[The following was presented at the House of St Michael the Archangel Devotional Conference in January of 2014]
17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every [fatherhood] in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
(20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.)
The Apostle Paul prays for his readers twice in the texts which we have heard read from Ephesians. And though the letter is addressed to the “saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful to Christ Jesus,” I think Paul would include in these prayers his brothers and sisters far beyond Ephesus. The epistles of the New Testament were frequently circulated among more than one church. Paul probably knew that people not just in Ephesus, but in other regions of Asia Minor, would read these letters. Perhaps, if the Spirit revealed such a mystery to him, the Apostle knew that one day readers throughout the world would hold his letters in their hands, receiving his testimony about Jesus. In this light, I think we can say in truth that the Apostle Paul prays for us, as well, in these two prayers recorded in Ephesians.
Both of these prayers which Paul offers for us emphasize the richness of the Father’s glory, the role of the Holy Spirit in revealing the Father’s glory to us, and the incomprehensibility of the Father’s love and power.
In the first of these prayers, Ephesians 1:17-19, Paul prays to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory. He asks that we might receive a spirit of wisdom and understanding and revelation as we come to know the Father, so that with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we may know the hope to which we’ve been called and the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints. We come to know this glorious inheritance through the action of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, who gives us wisdom and reveals to us the depth of the love God has for us, and the hope he gives us.
Then Paul emphasizes the Father’s great power – the great power that raised Jesus from the dead, exalted him above every earthly and spiritual power, and seated Jesus in a place of intimacy and shared rule with the Father in heaven. He says this power is immeasurable. There’s no use comparing it to any earthly expressions of power. God’s power transcends anything we could imagine or quantify. And Paul prays that we would know this power, which is “for us who believe.”
The second prayer, in Ephesians 3:14-21, strikes me in a more tender, heartfelt and personal way. Paul offers an intimate portrait of prayer, saying that he bows before the Father from whom every fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives its name. Though many translations use the word “family,” at this point, the Greek is patria, which is related to the word used for Father here, patera. In the Greek Old Testament, the word is used for individual households, each father’s house, as well as tribes and nations. Elsewhere in the New Testament, it’s used when describing ancestors. Jesus was of the “house and lineage of David,” or “house and fatherhood, patria of David.”
To say that God is the Father from which every fatherhood in heaven on earth derives its name is to say not only that the Father is the source of all life, but that the Father is the archetype and standard for all fatherhood. Just as his power transcends any earthly power we could imagine, so his Fatherhood transcends any earthly father we have. The Apostle’s words just became incredibly intimate and personal. Perhaps Paul is even touching the parts of our hearts that are bruised. Perhaps the Apostle’s words are stirring up memories we’d rather not engage and wrongs we would rather not forgive.
Many, if not all of us, carry wounds in our hearts which have been inflicted by parents. If our heavenly Father with his incomprehensible love for us sets the standard for fatherhood, then it’s easy to see how all human parents fall far short of this. (I say this as a parent myself, one who over the single year of my daughter’s life, has realized just how imperfect my attempts at fatherhood are.) What glorious and liberating truth it is then to know that we have one Father, who loves us with unimaginable love and who desires to bestow upon us a glorious inheritance. This should relieve the burden we place on our worldly fathers and enable those of us who’ve been hurt by our worldly fathers to forgive. No human parent can ever love as perfectly as the one Father. How freeing it is then to only expect perfection from our heavenly Father. And it should correct all of us who attempt to raise children, reminding us that for all the influence we have in our children’s lives, they belong ultimately not to us but to the Sovereign God.
Our Father is the Father of Glory. And we can indeed call the Father our Father because of what the Father has done for us in Jesus Christ. “The Father, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace we have been saved – and raised us up with Christ and seated us with Christ in the heavenly places. He did this so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:4-6) In Christ, we receive new life. In Christ we are raised to heavenly places. In Christ we receive the immeasurable riches of the Father’s kindness. In Christ we become children of the Father of Glory. In Christ we become the glory of God. In Christ we are filled to the fullness of God. And knowing the Father’s love (according to Paul’s prayer) is what fills us to the fullness of God.
To return to our word for fatherhood, patria, we are now of the “house and lineage of God.” We have been, as Paul says, adopted, chosen to be brought into God’s family. We are no longer strangers and aliens, but we are members of the household of God. We who once belonged to another family have been welcomed into the Father’s family by the beautiful, hospitable, and sacrificial gift of adoption. As it is written in Hebrews, Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters (2:11). Hebrews says that he who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. Jesus looks at us, even in our failures and sins, and is not ashamed. Instead he says, “That’s my sister, that’s my brother. I’m making them holy, because we’re one family.” And if God the Father is our father, and Jesus is our brother, it is not unreasonable to say that Mary is mother. Children take after their mothers, as well as their fathers. As we sang here at the Devotional Conference two years ago, and have sung this weekend, “Mary, teach us to receive the Word like you.” May we learn from Mary how to receive and treasure the great gifts the Father gives. May we receive God’s love as Mary did, being filled to the fullness of God.
For in the household of God, the Father loves to give good gifts to his family. Jesus says in Luke, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” As we’ve been singing, “God and Father, you give more . . . You give your Son, / You give your Spirit, / You give your life, / You give your love, / You give your glory.”
In the light of such magnificent gifts, how could we do anything less than bless and thank our God and Father? This grace and the gift of adoption by the Father of glory call for an intimate and loving response from us. Paul prayed that we would come to know this unknowable love, that we would be enlightened by the Father of glory, and that prayer is being answered in part right here and right now. We must respond with joyful singing and thanksgiving and doxology. And, if we follow Paul’s example, our response will include intercession as well.
