Today is our second week studying the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church that met in Ephesus – the church he started between 52-54Ad. You can travel there today and walk the streets Paul walked – which we learned is located in Turkey.
Paul spent a little more than 2 years in Ephesus, before being driven out of town by the people in Ephesus who made statues of their local goddess, Artemis – (That’s the temple to Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) –
The problem was that Paul was convincing so many people to follow Jesus – the statue makers were fearful their business would shrivel up and they’d be out of work.
This video we just watched is produced by The Bible Project.com and it’s a great resource to helping understand how the bible books are broken down and arranged. I’ve yet to see a video they’ve made that I haven’t been impressed with – and so if you’ve ever wanted to dig a little deeper in understanding the Bible – I’d highly recommend their work.
I stopped the video at this point – because this is as far as we’ve gotten. We are in Ephesians chapter 1. Today we are going to be talking about the Church and how to pray for our church, specifically.
Now – can we talk about the church for a little bit first? May I ask for a pastor privilege of ranting for a few moments?
Rant will begin in 3,2,1… It’s quite common nowadays to be very critical of the church. If you want to make money, write a book about how much your church doesn’t look like the first century church.
Oh – how far we’ve fallen. Usually people read the book of Acts chapter two that does in fact describe a perfectly working church. It says they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and had meals together and cared for the poor…
Now that is a fantastic church. Love it! I think it was a description worth emulating.
My problem is when we read something like that and say, Oh man – your church – your church stinks. God probably hates your church. Oh man – look how far we’ve fallen away from the way they lived in the churches we read about in the bible. We aren’t even close man. We need to repent and get back to the ‘real’ church, man. We’re a mess.
And can I just say, the church has always been a mess. Always. The church has always had great things going on and it’s also always been a mess. No -Phil man – Acts 2 man, they broke bread together and prayed and cared for the poor man.
Okay – they also had a fight – over what? Racism! The greeks were like – the Jewish widows are getting taken care of – what about us gentiles? What are we chopped liver? And the apostles – the twelve – they say – listen man – we aren’t running a food program here – you all figure out. Choose some leaders to work this thing out.
Paul wasn’t even a follow of Jesus yet – and there were Acts 6:1 – “Rumblings of discontent.”
In fact – the only reason we have the New Testament – I because early church leaders had to write individual churches about specific issues and problems that were reported about them – issues within the church. Almost all of Paul’s letters were written to correct a problem.
What were the problems? Sometimes it was misunderstanding or wrong doctrine – but many times it was how people treated one another. Like – the most famous example is the book of 1 Corinthians. Corinth was kind of like the Las Vegas of the first century – so there were plenty of character things going on…
Don’t fight with one another – don’t become divided (Chapter 1!) – Stop sleeping around! (Chapter 5,6,7), stop suing each (Chapter 6) Please stop talking smack about me behind my back – I’m your pastor, says Paul in Chapter 9, (Please don’t get drunk during communion (ch. 11) Please care about poor people, (Chapter 16.)
Oh how I wish the church would return to its roots. Some of you are like – let’s get back to basics! (Pop open a beer)
Not me! That church sounds even more jacked up than you all. Can you believe it! I mean don’t get me wrong – you are beautiful people, but you’re a mess too – I don’t mean that in any way other than exactly the way it sounds.
But that’s the point I’m making. The church has always been a mess. Why? Because the church is people. And throughout history people have acted like people. And broken people act like broken people – in all cultures and times.
And throughout history the church has been a welcome center for broken hurting people who have come to see the mess they are making of their life and they have decided to let Jesus have a place – first place – in their life.
And that means we are much more than a mess. We are not just a mess. We are a beautiful mess. We are the bride of Christ- that’s what the bible tells us. He thinks we are beautiful. He knows everything about us and thinks we are beautiful. He knows the kind of people he is turning us into and knows we will be beautiful.
And I’m very much like Paul – when I pray, I pray like Paul prayed – listen how he begins this section. He writes…
15 Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, 16 I have not stopped thanking God for you.
And I like the way Paul starts his letter. Immediately after praising God for his goodness to the church, the next words Paul utters is a thank you to God for the church.
And what is he thankful for? That they are being the church. He gives a decent description of a church, no? Strong faith in Jesus and love for God’s people everywhere?
He is thankful that the church he planted ten years ago is doing the job of a church.
Paul is thankful that his church in Ephesus is doing what it’s supposed to do. And you know – I think that’s exactly what I would do if – ten years from now – I’m sitting in a prison – and I’m reminiscing – I’d do the same thing. Thank you Lord, for Journey Church. And the impact you all have had on my life and the lives of countless others.
I have a friend here at Journey who said something very interesting – he said that recently he invited his entire family to attend a service here – and his family was not familiar with a church like Journey and He knew they might feel a little uncomfortable here – and he said something that I found quite beautiful- he said – we talk a lot about trusting Jesus with my life. Well, I trusted Journey with my family, and they did not disappoint me.
Thank you Journey – you beautiful mess – for depending on God and displaying grace. For doing good – here at Journey and in our community and city and the world. You have Malian brothers and sisters in Jesus who one day will say thanks for building the medical center and the church. We have brothers and sisters – orphans in Haiti who will one day meet you in heaven and say thanks for breakfast, and lunch and dinner. We have brothers and sisters in this room who have written notes to journey to say thank you for helping us in our time of need.
The Ephesians have nothing on you folks – and so we, I, am just as thankful for you as Paul was for his church 2000 years ago.
You are doing beautiful things around the world, even though you’re a mess – let’s be real. I’m thankful for you Journey, you beautiful mess.
Now let’s read the rest of Paul’s prayer for his church, and use it as a template for how you and I can pray for Journey Church.
I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.
18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.
