Conversing With God
A writer was researching a book on American churches and in the process he visited a San Francisco cathedral and noticed a golden telephone on the wall with a sign: $10,000 per minute. "It’s a direct line to heaven," the pastor explained. "For that price, a caller can speak to God personally." The author noticed similar phones with $10,000 price tags at many other churches -- in Boise, Minneapolis, Chicago, Denver. When he got to Dallas, he saw a golden phone, but this time the sign said 25 cents per minute. He asked the pastor, "Reverend, I’ve found many golden phones with direct lines to heaven, but they all cost $10,000. How come yours is only 25 cents?" "Well, son, you’re in Texas now," the pastor said. "From here, it’s a local call."
Access to God is a fantastic privilege, and I can tell you that the Apostle Paul was not going to let that privilege go to waste. He prayed in chapter 1 of Ephesians for the individual needs of those believers. Now, in chapter 3 he is going to pray a wonderful prayer – perhaps the peak of the whole of Scripture – for the corporate needs of this church – a prayer that in daily life they live up to the reality of who they are in Christ.
Today we want to look at verses 14-15 which are introductory, but valuable in their example. They instruct us how to maximize the priceless gift of unlimited, uninterrupted complete access to the Father.
I. Use It
The most common “gotcha” about prayer is this: we talk a lot about prayer – and don’t do it very much. So, the very first thing this passage teaches us about maximizing our access to the Father is this – USE IT! Don’t just talk about it – do it! Paul did. Paul wasn’t satisfied to tell them they had access to the Father – he exmplified it. This, I think, really escaped me when I was younger, but here in the first three doctrinal chapters of arguably the finest and most elevated book of the Bible, there are two great prayers of Paul. Out of a total of 67 verses, 17 of them – almost exactly 25% are devoted to praying. Tell me honestly that if you had been writing to the Ephesians you would have spent 25% of the theological section of your letter devoted to recording your prayers on their behalf? We just don’t think that way, do we? We’d be off teaching, instructing, advising – but surely not wasting time praying!
I am deeply afraid that access to God our Father is the one golden opportunity in all this world that is most squandered. It is largely unused. But it should not be so. Let’s face it, we all have burdens that have gone beyond our ability to do anything about physically. It may be financial issues that have gone off track. It may be children who will not listen, will not accept advice, are too far away to help or whatever. It may be concern for the health of loved ones in distant places. Whatever it is, we all have it – issues of concern that have gone outside our control.
Paul had that exact same situation. Here he was in prison in Rome – entering his fifth year in captivity – years during which he had not been able to be about his normal ministry. He could not preach, teach or reach his beloved churches personally or physically. But here is what Paul also knew. He knew that through prayer, he had the means of reaching out and touching anyone, anywhere and at anytime. Prison bars set a boundary on him physically, but they could not in any way prevent his influence in a much mightier way through prayer.
And so for us, no circumstance, no illness, no barrier of space or time can keep us from helping, influencing, being a catalyst to those we love, frankly whether they want it or not (!) –if we will only spend the time and energy and work to be in God’s throneroom with our Father. We just have to believe it is so and do it! Beloved, let’s use the gift. Let’s become people of prayer.
A city slicker moved to a farm and bought a cow. Shortly after, the cow went dry. A farmer, who got word of this, expressed surprise. The city man said he was surprised too. “I can’t understand it, for if a person ever was considerate of an animal, I was of that cow. If I didn’t need any milk, I didn’t milk her. If I only needed a quart, I took only a quart.” The farmer then had explained to the city fellow that the only way to keep milk flowing is not to take as little as possible from the cow, but to take as much as possible. Step one in maximizing the gift of access to the Father – use it.
II. Use it Reverently
Step 2 is – use it reverently. Look at verse 14, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father.” This phrase emphasizes two things – reverence and urgency. Let’s talk about reverence first.
Taking an eternal perspective, direct access to God the Father is bigger than any other access you can ever have, including access to your boss, to the president of your company, to the head of your association, to your congressman, senator, governor or President Obama. Direct access to God is of far greater import than any of those connections. That is why it is so emphasized in the Bible – even to the point that we are invited to address our Father as Abba, Daddy, the most intimate and endearing term available to the New Testament writers – a term that absolutely blew away the first century people who heard it, so familiar did it sound. It was the term that Jesus Christ himself used to address his father in Mark 14:36 when in the intensity of the throes of his struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified, he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Abba – my beloved Father, help me. And Paul turns right around in Romans 8:15 and again in Galatians 4:6 and says, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Isn’t it unbelievable that because of the shed blood of Christ we may address the Father in the same terms Christ did? It’s incredible.
