A Call to Spiritual Reformation

D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1992) 230 pages.

Comments

Highlights of this book include: good practical tips on how to pray (chapter 1), the importance of praying for and investing in people (chapters 4 & 5) and a stimulating discussion of the role of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in prayer (chapter 9).

Contents

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Lessons from the School of Prayer
  • Chapter 2: The Framework of Prayer
  • Chapter 3: Worthy Petitions
  • Chapter 4: Praying for Others
  • Chapter 5: A Passion for People
  • Chapter 6: The Content of a Challenging Prayer
  • Chapter 7: Excuses for Not Praying
  • Chapter 8: Overcoming the Hurdles
  • Chapter 9: A Sovereign and a Personal God
  • Chapter 10: Praying to the Sovereign God
  • Chapter 11: Praying for Power
  • Chapter 12: Prayer for Ministry
  • Afterward: A Prayer for Spiritual Reformation

Preface

All Christians sometimes find it difficult to pray.

Purpose of the book: “to work through several of Paul’s prayers in such a way that we hear God speak to us today, and to find strength and direction to improve our praying, both for God’s glory and for our good.” (9-10)

Introduction

What is the most urgent need in the church today? Carson surveys many possible answers and concludes: “The one thing most urgently needed in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better.” (15) Improvement in this area will have a spill-over effect and improve other areas.

Purpose of the book (restated): “to think through Paul’s prayers, so that we might align our prayer habits with his. We want to learn what to pray for, what arguments to use, what priorities we should adopt, what beliefs should shape our prayers, and much more.” (17-18)

Chapter 1: Lessons from the School of Prayer

Sound, practical advice for your prayer life…

  1. Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray.
    What we do/plan for reflects our highest priorities.
  2. Adopt practical ways to impede mental drift.
    • Pray out loud.
    • Pray through a Bible passage.
    • Use a biblical prayer (like the Our Father) as a rough framework for your prayer.
    • Walk/pace as you pray.
    • Use a journal.
  3. At various periods in your life, develop, if possible, a prayer-partner relationship. If you’re married, form this partnership with someone of the same sex or your spouse.
    • Mature Christians should look for a younger Christian to share their prayer life with.
    • Younger Christians should pick a partner who is committed to meet consistently, who has a vital walk, and who isn’t a gossip.
  4. Choose models, but choose them well.
    • “Study their content, their breadth, their passion, their unction – but do not ape their idiom.” (27)
    • “And sometimes, when I look at my own children, I wonder if, should the Lord give us another thirty years, they will remember their father as a man of prayer, or think of him as someone distant who was away from home rather a lot and who wrote a number of obscure books.” (26)
  5. Develop a system for your prayer lists.
    Do whatever works for you. “Whatever the system, use prayer lists.” (29)
  6. Mingle praise, confession, and intercession; but when you intercede, try to tie as many requests as possible to Scripture.
    • Remember God prioritizes his love for us and relationship with us over answering all of our requests.
    • When you do ask for something, tie the request to scripture. What does God want us to pray for? >> Tie prayer requests to God’s promises and priorities.
  7. If you are in any form of spiritual leadership, work at your public prayers.
    Directly address God, but don’t forget that public prayer is a teaching opportunity.
  8. Pray until you pray.
    • “Christians should pray long enough and honestly enough, at a single session, to get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attends not a little praying. We are especially prone to such feelings when we pray for only a few minutes, rushing to be done with a mere duty.” (36)
    • “…in the Western world we a urgently need this advice for many of us in our praying are like nasty little boys who ring front door bells and run away before anyone answers.” (37)

Chapter 2: The Framework of Prayer (2 Thessalonians 1:3-12)

Vs. 3-10 contains a framework for what Paul prays for and why. It has two dominant features:

  1. Thankfulness for signs of grace. Thanksgiving is a dominant theme in Paul’s prayers. He is thankful…
    1. …that his reader’s faith is growing.
    2. …that their love is increasing (an infallible sign of God’s grace in their lives).
    3. …that they are persevering under trial.Paul is quick to notice and talk about evidence that God is at work among them.
      >> To thank God like Paul, we need to embrace his values, because his values shape what he is grateful for.
  2. Confidence at the prospect of vindication.
    1. For believers, there will be vindication.Christians today are losing their anticipation of Jesus’ return and this loss is great.
      “If we do not aim for the new heaven and the new earth, many of our values and decision in this world will be myopic, unworthy, tarnished, fundamentally wrong-headed. To put the matter bluntly: can biblical spirituality long survive where Christians are not oriented to the world to come? And, in this context, can we expect to pray aright unless we are oriented to the world to come?” (50)
    2. For others, there will be retribution.
      >> Carson offers a very helpful aside on why it is necessary and right for God to judge human sin.

