how to pray for your church

As a pastor, I can relate to Pastor Paul as he writes to the Ephesians. I love the church. I love the church God has called me to pastor. I am so encouraged by the people’s faithfulness and hunger for truth. I think about them often in my prayers. How should we pray for our church? In Ephesians 3:14-21, we are given a peek into the heart of Paul’s prayer for the church.

Paul begins his prayer on his knees [v.14]. There are many different ways to pray—you can pray standing up, arms raised high, flat on your face, or on your knees. Praying on your knees is the most common way we often think of praying. What is the significance of praying on your knees? Bowing to our knees is a symbol of humility to God’s authority. It is a sign of reverence [cf. Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10]. Kneeling is the outward appearance of the inward affection. Paul in essence is bowing before his Father the Creator and name Giver.[1]

When we think about our churches it is easy to complain about what is not happening according to our expectations, but praying wish lists to God for your church are not helpful for you or your church. As Paul prays for the church he mentions three things: He prays that the power of God over that goes beyond what they can think, that the love of God for that goes beyond what they can think, and that they give God glory that He can go beyond what we can think.

1. Supernatural Strength [Ephesians 3:16-17a]

The first request for the church is for the power of God. How great is the power of God? God’s power is unfathomable. It is glorious [cf. Romans 6:4; Colossians 1:11]. Now if God were to pour all of His power into you, do you think you could stand the strain? Those who come face-to-face with the power of God are never the same.

God’s power doesn’t want to co-dwell with anyone or anything in our hearts. He wants Christ only to fit in the temple He has established within His believers. The believer’s life is like a house, through which God goes from room to room. In the library [mind], He catalogs the useless and worthless images and knowledge. In the dining room, He replaces our worldly appetite with spiritual hunger and thirst. In the living room, He challenges our worldly companions and activities. In the garage, He rummages through all the clutter. In the closet, He sheds light on the hidden sins. He desires to dwell in the entire house. Only when He had cleaned every room, closet, and corner of sin can He be at home.[2] Are there rooms you would rather God not see? What room needs the most renovation?

Prayer for the power of God is important so that the church does not waver from its commitment to Christ. If Christ has taken up residence in our hearts He has the authority to establish His rule over all that we are and do.[3] At times He will renovate the dwelling place for the purpose of cleanliness and Christlikeness.

2. Limitless Love [vs.17b-19]

The second request Paul pray’s for the church is that they know the immensity and incomprehensibility of God’s love. God’s love secures and anchors the believer in Christ. Love is the soil in which believers are rooted and will grow [rf. agriculture], the foundation upon which they are established [rf. Architecture; Colossians 1:23].[4]

Why is love so important? Without love the church has no real motivation to serve God and one another [cf. 1 Corinthians 13]. Without love you cannot grasp the greatness of God [cf. Romans 8:35-39]. What does ‘width, length, depth, and height’ indicate about God’s love? When I think about knowing the love of Christ I think of explorers charting new lands or a pioneer divers plumbing the depths of the sea. However, when I chart and plumb the love of God I do not reach an end or run out of discoveries. I will spend an eternity discovering the vast territory of Christ’s limitless love. His love surpasses knowledge. That does not give me an excuse for not trying to understand God, it just cannot be understood over a cup of coffee.

It seems strange to pray for knowledge of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Equally as strange is that Paul pray’s that the church be filled with the fullness of God. What we know is that they are already share in the fullness of God at salvation [cf. 1:23; Colossians 1:19; 2:9-10]. The believers in the church simply grow in the fullness of God. They are to become what they already are—that they may become all that God wants them to be in Christ.[5]

3. Give Glory to God [vs.20-21]

As Paul meditates upon the greatness of Gods power and limitless love he is moved to give God praise.[6] Praise is often the result of meditating upon what we know about God. This is called doxology—a study of glory—praise based on doctrine. Paul is moved to praise God because He is able to do more than we can think, ask or imagine [v.20]. In other words, you cannot ask from God too much because Gods gifts exceed our capacity. Paul cannot help but give praise to God.