Endearment does not, however, mean flip or casual. I addressed my father as Dad, but I can assure you I never did it with the “Hey, man, what’s going on, man” casualness that I might address a brother or friend. When Paul urged us to address the Father as Abba, he didn’t mean we should approach him casually. God isn’t inviting us to be his Buddy! He’s inviting us to be his beloved sons and daughters, with all the respect and reverence that implies. I think I mentioned the pastor who got up one Sunday and as he was walking across the stage with eyes open began his prayer by saying, “Hey, God.” Folks, to me that’s close to blasphemy. But I suspect we have all at times been equally guilty of approaches that emphasize access, but miss reverence. How dare we take the term of endearment by which Jesus addressed His Father as he faced spiritual death for us and turn it into an excuse for a lighthearted entrance to the throneroom!
Paul bowed his knees out of respect. That is not to say that the position itself is important. People prayed in many positions in the Bible, including standing, sitting, and kneeling. They prayed from lion’s dens, fiery furnaces, behind bars and in the belly of a great fish. The position is irrelevant, but I think that in all cases the spirit was bowed. I will say this, I agree with one commentator who said, “The slouching position of the body while one is supposed to be praying is an abomination to the Lord. On the other hand, it is also true that Scripture nowhere prescribes one, and only one, correct posture.” I think he’s right. Position is a matter of indifference, unless it reflects a casualness of spirit.
Let me drive this home a bit further here. Look again at our verse, verse 14, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father.” Note the little word “before”. It is the Greek word pros. Now – turn with me to John 1:1. You need to see this. “ In the beginning was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” See the little word “with” – same exact Greek word, pros that we have in Ephesians 1:18. The word “face” is derived from this word. John is literally saying in John 1:1 that Christ, prior to his incarnation, was face-to-face with God the Father, and now, and this should blow us away, Paul is saying that in prayer we are literally face-to-face with God the Father. Absorb that for a moment. I’ll tell you this, when we see people come face-to-face with God in Scripture, they aren’t waltzing in with, “Hey God.” When Isaiah saw God high and lifted up and Isaiah 6, his comment was, “Woe is me, for I am lost and a man of unclean lips.” John, who knew Jesus intimately, fell to the ground as though dead when he came face-to-face with the Father in Rev. 1. So, did Paul. Listen, it’s a big deal to come face-to-face with God and that is what happens every time we pray. That ought to adjust our attitude and our spirit.
III. Use it Urgently.
Thirdly, we should use the gift of access urgently. Paul’s bowing represented not just reverence but urgency. The normal position for Jews in prayer was standing. To this day you will see them at the so-called Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, standing and praying. To bow the knee was a sign of the urgency that Paul attached to his prayer. Similarly, there should be an urgency to our requests, not so that we can “spend it on our passions” which is the reason much prayer is not answered according to James, but so that we can line up with God’s purposes. An urgency attaches to that.
Think of it this way, my dear friends – we are being given the opportunity to do no less than to influence history. If you don’t believe prayer changes things, don’t pray. What a waste of time. Listen, it is hard to pray. Satan doesn’t want us to pray. Our lifestyle doesn’t readily permit time to pray. The world’s distractions are constant. But once we grasp that things really do happen when we pray and that God will and does change history to reflect His glory and our concerns, it becomes a matter of urgency.
Let me give you a little help on this one. Have you noticed that Paul’s prayers are brief? Both prayers here in Ephesians and his prayer in Philippians are brief. In fact, all the prayers of Scripture are quite brief. The Lord Jesus said that we are not to use vain repetition as the heathen do – they think they will be heard for their much speaking. Moses’ great prayer for Israel is recorded in only three verses. Elijah, on top of Mount Carmel as he stood alone for God against the prophets of Baal, prayed a great prayer -- one verse long. Nehemiah’s great prayer -- seven verses. The prayer of our Lord in John 17 takes three minutes to read. But the briefest prayer is that of Simon Peter, “. . . Lord, save me” (Matt. 14:30). He cried out this prayer when he was beginning to sink beneath the waves of the Sea of Galilee. Some people think that was not a prayer because it was so short. My friend, that was a prayer, and it was answered immediately. If Simon Peter had prayed like some of us preachers pray on Sunday morning, “Lord, thou who art the omnipotent, the omniscient, the omnipresent One. . . .” he would have been twenty feet under water before he got to his request. I tell you, he got down to business. Prayer should be often, brief, to the point and with a sense of urgency. Like eating several small meals instead of one big one. It’s healthier.