Chapter 3: Worthy Petitions (2 Thessalonians 1:1-12)

What kinds of petitions should we present to God?

  1. Paul prays that God might count the Thessalonians worthy of their calling.
    • “Since these Thessalonians are Christians, they have already been called, and now Paul prays that they might live up to that calling.” (53)
    • Living up to that calling means “that we should become increasingly holy, self-denying, loving, full of integrity, steeped in the knowledge of God and his word, delighted to trust and obey our heavenly father.” (54)
    • “Do we not spend far more energy praying that our children will pass their exams, or get a good job, or be happy, or not stray too far, than we do praying that they may live lives worthy of what it means to be a Christian?” (55)
    • “How will these values appear thirty years or forty-billion years from now? From eternity’s perspective, what should be the primary things for which we should pray for our children, for ourselves, for our fellow believers?” (55)
  2. Paul prays that God, by his power, might bring to fruition each Christian’s good, faith-prompted purpose.

What was the goal of Paul’s prayers?

  1. Paul seeks the glorification of the Lord Jesus (first priority).
  2. Paul seeks the glorification of believers.
    God makes the believer’s glorification possible, and this in turn glorifies God himself.

The Ground for Paul’s prayer

  • The ground is grace. Grace saves us AND sanctifies us.
  • >>Great example on p. 61-62 of a swimmer who tried to swim from Catalina Island to the shore of California. She quit only 1/2 mile off shore. Later she said if she could have seen that land was so near, she would have found the strength to finish. Carson uses this to illustrate how Christians need to have a biblical vision of “who God is, what he has done, who we are, where we are going, and what we must value and cherish” in order to pray as we should and endure in prayer.

Chapter 4: Praying for Others

The church is people. The Christian life and Christian ministry is about people.

Carson warns against “the danger of claiming high intimacy with God while fostering no intimacy with people; of testifying to deep love for Christ, while nurturing all kinds of petty jealousy and rivalries.” (65) cf. 1 John 4:19-21 – we demonstrate our love for God by loving others.

“Our allegiance to God and his gospel will be demonstrated in our service to his people, to those who will become his people, to those made in his image.” (65)

Paul devoted a large proportion of his prayer time to praying for others and thanking God for them.

>> In pages 67-74, Carson gathers dozens of Paul’s prayers and asks readers to carefully examine them. After I read them, I was deeply struck by (1) how grateful Paul was for Christians at various levels of spiritual maturity (2) how concerned he was that Christians were fully aware of their true identity/position in Christ (3) how his prayer reflected genuine, deep love for PEOPLE.

>> Another emphasis throughout Paul’s prayers… Paul constantly talks about God’s activity in his life and in the lives of people he prayed for. He raises awareness of God’s activity.

Chapter 5: A Passion for People (1 Thessalonians 3:9-13)

Paul’s prayers reflect a profound concern for his readers.

  1. His prayer arises out of his intense longing to be with the Thessalonians.
    “(Paul) never descends to the level of the mere professional. Paul is a passionate man, deeply enmeshed in the lives of real people.” (81)
  2. Paul’s prayer arises out of passionate affection that seeks the good of others – not their praise, gratitude, acceptance, and still less some sense of professional self-fulfillment.
    “In any Christian view of life, self-fulfillment must never be permitted to become the controlling issue. The issue is service, the service of real people. The question is, How can I be most useful?, not, How can I feel the most useful?” (83 – emphasis mine)
    >> Paul agonizes over THEIR welfare, not his position, title, or status.
  3. Paul’s prayer springs from delight at reports of the Thessalonians’ faith, love, perseverance, and strength.
    “If we are to improve our praying, we must strengthen our loving.” (85)

Paul’s prayers reflect a continuing passion for people. He prays…

  1. … with rich thankfulness for the people of God (3:9).
    “He has simultaneously drawn attention to the Thessalonians’ spiritual growth, thereby encouraging them, and insisted that God is the one to be thanked for it, thereby humbling them.” (87)
    Because his values are aligned with God’s, the things that bring joy to God bring joy to Paul.
  2. … that he might be able to strengthen these believers (3:10-11).
  3. … that there might be an overflow of love among them (3:12).
  4. … that they will be strengthened in heart and blameless and holy when the end comes (3:13).

