Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament epistle of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were in Ephesus. More specifically, today’s reading is found in verses fourteen through twenty-one of the third chapter. When you come to this particular set of verses you will find the apostle Paul once more speaking to the Ephesian congregation concerning his heart for and his heart toward them. You might read those words and wonder how the apostle Paul could show and express his desire for, his affection toward and his concern for this congregation, but if you read these verses you will find that they include the apostle Paul’s words concerning his prayer for the Ephesian congregation. If you have read the epistle from the first verse or the first chapter up through this point you will notice that this is in fact the second prayer which the apostle Paul included in this epistle. What is so striking about the words of the apostle Paul in this particular passage of scripture is that it isn’t necessarily a prayer within the epistle but rather a statement and declaration of prayer for and over them. What I so absolutely love about the words of the apostle Paul in this passage is that not only does he state that he bowed his knees on behalf of the saints in Ephesus in prayer, but he actually goes on to reveal and speak those specific things he prays for them. It would have been one thing for the apostle Paul to simply state that he bowed his knees in prayer before the throne of God for and on behalf of the saints of this city, and to stop right there with that statement. The apostle Paul, however, didn’t simply state that he prayed for the saints which were in Ephesus, but rather wrote and declared those things which he prayed over and for them. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we understand this concept, for as we will see very shortly—his description of those things he prayed for this congregation present us with a tremendous challenge.
When I read the words of the apostle Paul in this particular passage of scripture, and when I consider that this is essentially the second statement and declaration of prayer for and on behalf of this congregation I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the prophet Samuel spoke unto the children. In the Old Testament book of First Samuel you will find the prophet Samuel emphatically declaring unto the children of Israel, saying, “Heaven forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you.” Oh please don’t miss the tremendous importance and significance of these words spoken by the prophet, for for they actually speak to and speak of the severity in ceasing to pray for the children of Israel. Note the word “ceasing” that is used in this particular account, for the word craze suggests and speaks to the reality of starting something and then for whatever reason stopping that which you at one point started and began. That which the prophet Samuel was declaring unto the children of Israel was that he had begun praying for and interceding for them, and that he was continuing and continues to do so. That which the prophet Samuel was speaking and declaring unto the children of Israel was that it would be a sin against the Lord to cease praying for the people whom He chose, the people whom He redeemed our of Egypt, and the people He planted in the land of Canaan. It is absolutely necessary that we pay close attention to these words for the prophet Samuel was not speaking of sinning against the Lord by not starting to pray for the children of Israel, but rather, of sinning against the Lord in ceasing to pray for them. In other words that which the prophet Samuel was speaking unto the children of Israel was that it was a sin, it was a transgression against the Lord to begin praying for another, or to begin praying for others, and then ceasing to pray for those individual.
If I am being with myself and even with you who would read this writing I would say that it is incredibly easy to begin praying for another individual, or to begin praying for a group of individual, or perhaps for a city, or perhaps for a nation, or perhaps for the church of Jesus Christ. It is something else altogether to begin praying for another indivisible, or individuals and then to cease praying for them. I am convinced that our churches are full of well-intentioned people who may have begun praying for others in their church, or others in their community, or others in their town and city, and yet for one reason or another they ceased praying for them. These individuals began with a passionate burden for those whom they brought before the Lord in prayer, and yet somewhere along the way they ceased praying for those individuals and bringing them before the throne of God. Does this mean that the burden was short-lived and that the burden was somehow no longer in existence? Absolutely not. I do not believe for one minute the Lord gives us a burden for prayer for another individual, or group of individuals and then removes and dismisses or removes the burden. I am absolutely and utterly convinced that if you have begun to pray for a specific individual, or perhaps a specific group of individuals you should not cease bringing those individuals before the throne of God in prayer. I believe that the burden is for a specific period of time, but even if that burden lessens in intensity, that doesn’t mean we should cease praying for those whom we bowed our knees for and on behalf of. I firmly believe there are a number of well-intentioned saints and believers in the churches today who may initially begin praying for others because of a burden they received in prayer, or even perhaps for a specific ministry or cause, and for a while they engaged themselves in prayer for that specific individual, that specific group of individuals, or even that specific cause or ministry. As time progressed, however, the intensity of their prayers, their resolve for such prayers, and perhaps even their desire to engage themselves in prayer somehow wained and seemingly ceased to exist.