As Paul models for us, a life lived for the glory of the Father is one which bows before the Father of glory and asks for others to receive the Holy Spirit so that Christ would dwell in them and they would know the unknowable love and power of God. If we are thankful and filled with joy because of the Father’s love, surely we desire for others to know that love as well. Blessing and doxology and thanksgiving are our proper responses to God, but they naturally overflow into intercession. If our brother Jesus continues to speak to the Father on our behalf as our great High Priest, let us also speak to the Father on behalf of this world. And let such intercession continue until the day when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father.
Such intercession is not difficult. One of the perceived obstacles in intercessory prayer is uncertainty over what to pray. Many of us seem to feel pressure to make up profound extemporaneous prayers, and that pressure often backfires and leaves us mute. But the Holy Spirit has been given to all who in Christ to inspire our prayers. This means we’re not alone. We can trust the Spirit’s inspiration of the prayers of the Church throughout the centuries. The most profound intercessory prayer can be as simple as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on __________.” We also do well to pray the prayers of the great saints who have gone before us, like Paul.
Paul’s example of intercession in Ephesians teaches that when praying for others, we should pray that they would know increasingly the love, power, and glory of God. This seems different from more worldly prayer requests. Not that prayers for healing or to find a job or for strength to make it through the day are bad. They are necessary. Scripture commands us to pray for such things. But Paul shows us that praying for revelation of the Father’s love and power and glory has a deeper and much more comprehensive effect. Truly knowing the love of the Father makes us desire for Him, not us, to have the preeminent place in our prayers. So we pray first for the Father’s name to be hallowed, revered as holy, then ask for and receive our daily bread with greater delight. If we first thank our God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, then we become even more thankful for all the smaller gifts we receive. If we first bless and praise and thank the Father for the gift of the Son, then His light reveals to us the other riches of the inheritance we receive as children of the Father of glory.
The fact that we are all God’s children also makes intercession the most accessible form of ministry available to the Church. Anyone in Christ – regardless of intellect or physical capabilities or any other possible human weakness or limitation – anyone can pray for the Lord to have mercy on someone else. Anyone can use the words of scripture to pray for the Father of Glory to reveal his ineffable love to anyone. You don’t have to be a saint to do it, but doing so could make you a saint. The saints, after all, are merely those people who have been weak enough for God’s immeasurable power to shine through them.
And while anyone can do this, intercession is also an incredibly Christ-like ministry. How glorious is it to join not just in Christ’s earthly ministry, but also his heavenly. The Resurrected and Ascended Son lives at the right hand of the Father in glory. And there he intercedes for us. The ministry of Christ which takes place in glory is intercession. We show we are also children of the Father of Glory when we participate in intercession side by side with our brother Jesus. As Paul says later in Ephesians, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Christ offered himself up as a sacrifice to God in his death on the cross. But he also continues to do so as our great high priest, ever-living to intercede for us before the Father in heaven. So we can also imitate God and show that we are children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, by joining our brother Jesus in intercession.
Incidentally, this is also why the saints who have gone before us can contribute to the ministry of intercession. They share in the Father’s glory, which is the glory of the Son, so they do what the Son does: they pray for us and for the world to know the Father’s love. Thus the saints continue to participate in mission even after their deaths. That is a glorious inheritance in the saints.
At the very first House of St. Michael Devotional Conference (January 14th, 2011), a man named Dick Ray spoke to us. Near the end of his second talk, Dick told us that the renewal of the Church has often come about through praying scripture. He said that what churches need to do today is to pray scripture together. The next day at The Upper Room, the church which I co-pastor, we adapted Ephesians 3:14-21 into a prayer which we could pray on behalf of others. I think the appropriate response to the magnificence of the Father’s love, and to the Word that has been spoken to us here this weekend, is to pray in a similar way now, interceding on behalf of the world.
So, in a moment, I will begin to pray a prayer based on Paul’s intercessions here in Ephesians 1 and 3. At the appropriate moment in the prayer, I will give space for all of us to name the names of those whom we know need the Father’s love. Wherever you are in the room at that time, feel free to simply speak out loud, call out, the names of those for whom you will intercede today. If you pray silently, you may intercede silently as well, because the Holy Spirit searches all our hearts. This can go on as long as we have names to lift up before the Father. Then after an appropriate amount of time, I will continue praying using Paul’s words, and conclude with praise to God. Because Paul pointedly says he bows his knees before the Father, I invite you, if you are able, to bow or kneel or prostrate yourself. Adopt the posture that will allow your heart to bow before the Father of Glory in reverent intimacy. Let us pray:
God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, we bow before you with thanksgiving that in love you have chosen us for adoption as your children through Jesus Christ. Give to us, Father, a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know you, so that, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we may know the hope to which you have called us, the riches of our glorious inheritance among the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of your power for us who believe. According to the working of your great power, you raised Christ from the dead and seated him at your right hand in the heavenly places. Because we have been raised with Christ, we set our hearts on things above, and join now in his intercessions for the world, and in the intercessions of his saints throughout all time and every place.
And so we bow before you Father, you from whom every fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name. And we pray that, according to the riches of your glory, you may grant to those whom we name now, strength in their inner selves with power through your Spirit, that they may know your all-surpassing love. (Let us now name those for whom we intercede: _______.)
Father of Glory, receive the names of those for whom we pray. May Christ dwell in their hearts through faith, and may they be rooted and grounded in love. We pray that they may have the power 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, so that they be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to you Father, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to ages of ages. Amen.