Chapter 6: The Content of a Challenging Prayer (Colossians 1:9-14)

The content of the Bible should shape our prayer life. We should be familiar with the prayers of scripture. Are your emphases in prayer similar to those in the prayers of the Bible?

Lessons from the setting of prayer

  1. Paul prays for Christians he has never met personally. Our prayer should go beyond the circle of friends, family and acquaintances.
  2. Paul prays unceasingly.
  3. Paul links prayers of thanksgiving to prayers of petition
    “The kinds of things for which Paul thanks God are the kinds for which Paul asks.” (99)

We pray for crises and situations with desperate needs. Paul prays for “going concerns.” “Doubtless Paul intercedes when there are barriers to be hurdled; the point here is that he also intercedes when there are signs of life and power and grace, for his concern is that such signs should be protected and increased.” (100)
>> Paul is aggressive and opportunistic when he prays. When he spots a breach in the city wall, he prays that God’s people can pour through and conquer.

Lessons from the Content of Paul’s prayer (1:9-14)

  1. Paul asks God to fill believers with the knowledge of his will.
    Knowing God’s will requires a willingness to obey. Through obedience, we learn experientially that God’s will is good.
  2. The purpose of Paul’s petition is that believers might be utterly pleasing to the Lord Jesus
    Carson argues that in a shame culture, children have to live up to (and not dishonor) the family name. Most first century cultures were this way. Paul’s challenge to live a life worthy of the Lord “would be an immensely powerful plea in a shame culture.” (106) Christians in the west see living a lie worthy of God as an “option.” Paul’s readers would have seen the urgency of needing to please God in every way so as to not dishonor his name.
  3. Paul sketches, in terms of four characteristics, what a life pleasing to the Lord looks like (1:10b-14):
    1. Bearing fruit in every good work.
    2. Growing in the knowledge of God.
      "We must learn something of (God’s) will in order to obey it; discovery of more of that will in contingent on obeying what we know of it.” (108) John 7:17
    3. Being strengthened so as to display great endurance and patience.
      “The power for which Paul prays is frequently tied to the power of the resurrection (Eph. 1:19-20; Col. 2:12), but its demonstration among believers, at least in the first instance, is found not in miracles or in their own resurrection, but in great endurance and patience.” (108)
    4. Joyfully giving thanks to the Father.
      “If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.” (109)

Chapter 7: Excuses for Not Praying

  1. I am too busy to pray.
    The story of Mary and Martha reflects what our priorities should be (Luke 10:38-42).
  2. I feel too spiritually dry to pray.
    • Our feelings about prayer do not change the effectiveness of our prayers.
    • Our obligation to pray is not diminished when don’t feel like praying.
  3. I feel no need to pray.
    This happens to folks who are getting along well without prayer… this reinforces prayerlessness. God may use the “terrible language” of tragedy to get the attention of self-reliant Christians.
    >> See p. 118-119 for a survey of OT stories that show what happens when we don’t seek God’s input.
  4. I am too bitter to pray.
    “Many of us do not want to pray because we know that disciplined, biblical prayer would force us to eliminate sin that we rather cherish.” (119) >> Great point.
  5. I am too ashamed to pray.
  6. I am content with mediocrity.
    “Some Christians want enough of Christ to be identified with him, but not enough to be seriously inconvenienced.” (121)
    “…they fret over the quality of the preacher’s sermon but do not worry much over the quality of their own prayer life.” (121)

Chapter 8: Overcoming the Hurdles (Philippians 1:9-11)

“While William Carey is often referred to as ‘the father of modern missions,’ it was his sister, bedridden for years, who spent hours each day interceding for the ministry of her brother and for others who were beginning to follow the trail he blazed.” (123) >> Our eyes will be opened in heaven to see the real impact of folks like this who are behind the scenes in prayer.

