“I AM APPRECIATED AND PRAYED FOR”
About 10 years ago Hailey Bartholomew wasn’t enjoying her life. She was married to a man she loved, she had some beautiful children. I don’t know the circumstances of why she was down about life. But the counsel she got was to reflect each day on something she was grateful for. She took that advice and out of it birthed the “365grateful” project. You can look it all up on the Internet. But essentially, every day she took a photograph of something for which she was grateful.
She began to see things she’d never noticed before. For example, she’d thought of her husband as unromantic. But one day she took a picture of him serving up dinner. And she noticed for the first time the largest portion of pie was placed on her plate. She realized the largest portion was always placed on her plate; it was a small way he showed his care for her. Hailey had found mothering a “boring job”, but as she took photos of her children holding out their hands to her, playing and exploring, she discovered how much joy and wonder there was in her world. Through gratitude Hailey found herself lifted out of her rut.
Remember the apostle Paul wrote this letter when he was under house arrest, not a pleasant set of circumstances. He was separated from people he loved; he was alone; he was going to be executed.
But Paul’s not looking at that stuff. He’s looking up. Gratefulness has filled him so much that he’s compelled to pray for God’s people. Perhaps gratefulness lifted him, like it did Hailey.
Now, what’s fascinating to me is that the folks Paul is appreciating and praying for got dangers bearing down on them: they’re losing their homes, dying from diseases, suffering at the hands of pagan tyrants, yet he doesn’t pray for those to change. In fact, he doesn’t ask for new blessings at all. Coming from a heart of sincere appreciation he prays for the best thing he can possibly think of … look for it as I read today’s text.
Ephesians 1:15-23, ESV.
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 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 of 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 the 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 he 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.
A Wonderful Report Received
Imagine the scene … Here’s Paul, he’s in prison and a report comes about Christians, many of whom he’s never met, that tells him these folks are being transformed by the gospel. They’re full of faith. They’re loving each other well. If that report had come to you, and you’d been the one who had first planted the gospel in that region, would you smile?
For those of you who have kids, how does it feel when your kids are doing well?
Brayden is learning to play football. He’s big, so he gets to be on the line at the center of the action. We’ve been working to teach him to hit his block hard. We saw him do that in a game recently. It was fun to watch. We smiled. We cheered—loudly!
Then there’s Kioni. She does so well on so many tests. But I had taken her to piano lessons on Wednesday and was waiting in the car when I got an email from the Royal Conservatory of Music. It said that she had gotten the top score of in Cincinnati on her piano exam and they were going to send out a certificate. But not just that, it also said that she got the top score in all of Ohio and will get a second certificate. I was so proud I went and interrupted her lesson to tell the new to her teacher and her.
Our children are our glory. It’s hard not to brag.
Paul is excited about what he hears; he’s appreciative. Those Christians are his spiritual children, his glory. And the report is good!
Now, I want you to look at this … A lot of folks are arguing these days that it doesn’t matter what you believe, it only matters what you do. That’s wrong. Right here that thought is flipped on it’s head. Faith comes before lifestyle.
Let me show you … If someone says: “I trust you,” but they hold back their stuff, there secrets, their inner most thoughts and feelings; if they won’t turn to you in a crisis, then guess what? They don’t trust you. Their lifestyle flows from their beliefs.
Someone else could say, “Aren’t Christians suppose serve and be generous? That’s all that really matters!” And I would answer, “Sure, Christians should do those things.” But those things don’t make you a Christian, they aren’t rungs on a ladder that reaches up to God.
When the Holy Spirit enlightens you to see that try as you might you cannot actually live a good life, that you don’t actually love others as you ought, and, therefore, you’re also in need of Jesus’ grace and forgiveness. When that awakening occurs there is a new birth of the soul. You begin to realize the depths that God in Jesus loves you. You begin to say things like, “Yes, he loves even a sinner like me.” And that love begins to fill the reservoir in your soul until it is overflowing and you’ve got capacity to love others well.
I know what I’m saying is offense, but there you have it. Faith comes before love; love is the evidence of faith.
So Paul has heard about these folks. He is greatly encouraged by their faith and their love. It makes him smile. It lifts his spirit from the doldrums. It bring him joy. It gets him looking up. And appreciation drives him to pray that they would experience to the fullest extent possible with their minds and emotions the reality of the spiritual blessings they already have.
And you know what? This is my prayer for you. You are all an encouragement to me. Often I say to God: “Lord, they see, but let them see it more!”
There are three wonderful things that Paul prays. Let’s look at them.
