Dear friends, for a moment, consider with me Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 1:15-23, a prayer for the Church to wake up.
As we journey together, I must admit I am far from a morning person. It doesn’t matter how many hours of sleep I’ve gotten, I usually hit the snooze button at least twice. After hitting the snooze button multiple times, I then sit on the edge of the bed, and fall right back to asleep. However, eventually I get up and I begin my day, and at least for the first half of the day I’m moving but not very alert. It’s as if my bed sucked all the energy out of me, and I have to power back up to wake up and experience the blessings of a new day, and that usually happens around 10 o’clock.
However, in this season of the pandemic, I’m reminded often that every day is a gift from God. And it is a beautiful blessing to wake up to the loud sound of a cell phone alarm. I’m learning, friends, to wake up and be thankful, wake up and be mindful, wake up and to be grateful for all God has done, is doing, and will do! I’m learning that there is no need to wait until two cups of coffee and the 10 o’clock hour to become awake. Why? Because if I do, I overlook what God has done in the hours of 6 a.m., 7, 8, or even 9 o’clock. I’m learning that to be awake and alert is something that God, in fact, calls us to, and this perspective shift changes everything and pushes us to our potential and, ultimately, closer in intimacy to God.
Without coffee and the snooze button, our great brother Paul is inviting the Church worldwide to wake up as he writes a general letter read to the believers in Ephesus and beyond. For six chapters written around 60-62 A.D., Paul writes from a prison cell in Rome to invite and encourage Jesus’ followers to realize their potential and to live up to their potential every day and in every way.
There are two pivotal movements in Paul’s prayer for the Church. The first movement happens right there in verses 15-17 where our great brother Paul prays for spiritual clarity. As we think about Paul’s prayer for spiritual clarity, think about Martin Luther’s words, who once said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
My friends, we gain spiritual clarity by spending time with God and being in the presence of God. Look at Paul’s words. Paul begins in thankfulness - right there in verse 15 - praying,
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love of all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
To the church at Ephesus and many other believers, Paul is thankful. He’s thankful that the Church does have faith in Jesus. Paul is grateful that the Church is loving all of God’s people. But Paul says the Church does well to not rest at just “good enough” and continues to pray that God will deliver the Spirit of wisdom coupled with revelation to all the Jesus-followers, so that the believers would know God better.
Isn’t that beautiful? Paul says the Church can always become closer to God! Friends, there is not a state of arrival or a destination of superiority for believers in Jesus. The quest and prayer for spiritual clarity is yet a mighty challenge to the Church - a challenge to constantly desire intimacy with Jesus. Closeness, openness, and authentic hearts bent Godward is Paul’s desire for the Church, is Paul’s desire for spiritual clarity.
Friends, within just this movement of the prayer, there are two things that Paul asks for. He asks for wisdom for the Church. Wisdom - which is the capacity to understand, and as a result, to act wisely - but also revelation - which means to take out of hiding and make Christ known to everyone.
Friends, wisdom and revelation are necessary ingredients in the life of every believer, especially in our desire to be the Church. If you hadn’t caught this by now, the Church is not a building. The Church is a people who impact the world for Jesus!
As God delivers wisdom and revelation, guess what? We gain purpose. As God delivers wisdom and revelation, guess what? We gain clarity - clarity of who we are, and are able to lean completely into just that.
This is Paul’s desire for the Church back then, but also even right now. That’s why in Ephesians 3:18, it details this - as Paul says:
...may have power, [this is what he wants the Church to have - power] together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
My brothers and sisters, our spiritual clarity is interconnected to our dependence, our devotion, and our desire of God.
Praying Paul, in the text, teaches us that our faith is awesome, but we should always want and desire more of God. Paul’s prayer in A.D. 60 is applicable right now. Paul wants believers to wake up and devote time being faithful instead of fighting.
Paul’s prayer is that we the Church would wake up to not only hearing God’s word, but to living God’s word. Paul is challenging these believers - and us today - to be the Church, yes, in name, but also in action. And spiritual clarity only happens with wisdom coupled with revelation that comes from God through Jesus Christ.
There are two questions that it just boils down to, friends: Who do we trust more - do we trust our traditions or do we trust God? Who do we trust more - do we trust our comfort or do we trust Christ?