19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. 23 And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.
This is Paul’s prayer for his church. Now let’s use it as a template for knowing how to pray for Journey church, okay? And I do hope you are praying for our church. And if not- now you have tracks to run on…
Three ways to pray for Journey Church
- Pray that we will taste the goodness of God more and more. (v.3-8)
- Pray that we will feel the nearness of God more and more. (17,18)
- Pray that we will see the power of God at work, more and more.(19-23)
We talked about the goodness of God last week. How, through faith in Jesus, we’ve been blessed in every way on the heavenly realm. We’re legally united and literally united with him as he resides within us, holding no good thing back from us.
God is good. And it’s good to pray that we will know that he is good so thoroughly that it’s as if we can taste it. Psalm 34:8
8 Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!
It’s interesting to realize that the first sin – back in the book of Genesis – came in the form of tasting. The serpent tells Eve – taste this fruit and see – that God can’t be trusted.
Taste and see that God is NOT good. And since that time, sin has destroyed our spiritual taste buds – deadening them to the goodness of God. And instead of testing the goodness of God we taste the bitterness of self-centered living and the sourness of living in this kind of dog eat dog – kingdom of darkness.
But here’s the good news. In Matthew chapter 20, Jesus talks about the fact that he was going to die on a cross and taste the bitter cup of suffering. On the cross he tastes, literally, bitter wine meant to mock the one being crucified.
Jesus tasted the bitterness, so that we might taste the goodness of God.
And so I’m asking you to pray that we are a church who can taste the goodness of God. That we taste the already delivered goodness that comes through faith in Jesus.
Sometimes life gets difficult. And if not careful, we can become desensitized to the taste of God’s goodness. So pray, like Paul, that we are continually reminded of what we already have in the blessings of God through faith in Jesus.
It’s worth noting that Paul doesn’t begin his prayer time by asking God for a change in circumstances in his life. Remember that Paul is sitting in prison of totally fabricated charges. If I were Paul, I know how I’d start – I’d say – Paul an apostle who is sitting in prison totally unfairly, and it’s so messed up – and please do everything in your power to get me out of here!
Paul doesn’t pray for a change in circumstances – not here at least. In other places he does get more specific in his requests. Here though – and in other letters Paul writes, he prays that his readers will know Jesus more and more.
Why? Because Paul knows that if we could taste all of the good that God has already done for us in the heavenlies – then we would be able to face any adverse situation in our life.
Which leads us to the second prayer request. Will you please pray that we feel the nearness of God, more and more.
Paul doesn’t pray for a change in circumstances – at least that’s not his primary concern. Instead, he prays what we might know God. That we might be filled with the Spirit of Wisdom. And there is some confusion here in the way it’s phrased could mean a spirit of wisdom(NLT) or The Spirit of Wisdom (NIV)- meaning the Holy Spirit. I don’t think there’s any problem either way you look at it.
But it seems to me that the Spirit is the best way. Paul is pushing the reality of the Trinity into our souls. The Triune God of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – working together in the spirit of the believer.
It is very important – if we are to grow in our faith – that we see God as being as near to us as the breath on the back of our hands. God is near.
Jesus’ last words to his followers in Matthew 28? Are words that speak of the nearness and the power of God. “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth…. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
In the book of Acts – chapter 17 – the Apostle Paul is in Athens Greece debating the philosophers about their gods – and Paul says that there is One – all powerful God!
24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it.
27 …he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist.
Who created the world and everything in it – who gives life and breath to everything.
Speaking of the greatness of God! And then he says – this God is not far from any of us – in him we live and move and breath…
Listen – Moses – in Exodus 33 – Moses s going through a tough time and God says this… “14 The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”
What would you give to hear Jesus look you in the eyes and tell you – I’ll personally go with you, today. It might be difficult day – a day filled with challenges and obstacles, and so today I’ve cleared my schedule and I’m just going to walk with you through the day. Everywhere you go, I will be right there with you. And everything will be fine for you.”
Wouldn’t hearing those words fill you with confidence – with hope – that no matter what happens today, it’s going to be okay. Would that not diminish stress? Anger?
What would you give to hear those words? Good news – You don’t have to give anything! Jesus gave it all – to make this promise to Moses a reality for you and me today!
Pray that Journey will feel the nearness of God. That we would be filled with confidence, hope, and joy knowing that He is with us – and nothing can stand against us, and that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength,
Lastly, will you pray that we experience the power of God?
Let’s re-read this past section. 19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church.
What does it look like for the power of God to be displayed in a church?
Would it not mean that lives are being rescued and transformed? That marriages are being saved and strengthened. That entire families are pulled out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light?
If you read the account of the start of the church in Ephesus – Paul performed miracles. Why? Because they lived in a city that was all about the power of the invisible realm – they were in touch with the heavenlies – and the city had a huge amount of spiritism and magic and people who claimed to be able to get in touch with the powers of the heavenly realm for personal gain and prophet.
And so Paul does miracles because it helped them. Why don’t we see miracles today? Because usually claims of miracles tend to make us cynical. In Acts 19 it says that handkerchiefs that Paul touched were used by people to bring healing… and nowadays if that happened in America we’d say – Fraud. Not hallelujah, just, fraud.
So I say this with caution. But can we pray the power of God includes God doing miraculous things regularly at Journey?
So I’d rather not even qualify it other than to ask that we pray we are a church who believes and experiences and expects God’s to do amazing things on a regular basis.
That we be a church where God’s power is displayed – for His glory not ours. That we be a church who boldly and regularly prays for what seems impossible, knowing that nothing is impossible with God.
As you pray for Journey – will you please pray that we know God –
That we taste the goodness of God more and more.
That we feel the nearness of God
and that we experience the power of God.