What is the most urgent need in the church today? Sexual purity? Integrity? Care for the needy? Church planting? Evangelism? Expository Preaching? A case can be made for any of these; however in our day, where we find a conflict for every moment of our attention, perhaps the most urgent need in the church is that which most often gets squeezed out – namely, Holy Spirit-empowered prayer. When it comes to knowing God and knowing how to pray, our church culture is spiritually stunted. Yet Robert Murray M’Cheyne declared, “what a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is and no more.” A convicting statement, you say? Well, rather than continually beating yourself up over a meager and ineffective prayer life, how about considering what to do about the conviction! How do you pray?
To begin with, we must realize how it is, that many of us have come to this present feeble condition. There is very little discipleship in how to pray in the modern church. When you were a new Christian, chances are that someone told you that prayer is easy, something that anybody can do – just talk to Daddy. While this is true, such an attitude risks trivializing what is an holy event. Others are taught that a truly Spirit-wrought prayer must be ecstatic and include many “Lord Gods” and “justs” and an occasional utterance in a ‘heavenly tongue.’ In some cases prayer is taught apart from any knowledge of God whatsoever. In reality, much praying is not done because we do not know how to pray. One effective way to pray is to tie your prayers to your Bible reading. As it has been said, “pray with your eyes open” – and not merely open, but upon the Scripture. As you think through what is written in the Word, it will help you to organize analogous prayers. In Ephesians 1 we find a model prayer of the apostle Paul from which we can draw from his theology of prayer to apply to our own prayers.
We have often heard it said, “If God is sovereign why pray?” On the other side, “Prayer changes things.” Comments such as these demonstrate our deficient ideas about prayer. Many people equate prayer only with supplication or request. While this is an aspect of prayer, it is only one of many. Ephesians chapter 1 is a prayer in its entirety. In it Paul addresses God while thinking about the Ephesians. He first exults in a glorious doxology rooted in a deep theological understanding of the sovereignty of God. Paul prays because he knows God is sovereign. But then Paul also intercedes. He knows what James writes, “you have not because you ask not,” so he is not afraid to make petitions in prayer. To fail to intercede in prayer is to flee from your responsibility as a Christian. Petitionary prayers honor God because He is a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God. D. A. Carson observes that the God of the Bible acknowledges that He is not less that utterly sovereign and not less than personal and responsive.
This week, read Paul’s intercessory prayer in Ephesians 1:15-23. Read it often – and then pray with your eyes open – with the text before you. Begin with the words, “For this reason …” In light of all that you have learned about what God has wrought in salvation – pray. Arrange the content of your prayers for the people of your church according to what Paul prays. While it is not wrong to pray for your aunt Tillie’s health that your children would do well in school, realize that Paul’s prayers stretch much farther than the temporal and physical needs of the church. Take the words of this text and personalize them for those whom you pray for.