Three “steps” in Paul’s prayer for the Philippians

  1. Paul prays for what is excellent (three aspects of maturing discipleship)…
    1. … that their love may about more and more so they can discern and approve what is excellent
    2. … that they night have the discernment to perceive how things differ, and then make the best possible choice
    3. … that they might improve in their discipleship
      • Paul balanced confidence in God’s activity in the individual with the need for that individual to personally resolve to grow.
      • “Paul refuses to set up an arbitrary set of checkpoints against which Christians are to measure themselves; he refuses to erect hoops through which believers must jump. Rather, he simply prays to his heavenly father and asks him that these believers may pursue what is best.” (130)
  2. Paul’s prayer is tied to the long view.
    • Paul looks forward in his prayer to the day of Christ and the believer’s future conformity to Christ.
    • “(Paul) is praying that Christians might be, right now, what we ought to be, what we certainly one day will be.” (136)
  3. Paul’s prayer is not idolatrous, but praises God.
    • >> Good section here on the dangers of perfectionism…
    • “For some people, unless they tackle whatever they are doing with 100 percent of their energy and competence, the task is not worth doing at all They cannot lie with themselves unless they work that way. Frequently they are high achievers. But from a Christian perspective, this attitude may turn out to be nothing more than another form of self worship – in short, a form of idolatry.” (139)
    • “If our pursuit of what is excellent, both in prayer and in our Christian lives more generally, is bound up with our own egos and with unarticulated notions of self-fulfillment, it is worthless.” (140)
    • “Do not tie your joy, your sense of well-being, to power in ministry. Your ministry can be taken from you. Tie your joy to the fact you are known and loved by God; tie it to your salvation.” (141) cf. Luke 10:20

Chapter 9: A Sovereign and a Personal God

A dilemma: “If prayer changes things, how can we believe that God is sovereign and all-knowing? … If not a bird falls from the heavens without his decree, if we live and move and have our being under his sovereignty, if he works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (Eph. 1:11), then in what meaningful sense can we say that prayer changes things?” (145)

Attempts to resolve the dilemma

  1. God must, in some sense, be limited in his power and sovereignty. His actions must be affected by our prayers. Otherwise, we would all be reduced to puppets, “chunks of matter moved around by a despotic deity.” (145) Maybe this could also explain unanswered prayer: your prayer is unanswered because God can’t answer it.
  2. Prayer only effects change within the person praying. It doesn’t really matter if God objectively exists because prayer has concrete benefits in my own life. The only effective prayers are along the lines, “thy will be done.”

Both views are inadequate

Biblical examples of prayer show people asking God for things, even asking God to change his mind – and in some cases God does seem to relent/ change his mind. Yet God is depicted as utterly sovereign and in control.

Two ways to talk yourself out of praying…

  1. Everything is determined, therefore why do I need to pray?
  2. God has done all that he can to save the lost, now it’s up to their free will, therefore why do I need to pray?

We can find a way to avoid praying no matter what position we adopt!

“The Bible insists that we pray, urges us to pray, gives us examples of prayer. Something has gone wrong in our reasoning if our reasoning leads us away from prayer.” (147)

God’s sovereignty and human responsibility

Two truths that are “exemplified” again and again in the Bible

  1. God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in scripture to reduce human responsibility.
  2. "Human beings are responsible creatures – that is, they choose, they believe, they disobey, they respond, and there is moral significance in their choices; but human responsibility never functions in Scripture to diminish God’s sovereignty or to make God absolutely contingent.” (148)

Support for 1 - God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in scripture to reduce human responsibility.