Paul is screaming like Laurence Fishburne in the Spike Lee movie School Daze, telling the Church, WAKE UP! Wake up and stop dividing yourselves, Church. Wake up and stop stifling voices that need to be heard, Church. Paul shows us that spiritual clarity happens as we pray and become dependent on God, instead of our many creature comforts. Paul prays for spiritual clarity. Paul prays for the Church to wake up!
Friends, that’s only the first movement of Paul’s prayer, because as we tiptoe into the second movement, we notice that Paul prays for the Church to reach its full potential. Oh friends, I promise I didn’t make this up, it’s smack dab right there beginning at verse 18. Paul says:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
All I have to say is, wow! Paul prays, right here in verses 18-23, for the hearts of every believer to have eyes to know that God has welcomed you and called you for a specific purpose. This purpose is not the Church’s task to accomplish alone, but Paul says the Church has access to the incomparable, unrivaled, undeniable, great, behemoth power of God. This great power raised Christ from the dead and allowed Christ to ascend into heaven and sit at the right hand of God.
This magnificent power is first, foremost, chiefly, principally, and supremely. And because of Jesus making the unpopular but beneficial decision to hang, to suffer, to bleed, and die on a cross for all of humanity, God then has placed everything under his feet. Yes, friends, even the Church! Paul is sharing in his prayer that Christ is supreme and above all!
And the Church only reaches its full potential when it centers around the life, death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Friends, Paul echoes this even to another group of believers right here in Colossians 1:28 where Paul says: Jesus is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
The Church reaches its full potential proclaiming Christ in its worship; proclaiming Christ in its spiritual formation; proclaiming Christ in its evangelism; proclaiming Christ in its small groups; proclaiming Christ in its outreach activities; proclaiming Christ in its activism; proclaiming Christ in the lives we live; proclaiming Christ in the words we say; proclaiming Christ in the thoughts we think! Friends, this is all encompassing!
The Church reaches its full potential when it knows its place and Paul defines all of creation’s place right there in Philippians 2:10-11, when Paul says that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and even under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The Church reaches its full potential when we recognize that our posture should be one of submission to Christ. The Church wakes up when we begin to ask: Which direction are you leading us to, God? The Church wakes up as we ask: How can our church reach the community for your glory, God? The Church wakes up when we begin to ask: What does our church look like in the future, Jesus?
As the Church begins to pray to receive wisdom from God, and live out this wisdom, then as the show Friday Night Lights would echo, we the Church will have clear eyes - that means God-given vision; full hearts - that means we will be filled with the Holy Spirit; and guess what, the Church will not lose!
I’m reminded of a time in high school when I used to be a triple jumper. I absolutely loved the triple jump! However, in the beginning of my triple jump journey, most of my best jumps happened in practice. When the track meet began, my palms would get sweaty, my heart would begin to pump faster, and all of these horrible thoughts would enter into my mind. You see, at practice I would soar, and at track meets I would scratch or commit to sub-par jumps. I was paralyzed by fear for months until my Dad gave me some wisdom. He said, “Josh, you are a good triple jumper, you work hard, but you will never reach your full potential if you don’t learn how to take what you do in practice and perform that and more at the track meets you attend.” He went on to say, “Until you do that, you will be the best practice triple jumper in the world, but no one will ever see your greatness!”
That wisdom, along with prayer, helped me to soar not just in practice but in many track meets. But friends, could it be for our churches to soar we must stop being confined to buildings, confined to traditions and continuous fighting, and begin unleashing the gospel in our lives and onto the world?
Perhaps, great friends, the Church can wake up from the mundane and antiquated phrase, “we’ve always done it this way” and begin saying, “God, whatever you desire of us, we will follow you!” Friends, if not, we the Church will never reach our God-given potential.
Here, in Ephesians 1, Paul’s prayer is as true and needed today as when Paul wrote it. May we the Church wake up, grow up, and reach the God-given potential Christ modeled for us - where our churches become transformational instead of transactional, a place of liberation instead of a place of depression.
May the Church become an epicenter of hope for the glory of God, in Jesus’ name, Amen.