Three ministers are discussing prayer, while in the background a telephone repairman is working on the phone line. One minister says, “The best way to pray is kneeling.” The second says, “I find it more satisfying to pray with my arms out to heaven.” “Both of you are wrong,” the third minister says. “The best way to pray is when you’re lying down prostrate.” Unable to control himself, the repairman says, “I don’t know about any of that. But the best praying I ever did was when I was hanging on upside down on a thin telephone wire.” That’s praying with urgency. If we don’t want it that much, don’t pray it. Be urgent in prayer.
IV. Use it Boldly
Access to God. Fourthly, we must use it boldly. Being reverent doesn’t do away with coming boldly. Before we finish this prayer, you will see just how bold Paul is. And there is a very specific reason for this. That is that while we are coming to God Almighty – we are also coming to -- Father. “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15) from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,” Verse 15 is not an easy verse to understand. How are we to understand every family in heaven and on earth being named by God, and why does Paul mention it here?
Some suggest that the universal fatherhood of God is taught here. However, that concept flies in the face of too many other passages of Scripture for it to hold true here. God is the Father of everyone in the sense that He created them as Paul mentioned in Acts 17, but God is uniquely the Father only of those who have received His gift of salvation. Just to give one example, in John 1:11-12 we read, “He (Jesus) came unto his own (creation) and his own (people) received him not. 12) But to as many as [did] receive him, to them gave He the power to become the children of God, even to those who believe in his name.” The concept of the universal Fatherhood of God is a satanically inspired lie to placate those who want their sin and God too. God does not force Himself on anyone, and only those who have confessed their sin and accepted Jesus for the Savior and Lord that He is can call God, Father. Check out John 8 sometime where Jesus tells the most religious people of their day that they are of their father, the devil. So what does this text mean?
I believe that the question gets cleared up when we assume a slightly different, though equally valid translation of the text. The word “every” can, with equal validity, be translated “whole”. And when you read it with that translation, the verse begins to make perfect sense in the context. There is a beautiful play on words here as well that is not seen in the English translation. Let’s start again with verse 14, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father (Greek word πατέρα, 15) from whom (the “whole” instead of “every” – the “whole” family (Greek word, πατριὰ,) in heaven and on earth is named.” Paul is saying the whole family (patria) is named for the Father (patera) – the point being we are children of God. Just like I might say with pride I am a McNeff. Paul is saying, “I am bowing before the Father for whom we His family are named – both those in heaven and those on earth. Wow! Big, impressive, important family – and I’m in it.
Understood in that light, it is a beautiful statement of the unity and harmony of the Church, which, as you will recall, is the exact message of the latter half of chapter 2 to which Paul was referring when he said he was praying “for this reason.” He is recognizing what theologians call both the Church militant (those on earth) and the Church triumphant (those who have died and gone to heaven) – but all the church and all children of our Father.
Now, Paul’s point in all of this is, we who are the patria and named for the patera can surely come freely and boldly before Him. Listen, if you want it and truly believe it is in His will, ask for it. Listen to this instruction from Jesus Himself, advice to those who are part of the family and do have God as Father. He says in Matthew 7:9, “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” That’s Paul’s point in Ephesians. Father wants to give us great things in accordance with His will – so ask boldly.
A mother was giving advice to her daughter just before her wedding. She finished by saying, “And now, here is the most important thing of all. Do not let marriage rob you of your identity – remember you’re my daughter!” You’re my daughter. That’s Paul’s point here. You’re a Christian? Then you are named for Father, God Himself. He loves you that much. Think you can’t come to ask him for anything. Well, you can. Use your access to Father boldly.
V. Use it Broadly
The next thing this passages teaches us about the priceless gift of access to God that we have is that it should be used for others. For whom is Paul praying here? Why, it is for others. His concern is for the spiritual welfare of others and he is concerned enough to be praying on their behalf.
