By Katie Kafka
So let me ask you this: what is your picture of prayer? If we are honest, prayer may be that one area of our faith walk that is a little less fluid than others. It is easy to pick up our Bible and read and learn. It is easy to sing a song about God. But Prayer? And praying with others? That’s a whole different story. We don’t know what to say or how to say it and so it is easier to just be silent. Thankfully, our God doesn’t view silence as awkward!
Let’s think through this picture of prayer a little further. What if prayer was less about my words and more of a response toward what God has done for me? What if prayer wasn’t built around the things I need, but the things I have received? What if the promise of praying in Jesus’ name is true, and I already have every spiritual blessing? Maybe then, I could view prayer as a gift and an opportunity for nearness with my Heavenly Father.
It encourages me to know that the Bible paints many different portraits of prayer. We see it in a variety of settings and tones. Prayer has an upward focus where we choose to adore God for who He is from a heart of gratitude. It can be inward where we examine our need for Him. Prayer can also be outward when we go before God on behalf of another. The circumstances fluctuate, encouraging us to come as we are because genuine prayer emerges from an honest encounter with God.
I want to point us toward one of those honest encounters of prayer found in Ephesians 3. Here we have Paul’s letter to the church of Ephesus and right in the middle of his letter he pens a prayer to the Ephesians. Before we dive into the words of Paul’s prayer, I want to set us up with a little bit of context because his prayer has so much more impact when we know a little something about the author and his intentions.
Paul was an innovative missionary in the early church. He took four separate journeys devoting his adult life to spreading the Gospel and planting churches in strategic and influential cities of the ancient world. What is interesting about his testimony is that before he became a fervent follower of Jesus Christ, before his miraculous conversion, he actually persecuted Christians. He despised them and was part of a vicious movement to eradicate Christian churches. You see, Paul was raised in within the parameters of the Jewish culture. His heritage was fundamental to his upbringing. He was the son of a Pharisee. Paul received a formal Jewish education for the purpose of becoming a member of the religious elite. These are the people that struggled with the life-changing, all-inclusive, scandalous grace of Jesus Christ. Paul’s testimony is HUGE when we consider the eternal impact he made in the early church.
Another detail to note is that Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians from prison. In the midst of his own personal trials, he chooses to edify those that are dear to him by sending words of encouragement reminding us of the richness that comes from knowing and living for Christ.
With the context fresh in our minds, lets read Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
I get goosebumps every time I read this prayer. It’s not like he prays that his neighbor’s best friend’s beta fish would live one more day. Paul’s prayer comes from an authentic place. I am so on-board with his message and attitude of prayer. This is an outward prayer. Paul is praying for his companions in Ephesus, but he does it in a way that turns our focus upward by highlighting the gifts available to us as Believers. I love how this message is just as relevant now as it was then. I find myself wanting to pray this for you all. That God would use your time at Equip Her to strengthen you. That the riches of His glory would dwell in your hearts because you have a faith that is rooted in love. I pray that as you engage in your Bible study and seek Him that you would grasp how God’s love goes beyond knowledge, leading you to a place of complete satisfaction. This is your potential in Christ. It’s true. You have every reason to live in this elevated focus. Do you believe this about yourself?
Often times, it is easy to forget these promises when life and circumstances get in the way. Let me give you a personal example. Anyone who knows me knows that I love being active in the outdoors. I love running and biking and hiking and camping. Colorado is one of my favorite places on earth. It’s what I do and where I go to recharge. Well, I recently competed in my first triathlon out at Branched Oak Lake. It was an adventure. Let me tell you. It all started back in January when I signed myself up for 6 weeks of swimming lessons so that I could learn some fundamental skills. I spent several months training and building up my endurance all to prepare for this triathlon. Race day finally arrived and I am ready. I was feeling strong and healthy.
In case you don’t know, the order of events is always swim then bike then run. I knew the most challenging leg of the race for me was going to be the swimming portion, and I was grateful to get that part out of the way first. As the race began, they gathered all the triathletes near the shore. The fog horn sounded and off we went. I intentionally decided to hang in the back of the heat because I would rather have some space and ease into things. As I made my way into the depths of the lake, it didn’t take long for frantic feelings of panic to consume me. I was struggling to regulate my breathing and swim the way I had practiced for all those months. My body was in freak-out mode for a good two-thirds of the swim until eventually, with the help of a lovely volunteer in a kayak, I decided to calm down and at least try to swim the way I had planned. Thank goodness the kayak crew was never too far away, offering me my very own personal escort until I reached shallow waters. I made it back to shore and the transition area only to discover that there is only one bike left besides mine. I was the second to last person out of the water! So I hop on my bike and ride. By the end of the biking segment I had caught up to the end of the pack, passing one other person. The running segment came last, and I gained even more ground there culminating to what I felt was a respectable finish.
After the race my family and friends came over to congratulate me and shared the incredible news that I won first place in my age bracket! I was flabbergasted. How is that even possible? Turns out I won first place in my age bracket because I was also the only one in my age bracket! If you want my opinion, I think everyone should get a trophy after finishing their first triathlon. The truth is though, I was a winner before the race even started. I didn’t realize it in the moment. Through the hardship and playing catch up and trying my best, I was already the winner. I just had to participate in the race to claim the prize.
This is the essence of Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus–that they would grasp the promise that in Christ, they are already winners. They have the trophies of strength and faith and unfathomable love of Jesus Christ that offers complete satisfaction, and guess what? So do we. From now on when I look at the triathlon trophy, I am partly reminded of the physical journey, but mostly when I look at it I remember that I was a winner before I even started.
After we read Paul’s message of encouragement, He closes the prayer with an upward benediction. In the last couple verses, it is important to notice the shift in audience from singular to plural. Verses 14 through 19 are filled with “you,” whereas verses 20-21 contain “we” and “us.” I love how this shift in focus is a subtle way of communicating that prayer naturally brings us to a place of authentic community with God and also with fellow Christians. Paul is writing from prison, and yet we sense his relationship with the church in Ephesus is just as meaningful as if he were in the same room praying with them. Prayer brings a closeness that transcends location and boundaries. It has the ability to make a large church body feel honest and sincere and warm.
I would like to invite you into this attitude of prayer. We all met in our prayer groups for the first time last week. These first few weeks we are all just getting to know each other. I know it can be a little intimidating . . . maybe even a little awkward at times. I want to encourage you to lean into that potential awkwardness. Come as you are. Take the time to get to know the people in your group. Learn from them. Pray for them. Our small groups are safe, confidential places. It is a time for you to talk through what God is teaching you through your class. It is also a time to pray these truths for your life and others in the group. Take advantage of this time, and you’ll be surprised at the friends you will find.