:16). Among the seven points of application—“seven ways to improve your pray life today”—one of them had to do with learning how to pray.

In truth, nothing teaches you how to pray like praying, and especially by praying with others who know how to pray. The disciples asked Jesus “to teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). The assumption is that both John and Jesus prayed with and before their disciples, hence prompting their question.

Theologically, it is the Spirit who directs our prayers (see Romans 8:26; Ephesians 6:18; and Jude 20). But practically, like Jesus’ twelve disciples, we too need to learn from our Lord how to pray. Certainly, the Scriptures are the place to learn what it means to “pray in the Spirit,” “by the will of God,” “for his glory,” and “for our joy.” But if you are like me, you are helped when men and women gifted to teach and gifted to pray write books that relate Scriptural truth to real life.

Therefore, if you are earnestly desirous of learning how to pray, consider these ten books on the subject. I have found them helpful and encourage you to check them out too. Continue reading

(How to) Let Love Increase: A Meditation on 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13

waterNow may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
 – 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 –

In his letters, Paul often inserts a prayer for the sake of his brethren. And what he typically prays for is twofold—that the church of God would increase in knowledge of God and love for one another.[1] First Thessalonians is typical in this regard. After recounting Timothy’s report of the Thessalonians faith, hope, and love, he proceeds to pray for these people whom he loves with deep affection.

In his prayer, he petitions God to increase their love for one another and for all people. In these three verses (3:11–13), we can learn four things about love for one another. Continue reading

A Prayer for America

thanksYesterday, I suggested we take time in our church services to pray for our country as Daniel and Nehemiah did for theirs. Last year, with those model prayers in mind, I offered this prayer at church. A year later it is just as appropriate, just as needed.

Holy God. You are right to demand holiness. Your will for all those made in your image is holiness. We confess that this is right and good.

And with that in mind, we confess we are not. In our city streets and in the corridors of our mind, we are unholy. Our nation and many in your church are drunk on impurity.

We are consumers of lewd entertainment.

We are led by an insatiable desire for more—more money, more sex, more fun, more stuff.

We legalize that which is a stench in your nostrils, and we outlaw that which pleases you.

Worse, our churches follow the ways of this world. We import the practices of our culture.

Instead of celebrating purity, we applaud celebrity.

Following the world, we mix your Word with a cocktail of psychology, leadership principles, and positive thinking.

Forgive us!

We thank you for the Christians who have gone before us, and been salt and light to preserve our nation.

We thank you for the legacy of Christian faithfulness that we have in this country. No country on earth has more churches, Bible schools, Christian publishers, and free access to you.

What a gift! What grace! Thank you for sharing your light with such undeserving and unthankful people.

But, oh how, we tremble at the way such blessings are trampled under foot.

Churches that were once committed to your Word are compromising.

Schools founded to glorify Jesus have exchanged light for darkness.

Leaders who once upheld truth, justice, and goodness are now controlled by moral relativism and whatever is popularity.

And what is popular is not holy. We deserve your judgment. If we learn anything from your words to Israel, we deserve to lose the lease on our land. We deserve to be vomited out. God forgive us!

Send your Holy Spirit. Revive your churches.

May the pulpits of America once again unashamedly declare Christ.

May the Christians in our country strive after holiness.

May we show the world a kind of love that makes God-haters thirst for Jesus.

Oh, be merciful to us! We are sinners. In your holiness, remember your Son’s atoning death. Be patient with us, and help us to be a light in this dark country.

Grant us sober hearts. Hearts that grieve not for the loss of Americana, but for the loss of your holiness.

Father in heaven, hallow your name in our country!

May God grant us, our churches, our nation a heart of repentance and renewed thirst for him and his righteousness.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds