This is our last post focused on the prayer at the heart of the the Letter to the Ephesians, 3: 14-21. But I’d encourage you to keep spending time in it. For a class in seminary, I had to memorize this passage, and it’s been of great value to me over the years. In general, I’d say that beyond developing a regular practice of prayer, memorizing Scripture is the best thing you can do to deepen and strengthen your faith, to draw near to God.
Prayer is how we move what we know of` God from our heads to our hearts. And memorizing Scripture can be a part of how we pray.
I’ve learned a lot from Rich Villodas, pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens, NY. He has 4 encouragements for prayer. (I say encouragements, rather than rules, or keys because those sound like the purpose of prayer is to accomplish something. But the purpose of prayer is simply to be intentionally in God’s presence. And from that posture, we do all the things we do—praise, give thanks, ask God for the daily bread that we need, and to attend to the things that are on our hearts.)
Rich’s 4 encouragements are:
Befriend silence. He describes prayer as an “exchange of presence”. I love that. And you know that when you love someone, when you desire their presence and they desire yours, you don’t have to talk all the time. Some of my favourite times with my wife are when we’re both home and simply in each other’s presence. We can go long stretches without saying anything, but the fact that we’re near each other, can see each other, reach out and touch each other is such a gift compared to those days when we’re not together from early in the morning until late in the evening, when we’re busy and unavailable. As well, the Bible tells us to be still and know that God is God. Not saying anything allows God the chance to get a word in, to speak to us. But it also just declutters the space, so that we’re not worried about what to say—we’re just focused on being present to God. Befriend silence.
Embrace boredom. Like befriending silence, when you’re with someone you love, exciting things don’t always have to happen. If the health and intimacy of my marriage was dependent upon it always being interesting, we’d both be exhausted and in trouble. Because I’m just not that interesting, all the time. When we pray, like in any relationship, it doesn’t have to be flashes of brilliance and spiritual fireworks. Sometimes that will happen. But not mostly. Embrace boredom.
Pray with the words of others. We don’t always have to know what to say. Some of our most important prayer times are when we’re at the end of our rope, and we don’t have anything to say. But that’s also when we can pray wit the words of others. Whether it’s using a daily prayer book (I use Common Prayer, a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove—we’ll put a link in the show notes), or the prayers of saints from the past, or simply using parts of Scripture, the words of others can help us go deeper into God’s presence, and remind us that our faith is not a solo venture. We’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, cheering us on. This is where memorizing Scripture can be really helpful. Take Ephesians 3: 14-21 and turn it into a personal prayer, or a prayer for your family or community.
And finally, always pray remembering that God is beholding you with the eyes of love. You are God’s beloved child. That’s how God greets you. That’s how God sees you. God is smitten with you. Pray knowing that.
The Ephesian prayer we’ve been working through draws us into that reality. We’ve heard it in every verse. Paul’s prayed us into the wonder of God’s love, God’s intimacy, God’s power and presence for us. And he finishes the prayer by saying this: Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Paul finishes by reminding us again that the One whose power made the cosmos is at work in us. God is at work in us, to heal and make whole, to root and ground us in love, to help us know the wonders we are made for, to give us a vision of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven.
And it’s a power that does more than we can ask or imagine. This is the same power that took down the Egyptian empire for the sake of its slaves, making Israel God’s free people. This is the same power that raise Jesus Christ from the dead. This power does more. Does unimaginably marvellous things. And God is prepared to do such powerful things in us and through us.
There’s a wild verse in St. John’s gospel, where Jesus tells his disciples that whoever loves him will do the things that he does, and even greater things! That’s something I have a hard time believing. But it’s also a promise that I want to lean into. I find it hard to imagine that we followers of Jesus could get into even more holy mischief than he did. But I’m enthralled with the possibility.
I think too often we expect too little from God. I know I do. Paul invites us to quit that. Prays that we would eagerly expect God to exceed our expectations, that we would be ready for God to do marvellous things, abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine.
My prayer today is to be open to that more. To let go of the comfort of the familiar and expected, and let God do the stuff that sets captives free and raises the dead, in us and through us.
God give us grace and guts.