When did you last pray like this? (or How to Blow up your horizon with the apostle Paul…)

When did you last pray like this? (or How to Blow up your horizon with the apostle Paul…)

When I’m feeling my own prayerlessness, one of the Bible passages that will often both convict and awaken me is the apostle Paul’s prayer at the start of his letter to the Ephesians. Thankfully I was given cause to dwell there again last week. It’s a corker. Take a look:

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for 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. 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.  (Ephesians 1:15-19, NIV)

Naturally it’s always encouraging to hear someone has been praying for you. But Paul goes a step beyond that because he tells these churches precisely what he’s been praying for them. When was the last time someone told you that? And that’s where things get surprising. In fact, it blows most of my usual prayer requests out of the water. At its heart it’s a prayer for a greater knowledge of God. As the translation above puts it, Paul prays that the Ephesians would “know God better”. Paul reveals that his priority for the Ephesians is they’d know God better and, crucially, that he is dependent upon God for that knowledge. As Tim Keller says in his recent book on prayer:

It seems that the apostle [Paul] does not see prayer as merely a way to get things from God but as a way to get more of God himself.

Of course, we’re often used to thinking about knowledge in purely factual terms. And I suppose sometimes we can be tempted to think about Christianity purely in that way too, as if it were all about gathering up Bible trivia. Don’t get me wrong. Knowing God is factual in one sense, in that we need to know who the one true God is, what he is like, and what he has done. You flick through the Bible and there’s a huge emphasis on knowing God truly, and holding firmly to that true knowledge. False-teaching and fashioning a god in your own image is a real possibility, if we’re to take the Bible writers seriously. And so if our knowledge of God isn’t grounded in his revelation in the Scriptures, then we’re simply playing with fire. But Paul specifically asks God that “the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened…”, not merely our brain cells. It’s more than knowing about God.

This knowing is relational and spiritual. The Bible is a relational book. After all, we call it God’s word because it is God communicating with us, and by nature communication is relational. The goal of relational knowledge can never be storing up facts, notebooks and folders as an end in themselves. Instead it’s the same as any relationship: the fruit of relational knowledge is responding accordingly to the person we’re knowing, be that in love, trust, obedience, following, listening, etc. In fact you see that in Ephesians itself: two of the big verbs that follow the emphasis on knowing (ch. 1-3) are walking and standing (ch. 4-6). Evidently knowing God and his plans is meant to take shape in a changed life.

Do you ever have that experience where, now and again, you read a book that shakes you up to the extent that everything seems different. Don Carson’s ‘A Call to Spiritual Reformation’ was one of those books for me. It must have been back around 2005 when I first read it with a mate. We’d order heavily sweetened mochas in Durham coffee shops and wrestle with Paul’s prayers. But reading these verses again from Ephesians brought to mind Carson’s challenging introductory chapter where he makes a case for why our most pressing need is a deeper knowledge of God:

…There is a sense in which these urgent needs are merely symptomatic of a far more serious lack. The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better.When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted. So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs—and these are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness and fulfillment. God simply becomes the Great Being who, potentially at least, meets our needs and fulfills our aspirations. We think rather little of what he is like, what he expects of us, what he seeks in us. We are not captured by his holiness and his love; his thoughts and words capture too little of our imagination, too little of our discourse, too few of our priorities.In the biblical view of things, a deeper knowledge of God brings with it massive improvement in the other areas mentioned: purity, integrity, evangelistic effectiveness, better study of Scripture, improved private and corporate worship, and much more. But if we seek these things without passionately desiring a deeper knowledge of God, we are selfishly running after God’s blessings without running after him.(D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 15-16.

So here’s to praying big prayers that are hungry for a deeper knowledge of God. Here’s to longing that those we love and share fellowship with are growing in their knowledge of God. And here’s to depending on God as the only one who can open the ‘eyes of our hearts’.