“Paul’s Prayer for You”
a message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church
October 17, 2021
Ephesians 3:14-21 NRSV
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 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, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
I pray that you 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 you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
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, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
What do you usually pray for? Some people may only pray for themselves. Most of the people I know seem to pray for others more than themselves. Neither is wrong. If you needed someone to pray for you who would you select? Maybe you have a family member, maybe you would ask a deeply spiritual friend, maybe even your pastor. How would you feel knowing that the Apostle Paul, himself, has prayed for you and that prayer is ongoing, captured for eternity in the writings of our Bible. That’s what we read this morning – Paul’s prayer for you.
Now, sure, he originally wrote it and prayed it for his friends in the church in Ephesus, a city in ancient Greece. But – I believe this prayer has just as truly been prayed for every believer in history and continues to be prayed from the halls of heaven today for me and for you.
What does Paul pray for you? Well, it is a prayer for power. It is a prayer for you and me to know and have the power of love. Even more it is a prayer not just for any old love, but for the power of the love of Christ Jesus our Lord. Paul prays that God will to strengthen our inner being by the Holy Spirit so that Christ Jesus himself will dwell within you so fully that his love will be rooted and grounded in you beyond just “knowing” about it, but knowing it is within you so that you are “filled with the fullness of God,” in other words you will be so full of God that the power of that love will transform your life.
Whew! That sounds great! That sounds fabulous! That sounds … like I went to the Holy Ghost Spirit filling station and when they told me I could fill her up for free, I pumped a teaspoon and said, “Nope! I’m good, I don’t want no more!” I have to tell you if I look at my life and think about the extravagant, incredible, overwhelming promise in this prayer, well I feel like I am no better than a beggar starving at a free, all-you-can-eat buffet at the Ritz-Carlton. Where did I miss the point?
Now maybe you are full up. Maybe you have all the Holy Ghost, God-powered, Jesus love you can handle. Maybe your life is roaring like a fast Ferrari on a freeway to Funtown every moment. But I somehow doubt it. Now don’t take this wrong, I don’t mean to say you aren’t a loving, beautiful bunch of Christians and I am honored to be your pastor… but let’s be honest. Great as we are, we aren’t exactly “blowing up” Tavernier and the Florida Keys in a way that’s making people knock down our doors to find out what we have and how they can get it. But before you fold your arms and turn off your listening ears, let me be clear: I am not looking to blame anyone or make anyone feel guilty. I am trying to figure out how we all – me included – can better benefit from having someone like Paul the Apostle praying for us!
Here’s the first hurdle we have to get over to know this power and fullness of love. We have to find a way to believe that God’s future is not a lesser reality. Here’s what I mean. We live in a time when it is easier to believe in bad news than it is to believe in Gods’ good news. We see pandemics, political and social insanity, hatred expressed everywhere. We know that churches everywhere are declining in attendance, in income, in volunteer participation. We hear all the pundits, experts, and editorial opinions from what used to be impartial news reporters that everything is wrong with our churches, our communities, our nation, and our world. And we believe it all, without question. After all, the evidence seems overwhelming, doesn’t it?
In the face of all that, Paul prays. Paul prays proclaiming that God has the power of” the riches of his glory.” Paul declares that God has a Spirit so rooted and grounded in love that surpasses knowledge. What? In other words, we may know everything is going wrong, but God has love that surpasses what we know. We may know that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but God has a love that is more powerful than hell. We may know that the future looks like a disaster… but God has a love with such “power at work within us [it] is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”
God’s vision is so far greater than anything that we can ask or imagine that, as one writer [ Brian Peterson, workingpreacher.org, July 26, 2015], says, this God “is the God and Father of all, the one who has reconciled, and will reconcile, all things in Christ (Eph 1:10). This God has already broken down the wall that divided Jews and Gentiles (2:14-16). This prayer [is] focused on the church, but the gracious plan of God is as wide as the cosmos, and it is the God who is Parent of every race, tribe, clan, and nation who calls, equips, and sends the church on its mission to [love] that whole wide world.