When you shout out the words, “Glory to God,” it’s like a football team carrying their coach off the field on their shoulders or a standing ovation to a beautiful performance. There is in the heart of every person a longing to give glory. We are wired to worship. We worship anything from rockstars to athletes to hot wheels. The main reason people do not worship God is that He is not as real to them as other things they admire. Is God real to you? Do you admire Him? Do you give Him glory?

Think of the most popular and powerful people you know. Google says Lebron James, Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods, the Kardasian’s, or Obama. Historically, Google says Obama,  Julius Cesar, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander the Great or Martin Luther King. As John Piper says, “The most admirable of men are only meteors on the sky of history—they last about a third of a second and then are gone. But God is like the sun. And generation after generation He rises and never fades in His glory.”

The arena of glory to God today is in the church. The church is the stadium and amphitheater of the God’s glory and the main character and hero of the divine drama is Jesus Christ. The mystery hidden for ages in God is “that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” [3:10] The church reflects Gods glory to the world.

In conclusion, as you pray for your church pray for the power and love of God by giving God glory that He can go beyond what you can think. God can do more in and through your church than you can think or imagine. The church of Christ is a beautiful anthem praising the greatness of God. He is using your church even with its personal flaws to display His perfect glory.

Here are some practical ways to pray for your church:

  1. Call your pastor and ask how you can pray for the church.
  2. Get with other members of your church and pray for your church.
  3. Write a prayer for your church.

[1] God gave people names [Gen.35:26; 1 Sam.25:25] and He gives His creation names [Ps.147:4; Is.40:26].

[2] Adapted from Robert Munger’s, My Heart Christ’s Home, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1954.

[3] L. Morris, Expository Thoughts on the Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 104.

[4] Stott, 135; and Lincoln, 207. (Cf. REB: ‘With deep roots and firm foundations’)

[5] D.A. Carson, Spiritual Reformation, 195.

[6] Cf. Phil.1:19; 4:19; Col.1:9-14; 1 Thess.3:12; 1 Cor.1:5

the mystery of God revealed

Have you ever been a part of a really good mystery or very important secret? People love mysteries and secrets. We watch shows like CSI, NCIS, NYPD Blue, Unsolved Mysteries, Fringe and X-files on the edge of our seats. My wife can figure it out in a matter of minutes, while I am still scratching my head for hours afterwards. Today is a mysteriously unique day. It is the 10th day of the 10th month of the 10th year of the millennium. Never will this day happen again. Some think today could be the end of the world, as we know it. Spooky, isn’t it?

In Ephesians 3, Paul takes part in the greatest mystery unveiling known to mankind. In fact, you have a part to play in the global scale mystery too. God has been waiting to reveal His divine plan and this passage shows us the main point of God’s purposes in history, which has already been revealed.

The Mystery Hidden for Ages has been Revealed to You [Ephesians 3:1-6]

Like a lid opening on a treasure chest hidden for centuries, Paul shares the secret news of God that has been hidden for many generations [Romans 16:25; Colossians 1:24-28]. Paul came to know this mystery through the revelation of God [v.3-5; cf. 1:8-10], and it had to do with Jesus [v.4].

The mystery hidden for ages in a nutshell [v.6], “is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” The mystery hidden in God is that the gospel is for the Gentiles too. This news is huge. According to the Ephesians 2:11-12, Gentiles were once outside the redemptive purposes of God. The gospel was first promised to the Jews only, but in God’s plan for history it included all nations [Romans 1:16; 2:29; 4:16; 8:17]. Prior to the cross, Gentiles were welcomed into God’s plan only by becoming a circumcised Jews, but in Christ, Gentiles can inherit the same promises given to Abraham [Galatians 3:29; Genesis 12:2-3], become members of the same body [cf. 2:13-16], and be partakers of the promise [1:13; 2:12].

