Praying for the Saints, Pt. 2: The Power behind Prayer – Ephesians 1:17-23

(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)

Faith Bible Church, NY

July 7, 1996

Praying for the Saints, Pt. 2

The Power behind Prayer

Ephesians 1:17-23

Turn with me to Ephesians 1. We will be finishing our study of verses 15-23 this morning. Let me quickly set the context by reminding you of what we have studied so far.

Paul is now in Rome and in prison, or what would really amount to house arrest while he is awaiting his appeal to Caesar to be heard. It has been at least 4-5 years since Paul had left Ephesus after a ministry of a few years there. After his greeting, Paul begins this letter with a statement of the blessed nature of God and praise to Him for His wonderful blessings to believers. God has chosen us from the foundation of the world that we might be holy and blameless before Him. Through Jesus’ bloody sacrifice we have received forgiveness for our trespasses and all of His promises have been assured to us through our sealing in the Holy Spirit. None of this has been done because we are deserving of it, because we are not. It has all been done because of God’s great love for us despite our wickedness. It has all been so that we can fulfill our purpose of existence, the reason why we were created in the first place, to give praise to God’s glory.

As Paul continues he erupts in praise and thanksgiving both for what God has done and how they have responded. The Ephesian’s faith had not been a false profession, and the trials that had come over time were proving them true. They held fast to what God revealed to them. They also demonstrated this true faith in the practical manner of loving God’s people. As the apostle John would say later, a claim to love God is proved by also loving God’s people (1 John 4:20). God’s blessing and God’s people prompt us to give thanks and at the same time cause us to approach God with our requests.

We were just getting into the specific requests that Paul made to God on behalf of the Ephesians when we ran out of time last week. Follow along with me as I read verses 15-23.

15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which [exists] among you, and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention [of you] in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 [I pray that] the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. [These are] in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly [places], 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

What are we to pray for? Paul mentions three specific things: a spirit of wisdom, revelation of God, and an enlightened heart. In essence, Paul prays simply that they would understand a appropriate what they already had.

God has already given you everything you need to live a wonderful, fulfilled, content and godly life. 2 Peter 1:2,3 states this clearly, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” Your quest needs to be to understand what you have and to appropriate it. Whenever people have sought something in addition to what the Scriptures say they have ended up in trouble. I pointed out the tragedy of this two weeks ago and how in Col. 2 Paul speaks against it.

*Philosophy + Christ = Theological liberalism.

*Traditions & Rituals + Christ = legalism

*Visions & mysterious experiences + Christ = Mysticism

*Self-denial + Christ = Asceticism

Our sufficiency is in Christ alone. All these other things are not wrong in themselves because we do need to deny ourselves in some ways, and rituals can have lots of meaning. But once any of these things are added as necessary for a godly life, we end up departing from actually living for Christ. Jesus alone and what He gives us is enough. Nothing else is needed, and since we already have Him and all His precious promises, then all we really need to do is apply what is already ours to life. This is Paul’s thrust.

What are the specifics he says here? 1) A spirit of wisdom, 2) a revelation of God, and 3) an enlightened heart.


This is not a reference to the Holy Spirit, or it would have had an article in front of it: “the spirit.” In addition, and more importantly, every believer already has the Holy Spirit. Let me just make a quick comment here about this since the Charismatic movement places such a stress about getting “baptized” in the Spirit sometime after salvation. Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:13 that “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” You did not get into the body of Christ without also getting the Holy Spirit. Paul is even more clear in Romans 8: “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” Notice here also the deity of the Holy Spirit being brought out here as He is called both the “Spirit of God” and the “Spirit of Christ.” If you do not have the Holy Spirit, then you don’t belong to Christ. Paul is not asking God to give them something they already have. If you have any question as to whether you have the Holy Spirit in you or not, come talk with me after the service. You can be confident whether you have the Holy Spirit it or not, and I will tell you up front that it is not by “speaking in tongues.”

The “spirit” of wisdom Paul is speaking about here is similar to that of the Old Testament designers of the Tabernacle in Exodus & Deuteronomy. It is the human spirit quickened by the Holy Spirit to have wisdom. This is really what James refers to in James 1:5, 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. Wisdom is insight into the true nature of thing and then apply that knowledge to life.