  • Proverbs 16:33 God determines the roll of the die.
  • Proverbs 16:4 In his heart a man plans his course, but the lord determines his steps.
  • Psalm 115:2-5 God does whatever pleases him.
  • God “stands behind” what happens, including…
    • … natural processes (Matthew 6:26,30 – clothing flowers and growing grass).
    • … the actions of men (Jeremiah 10:23).
    • … his own actions (Ps. 135:6).
    • … everything that occurs (Eph 1:11). Including:
      • Unintentional man slaughter (Exod. 21:12-13 "He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. 13 But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which he may flee.”)
      • Family misfortune (Ruth 1:13).
      • National disaster (Is 45:6-7).
      • Personal grief (Lam 3:32-33;37-38).
      • Sin (2 Sam 24:1; 1 Kings 22:1ff). God’s anger incited David to take a census, but David is held accountable.
  • But in every case, human responsibility is never diminished.

Support for 2 - Human beings are responsible creatures – that is, they choose, they believe, they disobey, they respond, and there is moral significance in their choices; but human responsibility never functions in Scripture to diminish God’s sovereignty or to make God absolutely contingent.

  • There are many passages where humans are commanded to obey and are held accountable if they fail to do so.
  • God pleads with us to repent because he takes no pleasure in punishing the wicked
    • Is. 30:18 God longs to have compassion on you.
    • Is. 65:2 I spread out my hands all day long to a rebellious people.
    • Lam. 3:31-36 God does not afflict willingly (from the heart).
    • Ez 18:30-32 God judges each according to their conduct… but doesn’t take pleasure in the death of anyone.
    • Ez. 33:11 God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Therefore turn back from your evil ways.
  • The gospel invitation assumes profound responsibility
    • Rom 10:9,10 if… then…
  • >> Carson never interacts with passages that show individuals making choices that go against God’s will for their life. Matt. 23:37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” Luke 7:30 “But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God's purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.”

Passages where both of these truths come together

  • Genesis 50:19-20
    • Joseph’s brothers acted with evil intent.
    • God intended it for good.
  • 2 Samuel 24
    • God incites David to take a census.
    • Satan incites David to take a census. (1 Chron 21)
    • David is conscience stricken and responsible to God for his actions.
  • Isaiah 10:5-19
    • God moves the Assyrians to attack Israel.
    • God holds the Assyrians responsible and judges them.
  • John 6:37-40
    • “all that the father gives me will come to me” (152)
    • “everyone who believes shall have eternal life” (153)
    • >> Carson says, “this means, on the one hand, that all of the elect, all of God’s chosen people, are viewed as a gift…” (152) But those whom the father gives to Jesus ARE those who believe (see vs. 40, 45).
  • Phil 2:12-13
    • “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”
    • “for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure”
  • Acts 18:9-10
    • “Don’t be afraid… keep speaking… for I have many people in this city”
    • >> Maybe this refers to God fearers who have responded to the revelation they have, but who need more information about Jesus’ provision for salvation. This isn’t necessarily about people selected in advance for salvation.
  • Acts 4:23-30
    • “the gentiles rage, the people devise futile things, the kings of the earth take their stand…”
    • “gathered together… to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur.”
    • “Suppose God had not been sovereign over the conspiracy that brought Jesus to Calvary. Would we not have to conclude that the cross was a kind of afterthought in the mind of God: Are we to think that God’s intention was to do something quite different, but then, because these rebels fouled up his plan, he did the best he could, and the result was Jesus’ atoning death on the cross? All of Scripture cries against the suggestion. Then should we conclude, with some modern theologians, that if God is as sovereign as the early Christians manifestly believed him to be – so sovereign in fact that the conspirators merely did what God’s ‘power and will had decided beforehand should happen’ – then the conspirators cannot reasonably be blamed? But that too destroys Christianity. The reason Jesus goes to the cross is to pay the penalty due to sinners; the assumption is that these sinners bear real moral accountability, real moral guilt for which a penalty has been pronounced. If human beings are not held responsible for this act, why should they be held responsible for any act? And if they are not held responsible, then why should God have sent his Anointed One to die in their place?” (156)
    • “…all Christians have to cede the truth of these two statements (# 1 & 2 above), or they give up their claim to be Christians.” (156) >> I think that’s too strong.

