Praying Radically Yourself
by Jack Taylor
Have you noticed something different at the end of our last decade? You can see it in services like Door Dash and Skip the Dishes. You can see it in demands for services like Amazon and Uber. You can see it in the way food is prepared in super markets. Many people have moved from doing it yourself to do it for me.
When my daughter was young she got to the place where she would say “do it self.” She was about two. Now, her two-year-old is saying “do it self.” Most of us parents saw this step toward independence as a potentially good thing if it was nurtured and channeled. But something is changing. Youth and adults have become starved for time and overwhelmed by decision making. There is too much information to process everything.
When the average cell phone user touches their screen between 2500-5000 x a day there are a lot of distractions and demands happening and people no longer want to do it all myself.
Canadian author Carey Niewhof says “In a culture where most people feel overwhelmed, overcommitted and overworked, people are willing to pay money for anything that shaves off minutes or does the thinking for them.”
GPS is one example. Pre-sliced apples in stores that cost up to 10x an unsliced apple is another.
Unfortunately, I think, some of this tendency has crept into the church when it comes to prayer. We have become all too willing to let others pray for us and this is sad for one main reason. A praying church is the most powerful body of people designed by God to demonstrate his power and wisdom to the universe.
Superheroes and Starwars rebels have nothing on a church committed to prayer. Paul tells us that in Ephesians 3:14-21.
- Vs 14-15 Paul prays because he is part of a single world-wide Family God has chosen, redeemed and sealed. We pray because of what God has already done in adopting us into this universal family. In doing this we remind the enemy and all who listen that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.
I don’t know about you but I found recently that when I get too busy and distracted to pray that my world focuses very quickly more and more on me – what I want, what I’m doing, what I need.
Prayer expands your mind and heart toward the fact that God is reconciling the universe to himself and he is doing it through the church as the body of Christ. Through the gospel he is bringing together men and women from every tribe and tongue and nation so that the devil and all his demons realize how wise and loving and powerful he is. You and I are meant to be part of that story. Let’s read a few verses.
Ephesians 3:14-15 “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”
For what reason? – notice those first few words. Look back at Ephesians 3:1 where Paul says “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles –“
That takes us back to chapter 2 where Paul says this:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Paul is trying to make it clear that none of us deserved God’s favor. In chapter one he tells us we are chosen before the creation of the world to be adopted as God’s children and that God made known the mystery of his will to us. When we believed we were incorporated into his family we were sealed with the Holy Spirit in such a way that our redemption was secured.
This is why Paul starts off his prayer in 3:14 by saying “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”
Most Jews stood to pray lifting up their faces and hands toward heaven. Paul is in a state of awe and so he kneels before the heavenly Father who has brought Jews and Gentiles into one family called the church. This is an incredible mystery which astounds the spiritual forces around us. The enemy and his forces try to destroy, disrupt and divide but in the church, God is bringing all things together.
In 2:13-16 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
When you and I show up as part of a church family made up of people from different tribes, tongues and nations. When we come together from different social backgrounds.
When we come together with different personalities, different hopes, different political persuasions, different tastes in music and food and education – when we act as one, we confound the spirits who are diligently watching what God is up to. When you keep coming here – despite how crazy your world has gotten – you are saying something much more than you realize.
At our New Year’s Eve service, we used a puzzle of the nativity to discern spiritual lessons for the New Year. Someone made the observation that each piece by itself didn’t show much but all the pieces together revealed an image that captured our awe. So, it is true with the body of Christ. Together, we show the beauty and awe of who Jesus is and what he’s done for the universe. We pray together for each other in recognition of the great work God has already done.
- Vs. 16-19 We pray not only to remind the heavenly forces of what God has already done but we pray to remind each other of what he is still doing.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,
18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Wouldn’t you love someone to be praying this for you? That you might be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being. That you would be rooted and established in love. That you would grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. That you would be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Wow. We need to pray this for each other.
Why? Because of the mystery. What mystery? Paul says God has shown us a great mystery which no one understood before – and which few still understand. The mystery is this:
3:6 “The mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”
The mystery is that through Jesus God has brought all of us outsiders into his family and all the promises he gave to Israel are now ours.
Paul says in vs. 9-11 that he was given the task to make the mystery plain. “God’s intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Did you see this again? God is using us, as the church, to show angels and demons how wise he is in pulling all of us together. In a few chapters Paul is going to conclude his letter in Ephesian 6:10 by saying “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God… vs 18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert an always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
Do you see why we need to pray now? Not only has Jesus brought us into a family in the past to show the angels and demons how wise and powerful God is but now we are locked in a battle with those demonic forces who are trying to destroy what God is doing.