Paul’s first request then is that the Holy Spirit would quicken the spirit of the Ephesians that they might be able to apply the truths of God they already know to their lives. That they would be able to see things from God’s perspective of eternity and holiness and pursue actions in keeping with that.

Example: It takes more than knowledge to counsel someone. That is one of the many failings of modern psychology. When I have someone come into see me to help them with some problem I must rely on the Holy Spirit to give me wisdom to help them. I must be able to listen the their presenting problem and then also understand what their real problem is, which is often something different. I cannot then just throw out scripture verses at them and leave it at that. I must also be able to bring them to an understanding of their problem from God’s perspective and encourage them to take the necessary steps to move that direction. All of that takes a lot of wisdom, wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit.

A REVELATION OF GOD: The second request is related and that is “a spirit of… revelation in the knowledge of God.” Both wisdom and revelation come from the Holy Spirit (Isa. 11:2). Paul is not asking that they get some sort of mystical vision, but that the Holy Spirit would reveal to them a greater understanding of God. This is not just an understanding of God’s revelation of Himself in the Scriptures, (which is covered in the next request) but more a sense of understanding how God is working in their lives and the situations they face.

I think all of us who are believers have had this sense at different times. Often it is sensed as we look back at how we came to Christ in the first place. We realize that each “coincidence” was the hand of God at work. We gain a personal understanding of God.

People often have this sense after witnessing to someone about Christ. When we are through and go home we realize that God was working through us because we sure did not come up with all we said on our own. Verses come to mind and seem to just flow out. This is the same thing that happened to the disciples when Jesus sent them out in Matt. 10: the Holy Spirit gives to us what we need to say. We gain a personal knowledge of God from such experiences.

AN ENLIGHTENED HEART: Paul’s third request is that the “eyes of their heart” would be “enlightened”, or literally, “brought into the light.” This metaphor refers to what we doctrinally call illumination. This is the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit mentioned in 1 John 2:27. “The natural man”, the person without Christ, “does not understand the things of the Spirit,” Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 1:14, but the spiritual man does. This is illumination. The Holy Spirit quickening our minds to understand the Scriptures and God’s hand at work.

All of three of these work together so that we might walk in increasing maturity and have the reason for the pray fulfilled as stated in verses 18 and 19. Paul prays that they may have a spirit of wisdom and revelation and an enlightened heart for the express purpose that they will know the hope of their calling, the riches of His glory, and the greatness of His power.

Let me comment about each of these and then put all of this together.


I trust you understand that Biblical hope is not a wish. We often use “hope” in that sense now, such as, “I hope we will have steak for dinner and ice cream for desert.”, or “I hope you will stay awake through the rest of my sermon.” These are all things I would like to happen, but I have no assurance that any of them will happen.

Biblical hope has assurance. It is something that we know will happen, we just do not know when. The hope of His calling that Paul mentions here is all the promises that are ours because God has chosen us and called us to Himself. We have hope, a confident assurance, that God loves us. We have hope, a confident assurance, that our sins are forgiven through Christ. We have hope, a confident assurance, that heaven is our home. We have hope, a confident assurance, that we can mature in Christ and live holy and blameless lives. We have hope, a confident assurance, that we can have lives that will have an eternal impact, that God will use us for His glory.

Paul also desires that we know what are the RICHES OF THE GLORY OF HIS INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS.

There are two aspects to this. The one we would recognize first is that God has given to us glorious riches in Christ. We have talked about this before when we looked at our inheritance in Him. Some of the items included in this are:

1) Eternal life (1 John 5:13). No second death (Rev. 20) (Not just existence – but life which includes purpose and meaning).

2) A new, non-corruptible, immortal Body of some sort – 1 Cor. 15:10-54). It will be like Jesus’ resurrection body (1 John 3:2).

3) Eternal dwelling with the Triune God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit (John 14:1-4; Rev. 22:1-5)

4) Eternal dwelling in heaven, a place without mourning, crying, or pain (Rev. 21:4); without any evil doers (Rev. 21:8); a place of extreme beauty (Rev. 21:10f); a place where God’s favor dwells (Mt. 25:34).

5) Eternal purpose in serving God (Rev. 22:3).

