July 29, 2018 PAUL’S PRAYER FOR THE CHURCH

 

PAUL’S PRAYER FOR THE CHURCH

July 29,18 Ephesians 3:14-21

 

Imagine this scene. The Devil sits in the back row of the room during a strategy session. A dozen demons had gathered to hear a report on the life of a particular stalwart saint. “He won’t stumble,” groused the imp responsible for his demise. “No matter what I do, he won’t turn his back on God.” The council began to offer suggestions. “Take his purity,” one said. “I tried,” replied the fiend, “But he is too moral.” “Take his health,” urged another. “I did, but he refused to grumble and complain.” “Take his belongings.” “Are you kidding? I’ve stripped the man of every penny and passion. Yet he still rejoices.” For a few moments no one spoke. Finally, from the back of the room, came the low, measured voice of Satan himself. The entire council turned as the fallen angel rose to his feet. His pale face was all but hidden by the hood. A long cape covered his body. He raised his bony hand and made his point. “You must take what matters most.” “What is that? asked the subordinate. You must take his prayer.”

That story came from a devotional book by Max Lucado that I’m using. It reminded me of the story of Job and all the misery the Devil caused in his life. Read the book of Job and you find all that he went through in the first few chapters. He lost family, friends, his fortune, his home, and still he would not defy God.  Finally, four of his friends came to council with him, and when you read their message to him you realize they too blamed Job for his circumstance. Repent! They said. Admit what you did, they encouraged. They really weren’t encouragers. They were discouragers. However, as we know, that was not the case. Through all of this, Job remained steadfast, continued to trust God, had his day with God. In the end, Job was rewarded for staying true to his faith.

In another place in my devotional book Max wrote on prayer these words that I want to share with you. “Prayer, for most of us, is not a matter of a month-long retreat or even an hour of meditation. Prayer is a conversation with God while driving to work or waiting an appointment or before interacting with a client. Prayer can be the internal voice that directs the external action. We speak. God listens. God speaks. We listen. This is prayer in its purest form. God changes his people through such moments.”

Psalm 60:12 says this to us about prayer. “With God’s help we will do mighty things, for he will trample down our foes.”  No wonder the Devil wants to remove the most powerful tool Christians have at their disposal…prayer.

I say all of this to set the stage for God’s message to us this morning through the writing of Paul to the Ephesians. In my Bible this particular section is entitled, “A Prayer for the Ephesians.” I changed it for this sermon to say, “A Prayer for the Church.” Paul prays these words: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and too know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 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, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen  

Let God’s people say “amen.”

In this prayer Paul prays 4 things for the church. He prays that it will have inner spiritual strength, a deeper experience of Christ, that it will get hold of God’s love, and finally through all of this the church will be filled with the fulness of God.

Peter talks about the Devil prowling around like a lion looking for Christians to devour. Paul tells us to put on the armor of God in order to take our stand against that same Devil. In order to do that we have to be prepared. That is what Paul is praying for us today. 

You know, our nation has some powerful weapons that we never see, or that we have not used in decades. We, like some of the other nations, have these in order to prevent a war. They are tools that say you make a hit on me, well, you will be gone in the twinkling of an eye. The Christian community has such a weapon against that sly fox, that sneaky snake, that prowling lion. It’s called prayer. A pocket prayer I came across goes like this…. “Father, you can wipe out the strongest army, move mountains, and create the earth out of nothing. Your strength and loving-kindness know no end. Remind me of your power now. I am so quick to run to a friend for help and then feel let down. Be my strength in all situations. My friends come to me for help sometimes, but you alone are the answer to their troubles. Help them to look to you first and always.” (Max devotional)

First, you got to have that spiritual strength.  In the story of Job Satan used all his tools trying to break Job’s spirit. He first took his wealth, his livelihood and his home. Then when that didn’t work he took those closest to him, his family. When that didn’t work it became more personal as he attacked him through his wife, and then by giving him a disease. Finally, he brought his friends in to tell Job he must have sinned against God, so admit it and perhaps God would forgive him.

But Job held his ground. He stood firm. He stood on his Rock of Salvation. Satan watched waiting for him to fold. God watched him as well, seeing him standing firm. The battle was on.

Isn’t that what we need as well? Prayer is our link to God. God reminds us that we need God’s strength to carry on. Prayer is our life-line to God. Could we say that it is our calling to headquarters during a battle seeking the most powerful tool that we have in are arsenal? In the beginning illustration Satan knows what can weaken a Christian. Take away his praying and he has lost his power. Cut off that communication and the Christian is without any defense for what the enemy throws at him. That is, take away his life-line to God the Father and he will falter because there is no other way to get through things we cannot see, nor take care of on our own. But with God nothing is impossible. Without God we wander around like those sheep I talked about last week who had no shepherd to guide them

Second, Paul prays that the church will experience a deeper relationship with Christ.  In other words, that Christ may dwell in your heart. Many times, we have heard how people say they know about God, they even know about Jesus. However, they never really experience either one. For some God is out there, or even up there but he doesn’t have any say in what happens in this world. He just wound the clock and when it finally runs out of power, it’s all over. The world comes crashing down and life is over and well, there is nothing in the future. What a lousy thought. No hope of eternal life. No place to gather with others who have gone before us to heaven. What a shame!

 As for Jesus, well, some think of him as a good teacher, or even a prophet, but the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, your own personal Savior? For many that’s hard to accept. We can say the words, we can sing the words that Jesus saves, but until we invite that same Jesus into our hearts and lives, he remains outside of our lives. Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship with Christ. And when that relationship grows, when Christ reigns in our lives then our faith is strengthened as well. We are transformed. We are made new. We have hope. We have joy. We have peace within. We have the one who can heal, forgive, save, and who gave us the gift of eternal life.