As I read the words which the prophet Samuel spoke unto the children of Israel and consider them in light of those words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Ephesian congregation I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the apostle Paul spoke unto the Ephesian elders prior to his departure never to see their faces again. Luke in the New Testament book of Acts reveals this stunning interaction between the apostle Paul and the Ephesian elders in the twentieth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts: “Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:18-21). If you continue reading the words which the apostle Paul spoke unto the Ephesian elders on this particular occasion you will find the apostle Paul go on to speak of the tremendous burden he found himself experiencing during this time in the city of Ephesus among the Jews and Greeks alike. In fact, if you continue reading in this particular chapter and begin reading with the twenty-eighth verse you will find the following words: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:28-32).
Please don’t miss the significance of what we find and what we read in this particular passage of Scripture, for when speaking of his time within the city of Ephesus unto the elders of the church within that city the apostle Paul not only spoke of his serving the Lord among them, but he also spoke of his warning the saints and disciples of Jesus Christ both night and day. Make note of these twin realities—serving the Lord and warning—for these two realities describe just a fraction of the ministry the apostle Paul engaged himself in during his time among the inhabitants of the city of Ephesus. What’s worth noting and mentioning is that the apostle Paul spoke unto the elders of the church of God in Ephesus and reminded them of how for three years he ceased not to warn every one of them night and day with tears. Even before he spoke unto them how he had spent three years both night and day warning the saints of God with tears the apostle Paul declared unto them how he served the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations. Notice that twice when speaking unto the elders of the church of God in the city of Ephesus the apostle Paul referenced “tears,” thus indicating the tremendous burden he had for the inhabitants of this city. The fact that the apostle Paul wrote concerning his serving the Lord, as well as warning night and day with tears suggests and speaks of the tremendous burden he had for the saints of God which were within this city—particularly and especially because of the idolatry that was found present to be in the city, as well the very real danger of false brethren, false apostles, false teachers, and the like who would rise up from among them and seek to damage and destroy the flock of God. Through his use of the word “tears”—not once, but on two separate occasions—we discover and encounter the tremendous heart and burden the apostle Paul had for the saints of God which were part of the church that was present within Ephesus. One cannot, should not and must not question the sincerity of the apostle Paul, nor his genuineness toward the saints of God which were in Ephesus, for not only do we read his words spoken unto the elders of the church of God within the city, but we also have an entire epistle which was written unto this particular church and congregation.
The more I read the words of the apostle Paul in the epistle which he wrote unto the saints of God which were at Ephesus the more I can’t help but be confronted with his tremendous passion and zeal for prayer. In fact, in the eleventh chapter of the second epistle which was written unto the saints which were in Corinth the apostle Paul speaks of the tremendous challenges, trials, obstacles, tribulations and suffering he experienced throughout the ministry that was entrusted him. The apostle Paul wrote unto the Corinthian congregation—both of those troubles that were within, as well as through troubles which were without. What’s more, is that the apostle Paul would also write to them how perhaps the greatest burden he experienced on a regular and routine basis was his care and concern for the churches. It is absolutely undeniable that the apostle Paul spent a considerable amount of time being burdened for the various churches which he either helped established and found, or helped disciple and strengthen. The words which the apostle Paul writes unto the Corinthian congregation in the second epistle brings us face to face with the tremendous care and concern the apostle Paul had for the saints of God, as well as for the churches. The apostle Paul was not omnipresent, and as a direct result of his being unable to be in all places at once, he could not be present among all the churches at one time. There is not a doubt in my mind that this weighed heavily on the heart, on the spirit, on the mind, on the soul, and perhaps even on the body of the apostle Paul. If you read his words in this second epistle unto the saints which were at Corinth, as well as his words concerning his prayers for the saints of God and churches of Jesus Christ you will find that he spent countless days and nights under the tremendous weight and burden of and for the churches. The more I read the epistles which the apostle Paul wrote unto the churches of Jesus Christ the more I am convinced that the weight of the burden for the churches of Jesus Christ so utterly consumed the apostle Paul that he couldn’t help but bow down on his knees before the Father in heaven and cry out before the throne of God in intercession for and on behalf of the churches.
Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—when was the last time you were so impassioned and so burdened for another that you could not help but bow down on your knees before the Father in prayer in your secret closet of prayer and cry out for them? When was the last time you gave of yourself continually and daily before the Father of lights in prayer for and on behalf of those whom you experienced such a tremendous burden within your heart and spirit? When was the last time you gave yourself fully and completely throughout the night in passionate prayer and intercession for those around you whom the Lord has burdened you with? What’s more, is perhaps an even greater question than this, which is whether or not you are even able to be burdened within the very depths of your heart and soul for others. THE CAPACITY TO BE STIRRED! THE CAPACITY TO BE BURDENED! I would dare say that the only way we can give ourselves to prayer and intercession is if we have the capacity to be stirred within the very depths of our Seoul. The only way we can give ourselves to prayer and intercession is we have the capacity and the ability to be burdened by and for others. What’s more, is that I would dare say that the only we can even be burdened for others is if we are able to move beyond ourselves and even get over ourselves long enough to even receive such a burden. I believe that one of the greatest hindrances to our receiving such a burden from the throne of God is because we are unable to move beyond ourselves and think about anyone else other than ourselves. If I am being honest with you who read these words, I must emphatically declare that I know I am a selfish man. I know I spend a lot of time considering and thinking about myself rather than others. I know that I have found it incredibly difficult to esteem others above myself, and to allow myself to be given in prayer and intercession for and on behalf of them. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—if I were listen in on your quiet times of prayer, how much of your prayer would be spent focusing on you, and your needs, and your desires, and your wants, and your passions? How much time do you spend praying for others rather than simply yourself? Do you have the bandwidth and capacity to even be able to pray for others rather than simply yourself? What would happen if you devoted an entire hour to nothing but prayer for others? What about forty-five minutes? No? You can’t do forty-five minutes? What about a half an hour? No? That’s too much too? What about fifteen minutes?
I feel a tremendous challenge within my heart and spirit to spend fifteen minutes a day praying for someone other than yourself. I would like to directly challenge you to take fifteen minutes a day and spend that time passionately praying for those around you—perhaps those you work with, perhaps those who live beside, below, and above you in your apartment complex, or perhaps those who you go to church with, or perhaps your family, friends and neighbors. Let me ask you a question: How many of you who are reading the words found within this writing work out during the day? Regardless of what time you actually work out, you spend time working out in order to stay healthy, and perhaps even to accomplish some specific fitness goal. What about you who commute each and every day into the city, or perhaps to another town or city for work? How long is your commute each day to and from work? Perhaps an hour? Perhaps forty-five minutes? Perhaps thirty minutes or less? What about the time you spend each and every morning getting read for the work day? How much time does it take you each and every morning to get ready for work? What about any breaks you might take during and throughout the day on your job? I know that I myself take two fifteen minute breaks, as well as an hour lunch each and every day while I’m at work. Now, you might be wondering why I would bring up such distinct times and time frames during each and every day, and the reason I choose to do so is actually quite simple. There are a great number of men and women among us within our churches who would dare make the statement and declaration that they are too busy to pray for others, and that they don’t have any time to pray for others. I would like to take the time right now to pick up the phone and dial and call bull on such a statement and declaration, for such a statement is both errant and false. To make such a statement and claim is completely and entirely inaccurate and false, and if we are honest with ourselves we know it to be true. Even if I took my first fifteen minute break and spent it praying for others I have already spent fifteen minutes a day in prayer for someone other than myself. If I dared be bold enough to take my second fifteen minute break and pray for others then what I have done is effectively take thirty minutes during the day to pray for someone other than myself. What about the time it takes to pump your gas, or waiting in line at the grocery store, or waiting in line for your coffee, or various other times during the day? I do not believe for one minute that we can truly say that we have no time during the day to pray for someone other than us ourselves. I am convinced that we have more time during the day to pray for someone other than myself than we would even think of or care to admit.
