Big Prayers

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Ephesians 1:15-23
Ephesians 3:14-19

Here’s a question for you: How big are your prayers? Are they big enough to match the size of our great God?

Listen to these prayers of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. From chapter 1:17-19 (nrsv):

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe. . . .

And then from chapter 3:16-19:

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

I want to speak today about being intercessors, that is, people who pray much for others. I know that some of you already are such people and I’m hoping that there will be many more. The apostle Paul urges us to that in this Ephesian letter. We are to always persevere in supplication, in prayer for all the saints. That is, we are to make it a practice to pray regularly for others, for our brothers and sisters in the Lord, as well as for those outside. We’re to stand in the gap for others, carry on a priestly ministry. But Paul doesn’t simply urge us to do it; he gives us something even better. He shows us how in these two remarkable prayers.

I’m struck first at how Paul doesn’t pray only for people in crisis situations. I’m sure he did do that. If brothers or sisters were sick, bereaved, out of a job, in prison – surely he would pray for them. As for most of us, that’s about all we do. We pray crisis prayers for people in special difficulties. But in this case, Paul writes to the Ephesians (v. 15): “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints.” These people are doing well. He’s thankful about that – all the time. But he doesn’t pass them by in his prayers because they’re doing pretty well. He knows there’s much more.

BIG PRAYERS

Big prayers for others – let’s think about those. Paul is praying that they may have a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God, that they will know God himself in a growing, deepening way. What a wonderful thing to pray for others, that they’ll have their eyes opened to know what a great hope they have, what riches they possess, and what power is available to them, that they’ll be made strong within by the Spirit, that Christ will dwell in their hearts by faith, that they will be rooted and grounded in love, that they’ll have power to grasp more and more how amazing the Lord’s love for them is – its breadth, its length, its depth and height, which surpass all knowing. And that they will be filled with all the fullness of God, the Spirit’s fullness.

And what about the size of prayers for those who are yet outside of Christ, the miracles needed there? Why, that’s a new creation. That’s life from the dead. We sometimes think of “degrees of difficulty” in judging Olympic dives, but in prayers degrees of difficulty are irrelevant. We’re praying to the God who does wonderful things.

When I think of those big prayers, I ask myself how Paul happened to think of praying for these things for other people. And I have to feel that this is at least part of it: he was praying for those things for himself. He was experiencing them more and more. Remember what a miracle his conversion had been at the beginning.

Remember how the Lord promised that our heavenly Father gives good gifts to those who ask him (Matt. 7:11). Have you ever thought about what good gifts would be in your life? Young King Solomon at Gibea was asked by the Lord in the middle of the night: “Ask what I will give you.” It was a blue-sky promise. It was kind of a blank check. Whatever you want. And Solomon, you remember, prayed a big prayer – that God would give him as a young king, inexperienced, inadequate for his great task, wisdom to govern this great people. And God was pleased that he asked that. And he said, “Because you’ve asked for this and not for riches or long life or the lives of your enemies, I’m going to give you all these things along with the good gift that you’ve asked.”

Now what about for you? What would be the good gift that God might give you? Paul apparently has been thinking about those for himself and now he’s praying for these things for others because they had become big to him.

A BIG GOD

The apostle prayed these big prayers because he had big views of a big God. Paul believed that God had measureless ability to do things for people. His was not just the conventional view that God was Almighty. It had to do with practical expectation. Paul believed that God was able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. He’s able to do what we ask. He’s able to do what we think. He’s able to do above that, abundantly above that, exceeding abundantly above that. And this power of his is at work in Christ, and at work in us.

We believe not only in God’s limitless ability and power but also in his generosity and love. To the apostle, God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has already blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. He’s the father of mercies. He’s the God of all encouragement. He has loved us, adopted us. He’s working in us. He loved us so much as to give his Son for our sakes.

He’s the Father, says Paul, from whom all fatherhood and family takes its name. Add up all the love and all the generosity of the best moms and dads around the world. Then, as Jesus says, “How much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask?” Good things also for children who are wayward, that God will pour out his Spirit upon them, that he will circumcise their hearts to love him.

We had a son at one time in our lives who was wayward, who had turned away from the faith of the gospel. We prayed for him much as Christian parents would always do for a child who is not really strong and secure in the faith. When the time came that this son finally committed his life to Christ, our joy just knew no bounds. I remember reading from Psalm 116, “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice and my supplication because he has inclined his ear to me, therefore, I’ll call on him as long as I live.”

This God is able to do wonderful things, even to soften the hearts of those who have turned away from him. As we believe, so we pray. The one who comes to God must believe that he is and that he is a Rewarder of those who diligently seek him. God’s throne, the scriptures teach, is a throne of grace. God is able and willing to grant mercy to those who come and grace to help in time of need, whatever that need is. If we have a small God, we pray small prayers. Big God, big prayers.

BIG HEART

But then there’s the matter of a big heart. It’s not just big prayers by the apostle and big views of God. What a big heart the apostle evidences! That moves me. To care that way and that constantly for so many – where did that come from? That’s easy. From the biggest heart of all.

Did you ever think of the fact that Jesus throughout his life on earth here was an intercessor, praying for the disciples one by one, praying for the multitudes, praying for future believers, for enemies. And now we know that prayer for others is Jesus’ crowning work. He ever lives to make intercession for his people. And for us, real intercession, loving prayer for other people, arises out of fellowship with this Lord.

Where do we get this big heart? From him. In Matthew 9:35 and following, we read of how Jesus looked out on the multitudes and was moved with compassion for them and urged his disciples to pray that God would send out laborers into his harvest.

A book about prayer by Charles Whiston has this image of what it is to intercede: We come into the presence of the towering Christ and before him we stand. He reaches out and puts his hands on our shoulders and turns us around so that we begin to look out from his vantage point, to see people with his eyes. And we hear behind us, as it were, his interceding for them. We begin to see them as he sees them and to feel about them as he feels. Then we join our small prayers with his great prayer of intercession.

So when you come to the Lord to be an intercessor, you’re asking “Lord, let me enter into your interceding heart.” You’re praying, “Holy Spirit, lead me in those I’m to pray for and what I’m to ask for them.” This leads in turn to many other kinds of ministries. When you’re praying for people, thinking about them, bearing them up in their need before God, often you’ll be reminded to write a note to them, or to make a phone call or an apology, or to send a gift. Prayer is the source for many acts of love and in itself one of the most beautiful forms of love.

I remember a student coming up to me after a class and telling me about a family that had prayed for him all through high school, college, and seminary. As he talked about that he was so overwhelmed by it that he began to weep copiously. It was so moving to him that this family loved and cared for him that much. This ministry is unseen. It’s unsung. But it brings down incalculable blessing on people. “More things are wrought by prayer,” wrote the poet, “than this world dreams of. Therefore let your voice rise like a fountain for me night and day. For what are men better than sheep or goats that nourish a blind life within the brain, if knowing God, they lift not hands in prayer both for themselves and for those who call them friend.” Here is the way to be a true friend to other people.

Will you commit yourself now to be among God’s intercessors, those who stand in the gap? Are you ready to take on praying big prayers to a big God out of a big heart? It doesn’t happen overnight. Prayer grows like a muscle, with use. There’s no way of keeping at it without being intentional. Commit yourself now to listen to the apostle and to the Lord, and to be by his grace a faithful intercessor.