Even more, “To know such love, indeed to be possessed by such love, is” what actually defines “the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19b). But then he adds this very important detail: “This fullness is not something we possess and hold; rather, we are filled for the sake of the fullness of God in the world. We are filled by God’s grace so that the reconciliation which has been accomplished in Christ might become the actual experience of the world. And so, we are not simply filled “with” God’s fullness as something to make us feel satisfied and content, but we are filled for the goal of God’s fullness in and for the world.” This is God’s vision for the future, and God has the power to bring it, a power “rooted and grounded” in love.
Another preacher said it well, [Rev. Dr. Guy Sayles, “Our Vast and Loving God,” Day1.org, July 29, 2012]. He said, “I invite you to experience this prayer for yourself. Ask God to thrill you again with a sense of wonder and majesty, to fill you with God’s own life, and to show you all you can comprehend about the wide embrace of divine love. Receive God’s strength, so that you may live faithfully and joyfully in these challenging times of change. Open yourself to God’s fullness, so that the once-empty places in you may overflow with abundance and glory. We have a vast, loving, and powerful God who is ‘at work within us’ and ‘is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine. To that God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever’”
I heard another preacher use this allegory [Rev. Edward Markquart, sermonsfromseattle.com]. He said he had a dream. In his dream he was “sitting in his old ’63 Volkswagen bug up the stoplight on Highway 99, near Kinko’s. He was sitting there in that VW bug and in the next lane was a red Porsche with its motor running. The Porsche driver gunned his engine, and he gunned that VW throttle, sending a signal to the Porsche driver that he was willing to race. In that red Porsche, sat a young man with dark black hair and a mustache. The Porsche driver glanced at him as he put a cigarette to his lips. The VW driver glanced at him and lifted a carton of milk to his lips. A young chick sat on the Porsche driver’s right, making him look good. A well-worn hen sat on the VW driver’s right, making him look … mature.” Let me stop here and share what that preacher added. That Pastor said, “I thought of the “well worn hen” line this morning as I came in to work; the line paralleled the young chick and by using it, has already cost me a dinner out with my wife.” Preaching can be dangerous business! Anyway, “The light changed. Wheels spun and there was blue smoke all over the pavement as the VW pulled away from the Porsche.” The Pastor adds, “In my dream, the night before the encounter with the Porsche driver, a new Ferrari engine had been installed in my VW bug, and I had power, real power, fast power. As I pulled away from him, his young chick was heard to exclaim: “What does he have under that hood?” And therein lies a question: what kind of power is hidden underneath that hood?
For us as people striving to know and live with the love of God in our lives the deeper question is, “What kind of power is hidden under our hood - within our hearts?” Do we believe in a God whose love is so powerful it can transform the world? Do we believe in a love so strong it can redefine reality? Do we believe in the Gospel that proclaims a Savior whose death was broken by the power of God’s love to give new life, to give a new future, to change reality? This is important. The future does not rest in our hands it rests in God’s. But we are invited to fill our lives and hearts with a love so powerful we can participate in bringing God’s vision to reality. God has the power. Are we willing to be filled with it and use it for God’s purposes? Or will we say, I’m too tired, I’m too busy, I am not well enough, or strong enough, or I’m not sure I have enough faith. Well, here’s the facts. None of us has enough energy, time, health, strength, or faith enough to do it just by ourselves or even with a thousand or ten thousand others here at church. It takes God doing it and the Scriptures witness to the way God has done it for centuries. It is the story of what happens to people, to problems, and to the world when God’s love gets inside someone and the power of that love breaks loose.
The invitation that God gives us is not to just have ideas about God and God’s love, but to have that love living inside of us. Not the idea of love but love itself. God’s love transforms lives, futures, worlds. God transformed death to life through the power of love to raise up a Savior.
We are a bunch of VWs in a race with Porsches. But Paul prays that we will pull up to God’s filling station, and say, “Fill ‘er up!” And while you’re at it put one of those Ferrari engines in, and while you’re at it God, put some Holy Spirit air in the tires too!” Now, that’s a prayer worth praying! May we really, truly be filled with the power of God’s love so fully that we cannot help but use it to transform this world along with God. AMEN.