A Prayer to Know His Hope
One of my wife’s favorite verses is Hebrews 6:19: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.” The Hope that anchors the soul, and which entered into the Holy of Holies for you is the person Jesus. Think about that …
When I was in school I didn’t wish for Christmas vacation to arrive. I knew it would come. Hope isn’t wishful thinking, it’s cleaving to the certainty of a promise.
Long ago there was a Puritan Bible commentator by the name of Matthew Henry—he’s pretty famous. Anyway, there’s a story told about his father, Philip. Philip had fallen in love with a young lady of a “higher” social class and her parents objected to the marriage. “This man Philip Henry,” they said, “where has he come from?” But the future Mrs. Henry was quick to say, “I do not know where he has come from, but I know where he is going.”
If you’re in Jesus by faith, you get to stand with him at the final press conference and get your picture taken. “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). That’s a statement about the character of your heart, not your face. That’s where things are going.
There once was a set of identical twins who were alike in every way but one. One was a hope-filled optimist who only ever saw life’s bright side. The other was a dark pessimist, who only ever saw the down side in every situation. The parents were so worried about the extremes of optimism and pessimism in their boys they took them to the doctor. He suggested a plan. “On their next birthday give the pessimist a shiny new bike, but give the optimist only a pile of manure.”
It seemed an extreme thing to do. But in this instance they decided to try to doctor’s advice. When the twins’ birthday came round they gave the pessimist the most expensive racing bike a child has ever owned. When he saw the bike his first words were, “I’ll probably crash and break my leg.”
To the optimist they gave a carefully wrapped box of manure. He opened it, looked puzzled for a moment, then ran outside screaming, “You can’t fool me! Where there’s this much manure, there’s just gotta be a pony around here somewhere!”
I don’t know the half, of what half of you are facing. But when you look at your circumstances what do you see? A pile of manure, or a pony?
Ya know why I ask you that? Because “hope” means confidence, assurance, buoyancy, boldness. I’ve had to learn, and I learned again this week … that hope comes not by staring at the circumstances, but staring at the Savior. That’s the prayer that’s being prayed for you.
A Prayer to Know His Riches
Now, when folks first meet Jesus most of the time they want a fix to a crisis in their life, some also want love and forgiveness. But a lot of folks think, “Jesus is going to give me the instructions I need to clean up all this manure.” But we don’t need new tips and more elbow grease. What we need is what Paul is praying for: to know that we “are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.”
Check this out … this is saying that you are God’s riches. In Isaiah 49 the idea is put like this: “Look around you and see, for all your children will come back to you. As surely as I live,” says the LORD, “they will be like jewels or bridal ornaments for you to display” (v. 18). We’re the Lord’s riches.
One day in a small group a woman shared her story. She said: “When I was a tiny little girl, my parents died, and I was put in an orphanage. I wasn’t pretty at all, and no one seemed to want me. But I longed to be adopted and loved by a family as far back as I can remember. I thought about it day and night, but everything I did seemed to go wrong. I must have tried too hard to please the people who came to look me over, and what I did was to drive them away. But then one day, the head of the orphanage told me that a family was coming to take me home.
I was so excited that I jumped up and down and cried like a little baby. The matron reminded me that I was on trial and this might not be a permanent arrangement, but I just knew that somehow it would work out. So I went with this family and started school. I was the happiest little girl you can imagine. But then one day a few months later, I skipped home from school and ran into the front door of the big old house we lived in. No one was at home, but in the middle of the front hall was my battered suitcase with my little coat thrown across it. As I stood there it suddenly dawned on me what it meant—I didn’t belong there anymore.”
When she stopped speaking, you could hear a pin drop. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Then she cleared her throat and spoke said almost matter-of-factly, “This happened to me seven times before I was 13 years old. But wait, don’t feel too badly. It was experiences like these that ultimately brought me to God—and there I found what I had always longed for—a place, a sense of belonging, a forever family.”
When I was in grade school I was a loner, but not by choice. I really wanted to fit in. I wanted those birthday invitations, but they didn’t come. I was slightly musical, so the jocks didn’t like me. I was also slightly athletic, so the band kids didn’t like me. I was slightly preppy, so the alternative kids didn’t like me. I slightly religious, so the motorheads didn’t like me. To avoid harassment I avoided the school cafeteria and hid in the library. But in my senior year the homecoming king invited me to a Bible study he was leading after school. For weeks I resisted, but he persisted. That group of 25 students didn’t care about popularity; they cared about Christ, and were intent on loving each other.
