Paul, in his letter to the church of Ephesus, includes several descriptions of the contents of his prayers for them. These portions of Paul’s letter give readers an excellent example of what we can pray for others and for ourselves. Utilizing Scripture in our prayers is a good practice for us since what we will be praying will be the very God-breathed message that He originally gave to us, and our prayers will be in accord with His perfect will.
1 John 3:21–22 (NAS): Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;
22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.
What better way to ensure that the content of our prayer is in accordance with His will than to simply pray His words back to Him.
Today we are going to examine one example of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church found in Ephesians 1:15–19, a prayer that we can utilize in our own daily prayer lives. However, before we do, I want to give this one gentle warning. As we begin to make a practice of praying portions of Scripture, or the prayers in Scripture, we must be mindful to not allow them to simply become mantras, or a mindless recitation of the words. Remember the warning that Jesus gave in Matthew 6:7–8 (NAS):
7 And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.
8 “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
Thus, my warning is in accord with Jesus’ warning; that when we pray, we aren’t just repeating empty words, but we speak God from our very inner most beings sharing with Him our desires, needs, anxieties and whatever else drives us to our knees. My desire is simply that we allow Scripture to be our guide. Following the example of the Scripture writers is a good way to do that.
So, what is the content of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:15-19a? Let’s look at the passage together.
Ephesians 1:15–19 (NAS):
15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints,
16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers;
17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what the hope of His calling is, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,
19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
When we examine Paul’s prayers we find that he often, if not always begins by offering thanks for something he finds commendable in his audience. In this instance, as the spiritual father of many in the Ephesian church, he gives thanks to God for them based upon the testimony of others, namely, that they had a living faith in Jesus Christ, and they loved their fellow believers. For those facts Paul never ceased to thank God for them.
Following his thanks, he petitions God to give to them a spirit of wisdom and revelation (v.17). Here we need to be careful not to get caught up in the terminology. Paul was not asking for a mystical experience of a spirit to come over them. Nor is he asking for a special experience involving previously unknown knowledge being mysteriously delivered to them. Paul is asking that God will grant their newly made alive spirits to have the wisdom that they need for godly living. A look at the definition of the Greek word for wisdom yields the following:
1. the capacity to understand and function accordingly, … ⓑ transcendent wisdom α. wisdom that God imparts to those who are close to God. (BDAG)
Based upon its meaning, then, Paul is asking that God will impart to them the capacity to understand and function according to His will.
Further, Paul asks God that their newly made alive spirits be granted revelation in the knowledge of Him. Again, we need to exercise caution and seek proper understanding. Paul is not asking that they be given a “special” revelation concerning God. He’s not asking that they be given new information that had not been shared. He’s not asking for visions, and dreams and the like. No, it’s much more simple and mundane than that. Paul is simply asking for them to have the knowledge of God made clear to them so that they may understand what God’s will is for them individually and as a church. I believe that the revealed knowledge Paul is speaking of here is the message that God gave through the Apostles and writers of Scripture.
Next we find Paul asking for the “eyes of their hearts to be enlightened.” Now that is some interesting language. Do our hearts have eyes? No. Can our hearts be enlightened? Well, not without great physical damage. We understand that here Paul is using figurative language, much like we do every day, many times not even realizing that we are.
When Paul speaks of the heart, he is using it to describe our inner most being. The heart refers to that part of man where thinking is done; where decisions are made and even where the seat of our emotions lies. He is actually explaining the result of what he had just mentioned; that they be given a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God the result being that the eyes of their hearts will be enlightened. Paul is asking that God will enable them to think and make decisions based in the wisdom that God gives utilizing the revealed knowledge that He has given.
Further, Paulexplains the purpose for asking that the eyes of their hearts be enlightened. He mentions three things that he wants them to come to know. First, he desires that God will enlighten their hearts to the hope that they now possess having been called by God. It is the assured knowledge that we have everlasting life and all that that new life entails. Second, Paul that they may know the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. We are God’s inheritance. Paul refers to us as riches and the fact that God is glorified through us. I often refer to believers as trophies of God’s grace. Much like an athlete may have a trophy case that displays his limited glory God has an immeasurable trophy room that is filled with men and women who have received eternal life by His grace through Jesus the Son.
Finally, Paul desires that they understand the immeasurable power of God that works salvation in us, not just in reference to our future salvation, but the everyday process of our sanctification. God’s power is constantly working in us. As believers we need to understand that God does not call us to live in a manner that is impossible for us to accomplish and then leaves us to our own devices. No. He also empowers us to live in the manner that He requires by giving us His Spirit who works in us.
So, what do we see here in Paul’s prayer? 1.) We can thank God for our salvation and for the living faith that we and our brothers/sisters in Christ have. 2.) We can ask God to help us all exercise wisdom based upon the right understanding of His revealed word, resulting in our spiritual enlightenment. 3.) We can ask that God will allow us to fully understand the assured hope we have because we have been saved. 4.) We can pray that God will allow us to understand how valuable we are to Him as his inheritance and the glory that He will ultimately receive through us. 5.) Finally, we can pray that God will help us understand His power that works in us for our future salvation and in the present process of our daily sanctification.
May God grant us these things.