The Mystery is Spreads Globally through His People [Ephesians 3:7-12]

If we are to mimic Paul in spreading the good news it is important to observe how he was motivated to his core by the gospel. First, he refers to himself as “a prisoner for Christ on behalf of the Gentiles.” [v.1; cf. Philippians 1:12-17] We are certain Paul is in Rome, which would mean he was a prisoner of Nero and the Empire, but he only acknowledges being a prisoner of Christ. The reason for his imprisonment is preaching about Christ. You would think the gospel would be on pause while Paul was in prison rather it was spreading rapidly.

Second, he realizes he is a steward of the gospel [v.2]. Paul is entrusted with the mystery as an apostle [1 Corinthians 4:1; 9:17];[1] and is committed completely to the cause of the gospel of Christ.Third, he is humbled by the gospel, “I am the very least of all the saints.” [v.8]. Paul regarded the stewardship of the gospel to the Gentiles as the highest honor. He was humbled that God would use sinful people to display His glorious message. Throughout his life and ministry the gospel never became an old-hat, but it was a vital part of his message and relationship with God.

Paul had a hard time keeping the gospel a secret. Paul says, “Of this gospel I was made a minister.” [v.7] There are two ways that Paul spreads the gospel message: First, Paul spread the gospel by preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ [v.8-9; cf. 2:7]. Paul is passionate up about telling everyone [Gentiles] the gospel.[2] Can you hear him? “You are included in the promises of God. Come to Christ. Turn from your sin and embrace Him.” It is as if he is Publishers Clearing House telling everyone they have won the richest prize known to man and they don’t have to gamble their lives away anymore on silly rubbish.

Second, Paul spread the gospel by making known the manifold wisdom of God through the church [v.10]. Manifold [πολυποίκιλος] means “many colorful layers” and it specifically is used to describe God’s wisdom [cf. Romans 11:33]. In other words, God’s wisdom is not like a color-by-number painting, but a priceless masterpiece of magnificent detail, texture, colors, and layers. It is a portrait that has been worked on for eternity and through the church it continues to display more and more of the wisdom of God.

People are not the only ones who take note of the gospel message. Angels and spiritual powers also marvel at the church and see the wisdom of God [v.11]. You are a participant in God’s divine drama displaying His rich glory to a celestial audience. Angels learn about grace, redemption, the character and purposes of God through men. Therefore a promise is given: you can boldly share the gospel without being hindered by evil spiritual powers [v.12; cf. 6:19-20]. This is quite encouraging since a normal response to the gospel is rejection and ridicule.

For the Sake of Christ, it is worth being spent for Mystery to be Spread [Ephesians 3:13]

The ridicule and rejection that is a response to the gospel is the reason why Paul writes in chains, “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” [v.13] Suffering is a normal part of being a committed follower of Christ. Does that surprise you? Paul was forewarned of his suffering even before coming a follower [cf. Acts 9:16]. The New Testament is full of promises that suffering comes when you share the gospel,[3] and Paul also shares specifically how he has suffered for the sake of the gospel,

I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather. And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut.[4]

Paul certainly had been through the ringer for following Christ. For the gospel, Paul says, “I will gladly spend and be spent,” [2 Corinthians 12:15] be “poured out as a drink offering” [2 Timothy 4:6], and “Whether I live or die it is gain for the sake of Christ,” [Philippians 1:21] Paul was committed in life or death for the cause of Christ and making the gospel known. The questions stands: are you?

[1] Thomas Schreiner. Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ. IVP Books. Downers Grove, IL. 2001. 57-60.

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:1; 2 Corinthians 11:7; Galatians 1:11, 23; Romans 10:15; 2 Timothy 1:10

[3] Matthew 13:21; 24:9; John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Romans 8:17-18; 2 Corinthians 1:4; Philippians 1:29; 3:8; 1 Thessalonians 3:4; 2 Timothy 2:10; 3:12; Hebrews 10:32-33; 1 Peter 2:19-21

[4] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 2002), 2 Corinthians 11:23–29.