I think that if most of us would examine our prayer life we would find that it is on the selfish side. We don’t mean it this way, but our prayers to God are along the lines of the old fellow who prayed, “Lord bless me and my wife, my son and his wife, us four and no more.” Somehow there isn’t much concern for others – other than as they may be affecting me. If that’s true, what an opportunity we are missing.
I am not suggesting that we never pray for ourselves. Of course, we will. Paul did as recorded in II Corinthians 12 where he prayed for the removal of some thorn in the flesh that he had. But I truly believe that equal or more time should be given to others in our prayer life. The burden of Paul’s prayer life was others. I think it’s interesting that he does not ask for prayer that he get out of prison. Wouldn’t that be at the top of your list? His concern was for his brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, that access to the Father is the way we can affect history and to waste it entirely on personal concerns is to be very shortsighted, not to mention selfish.
Dr. Curtis Mitchell was my favorite Bible teacher in college. In his book, Let’s Live¸ he tells of how he pastored a small church once and he said every Wednesday night he would meet with some men for prayer and they would always voice a petition for their young people. Mitchell goes on, “Now frankly that church had the deadest bunch of teenagers I had ever come across, and I confess that as the men would pray, I had little or no faith that their requests would be answered. After I had been in the church for about 18 months, I was sitting in my office one afternoon when the thought suddenly hit me, ‘Hey, we no longer have a bunch of deadbeat teenagers in this church. These kids are really with it now!’ The Lord had answered the persistent, fervent prayers of those men, but it had all come about in such a quiet, unassuming manner that I hadn’t realized a miracle had actually taken place.” Access to God gives us an opportunity to be part of what God is about in this world. Let’s not miss that opportunity.
VI. Use it with Expectantly
Let me use one last point the conclusion today. It is this – use your access to God expectantly. Don’t waste God’s time or your time if you cannot ask expectantly. Look at the beginning of verse 16, “16) that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you.” We’ve seen this before. It’s not out of, but according to his riches that our Father will provide. Not the dime that Henry Ford used to give as a tip, but the abundance that sports owners now shell our regularly to their players! Our Father is willing – and He is most definitely able.
I never once went to my father and asked for something with the expectation that he would ignore my request, did you? Never. I always expected an answer. It wasn’t always the answer I wanted. But I always expected and got an answer. Now Paul depicts in Ephesians 3:18 that we are praying to our Father. How could you not expect an answer from your Father?
Let me close by telling you about George Mueller. George Mueller was born in Prussia in 1805. He was no better than any of us. In fact, he was probably worse. As a young man he was a liar, a thief and a gambler. At the age of 14 he was drinking and playing cards with friends as his mother lay dying. However, his father sent him to a Christian school, and while there a friend invited him to a prayer meeting, not even a preaching service, but a prayer meeting. After that first meeting, Mueller went back to his room under heavy conviction, gave his heart to Christ and began to live a changed life.
In time, he became a minister of the gospel, but from the beginning he was known for his faith. He supported “faith mission” including Hudson Taylor, was responsible for the distribution of thousands of Bibles and millions of tracts worldwide, opened orphanages where he housed, clothed, fed and educated more than 20,000 orphans prior to his death in 1898. And, please get this, through all of this he never solicited a penny for support nor did he ever go into debt. He prayed for God to supply and God did. I can only surmise that the prayer meeting where he initially met the Lord had a profound effect on his life. It was not unusual for Mueller to receive unsolicited gifts of supplies and food only hours before needed in answer to prayer. So he was used to immediate answers from his father.
But you should also know that no delay discouraged Mueller. This is seen particularly in the case of individuals for whose conversion or special guidance into the paths of full obedience he prayed. On his prayer list were the names of some for whom he had besought God, daily, by name, for one, two, three, four, six, ten years before the answer was given.
The year just before his death, he told the writer of his biography of two parties for whose reconciliation to God he had prayed, day by day for over sixty years, and who had not as yet to his knowledge turned unto God: and he significantly added, “I have not a doubt that I shall meet them both in heaven; for my Heavenly Father would not lay upon my heart a burden of prayer for them for over threescore years, if He had not concerning them purposes of mercy.” They both became believers.
Are you challenged? Beloved, in the access that Christ has provided to the Father we have a priceless gift. Let’s use it. Let’s use it reverently, urgently, boldly, broadly and perhaps most importantly of all – expectantly. Our Father is just waiting for us. It’s a local call.