One of the great needs in our world today is prayer. We recognize it when we observe that our world is not as it should be. But is prayer only supposed to be this reflexive and defensive mechanism? For some, prayer is chiefly to be used for when things go wrong. We think about praying when people get sick, or our car breaks down. Maybe we presume that prayer is merely for when you or I are unable to cope with the weighty demands of our everyday lives.
But can prayer be useful when we are actually healthy? What about when things are going well? What about when we are not in a crisis? Cleary the Apostle Paul sees prayer as a regular feature for every moment of the Christian life. Although there are many passages available throughout the New Testament to guide our discussions on prayer let us look at Ephesians 3:14-21. Here the Apostle Paul places prayer in the offensive.
To use an illustration from boxing, we are not merely to pray when our backs are against the proverbial ropes. We are to pray at all times. We are to pray on our drive to work when everything is still quiet and pleasant. We are to pray in the afternoon as we enjoy a cup of coffee or a pleasant conversation. We are to pray as we sit with friends and hear about the things going on in their world. In short, not every prayer in our Christian lives needs to be an emergency prayer..
Paul prays for something ordinary: he prays for strength. Why do we need to be strengthened? Clearly, we are weak. That may sound rude, but perhaps you know something about that. Have you ever seen someone struggle physically? I know that my children have occasionally attempted to carry something too heavy for them. They need help. They need someone else’s strength to move these items. And a good dad is always glad to help. This is a window into our great need. You and I need Christ’s strength far more than we know.
Consider this: Have you felt that you could have better reflected Christ this week? With your children? With your spouse? With your co-workers? With yourself? What do you need? You need to be stronger. But it’s not what you think.
When we think of strength we may be tempted to think of weight lifters or professional athletes. These individuals simply put their noses down and commit themselves to accomplish their goals. The lie set before us is that with enough self-discipline we can do anything. Though popular, this idea is hardly Christian.
There is no pulling yourself up by your bootstraps in New Testament Christianity. Every step of the long journey home for believers is bound in dependence on God the Holy Spirit. We need what we cannot produce. We are spiritual paupers, who are not only penniless but owe such a debt that a lifetime of effort could not even repay.
The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:14-21 does not call believers to take stock of their abilities or their own spiritual riches. His prayer is directed to God the Father who delights in strengthening believers “according to the riches of his glory…through His Spirit”. God delights in strengthening you. God is not appalled by your weakness, but in love cares for you.
This week as your inabilities and insufficiencies become more apparent or the inabilities and insufficiencies of others comes forward, may you learn to cry out to God for strength. For none of us is able to live by our own abilities. May you grow in reflexively calling out to God for the strength only He can provide.
What does this sort of strength look like? Strength, according to the Apostle Paul, looks like Christ setting up shop in your heart. His prayer is “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV). The Apostle is using metaphoric language. The heart is synonymous with the whole person. God strengthens you by gifting you His Son. His prayer is that you and I might grow in degrees of our sanctification.
May this empower us this week. Christ is with us wherever we go. He is with you when you feel most weak and are tempted seemingly beyond your ability. He is with you when you act as if you’ve never heard of Him. He is with you when by God’s grace you are able to conquer the sin which so tempts you. He is with you even now by His Spirit, and all of this is through faith in Christ.