Our battles are not with each other so don’t let the enemy make you think so. Pray for our strength, unity, power, fullness. Pray that God would bring even more members from every tribe and tongue and nation into this body to prove his wisdom and power.
No church exists to show how great they are. We exist to show how wise and good and loving and gracious and powerful God is. As we pray for each other we are doing this so we see God continue to complete the good work he began in us.
If you were to look at this chapter a little more you would see that Paul says that even our suffering is part of God’s plan to prove his wisdom. By hanging onto our faith when things aren’t good, we show that we love him for who he is and not just for the good he gives us. This confounds the enemy. Even when Jesus faced the worst pain, suffering and torture he didn’t abandon his Father. As we hold onto God in trust through the hard challenges of life, we are again a witness to those forces who won’t believe.
We pray to remind angels and demons about what God has done and we pray to remind each other what God is still doing.
- Vs 20-21 We pray to declare what God will still do.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
Some of our youth have stepped out and want to make a difference on our planet and that’s a good thing – but it’s a small thing compared to what God designs and desires for us. Some of you are engaged in causes which might make a difference for a short time on a few people but God is calling you to something even longer lasting and more impactful. Some are working hard to alleviate injustice and suffering among people and that is good but God is wanting us to engage in alleviating on a grander scale.
Because we believe that God is alive, aware and attentive to what is happening with us we come boldly before his throne of grace for help. He can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. What can you imagine? Sounds like a commercial… but God can do more than you can imagine. Why would he do so much for his church?
Paul tells us in his letter to 1 Timothy (3:14-16). “I am writing you these instructions so that…you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”
The church is the pillar and foundation of truth. We are the vehicle through which the good news about Jesus gets out to all the nations. We are the ones whose prayers unleash the power of the Spirit to transform hearts and minds. Some of our missionaries and ministers, like Paul and Jesus, will suffer great things to get that message out there. They need our prayers.
Is there someone who you can’t imagine would come to Jesus? Perhaps that is the one thing you can do at the start of this year. Change what you can imagine and start praying for that.
God’s design and desire is to form for himself one people from all over this planet. One people who will join the long line of prayer warriors and praise givers who he embraced his wisdom and power throughout all the generations.
He wants you to step into the family with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Daniel, Esther, Mary and Paul. Don’t settle for sharing God’s goodness with those around you. Step out and start making a difference in the universe.
Estimates say that there are 17,000 ethnic people groups. Of these groups over 7,000 have less than 2% of their population who know Jesus. 40% of the world’s people groups have no recognized churches for people to worship, witness, grow and pray. The largest 50 of these people groups include 1 ½ billion souls. How will these people join God’s family?
I want to finish by highlighting what the gospel did in Korea. Missionaries went to Korea in 1885. In 1974 Korean churches sent out 24 missionaries. 40 years later there were 27,436 Korean missionaries serving in 170 countries around the world.
How did this transformation happen? First, Korean churches, especially Baptist churches, suffered intense persecution which refined their commitment to faith. By the time the Japanese ended their colonial rule there were 350,000 Christians in Korea. By 1985 this exploded to 10 million. How?
Korean tradition has people going to church at 5 am to worship and pray before work and in those dawn prayers many have been called to mission service. This priority of prayer and obedience has been transformative in our world.
In Africa, evangelical Christianity, with its focus on the Bible, the cross, conversion, justice and mission has led fights against slavery, poor health, lack of education, famine and oppression starting in the 1700’s and beyond. Africans from the earliest days of the church have played a significant role in leadership. Now, in Latin America, the Philippines and China, God is raising up his church. Some areas are still a challenge in the face of persecution.
What does Paul want us to remember as we start off a new decade in God’s church here?
Why kneel before our heavenly Father as one family together? 1. As a witness to all the universe about what God’s wisdom and power has done in bringing every tribe and tongue and nation into one church through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God has done the impossible.
2. We pray as a weapon on behalf of each other in our spiritual war against enemy forces and to bring power and courage into our efforts to live out our faith before a hostile world. 3. We pray as a work that expands our vision for what God can still do beyond all we could ask or imagine.
Let’s take a few minutes as the church to come boldly before the throne of grace. In this time pray for the realities we’ve reviewed. Prepare for communion.
May 18, 2020
June 25, 2019
April 11, 2018