It’s taken me years to see it, and years to accept it, but often the Lord puts a painful mark on us to make us his own. It is kinda like the story of a shepherd who got his first flock. He said:
“The day I bought my first 30 female sheep, my neighbor and I sat on the dusty corral rails that enclosed the sheep pens and we admired the choice, strong, well-bred ewes that had become mine. Turning to me my neighbor handed me a large, sharp, killing knife and remarked tersely, ‘Well, Phillip, they’re yours. Now you’ll have to put your mark on them.’ I knew exactly what he meant. Each sheep-rancher has his own distinctive earmark which he cuts into one of the ears of his sheep. It’s a deep cut into the ear, but in this way, even at a distance, it is easy to determine to whom the sheep belongs. It was not the most pleasant procedure to catch each sheep and lay her ear on a wooden block then notch it deeply with the razor-sharp edge of the knife. There was pain for both of us. But from our mutual suffering an indelible lifelong mark of ownership was made that could never be erased. And from then on every sheep that came into my possession would bear my mark” (Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23).
If you are in faith, God gives you an inheritance like I spoke of last week. But you yourself are also his inheritance, his prized possession. Paul says: “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.”
We aren’t God’s because we’re more worthy than someone else. We’re his so that we can tell his story through our own stories. Your story is meant to be a real life illustration of his grace, his love, and his sufficiency.
It’s easy to see our circumstances or our brokenness, than to see this. But I think I hear Jesus telling us through Paul, “Look, little one… I’ve made you mine. I’ve marked you. I’ve given you a marvelous story to tell. And as you do I am filling the earth with fullness of knowledge about myself.”
That’s really what he’s saying! Just notice v. 23 … “And he 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.” Jesus is the head of the body, which is the church (Col 1:18). And as the church expands across the globe the message of hope in Jesus becomes known in every nook and cranny in the universe.
A Prayer to Know His Power
So, Paul is praying that we’d go deeper. Deeper into the hope we have in Jesus, deeper into the reality that we are his prized riches, and he says, “I’m also praying that you’ll go deeper into an awareness of ‘the immeasurable greatness of God’s power towards you’ (Eph 1:19).”
Do you know why he prays for that last thing? It’s because you and I need to rest with confidence. Because we really do need to be filled with a peace that economic and political and relational and material woes can’t touch. When stress and anxiety are sending cortisol coursing through your veins, you can say, “It is well with my soul … Nothing can separate me from the love of Jesus. Tribulations, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, war, can separate me. They are only momentary, light afflictions (Rom 8:35).”
Do you believe that? Do you believe God’s power is that great, that sufficient? Do you believe the power that raised Jesus from the dead and enthroned him over all things is turned towards you in love? Oh if we just believed it more, that it filled our thoughts, and that we experienced it’s reality.
Sometimes we feel so impotent. We can’t seem to make our little corners perfect; we’re pulled towards temptations, we trip over our darkness; and in the early hours of the morning we lose sight of Hope. Yet still grace is there. And the Holy Spirit is moving even now through Paul’s prayers as we reflect upon them: “Oh Lord, lift their eyes to the hills. Help them to deeply know where their help comes from. It comes from you, Lord, the all-powerful one, the one who made heaven and earth” (Psa 121:1–2).
The struggle inside every Christian heart is the struggle to look up.
There is an interesting story about an eagle egg that mistakenly was hatched by a chicken. The eagle really looked funny, trying to peck around like a chicken. He always felt that he was different. To be honest, he didn’t even like corn. He saw that he was bigger than his brothers and sisters, and he never felt at home. Then one day, in the distance, there was a spot moving across the sky, and as it came closer, it became clear that it was an eagle. And then there was the eagle’s cry. And the young eagle heard the cry, stretched his wings, I began to fly.
Sometimes we think, “Haven’t I been made for something better than this?” Ya know, when I met those Christians studying the Bible in my high school, I felt like I had finally come home. They were looking up, and they helped me to look up—we were looking up together. And we prayed for each other to look up; we spoke the truth of Hope into each other again and again. That’s the power of God at work through his Spirit in his people.
Did you know that turkeys and eagles react differently to storms? A turkey runs around, and eventually heads for cover beneath the barn, wishing the wind away. The eagle leaves the security of its nest and takes to the wind. It spreads its wings and rides the air currents of the coming storm, enjoying the fact that they will take it higher than it could’ve soared on its own.
We might sound like turkeys, but I’m convinced the Lord doesn’t want us to turkeys. I think he wants us to sore. He said as much through Isaiah: “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isa 40:31).
Remembering your hope that you shall one day see your Lord face-to-face; reflecting upon the reality that you are an appreciated and prized ornament around your Lord’s neck; and recounting to yourself and others that the power of your Lord’s love that will not let you go … will make you dance in dark alleys, they’ll lift you high like an eagle in a storm.
The Lord Jesus is speaking through Paul’s words this morning. He’s thankful for us. He’s praying these things for us. … Remember, reflect, recount!