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

prayer and the power of God

“God I know I have not studied like I should for this test, but by some miracle help me to pass.”

“Father, I want to ring my sisters neck. If she says that one more time I will explode. Make her stop.”

“Father it would be really nice if you could come through with giving me this before I die.”

We are all guilty of making prayer a cosmic shopping list or a desperate 911 call to God to come to the rescue in our crisis. God is not Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Magic Genie, EMT or an Easy Button. Every wish is not granted or guaranteed. Would you march into your boss’s office or call on your parents for the things you ask of God?

Prayer is an amazing privilege. We can treat prayer like a broken gadget that hasn’t work for years, which we pawned off for chump change. Instead of praying, it has been substituted by worried wishes or momentary freak out. Seldom do people pray.

Prompted to Pray [Ephesians 1:15-16]

What prompts Paul to pray? What two things did He hear about the believers within Ephesus? Paul observes how the Ephesian believers are living out their faith in Christ with one another. There is nothing more excited than hearing about people they know love God and others. Nothing fires your parents, friends, or pastor up like living your faith out loud for all to hear. What do others hear about you?

Your upward relationship [“faith in Christ”] with God is also seen in your outward relationship [“love towards all believers”] with other believers.

This is How to Pray for Each Other [Ephesians 1:17-19]

Paul prays that God would give believers “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” Even though believers inherit all the spiritual blessings upon salvation, it is not assumed that they cease needing to grow in wisdom and understanding of God. If Warren Buffet or Bill Gates gave you everything they own would that mean you would cease to learn about life? God does not give believer’s omnipotence or omniscience, nor will He ever. Throughout eternity we will be learning and growing in our understanding of God. Paul prays that we would keep praising and thanking God for all His spiritual blessings. As one commentator says,

God has already been praised for having lavished his grace upon us with all wisdom and understanding by making known to us the mystery of his will [vs.8-9]. Now the apostle takes up this language and asks that his readers may be given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him [i.e. God] better. [1]

I find it interesting that Paul does not pray that they would have more spiritual blessings or fresh ones. He understands that they already have all the spiritual blessings in Christ. People today are obsessed with the notion of receiving additional blessings. Some pray to God, “Father bless me.” It is as if we say to God, “These spiritual blessings in Christ aren’t enough. Gimme, gimme, gimme, I need, I need, I need.” We have equated blessing with an excess of material possessions, emotional happiness, health and wealth, and lack of suffering. That is spoiled rotten Christianity. You should not crave or pray for more spiritual blessings, you have all you need and more in Christ. Be thankful.

Many believers have heard the message of the gospel various times in various ways. The gospel has become common, and what becomes can become callus or cocky. We can become like a collegiate math major who has forgotten the joy of elementary building blocks like 1 + 1. To which the student replies, “Yeah, give me something I don’t know.” What does Paul pray as a cure for the common spiritual callousness? He desires them to know “the hope to which God has called them,” “the rich inheritance,” which He possesses in them, and “the immeasurable greatness of His power” by which He energizes them. Each is an aspect of the mighty salvation, which has been championed for you in Christ. Paul is overwhelmed by the glory of salvation and He wants you to be too, therefore that is his prayer for you.

Plugged into the Power of God [Ephesians 1:20-23]

Paul prays that the believers in Ephesus would know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power. How is God’s power immeasurably great? Paul’s prayer exalts the supremacy of God’s power, which is shown particularly in Christ’s resurrection and current position of authority [“seated at God’s right hand”] over all things. Since God has superior power there is no longer any reason for the readers to fear.

One cannot calculate or measure the power of God in kilowatts, amps, volts, or energy waves. It does matter how many pounds He could lift on the bench press or putdowns He would have in an arm wrestling competition. God’s power is immeasurable. In other words, He is omnipotent. By the word of His power He created all things and holds them together, and by His power He raised Jesus and gave authority over all things then, now and forevermore [cf. Colossians 1:15-20]. God has given Christ as head over all things for the church. God’s power in Christ is available for those who believe [v.19], and Christ’s rule over the universe is for their benefit [v.22].

The power of God that we are plugged into brings an immense amount of comfort. I do not have to struggle in my sin anymore; in Christ, I am free. I do not have to worry or fear the future. I don’t have to fear the bully at school. I don’t have to worry about whether or not I will lose my job or home. I don’t have to lose sleep about the safety of my children. God is powerful. Christ is seated high on the throne. He is in control.

Prayer is a mighty vehicle for the believer to praise God and encourage the saints. When considering our salvation we cannot help but pray that others would hear how great is our God. Probably some of the people God has burden you to pray for are members of your family or close friends. Why not share together what you have been praying with them?

Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 131.