AA Milne’s, Christopher Robin’s prayer, ‘Little Boy kneels at the foot of his bed…’ has touched the hearts of millions. The poem is a picture of childhood innocence, a mixture of God language and the distractions of inner thoughts: ‘Wasn’t it fun in the bath tonight?’ and, ‘If I open my fingers a little bit more, I can see Nanny’s dressing-gown on the door’.
For adults it raises questions about prayer. Is it something we grow out of? If we do pray, what should we pray: ‘God bless the family, friends and me?’ And why are there all those distractions in our prayers? Will we ever grow out of them?
Paul the Apostle provides very helpful answers to questions we have about prayer in Ephesians chapter 1. Thanksgiving and prayer are two themes in the chapter, setting out a balance for our prayers. Our relationship with God is not just asking for things: it also involves thanksgiving for the riches of God’s love and the inexpressible joy we have in him. C.S Lewis once commented: I think we all sin by needlessly disobeying the apostolic injunction to ‘rejoice’ as much as by anything else.
In verses 3 though 14, Paul thanks God for the faith and love and hope evident in the lives of the Ephesian church – features that have been awakened and made possible through the complex work of the triune God. This involved the calling, rescuing and sealing a vast company of people for eternity.
Now in verses 15 through 21, he prays for the Ephesians – especially that they might continually grow in the riches of all God has done for them. His prayer is not simply, ‘God bless the church in Ephesus’!
Know God. So what precisely does Paul pray for – a second blessing experience? No. The key to his prayer is verse 18: So that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know… Paul’s prayer that the Ephesians may know, isn’t simply about intellectual understanding – although this is present. Rather, it is a relationship word.
In verse 17 he writes: I pray 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,…
Knowing God involves wisdom and revelation. Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom – the beginning, not the ending. We also need God’s self-revelation, and this is what the Bible says of itself: God breathing out (inspiring) his thoughts (2 Timothy 3:16). The Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles speaks of the Bible as ‘God’s Word written’ (Article XX). As in all meaningful personal relationships we need to reveal who we are and for others to do the same. In the same way we need God to reveal himself, otherwise we will only have conjecture, not relationship.
Adolphe Monod, a great Protestant French preacher once commented, Philosophy taking man for its center says, ‘Know thyself’; only the inspired word which proceeds from God has been able to say, ‘Know God’.
So Paul prays that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, (or the glory) may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. While most translations spell spirit with a lower case ‘s’, it’s more likely that Paul’s reference is to the Holy Spirit, since the Bible speaks about him as the Spirit of Truth – the agent of God’s self-revelation.
It is because of his confidence in the Spirit’s ministry that Paul continues his prayer: so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know… The eyes of the heart is a reference to the whole of the inward self – mind and emotion. Our natural bias is to turn away from God and thus from truth. This is the reason the world is in the state of turmoil and conflict it is.
It is the Spirit who opens the eyes of our heart and turns us to God. It is that same Spirit and the Word of the Spirit that continue to bring us more and more into the fullness of God’s truth. It is for such ongoing enlightenment that Paul prays.
Hope. Paul continues his prayer: So that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,… (1:18a). God has called us to something and for something – something rich, exciting and worthwhile.
Features of knowing God include freedom (freedom from the judgment of God’s law) and peace (in Christ we experience harmony across the barriers of age, gender and race). Paul prays that, now enjoying fellowship with God and with one another, our eyes will be opened to the hope that lies before us.
Glory. So that you may know what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,.. Inheritance refers to what God plans to give us – one that is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit (1:14).
While our inheritance is beyond our wildest imagination, there are moments when the New Testament lifts a corner of the curtain for us. We’re told we shall see God and his Christ, that as this vision unfolds we will worship him with great joy in our hearts.
When Christ appears we shall reflect his glory, not just outwardly but in our inner character. God’s plan for his people will include a great banquet for the vast multitude – far too great to number. His people will be drawn into his presence from every nation throughout time. Clearly Paul doesn’t think it is presumptuous for us to think about this future or even to anticipate it with joy and gratitude. On the contrary, he prays that we may know it and know the riches of glory and live with the joy of it in our hearts.
Power. Paul continues: So that you may know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power (1:19).
Paul knows we need the energy and strength of God’s power in our lives if we are to come safely to our final inheritance. We know the reality of our human weaknesses: our tongue or our temper, malice, greed, lust, jealousy or pride – things that are beyond our power to control. But are our weaknesses beyond God’s power?
Paul answers this by reminding us of God’s supremacy. Jesus’ resurrection, enthronement and headship over all things are examples of God’s power (1:20 – 23).
It is because of Christ’s resurrection from the dead and his absolute lordship over all other authorities including the powers of evil that he’s been given headship over the church. The resurrection and the ascension were decisive demonstrations of divine power. Paul continues his great prayer saying that Christ fills the church in the same way he fills the universe – empowering his people with wisdom and understanding, inspiring and motivating us to a new way of living.
What a far cry this is from the vesper prayer of the young Christopher Robin. Like any good parent, God wants us to grow up – to know him and to enjoy him forever. But he also knows that we need his help – his power at work within us. And this he promises to do. All we need to do is ask.
A prayer. Teach us, gracious Lord, to begin our works with reverence, to go on in obedience, and finish them with love; and then to wait patiently in hope, and with cheerful countenance to look up to you, whose promises are faithful and rewards infinite; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.