What a person’s prayers consist of is a pretty good indication as to what one considers to be important to God and to us.
With this in view, J. I. Packer writes,
“I believe that prayer is the measure of the man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face.”1
In addressing the great need in the Church for a deeper knowledge of God, evangelical scholar D. A. Carson laments: “When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted. . . . We think rather little of what he is like, what he expects of us, what he seeks in us. We are not captured by his holiness and his love; his thoughts and words capture too little of our imagination, too little of our discourse, too few of our priorities.”2
Then Carson prescribes the antidote for this spiritual malaise: “One of the foundational steps in knowing God, and one of the basic demonstrations that we do know God, is prayer—spiritual, persistent, biblically minded prayer.”3
Packer says, “. . . how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face.” Carson notes that the way to a deeper knowledge of God “. . . is prayer—spiritual, persistent, biblically minded prayer.
How might church leaders and every concerned Christian profit by these observations and suggestions, coming as they do from two noteworthy men of God?
Those who take God seriously, take prayer seriously. And in the course of our praying, we are to pray for one another. How should we pray for one another? What should be the overall thrust and tone of our prayers for our brothers and sisters in Christ? If we are church leaders, how should we pray for those we are called to lead?
For answers to these questions, let’s consult an authoritative source who had a reputation for a passionate love for the Lord Jesus Christ and a mature depth of holiness, and was also known to be a man of prayer (these, of course, go hand-in-hand—a passionate love for Christ, holiness and prayer). I refer to the apostle Paul and, in particular, his prayer for the Ephesian Christians.4
Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos and Timothy, were five of God’s instruments of grace in founding and shaping the church at Ephesus in its early years.5 This church was privileged to be evangelized and discipled by men and a woman who were mighty in the Scriptures and filled with the Holy Spirit. This same Spirit was poured out upon these baptized believers under Paul’s ministry with many signs and wonders occurring. Evil spirits were exorcised from the possessed and idolaters fled their idols. Truly—just as God had told him would be the case—many souls turned from darkness to light, and from the dominion of Satan to God.6
Some time later, while sitting in a Roman prison for the preaching of the Gospel, Paul writes a letter to the church at Ephesus. A portion of that letter includes an intense prayer burden Paul carries for these Christians (Ephesians 3:14-21)—a prayer burden we likewise should carry for those we desire to mature in Christ. Let’s take note of Paul’s aspirations for these people, asking the Holy Spirit to graciously answer this prayer in our own hearts and in the hearts of those we care deeply about.
A Prayer for Strength
“. . . that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, . . .”7
Paul first of all prays that these believers might be “strengthened.” The word rendered “strengthened” means to fortify, to brace, to invigorate. It is the same Greek word translated “strength” in verse 17, where it is connected to the resurrection of Christ.
Although the Scriptures teach that it is the believer’s privilege to experience a continual strengthening (“filling”) of the Holy Spirit,8 the grammatical tense Paul uses here (aorist passive infinitive) indicates these Christians are in need of a special, momentary strengthening of the Holy Spirit. This strengthening is effected “with power through His Spirit.”
“Strengthened,” “power,” “Spirit”—here we have the result, the means, and the Agent. The result: “strengthened”; the means: “power”; the Agent: the “Spirit.” Whatever Paul’s prayer has in mind—which we’ll see later—it is clear that the need of the Ephesians can only be met through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This causes me to pause for a moment to reflect. How often do Christians and churches revert to human means and methods in an attempt to accomplish spiritual ends. Is not our greatest need the Holy Spirit—the abiding, ever-present Holy Spirit? Is not our greatest need the sanctifying, infilling presence of the third Person of the Holy Trinity? Do we desire to see conversions to Christ? The Holy Spirit is the answer. Do we desire to see believers built up in the faith and established in holiness and righteousness? The Holy Spirit is the answer. Do we desire to see tensions resolved and Christians united in love and truth? The Holy Spirit is the answer. Do we desire to live in this filthy, corrupt world a life of victory and joy? The Holy Spirit is the answer.
It was none other than the risen Christ who exhorted the apostles to tarry in Jerusalem before making any attempts at aggressive evangelism, because He knew how much they were in need of power—His power, the power of the Holy Spirit: “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”9
Jesus said the apostles would be “clothed with power.” Paul prays that the Ephesians might be “strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.” Pentecost is proof that the apostles, and the 120 present in the upper room, received a power they had never experienced before—a power to do, and more importantly, a power to be.
While God does not call the average Christian to perform exploits like he did with Peter, James and Paul, for example, He knows very well that all Christians are in need of His power in the “inner man”—power to become and be what He has called us to be. Power to live. Power to serve. Power to conquer.
The Inner Man
When the “inner man” is sufficiently tended to by the Spirit of God, the “outer man” is cared for as a by-product. Paul refers to this “inner man” in verse 17 as “your hearts.”
