They Devoted Themselves To The Word And Prayer - Ephesians 6:17-20
A little over a year ago Hunter Kopchinski passed away and went to be with the Lord. On that day, moments after his passing, a couple ministers from a local church came to pay their respects to the family. In that room were all sorts of people from many different backgrounds. Some were believers and many were not. All of them in that moment were grieving the loss of such a precious child.
It was in this moment that one of those two pastors began to read from the Gospel of John. He held the bible in one hand and he laid his other hand upon a grieving family member and said these words from John 6:44-51,
Jesus said, “’No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
As he read that text, I couldn’t help but feel as though that was the perfect text in that moment. Those words put Christ before us. Those words grounded our hearts in the hope and in the assurance that Hunter was now with the Lord.
Within moments of that text being read, the other minister who was with him began to pray. I will be honest with you that I have never heard a more beautiful prayer.
I spent weeks trying to discover what it was about that prayer that made it so beautiful. That young man mentioned all of the important things that should be said in a moment like that. He thanked the Lord for giving Hunter faith in Jesus Christ. He spoke of how Hunter was now standing in the presence of God and he prayed for all of the people who were left behind.
All of these words came from a heart that was humble, gentle, loving and caring. As I reflected upon that prayer I concluded that the young minister had a personal relationship with Christ and that his prayer was spoken by the Spirit of God for the benefit of all who were there. This is why it was such a beautiful prayer. That prayer, along with the scripture that had just been read, made for a powerful moment where God could comfort and grant great grace and hope to a grieving people.
Our text this morning is found in Ephesians 6:17-20.In this text, Paul encourages believers to take every opportunity to do exactly what I saw displayed by those two ministers who proclaimed the Word and prayed for the people who were grieving on that day. In this text, Paul encourages every believer to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and to pray at all times in the spirit with all prayer and supplication.
Perhaps it was easier to see the Spirit at work on that day because you could see the same Spirit functioning in the minister who read the Word and also in the young man who prayed by the Spirit. In our text today, Paul tells all of us that we are to be able to both wield the sword of the Spirit and to pray in the Spirit at all times. We are to do this in private and on every occasion. We read in Ephesians 6:17-20 these words,
..and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
I will never forget that moment at Adam’s house when those two men ministered to us all by the Spirit of God. In that moment it was evident that the LORD was present through the ministry of these two men. But sadly, we do not always see how the Spirit is working in believers as they speak the Word of God and when they pray.
Every single day Christians are to be speaking the Word of God and praying in every situation so that the Lord can bring His great grace into every situation that we encounter. We are to bring the Word to bear and pray in the Spirit as we live their lives at home, at church where we worship and in our communities where we work.
One reason that I know that we may not always see this grace operating among us is because the apostle Paul has spoken the Word and prayed throughout this letter and we may have failed to see and appreciate what was going on in those moments.
Did we come to understand the significance of the Spirit working through the apostle Paul as he preached the Word to us over the last year? Did we realize the significance of the Spirit inspired prayers that he has weaved throughout this book? Together, the Word preached and the prayers of Paul were intended to be a powerful expression through which God could give to each of us great grace.
Paul has taken specific moments in this letter to both wield the sword of the Spirit [the Word of God] and to pray for believers by the Spirit. Looking back upon those texts I see more clearly now the beauty of what Paul was doing when he did this.
For example, we saw this in Ephesians 1. Paul has been talking about how believers were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (1:4). Paul was teaching them that it was in love that God predestined us for adoption to Himself through Christ according to the purpose of His will (1:5). And Paul told us that all of this has been according to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has lavished on us in Christ with all wisdom and insight (1:8).
Then in Ephesians 1:11-14 Paul continued to speak of the inheritance that we have received, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will. Paul reminded the Ephesians that when they heard the gospel and believed in Christ they were sealed with the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance until they acquired possession of it.
After writing about all these amazing doctrines concerning salvation Paul begins to pray for the Ephesians so that they might be able to understand and perceive this mystery. We are saved when God regenerates our spirits and we are able to see the glory of God in Christ Jesus. In that moment we repent of our sins and trust in Christ. From that moment on the Spirit continues to work to get us to know and understand all of these blessings that are freely given to us in Christ.
In Ephesians 1:16-23 Paul prays, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And put all things under His feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
Paul prays for believers that the Holy Spirit will help them to understand and rest in all of these wonderful blessings that we have now in Christ. When we first come to Christ we know little more than the gospel itself. Yet, as Paul speaks of things like: being chosen, being predestined, God’s purposes and His will; Paul prays that will every Christian will grow in their understanding of such things. We cannot grasp these things by our own wisdom and intellect. They are spiritually discerned. (2 Cor. 3:4-6) The people of Paul’s day struggled to understand these things just as we do today.
