Interceding for Spiritual Growth
Eph 1:17-21, Col 1:9-11, Phil 1:9-11, Col 4:12
Now that we have a foundation on what the majority of our prayer life could be if we modeled our prayers upon the prayers of Paul. What one word would summarize Paul’s idea of the Christian call to prayer? Thanksgiving! That is right, Christians are called to thank our Heavenly Father for his gracious provisions for his children – their salvation, their growth in salvation, their ministry partners, their opportunities to share the gospel. They are to be thankful when others accept the gospel. We are to be a people of thanks.
We have seen one request we are to pray a few weeks ago from Ephesians 6. Can anyone remember what the first prayer request of Paul was? For the opportunity to share the gospel – for God to bridle his tongue and control it in the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19-20).
Mark Ruiter began praying this prayer in May and had 3 opportunities within the first 3 weeks to share with his workers. God answers this kind of request. He does. Doesn’t he Mark? There was the driver in your office, the driver you brought to the campout dinner, and Friday night and your friend, Al.
Today we will see what else God desires us to pray about. Today we will see that God desires his people to ask for the spiritual growth of others, and presumably ourselves. There are a number of passages from the letters that all parallel this theme. We read Ephesians 1:17-21 this morning, but Col 1:9-11, Col 4:12, and Phil 1:9-11 all echo similar items.
READ ALL 3 other Passages!
I will follow Ephesians primarily but will augment that with information from the other letters as well.
Paul, a spiritual father to the Ephesians is praying for them to know God better. That is the foundational truth of this prayer. I keep asking…the glorious Father…that you may know him better. Paul’s prayer for these Ephesians is that they know God better. That they grow in their relationship with the Father. He wants them to have a more intimate relationship today than they had yesterday. He wants them to learn more about God today and for that to affect their way of life. Imagine with me for a moment – the beau who is enamored with the dame. He is constantly on the lookout for ways to comprehend her. He is asking others about her, he is seeking to learn more about her. When her birthday comes, he has been talking with others, determining her favorite things, what she likes and he doesn’t just accumulate all that information, he gathers it in order to act upon it, to give her a present, which will blow her socks off.
Or consider two marriages of 5o years. In the first marriage, the husband and the wife each come home at the end of the day, take their seat in the chair and never utter another word for the night, they know each other’s favorite colors, they know each other’s favorite foods. They know what bothers the other and what will please the other, but they never talk and they don’t learn anything new about the other, while the second marriage is quite different. They may not talk either, but each spouse is constantly on the lookout for the other, studying their person, noticing the little changes, the subtle shifts in posture, etc. And the husband rises to get his wife a glass of water because of her need, or the wife saddles up beside her honey to rub his shoulder, which has started hurting, and some words are exchanged. There is not a lot of apparent difference, but the subtleties are huge. The attentiveness is gigantic.
Now these are poor illustrations, but they will serve the point? Do you know God enough? Which relationship with the Father do you have – are you sitting in the chair ignorant of any changes in the other, or are you saddling up to your Lord serving him and being served by him?
Paul’s prayer life says, I know the proclivity we humans have, to become complacent, but I am praying for you, I am praying for you to know the Father better than you know him now. I am praying for the Father to reveal himself to you and I am praying for it very specifically. I am praying that he give you the Spirit of Wisdom and revelation. I am praying that God continue to reveal himself to you, to make himself know to you and that you will act on that. For that is really what wisdom is, not the western notion of good cognition but the eastern notion of right action based on good cognition. I am praying that you will live better, that your lifestyle will come more into alignment with what the Father desires.
All we have to do is look through the book of Proverbs, the book of wisdom, to see quickly that the author was more interested in action than in knowledge. The author was more interested in a way of life that was sound than in a way of thinking devoid of a corresponding lifestyle. “For attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair;” (Proverbs 1:2-3). “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions”” (Matthew 11:19).
So the first point we can learn about interceding for others is to 1) pray that they know God better and live into the knowledge they have. And this is similar to Paul’s prayer in Colossians where he asks for God to “fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,” (Colossians 1:9-10). Do you see, wisdom and understanding, wisdom and revelation are to usher forth in a way of life, a Christian life of discernment and intimacy with the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ? And Colossians adds an interesting phrase, which is worth exploring for a moment in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way. A life which knows God and lives according to that growing intimacy is pleasing to God, and the converse is true, a life bereft of intimacy and bereft of growth and change in Christian discipleship is not pleasing to God.
