Let Us Borrow A Prayer
Some prayers are impressive. Years ago, when I was a vicar, my bishop was asked to give the blessing before the potluck dinner. And after everyone quieted down, he spoke these words:
The eyes of all look to you, O Lord, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. Amen. Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us through these gifts which we receive from your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
I was really impressed. I was so impressed that I thought about asking him where he got that prayer from. And of all the questions I asked my bishop and he patiently answered, I’m glad that I did not ask that question. And the reason is that the prayer he spoke was from Luther’s Small Catechism. That, evidently, was a part of the catechism that I didn’t have to memorize. So I didn’t. But since then I’ve borrowed that prayer because it was so good. This morning we borrow a prayer. But it’s not a prayer from Martin Luther. Instead, it’s a prayer from the Apostle Paul. In Ephesians 3, we read: “14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” (Ephesians 3:14–16 NIV11-GKE)
In these words Paul was just amazed over the fact that we Gentile would be included in God’s family with the same status as our fellow Jewish believers. And with that fact in mind he gets down on his knees and prays. That right there is an important detail. Normally, when people prayed in those days they stood up and lifted their hands up. But when people were overwhelmed with such amazement as Paul was standing wasn’t good enough. Instead he kneeled down in worship of our our Triune God. And then he prayed. His first prayer is that we would know that our inner self would be powerful. Now, there are some questions to ask and answer in these words. What is an “inner-self?”1 When God creates faith in our hearts, alongside our old, sinful nature, he gives to us a new nature. This new nature knows who God is and both trust in and follows him. When Paul speaks about the inner self or inner being or hearts, that’s what he’s talking about. And what detail does he want us to know about our inner self? He wants us to know that it’s powerful.
One of the temptations to sin we face is to forget that we have an inner self and that it’s powerful. Sin is often described as addiction. And the problem with addiction is that it works so hard to intimidate and dominate every part of our lives. But what has Christ done for us? He has given to us an inner self. So when we are tempted to sin, we should not conclude that we are powerless. For there is this inner self in us born of water and the word. You can pick whatever sins you want: lusting, lying, laziness, pride, greed, envy. And the huge temptation is to conclude that our sinful nature is so powerful that we can’t confront and refuse it. And the reason why it’s so easy to conclude that our sinful nature is so powerful is that so very often what it does, it does on the outside. We can hear the sinful thoughts that so often flow through our hearts and minds. We can hear the words that come out of our lips. We remember the sinful actions we have taken to obey our sinful nature. But, when it comes to our inner self, it’s on the inside. Just as faith and the Holy Spirit are invisible, so also is this inner self inside us. But make no mistake. Just because it’s unseen on the inside, that doesn’t mean that it’s powerless. And what follows is an answer to the question, “How do we know that that inner self is powerful?”: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,” (Ephesians 3:17 NIV11-GKE)
This inner self is powerful because when the Holy Spirit gives us this gift of faith, Christ takes up residence in our hearts. And if Jesus dwells in you then he is the one who will fight for you.
That’s what Paul prays for. And here this morning that’s what we pray for. Even though we cannot see this inner self, we thank our Triune God that he has given to us this inner self. And we ask that it would be powerful. But that’s not the only prayer that Paul speaks. What follows is his second prayer: “18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18–19 NIV11-GKE)
Paul prays that we would know that our inner self is powerful. But here, notice what he prays for. He prays that we would know that Christ’s love would be plentiful. And how he explains this is wonderful. First, Paul mentions the phrase, “the love of Christ.” Whenever you bump into a phrase with an “of” in the middle, you have to make a decision which direction it goes. Does this mean the love that we have for Christ? or does it mean the love that Christ has for us? It’s the second. It’s Christ’s love for us. And Paul then pictures this amazing love that Christ has for us with dimensions. He wants them to know how wide and how long; how deep and how high Christ’s love for them is. And if that picture isn’t enough, he gives them the picture that Christ’s love “goes beyond.” It’s the picture of throwing a baseball and it goes way over the head of the person you are throwing to—by a lot.
That’s what Christ’s love for you looks like. That’s how much Christ loves you. And there’s a reason Paul goes out of his way to emphasize this fact twice. This too is so very easy to forget. The problem we face is that it’s ever-so-easy to live down to expectations. I know that the popular proverb is that people can rise to the challenge and live up to expectations. But the opposite is true too. We can live down to expectations. If we look at the sin inside of us we can reach this conclusion because we lose so very many battles to sin. And when we lose them day after day we can give up trying to not sin. And we can reach the conclusion that, if people really knew us, they would have no reason to love us.
But look what Paul prays that you would know. Know the full breadth and depth of Christ’s love for you. Know that it’s real and true for one simple reason: The reason it is true is that it didn’t come from you or depend on you. This love that Chist has for you came from Christ and depends on what he did to forgive you. The best words I can use to describe this come from Martin Luther. He says: “God’s love does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. Human love comes into being through that which is pleasing to it. ““ 2 We can live down the expectations placed on us. We reach this conclusion from the inside. But we can also conclude this from the outside. You picture the child at school who is picked on and bullied by his or her classmates. What can so easily happen, if given enough time and enough repetition, is that the victim believes the bully. And when that happens it’s only a very short distance until the victim gives up and becomes what the bully preaches to the person.
When we reach this conclusion from the outside, what is the prayer that we need to know and have others know? Know that Christ’s love for you goes way beyond the sort of human love you find here. And if Christ loved me enough to live for me and die for me then that means that the answer to the question of who I am and what I am is not answered by the pack of bullies on the playground. No, it’s answered on the battleground of Golgatha where Christ died for my sins.
Those are the two prayers that Paul prays for you: that we would know both that our inner self is powerful and that Christ’s love for us is plentiful. But look at how Paul closes these words: “20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20–21 NIV11-GKE)
We borrow Paul’s prayer. And out of Chist’s love for us, he answers our prayer. For he can do far more than we can ask or imagine. So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, borrow this prayer. Pray that you would continue to know both that your inner self in powerful and that your Christ’s love for you is plentiful. Amen.
1 “ⲉⲥⲱⲁⲛⲟ̅ⲛ” (Ephesians 3:16 GNT-ALEX)
2 The Roots of Reform, The Annotated Luther 1; ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 104.