Third, Paul prays that we will grounded in  love. We can say the words, but unless we put those words into practice they won’t do any good. Love is acceptance of someone. It doesn’t mean we always agree. But we can still love our enemies. Pray for them, not hate them. You never know what can happen when you pray for them. Hearts do get changed. You can read about them in books, especially Christian books. 

Paul gives us a great example of what love is in 1 Corinthians 13 when he says “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut. Love doesn’t have a swelled head. Love doesn’t force itself on others. Love isn’t always “me first.” 

Often when I do a wedding I read those words and these words that kind of interpret what Paul says in that passage. They go like this. “Love doesn’t fly off the handle. Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others. Doesn’t revel when others grovel. Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth. Puts up with anything. Trusts God always. Always looks for the best. Never looks back. But keeps on going to the end.”

Now if those who are getting married would stay the course in Paul’s words about love, and if the Christian world, or the world in general would put into practice these words, don’t you think we would have a far, far better world? Paul’s closing statement in that Corinthians passage states this: “And now three remain, faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Finally, Paul prays that we might experience the fulness of God. In other words, be close to God, to trust him always, to rely on his goodness and his mercy. It is in that relationship that the life-line keep us going.

Paul could have given up many, many times in his walk with God. After his conversion we might say his life didn’t get any better. He was beaten many times, in fact, he came close to loosing his life at least once. He was stoned and thrown out of the city, yet God restored his life. He was threatened with death many times. There were those who wanted to see him gone, but God’s hand was always upon him. One place he and Silas were arrested for preaching and tossed into the inner part of a prison cave with those who rebelled far more than they did. But they took it all in stride. Paul and Silas began singing hymns, praying for those who had listened to their messages, those whose lives were being transformed, those who were ill, and those who needed to have a relationship with God. And through their singing of hymns and prayers, there came an earthquake, which freed them and the other prisoners. However, when the jailor came to check on them, he found they had not run off but were still there. You know what happened? That jailor took Paul and Silas into his home, took care of his wounds, listened to his preaching and received Christ and he and his whole household were baptized into the Christian faith. I bet after that, this jailor not only took care of prisoners, but had words of advice for them on how they could have a better life if they would turn their lives over to Jesus.

Paul’s spiritual life, his spiritual strength, his deeper relationship with Christ, his deeper love for God, for Jesus, for those who persecuted him, those who were lost, grew daily while he was in captivity. It was through this experience he also experienced the fulness of God’s blessings’ as he reached out through his letters to those churches he established, to those whom he offered a relationship with Jesus, and those whom he was chained during his house arrests. 

That is why he could say, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we all ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever, amen!”

So, this morning let us trust in that same God that Paul prayed to. We are encouraged to pray to that God who is able to do more than we can ask or imagine. It is to this God, who is not only our God, but is our heavenly Father, our “Abba” our Daddy, if you will, in whom we need to trust, to whom we need to pray, to whom we need to worship, to whom we seek that which we need, not only for ourselves, but for others we know. 

Satan might be right when he said in order to destroy a strong Christian take away his praying. Therefore, let us remain steadfast in prayer. Let us never give up praying, for Jesus reminds us to ask for it will be given, seek and we shall find, knock and the doors to heaven will be opened. 

During the Civil war a clergyman from New York made a call on President Lincoln at the White House. He said, “I have not come to ask any favors of you, Mr. President; I have only come to say that the loyal people of the North are sustaining you and will continue to do so. We are giving you all we have, the lives or our sons as well as our confidence and our prayers. You must know that no boy’s father or mother ever kneels in prayer these days without asking God to give you strength and wisdom.” His eyes brimming with tears, Mr. Lincoln replied; “But for those prayers, I should have faltered and perhaps failed long ago. Tell every father and mother you know to keep on praying, and I will keep on fighting, for I know God is on our side.” 

Christians don’t give up. We look up. Christians aren’t afraid of the battle, because the battle is the Lords. So, be strong in the faith, deepen your relationship with Christ, grow in the love of Christ and for his people, and your life will be fulfilled, complete in Jesus the Son of God.

There is power through prayer. It opens many doors. It calms many fears. We speak. God listens. But more importantly, when God speaks, we need to listen.

The final line from that pocket prayer is one that we should give thanks and pray always. The prayer closes: “Thank you for being on our side and fighting for us. In Christ’s name, amen!”

So, may it be!

About Rev. Dick Piscatelli, Pastor

Reverend Richard Piscatelli, (Pastor Dick) has been serving this church since 2006 and has begun his 13th year at Williamsville. Dick is a graduate of Asbury College, 1980, now Asbury University, and Asbury Theological Seminary, 1983, in Wilmore, Kentucky. Originally from Watertown, Massachusetts, he and his wife, Carole, have enjoyed living in the Midwest and have made many friends here. Dick’s first appointment was to Buffalo/Dawson UMCs, a two-point charge, which he served for almost 8 years when he was appointed to Paris Trinity UMC. He served at Paris for 6 years and was then appointed to First UMC at St. Elmo in southern Illinois. Dick’s final full-time appointment was to Roanoke/Secor UMCs, a two-point charge. These churches brought much satisfaction and lasting relationships in each. Williamsville UMC has been a joy to serve as he actually began his first church in “retirement,” and is very much involved in all areas of ministry, as the Lord leads. Pastor Dick has a special gift for doing Celebrations of Life and comforting the family. He prepares uplifting, inspiring sermons in a more casual and relaxed style, using humor when appropriate, yet ever-mindful of the importance of bringing the Gospel message for the salvation that Jesus Christ offers to all.