Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg | 2013-09-15
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it (Eph. 6:18 NAS)
Knowing who you are in Christ changes the way you pray. The opening verse of Ephesians says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” The first three chapters go on to tell us who we are, what we have received in Christ by the grace of God. The last three chapters tell us what we should do in light of our new identity. In Paul’s final words here in chapter six, he tells us how we are to use the blessing of prayer we’ve been given. We are told how, for whom, and for what we are to pray.
Prayer is perhaps the most frequently utilized gift we’ve received in Christ, yet still the most underutilized. It’s a little like a computer. Most people who use personal computers, use them for just a few things: email, word processing and surfing the net. However, they are capable of doing almost infinitely more. If we took the time, gained more knowledge and focused our energies, we could use them 10 or 20 or a hundred times more ways than we do now. Prayer is like that. Most of us pray often in a few ways, but we could do so much more. So let’s see what this passage tells us about the gift of prayer and how we can better utilize it in our relationship with God and our service to God.
First, How should we pray? We are to pray: at all times, with all kinds of prayer, and in the Spirit. Verse 18 says we are to pray “at all times.” Elsewhere we are told, “pray without ceasing (1Thes 5.17-18) And in another place to pray in all seasons. (Lk 21.36) By faith in Christ, we gain both the privilege and the desire to communicate with God – anytime night or day, in every season of life, in every situation of life. God promised to hear Israel even when they sinned, even in exile. The story of the prodigal son reminds us God is waiting to hear from us even when we are far from him. The Bible says God is never too tired or too busy to listen and respond to our prayers. We may think, “I keep asking the same thing over and over, God must be getting bored with me.” No. He delights in hearing from his children – at all times. There is never a time when God does not want to hear from us. Don’t limit your prayers to only certain times of the day. When you run into a problem at school or work, stop for a second right then and talk to God about it. If you wake up in the middle of the night concerned about something, don’t just fret about it, pray about it. Get up and write down your prayers in a journal; wake up your spouse if you dare; or call someone to pray with you.
We are to pray not only in all things, but also with all kinds of prayer. Verse 18 says, “with all prayer and supplication… and with all perseverance.” The word translated “prayer” is any communication with God. Prayers can be spoken out loud, spoken silently in your heart, written down or sung, whether you are alone, with two or three others or with thousands of others. There are different kinds of prayer, different ways of communicating with God. We use the acrostic ACTS to remember some of them. “A” stands for Adoration or praising God. “C” stands for confession – admitting our sins to God. “T” stands for thanksgiving – giving thanks to God. “S” stands for supplication – asking God for something that is needed. I add two more letters, “I” and “P.” They stand for intercession and persevering prayer. “Intercession” is praying to God on behalf of another person. “Persevering” prayer does not give up, it stays awake, keeps alert. Jesus told two parables to encourage persistency in prayer: the persistent woman who needed justice from the judge (Lk 18.1ff) and the friend who needed three loaves in the middle of the night. (Lk 11.5). Six different ways we can pray to God. Don’t use just one or two. Use the all. Pray with all kinds of prayer. We are experimenting with various kinds of prayers in our Wednesday night prayer meetings. Come and learn with us. We need your help and support.
Included in how to pray is also “praying in the Spirit.” We often don’t know what to say or how to pray, so we depend on God’s promise about the Spirit in Romans. “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words….the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom.8:26-27) As we stumble along in our prayers, the Spirit “intercedes for us.” He meets with God, he converses with God, for us, like an interpreter who corrects our words as we go so that our prayers are made according to God’s will. We don’t have to pray the perfect words, because the Spirit knows our hearts and interprets for us.
Second, who should we pray for? We are to pray for all people and especially for people who are proclaiming the gospel. We are to pray for all people because God cares about all people. In 1 Tim.2:1-2 it says prayers and supplications and intercessions should be be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions. No person is too insignificant or too important. They all need your prayers. If you know them personally or even know of them, you should pray for them. Pray for fetuses in the womb that are in danger of being aborted. Pray for people living immoral lifestyles. Pray for women forced into sexual slavery. Pray for children being chemically bombed in Syria. Pray for Presidents Assad and Putin and Obama. Pray for our members and their families who are fighting cancer, whose children have serious illnesses, whose children live far away, who need a job.
We are also to pray for those who proclaim the gospel because that is God’s means to extend his kingdom in the world. Our mission, like Paul’s is to be ambassadors of the gospel. “Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. (2 Co.5:18-20). So, especially now as we step out as a congregation in evangelism, we should be praying for one another for two things: words to say and boldness to declare it. Isn’t that what we need? We need to know what to say, and we need the boldness to declare it to the lost.
Verse 19 says “pray also for me, that words may be given to me in opening (part) my mouth to proclaim the mystery of the gospel… One of our greatest fears in evangelism is that of not knowing what to say, of being stumped or embarrassed by one of their questions. Of failing to give them the whole story, or of giving them the wrong information. We should pray for one another that God would give us the words to say when we open our mouths to proclaim the gospel. God says to us through the psalmist, I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. (Ps.81:10). As we faithfully pray for one another, and as we open our mouths to proclaim it, we can count on God give us the words to say. And his word “will not return void.”
Verse 20 says, that I may declare it boldly,) as I ought to speak.Another of our greatest fears is rejection. So we are reluctant to proclaim it boldly. We would rather not say it all. We want be accepted, to be popular, not to make waves, not to ruffle feathers. But we must proclaim it boldly. We need to tell ourselves, “You’re God’s appointed ambassador at this moment. You’re the man! You’re woman! Speaking on God’s behalf right now. So we need to pray for boldness for one another. If Paul needed prayers for the right words to say and for boldness, how much more do we?
So I conclude this series by praying the prayer Paul prayed the Ephesian church in chapter 3. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith– that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength 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, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.