But there is another aspect to this. Paul is not talking just about what we get, in fact that is secondary to his point. He is talking about the fact that we are God’s inheritance! God considers us as part of His great wealth! All that we get from God is really for the purpose that we can fulfill His desire in us, that we can be to “the praise of the glory of His grace” (1:6).

The third purpose is so that we may know “what is THE SURPASSING GREATNESS OF HIS POWER TOWARD US.”

As we walk with Christ and the Holy Spirit does His work our wisdom and understanding of God and His revelation increases and through these things we also learn more about what is ours in Christ, our hope in Him; our inheritance in Him; and how powerful God is in dealing with us. It is God’s power that gives us the assurance needed to turn wishes in to hope; to turn stated desires into absolute promises.

The power of God is very important to us and that more we understand what is ours in Him the more confidence we can have as we face all the situation of life. We need not fear or be dismayed. We can boldly face life no matter what comes because we the power of God is with us. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13). That does not mean God is going to enable you to stop a speeding locomotive or leap over tall buildings in a single bound, but it does mean that all the power you need to live a godly and fruitful life is yours. You can live righteously in all circumstances.

There are many ways to describe God’s power. The Psalmists often compared Him to the greatest natural phenomenons, such as earthquakes, wind, floods, etc., and proclaimed God to be greater. In Romans 8 Paul details out all the various powers that exist and states that God is far above them all. Vs. 38,39 says, “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That pretty much covers everything doesn’t it?

Here in Ephesians Paul gets carried away in describing God’s power. Two superlative adjectives are not enough to carry the idea of what he is trying to convey to us. He also takes on three more synonyms to try to describe it. To use some modern terms, God’s power (= capability and potential) is over, above and beyond mega/great. The working (= energy/effective operational power) of the strength (= force) of His might (= inherent power/ability) is seen in terms of what God done in and through Jesus in granting to us salvation.

[These are] in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly [places], 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Notice the flow of increasing power demonstrated.

1) The power to raise Christ from the dead.

2) The power to seat Christ at His right hand in heaven.

2b) This is a power far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named.

2c) This power continues in both this age and in the one to come.

3) This power is supreme (all things in subjection to Him!).

Notice as well how Paul brings this back to personal application to his readers. This power belongs to Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church; He is our head for we are His body (1 Cor. 12:12, Rom. 12; Eph. 4. etc.), and we are the fullness or completion of Him who fills all in all. What a thought. Jesus who is the completion of all things is not complete in some sense without us!

Now consider the importance of all this for a moment in your own prayer life. Prayer is not presenting God a wish list and asking Him to bless it. Prayer is not about trying to get God to use His power to do what we want. Prayer is about approaching the infinitely powerful sovereign of the universe and seeking to be used by Him to accomplish His will. That is why the concentration of Paul’s prayer is that we might understand God! Prayer is to move us toward God, not God toward us.

We can be confident when we pray because God has already demonstrated His love in choosing us and having Christ die as a sacrifice for our sins so that we might be restored to a relationship with Him. The more we mature in Christ the more we understand God, what He has done for us, and what He desires in our lives. All these things move us into greater conformity to His will, and as we pray according to His will, then we see Him grant those prayers (1 John 5).

When we pray for one another, we need to follow Paul’s example. We don’t need to waste time praying for things we already have, we need to pray that we will understand and use what God has already given to us.

I don’t need “more of Jesus” or “more of the Holy Spirit” or “more power” or “more blessings” or any such thing. I already have Jesus and the Holy Spirit and all the power and blessings I will ever need. I do need wisdom. I do need greater understanding of God. I do need to understand what God has already revealed. I do need to understand and live more in keeping with the hope that should be mine in Christ. I do need to understand more what my inheritance is Christ is all about, and I do need to better appropriate the power God has given me in Christ. Those are things I need to pray for.

Let me challenge you to pray differently and so that you might see the hand of God at work. Sure, you can still pray for people’s infirmities: Aunt Millie’s foot to get better, but let’s go on much beyond that. If she is a believer, why not pray for her to gain a greater understanding of God through the trial and that she will take advantage of every opportunity to glorify God in the midst of it. If she is not a believer, continue to pray that the Holy Spirit would be merciful and gracious to convict her of her sin that she might turn to Christ.

For comments, please e-mailĀ  Church office