The church, the evangelical churches, of which the reformed churches have taken many cues from for the past 70 years or so, have not taught this doctrine very well. People have been allowed to wallow in their sin and articulate it on the surface as unpleasing to God, but the church hasn’t called believers to grow out of their sin and so please the Lord in their lifestyle. We have opted for too long to focus on evangelism and “saving souls” without the corresponding focus on discipleship and Christian maturity. But Paul’s prayers tie both. He thanks God for their salvation in both letters, we saw that last week, but then he moves on to pray for their continued discipleship, for their fruit bearing. As the Scriptures say, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Knowledge and life are tied, we never have enough knowledge of God, but we also never have enough lifestyle to match our knowledge of God. We need both. We need to pray for our children to know him better in mind and body. We need to pray for our church members to know him better in him and body. We need to pray for ourselves to know him better in mind and body. And then we need to act on those Words of the Lord we are given. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (James 1:5-8). To fail to act is to be double minded and tossed. Christian discipleship is imperative to pray for and act upon.
In addition to praying that others know God better and live into the knowledge they have. The second point in interceding for others is to prays for the “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,” (Ephesians 1:18). Paul desires that our heart, the seat of our conviction and assurance may be opened that we know the hope to which we are called. The hope of Glory, the hope of being God’s inheritance, the hope of being God’s possession. His prayer isn’t just a prayer to kick them in the rump and get them moving in their spiritual lives; it is also a prayer for God to assure them of their salvation, to assure them of the truth of the Gospel. God is theirs and they are God’s. Listen to these other passages where the glorious inheritance is described:
Deuteronomy 10:9 – “That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as the Lord your God told them.
Matthew 25:34 – ““Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”
Matthew 19:29 – “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”
Hebrews 1:14 – “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”
1 Peter 1:4 – “and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you,”
1 Peter 3:9 – “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”
Eternal life, kingdom from ages past, salvation, imperishable, blessing, the Lord – this is the wealth God owns which he makes available to us and which we are incorporated into. Have you prayed for this to be dwelled deep into your life, and the lives of those you know and don’t know? But it gets even better than this, Paul prays that they be assured of God’s incomparably great power for those who believe, then he illustrates that power’s power by saying it raised Christ from the dead. That power seated Christ in the heavenly realms at God’s right hand. That power placed all things under Christ’s rule. That is the power Paul wants to assure these Ephesian brothers that is at work in their life. If it worked in Christ, then I am praying that same power to be at work in you, convicting you, growing you, changing you, assuring you and Colossians 1:11-12 goes on to say, when we are strengthened with this kind of power, this kind of glorious might, then we will have great endurance, and great patience and joyful thanks. That is the third point in interceding for others, 1) pray that they know God better and live into the knowledge they have; 2) pray that hearts are enlightened and assured of the Gospel; 3) pray that the power of God would be at work in their life!
Philippians 1:10 says, we will be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless while Colossians 4:12 uses the words so that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. These are intercessions for spiritual growth, for discipleship, for Christian stature.
Going back to Phil 1:10, did you notice, these prayers for growth are oriented towards discerning how best to live? We all know that there are good and bad choices in the world, and we strive to make the good choices, but Paul sees another level of distinction, one between good and best and making those choices requires spiritual discernment, spiritual growth, spiritual insight and transformation and that comes from prayer and life. Do you want the best God has in Christian discipleship? Pray for spiritual growth. Do you want the best for your children, your friends, your pastor, your elders and deacons, the converts in Africa and Asia and Latin America, and the rest of the world – pray, intercede, don’t stop asking for God to Grow their understanding of gospel and the assurance that comes with it and the fortitude to live into it.
This is the kind of prayer God desires. This is the kind of prayer God answers. So the next time someone asks you to pray for his or her illness, fine, pray for it, but go beyond it and pray for his or her spiritual growth in the midst of it. And keep praying for it to see what God does. The next time you pray for a blessing upon someone, great, but go beyond it and pray for the gospel to reign in their life and for them to know it. The next time you pray for your child’s spouse, pray that spouse and your child are given wisdom and revelation in order to know God better and to be assured of God’s work in their life so that they can discern what is best. The next time you pray for your pastor to grow up, or not be a jerk or to be strong in the faith, go beyond that and pray that I will know God more and my life will be conformed to the image of Christ in Christian discipleship. Pray that I would be obedient to the knowledge I have and pray that my obedience would be the ground for God to give me more knowledge.
In short, what I am saying, what Paul is saying, what God is saying through all of us, is pray. Pray for the church to be built up to the measure and stature of Christ. For that is Christ’s prayer for us, which I will close with from John 17:20-21:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us [may they intimately know us!] so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Will we pray that we may know the Father better? Jesus is!