In Ephesians 3 we see another prayer of Paul’s. He has been speaking to the Ephesians about the mystery of the church. Paul reminds them that he was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace through the working of God’s power (3:7). Grace was given to him to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (8-10).
Because of all of this, Paul begins to pray that these Christians will be strengthened so that they will be able to comprehend together the love of Christ for His Church. This is what we read in Ephesians 3:14-21,
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Why have I spent so much time going back and referring to these things?
All of us would quickly testify that Paul was a gifted teacher and preacher. But perhaps we overlook the fact that Paul was a faithful intercessor on behalf of the churches that he ministered too. Perhaps we might fail to appreciate the role that prayer plays in winning the spiritual battle over the hearts and minds of men. Paul wanted the Ephesians to know about the importance of praying for themselves, for those around them and for ministers like Paul.
It is no accident that the apostles devoted themselves to the Word of God and to prayer. Acts 6:4 says, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.”
It is prayer that gave them insight and wisdom.
It is prayer that gave the apostles boldness to fulfill their mission.
It was prayer that prepared the peoples hearts for the gospel. It was prayer that strengthened believers and helped them to mature in their understanding of the mystery of the gospel.
Some congregations have had the blessing of realizing that their pastors were faithful to cultivate a personal and powerful prayer life. These congregations came to realize that their reception of the Word of Truth was not simply by the powerful presentation of each sermon but because the minister had labored in prayer that the congregation would have minds to comprehend and hearts that could receive the Word that was preached.
Last week I introduced to you to a man named Edward Payson. He was the pastor of the largest church in Maine during the second Great Awakening. People appreciated Payson’s sermons but those who went to hear Payson preach left with a greater appreciation for how he prayed. His prayers left many wondering, ‘If his public prayers are so memorable, then what might his personal prayers be like.’
In Edward Payson’s biography we can read some of his journal entries concerning his time in private prayer. For example, in one entry he wrote these words, “I have been abundantly convinced today that it is not a useless and vain thing to call upon God. In the evening I was favored with an uncommon season of prayer. O how different does everything appear when God is present.”
As I consider Payson’s words, ‘O how differently does everything appear when God is present’, I begin to contemplate how different our perceptions, viewpoints and understandings might be if we took the words of this text seriously and prayed at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplications.
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson says in his commentary on Ephesians, “Prayer is set within a life marked by companionship and dialogue with the Lord. It is the overflow of how we live in the presence of God. The wise Christian adopts what we might call ‘the sanctuary principle’: keeping within the heart a place of devotion to the Lord – from which all else is excluded.”
If we decided this morning that we were going to pray at all times in all circumstances would there be any limits to what we would see changed in our lives and in those around us?
There is no doubt that the conversations that we engage in would be much different. If we determined that we would fight spiritual battles through prayer, rather than fighting flesh and blood, we would experience more victories in every area of life. (Mark 9:29) If we were to decide today to make prayer a priority our attitude and our disposition would be very different than it is right now. Our boldness to minister to those around us would increase. The fruitfulness of the seeds of the Word of God that we plant might yield a much greater harvest.
Brian Hedges warns every Christian about failing to pray when he writes, “To be prayerless is to be careless and to fail in our watch...Prayer thus brings both objective and subjective benefits. Prayer lays hold of God’s help for us through Christ our Great High Priest. And prayer changes the disposition of our hearts, producing within us a humble, watchful frame of heart. When we pray, we declare our inherent weakness and our dependence on God.”
How many of us here this morning would like to have a different perspective on life? How many of us would like to have the grace of God be evident in our relationships? How many of us would like to have a new perspective about the trials and challenges that we are facing? How many of us would admit that prayer would make our bible study and devotional times more fruitful? It is encouraging to consider, that when we pray, God comes to us and ‘everything appears differently’.
Edward Payson’s journals reveal a man who had many spiritual struggles, many seasons of doubts and he faced many temptations. In his journals he would one day speak of the nearness of God. On another day he would admit that he found that he could not offer up a single prayer to the Lord.
Dr. John Snyder, the pastor of Christ Church in New Albany, says of Edward Payson, “His journals reveal the heights and the depths of the Christian life, and through them all, he walked with the living God.”
We are a people who desires to walk with God through the heights and depths of the Christian walk. And one of the greatest comforts that we have in this life is the Word of God and our calling to pray to God who promises to hear our prayer and answer us with the grace that we need in that time.
Every January we emphasize prayer. This year we have started early. Let us make a new commitment this morning to come to the scriptures more and to pray in the Spirit more this coming year. And let us often encourage those around us to do the same. When the Lord answers those prayers testify to one another about the faithfulness of God.