I have heard it said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, and I am fully and completely convinced that this statement is altogether true and factual. With that being said, I would take this phrase, turn it on its head, and adapt it a little bit by declaring that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you pray for, and how much you are willing to pray for them. I am completely and utterly convinced that the single greatest demonstration and manifestation of our care and concern for another is through our willingness to pray for them. The simple fact that twice within three chapters the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Ephesus of his prayers for and his prayers toward them suggests the tremendous reality that he was genuinely concerned for their well-being. If you read this epistle from beginning to end you will quickly notice the apostle Paul was truly and genuinely concerned for the growth and the maturity of this congregation. This epistle—as well as each and every other epistle which the apostle Paul writes—brings us face to face with the tremendous reality that the apostle was truly and genuinely concerned for this particular congregation, for we do not have any reason to doubt that he truly and genuinely prayed for the saints which were a part of this congregation and body of believers. What’s more, is that when the Ephesian church received this letter there is not a doubt in my mind that they believed every word the apostle Paul wrote to them concerning his bowing on his knees before God the Father in prayer on behalf of them. I am convinced that those around us—both those we work with, those we worship with, those we interact with, those we live with—don’t and won’t know how much we care until and unless they know that we pray for them, and even how much we pray for them. Let me present a challenge to you right now at this very moment: the challenge is simply to spend fifteen minutes each day—not only praying for someone other than yourself, but praying for someone or something specific. I feel the need to challenge you to spend fifteen minutes a day for an entire week—that’s a total of one hour and forty-five minutes during the week that you spend in prayer for someone other than yourself. There are a total of one-hundred and sixty-eight hours during a week, and if you subtract a total of forty-nine hours a week for sleep (seven hours a night) you still have a total of one-hundred and nineteen hours during any given week. Do you mean to tell me that you can’t take one hour and forty-five minutes out of that one-hundred and nineteen remaining hours in a week and devote it to prayer for others? Show me a man or a woman who is unwilling to engage themselves in prayer for others and I will show you a man or woman who is entirely and altogether selfish within their hearts.
When you read the words of the apostle Paul which were written unto the Ephesian congregation in this epistle you will find that not only did he make the statement that he bowed on his knees in prayer, and not only did he not cease to give thanks for them, making mention of them in his prayers, but he also went on describe that which he prayed for them. I find the very fact that the apostle Paul wrote specifically what he prayed for the Ephesian saints and congregation to be absolutely and incredibly challenging, for there are a number of men and women among us within our churches who say they will pray for you, and yet deep down in your heart you know that’s not the truth. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—do you trust it when someone among you in the house of God states that they are going to pray for you? Do you believe it when you perhaps open yourself up and expose yourself to another and they state unto you that they are going to pray for you? Do you put much stock in the words of others when they declare that they are going to pray for you? How many of us actually leave the house of the Lord confident that those around us have our backs and have our six in prayer? How many of us leave the house of the Lord truly believing that those around us have our blindside in prayer and intercession? Taking this a step further—can those around you within the church of Jesus Christ believe you when you tell them you are going to pray for them? Can those whom you interact with on a daily basis in the house of the Lord trust and believe that you are in fact going to pray for them and aren’t going to disregard them? How many times have I told someone I was going to pray for them and yet even as the words left my mouth I knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to pray for them? How many times have I told someone I was going to pray for them, and yet I never even gave them a second thought after I left their presence in the house of the Lord? You might ask why I would write such words, and yet the reason is actually quite simple. The apostle Paul didn’t merely declare that he bowed his knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and didn’t merely declare that he did not cease giving thanks for, and making mention of them in prayer, but he actually went on to describe the specifics of what he prayed for. I find this to be absolutely and incredibly challenging and powerful, for what if we began communicating that which we pray for on behalf of those around us? What if we did more than just tell someone we were going to pray for someone, but actually tell them what we were going to pray for specifically? What if we did more than just tell someone we prayed for them and actually declared unto them those things which we prayed for? The simple fact that the apostle Paul went on to describe those specific things he prayed for on behalf of this congregation brings us face to face with the specifics of prayer rather than simply a statement of Prayer. Oh that we would transition ourselves and move away from mere statements of Prayer and actually move on to the specifics of prayer—that which we actually pray for and cry out to the Lord for on behalf of those we interact with on a daily basis—and perhaps those we won’t have any interaction with, but merely brush shoulders with.
