An Open Table where Love knows no borders

Paul’s Prayer

A sermon on Ephesians 3:14-21 by Alan Marr

This is the second time Paul interrupts his letter to the Ephesians to pray for them. The first prayer in chapter one is a prayer of thanksgiving, asking God to make them insightful enough to see what God is calling them to do and grasp the immensity of the life he has for Christians. This second prayer in chapter three expresses the desire for people to be able to grasp the extent of God’s love for them in its breadth, its length, its depth and its height. It’s a wonderful aspiration for all pastors to have for the people they care for. But how does it happen? I have stood in the midst of congregations singing somewhat endless repetitive songs about this kind of thing without much success. I just seemed to get bored and more than a little frustrated because others around me seem to get it but I don’t. In this prayer Paul doesn’t say anything about singing mind numbing songs. He describes a pathway that is very different from that. His prayer implies that on the way to grasping something of the extent of God’s love:

1. We will be strengthened by God’s Spirit to receive inner strength.(to be strong in our inner selves).
2. Christ will make his home in our hearts.

This prayer is about people coming to terms with themselves, being able to live with themselves, and discovering the resources of God. It is about a church coming to an understanding of who they are and finding God where they are within their midst. It is not a prayer about Vision Statements, Mission Statements or goals and strategies. It is not about being a Purpose Driven Church nor is it about adopting the Willow Creek philosophy of ministry. It is about the people of God rediscovering God. And when we discover God our inner self will be strengthened.

Negative or low self esteem can be a destructive force upon individuals and upon church communities. It breeds defensiveness, comparisons, game playing, avoidance, blaming, fear and has a snowballing effect upon others. It creates a blurring of boundaries which often gets people in positions of power, like David, into trouble.

A healthy self esteem enables us to appreciate others without fear, creates space for others to be themselves, to know and express their gifts. Healthy self esteem also has a snow ball effect. For me it is cyclical .The more I understand of the love God has for me the more strength I will sense in my inner being The better I feel about who I am the more I am able to glimpse the extent of God’s love for me.

Paul prays for his friends at Ephesus that they will be given the ability to be strong in their inner selves. Christian faith is concerned with strengthening, growing, freeing and feeling our inner world. It is one thing to be active and busy but if these things happen at the expense of what is meant to happen within us we are robbing the centre of our life. If we are to be strengthened within we must take the time to look inside, become acquainted with ourselves, our feelings and value the person we find.

Prayer is something we Baptists like to talk about but we need to do more than talk about it. We need to take time to enter our inner world and listen to the still, small voice of God which will strengthen our inner selves. This voice will bring:

(i) A word of grace not of demand. God is happy for us to be with him,
listening to him, learning from him. He does not require us to be out
there earning points. He graciously gives himself to us, accepting us as
we are.

(ii) An affirming word not a rejecting one. God loves us. This is something we find difficult to accept or believe. The image of God has been placed within us and within every human being We can be angry with him and he will not reject us. We can be lazy with him and he will not reject us. We can get lost sometimes. He will not give up on us.

(iii) A word of freedom not bondage.

(IV) A call to growth not stagnation.

(v) A word of reconciliation not alienation.

We must learn not to be too hard on ourselves. Too often and for too long I saw the Christian life to be one of starving, denying, imprisoning the inner world, climbing over feelings without acknowledging them, generating guilt in myself when I felt too good about something or enjoyed something and worse still, generating guilt in others when they didn’t do it my way. Paul’s prayer is that we may be granted the power to be strong in our inner selves -as we are rooted and grounded in love. A fortified inner self not only enables a person to offer love properly but to receive love properly, even from God, to give without strings, to receive without suspicion.

Christ Will Make His Home In Our Hearts. Sometimes when I visit people they will say to me, “Make yourself at home”. I don’t think they really mean it. What they really mean is “Sit down there.” If I began to kick off my shoes, turn on the TV, find the remote control and flick from channel to channel which I like to do at home they may think me a little rude. If I got up and went to the fridge and took out some drink and made myself a snack as I would at home they may think me a little presumptuous. Paul prays that Christ will make himself at home in our hearts.

Jenny and I have had more 30 thirty people live with us over the years. Some stayed only a couple of nights others stayed for years. Glenda was one of those. She came for a couple of weeks and stayed for 4 years. When she came, we showed her to her room and said “Make yourself at home!” We meant it but she didn’t do it at first. We knew she was making herself at home when she took our pictures from the wall and put up her own; when she arranged the furniture to suit her not us; when she purchased her own floor rugs and returned ours. And when she began to have a say in what we watched on TV or what we ate for tea we knew she was feeling at home. Her room reflected her personality, her likes, her longings and the things she valued. The room was no longer ours. It was hers.

When we ask Christ to make himself at home in our hearts we are asking him to take our stuff down from the walls and put his stuff up there. We are asking him to rearrange the furniture so that it suits him not us. We are asking him to change our hearts to reflect his likes, his longings and the things he values. The heart will no longer be ours. It will be his. The things we do will be things he feels comfortable doing. That is Paul’s prayer for his friends and for us. But I wonder if when we mouth the words “‘Make yourself at home we are not really saying “Stay there! Don’t move! Don’t touch!”

There are some people who need to make room for Jesus. It has been so long since he came for the first time that he has been lost in the corner some place where we have left him so he could not bother us unduly. We wonder why the faith thing is not working. We have worked hard, got involved but we have still not allowed Jesus to make his presence felt.

There are churches like that too. So used to doing things their way they assume Jesus wants it like that when he is more interested in the kind of welcome we bring to people who are lost and lonely. Some churches want to control peoples’ lives while Jesus wants to serve them.

Paul prayed that we would have the ability to grasp together how broad and long and high and deep is the love of Christ for us and for every living thing. We cannot know it all because it is beyond our knowing but we can experience it if we are open to it. Many of us without strong inner selves tend to value love too cheaply. We go for shallow substitutes for the sake of an easier path. Others are afraid to offer it at all.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.