What the apostle has in mind here is the spiritual core of human personality, the source of all our thoughts and imagination, the wellspring of all motives, propensities and proclivities. It is where choices are contemplated and decisions are made. It is where our attitudes spring from and our actions originate. In the heart reside feelings and emotions, desires and passions. Gordon Fee remarks, “This is not only the seat of personal consciousness, but the seat of our moral being.”10
Before a person acts either righteously or wickedly, it is the “inner man,” the “heart” that contemplates such choices. Jesus once said, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”11
Here is where our battles are fought and either won or lost—in the “inner man.” And whether they are won or lost depends on what the condition of our heart is and whether or not we treat Christ as merely a visitor or allow Him to make our heart His home, a residence sanctified by His presence. Do we want more than the forgiveness of sins?
Read on . . .
“. . . so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; . . .”12
The first reason Paul gives for his prayer that these believers might be “strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” is “. . . so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; . . .”
One might logically ask a series of questions. I thought these were Christians Paul was writing to. Doesn’t Christ dwell in the hearts of all Christians? Why would he pray that Christ would dwell in their hearts if Christ dwells in the hearts of all Christians?
The key word in all this is the word “dwell.” What does it mean?
The Greek word translated “dwell” occurs, with its cognates, some 41 times in the New Testament. The word is used in both a physical and spiritual sense. An example of a physical sense is used in Matthew 2:23, where it is said of Joseph (including Mary and the child Jesus), he “came and lived in a city called Nazareth.” The word for “lived” is the same Greek root word rendered “dwell” in Ephesians 3:17.
Another example, in addition to our text, of this word used in a spiritual sense is located in Colossians 1:19, where Paul says of Christ, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, . . .” The verb “dwell” means a “permanent habitation as opposed to sojourning or an occasional visit.”14 Carson says of this verb that it is “a strong one.” He says, “Paul’s hope is that Christ will truly take up his residence in the hearts of believers, . . . so as to make their hearts his home.”15
This is the crux of this immediate petition before us. Paul’s prayer burden for these believers is that they might receive such a mighty strengthening of the Holy Spirit in their lives until they allow Christ to make his home in their hearts.
The Open Secret
Here is a truth that is clear to many of Christ’s disciples, but not so clear to others. Whereas on the one hand the Bible teaches that every believer has the Spirit of Christ,16 the same Bible teaches that Christ does not fully possess every believer—He has not been made welcome to settle down and make His “home” in each convert’s life.
The Lord Jesus refers to this when He says, “If anyone loves Me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”17
Is not this one of the great needs in the church today—that those who have received Christ in justifying and regenerating faith, may then by a decisive act of faith welcome Christ to make their hearts His home?
Robert Munger saw this truth one day and wrote,
I have been trying to keep this heart of mine clean and available for Christ but it is hard work. I start on one room and no sooner have I cleaned it than I discover another room is dirty. I begin on the second room and the first one is already dusty again. I’m getting tired trying to maintain a clean heart and an obedient life. I just am not up to it!
Suddenly I asked, “Lord, is there a possibility you would be willing to manage the whole house and operate it for me . . . ? Could I give to you the responsibility of keeping my heart what it ought to be and myself doing what I ought to be doing?”
I could see his face light up as he replied, “I’d love to! This is exactly what I came to do. You can’t live out the Christian life in your own strength. That is impossible. Let me do it for you and through you. That’s the only way it will really work! But,” he added slowly, “I am not the owner of this house. Remember, I’m here as your guest. I have no authority to take charge since the property is not mine.”
In a flash it all became clear. Excitedly I exclaimed, “Lord. you have been my guest, and I have been trying to play the host. From now on you are going to be the owner and master of the house. I’m going to be the servant!”
Running as fast as I could to the strongbox, I took out the title deed to the house describing its assets and liabilities, its condition, location and situation. Then rushing back to him, I eagerly signed it over giving title to him alone for time and eternity. Dropping to my knees, I presented it to him, “Here it is, all that I am and have forever. Now you run the house. Just let me stay with you as houseboy and friend.”18
How about it my friend, is Christ at home in your heart? He eagerly awaits your decision!
– Soli Deo Gloria –
All Bible references are taken from the New American Standard Bible except where noted.
1. J. I. Packer quoted by D. A. Carson. A Call to Spiritual Reformation. p. 17.
2. Carson, pp. 15-16.
3. Carson, p. 16.
4. See Ephesians 3:14-21.
5. See Acts 18:18-21; 19:1-41.
6. See Acts 26:18.
7. Ephesians 3:16.
8. See Ephesians 5:18, for example.
9. Luke 24:49.
10. Gordon D Fee. God’s Empowering Presence. p. 696.
11. Matthew 15:18-19.
12. Ephesians 3:17
13. English Standard Version.
14. Fritz Rienecker. Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. p. 529.
15. Carson, p. 186.
16. See Romans 8:9.
17. John 14:23.
18. Robert B. Munger. My Heart Christ’s Home. pp. 26-28. Used by permission.
Taken from . . .
Breath of God: Experiencing Life in the Spirit
Ralph I. Tilley
(May be copied for noncommercial purposes;
not to exceed 500 copies.)