Having said all of this, I would like to take the time now to deal with that which the apostle Paul declared unto the Ephesian congregation he prayed for when he bowed his knees before God the Father for them. Consider if you will the words and language the apostle Paul used in this passage of Scripture to describe that which he prayed for this congregation: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21). STRENGTHENED WITH MIGHT BY HIS SPIRIT IN THE INNER MAN! CHRIST MAY DWELL IN YOUR HEARTS BY FAITH! COMPREHEND WITH ALL SAINTS THE BREADTH, THE LENGTH, AND DEPTH, AND HEIGHT! KNOW THE LOVE OF CHRIST! BE FILLED WITH ALL THE FULNESS OF GOD! What incredibly powerful words are found within this passage of Scripture, for these words are absolutely tremendous when you take the time to consider them. Beginning with the very first request and petition of the apostle Paul we find him praying that they would be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man, thus indicating that true strength lies not in what we see on the external surface and on the outward appearance. I don’t care how much you may be able to bench press, or how much you might be able to deadlift, or how much you might be able to front squat, for such strength is not at all impressive to me. Samson was one who had supernatural physical strength that was given him by the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord, and yet there was found within his flesh a weakness which would eventually strip and rob him of the strength he enjoyed and exercised. The strength Samson exercised and exuded was not an inner strength, but an external and physical strength, which had at is very core and foundation a secret that no one else knew but he himself. Samson was a man endowed with supernatural strength by the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord, but the secret of that strength was his devotion to the Lord. When I read the words of the apostle Paul in this particular passage of Scripture I can’t help but consider the same reality to be true, for the secret to the strength which the apostle Paul wrote about in this passage was, is, and will always be our separation unto and consecration before the living God
I am convinced that you can read of all the exploits which Samson engaged in, which are recorded for us in the Old Testament book of Judges, and yet I am not so much concerned with physical exploits which appear only on the outward and external self, but such exploits which are found to be internal within our hearts, within our souls, within our spirits, and the like. When I read the account of Samson and the tremendous damage he did in the physical and natural realm against and among the Philistines, I can’t help but see a tremendous parallel in the spiritual and supernatural realm concerning those exploits we can do in the unseen, spiritual and supernatural realm. There are so many of us who have believed the lie and the deception that true strength is what we see on the outer and exterior portion of a man, and yet I am convinced that true strength is not and has never been that which we see and bear witness to in the physical and natural realm. Show me that man or that woman who can weather any storm that comes there way and I will show you a man or woman who bears within themselves true strength. Show me a man or woman who can endure suffering and persecution, and I will show you a man or woman who is truly endowed with strength that we know nothing of in the natural realm. Show me a man or woman who is able to rise above every circumstance they encounter within their lives and I will show you a man or woman with a strength that goes beyond anything we could comprehend or even imagine. I spend five to six days a week working out and exercising my body to stay healthy and to increase my physical strength, and I spend anywhere from forty-five minutes to an hour every day doing so. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—how much time do you spend in the secret closet of prayer working out and developing strength in the inner man? How much time do you spend in your personal and private times of devotion “working out” so to speak in order that you might develop strength in the inner man—strength which cannot and will not be seen in the physical and natural realm, but strength which can only be seen by God in the inner man and in the inward parts? Oh that a tremendous word of wisdom is found in this passage of Scripture, for within this passage of Scripture we encounter the tremendous reality that true strength is found—not in the outer and outward man, but rather in the inner man and in the inward parts.