Mystery and the Nature of God

  1. The two statements above do not embrace a contradiction.
    • “…many theologians have refused to tie ‘freedom’ to absolute power to act contrary to God’s will. They tie it, rather, to desire; to what human beings voluntarily choose.” (157)
    • >> For Carson, freedom is not power to act contrary to God’s will; freedom is being able to choose actions consistent with your own desires.
  2. God does not stand behind good and evil in exactly the same way.
    • “In other words, he stands behind good and evil asymmetrically. He stands behind good in such a way that the good can ultimately be credited to him; he stands behind evil in such a way that what is evil is inevitably credited to secondary agents and all their malignant effect. They cannot escape his sway, in exactly the same way that Satan has no power over Job without God’s sanction; yet God remains mysteriously distant from the evil itself.” (158)
  3. Our two propositions about God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are directly tied to the nature of God.
    • Carson speculates, “Perhaps it is the way God apparently stands outside time and space that enables him to handle secondary causes the way he does. I do not know.” (159)
    • “I perceive, on the basis of scripture, that he is simultaneously personal and transcendent. He is utterly sovereign over his created order, yet he is nothing less that personal as he deals with me. Sometimes it is more important to worship such a God that to understand him.” (160)

What bearing does all this have on prayer?

  • How should election affect our lives? “It never functions in Scripture to foster fatalism; it never functions to douse evangelistic zeal. Repeatedly it functions to emphasize the wonder of grace (John 6:68-70; Rom. 9). It also functions, among other things, to ensure the certainty of spiritual fruitfulness among God’s people (John 15:16) and to encourage perseverance in evangelism (Acts 18:9-10).” (160)
  • How should the constant exhortations to believe and obey function in Scripture? “They never function to picture God as fundamentally at the end of his own resources and utterly dependent on us; they never reduce God to the absolutely contingent. Rather they function to increase our responsibility, to emphasize the urgency of the steps we must take, to show us what the only proper response is to this type of God.” (161)
  • These statements are NEVER a disincentive to pray.
    “Those who pray in scripture regularly pray in line with what God has already disclosed he is going to do.” (162)
    Daniel is an example of this.

What about passages where God relents?

  • e.g. Moses… He pleads with God to not damage his reputation by wiping out the Israelites. He reminds God of his promise to Abraham to raise up a great nation for himself. God relents.
  • e.g. Amos’ prays for Israel and God relents.
  • e.g. The false prophets of Israel fail to pray for their people. God DOESN’T relent. Instead, he destroys them. (Ezekiel 13:5)
  • The point: God expects to be pleaded with. Prayer is often his appointed means for carrying out his will. Moses was God’s appointed means for bringing about the deliverance of Israel.
  • Through prayer “human beings like Moses can bring about God’s purposes through his appointed means.” (164)
  • “If I pray aright, God is graciously working out his purposes in me and through me, and the praying, though mine, is simultaneously the fruit of God’s powerful work in me through his Spirit.” (165)
  • “We shall discover that the biblical emphasis on God’s sovereignty and on God’s personhood, if they function in our lives properly, will serve both as powerful incentives to prayer and as direction for the way in which we approach God.” (166)

Chapter 10: Praying to the Sovereign God (Ephesians 1:15-23)

This prayer emphasizes three aspects of God’s sovereignty:

  1. Because God is sovereign, Paul offers thanksgiving for God’s intervening, sovereign grace in the lives of his readers (1:15-16).
  2. Because God is sovereign, Paul offers intercession that God’s sovereign, holy purposes in the salvation of his people may be accomplished (1:17-19a).
    1. Paul’s prayer is that the Ephesians might know God better.
      This requires “wisdom and revelation mediated by the Spirit… not simply a corpus of truth.” (174)
    2. Paul’s prayer is that we might have the insight needed to grasp certain truths…
      1. the hope of our calling.
      2. the riches of our inheritance in the saints.
      3. God’s incomparably great power for us who believe.
  3. Because god is sovereign, Paul offers a review of God’s most dramatic displays of power. (1:19b-23)
    1. Paul mentions Jesus’ resurrection as the ultimate display of God’s power
    2. Paul describes the power displayed in the exalted Christ.
    3. Paul also declares the power exercised by Christ over everything – for the church. (1:22)

Chapter 11: Praying for Power (Ephesians 3:14-21)

We turn to the Bible to “learn afresh what to pray for, what arguments to use, what themes on which to focus, what passion is seemly, how these prayers fit into a larger Christian vision, how to maintain the centrality of God himself in our praying.” (182-3)

Two central petitions:

  1. That God might strengthen us with power through his Spirit in our inner being
    • God’s power is mediated through the Spirit.
    • This power affects our inner being. It can be renewed despite the ongoing process of physical decay.
    • “In a culture where so many people are desperate for good health, but not demonstrably hungry for the transformation of the inner being, Christians are in urgent need of following Paul’s example and praying for displays of God’s power in the inner being.” (185)
    • Power in our inner being leads to Christ dwelling in our lives through faith which leads to transformation.
    • >> See Carson’s excellent discussion of this process on pages 185-187. Like the occupants of a house fixing it up and transforming it… God works a similar change in our lives. You need more of Christ and his power in your life to be an effective Christian.
  2. That we might have power to grasp the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ
    • “Apart from the power of God, Christians will have too little appreciation for the love of Christ.” (193)
    • This is not merely an intellectual thing, but something we experience.
    • >> Short aside here on how God’s truth gives us a framework for interpreting spiritual experience. Carson illustrates the difference between knowing and experiencing the love of God by relating an episode in his youth when he woke to find his mother tearfully praying at his bedside. (194)
    • For Paul, maturity is the reason why prays that believers can grasp how much God loves them. We can’t be as mature as God wants us to be unless we grasp his love for us. (195)

Two grounds for Paul’s petitions:

  1. Paul’s petitions are in line with God’s purposes
    God's PurposesOur Purposes
    our holinessour comfort
    integrity of the churchfinancial well being of members
    building up the body of Christpreserving our reputations
    justiceease
    stretching our faithpopularity
  2. Paul’s petitions are addressed to the heavenly father
    “The more we reflect on the kind of God who is there… the more we shall be encouraged to pray. Prayerlessness is often an index to our ignorance of God.” (201)

A final word of praise:

  1. The God whom he petitions is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine
    Not only true because God is powerful, but also because our God is incredibly generous!
  2. The ultimate purpose of Paul’s prayer: that there be glory to God, in the church, and in Christ Jesus.

Chapter 12: Prayer for Ministry

Carson explores the balance between the importance of consistency and mystery – leaving room for a sovereign and transcendent God.

The pieces we have are part of the same puzzle, but we don’t have all of them.

“We must be aware of those kinds of consistency that wittingly or unwittingly eliminate part of the Scripture’s witness, or that force the pieces of the puzzle together with such violence that we construct a warped picture, one without gaps, and fail to see that we have denied the existence of the secret things. God becomes domesticated, neat, controllable.” (206)

There are consistent themes in Paul’s prayers. But many other biblical prayers are not explored in this book.

Romans 15:30-33 is very different than the other prayers Carson surveys. In this one, Paul primarily prays for himself and his ministry.

Four lessons from Romans 15:30-33:

  1. Paul wants this prayer to be offered with urgency, earnestness, and persistence.
    • Paul tells people to draw on their own experience of God’s activity in their life as a motivation to pray, act, etc.
    • Paul saw prayer as part of the struggle and a way that Christians engage in spiritual warfare. We need to engage demonic forces in prayer and oppose them.
  2. Paul solicits prayer for himself in connection with his own ministry.
    • that he might be rescued from unbelievers in Judea.
    • that his service to the saints in Jerusalem might be acceptable.
    • that he might be rescued from the hands of outsiders who try to destroy his ministry.
      >> aside here cautioning leaders against losing their prophetic voice by being too closely associated with social obligations in the community.
  3. Paul’s prayer for his ministry envisions further ministry.
    • >> Good section on the need to look ahead and be visionary in prayer.
    • “It appears that Paul thinks several steps ahead of the service in which he is currently engaged. (His) request for prayer not only takes in the immediate challenges, but places them within the larger stream and direction of ministry.” (220)
    • “One of the most constitutional enforcements of the gospel is prayer. Without prayer, the gospel can neither be preached effectively, promulgated faithfully, experienced in the heart, nor be practiced in the life. And for the very simple reason that by leaving prayer out of the catalogue of religious duties, we leave God out, and His work cannot progress without him.” Carson quoting EM Bounds (221)
  4. Some of Paul’s prayers were not answered as he would have liked.
    • He was arrested in Jerusalem and may have never gotten to Spain. See also 2 Cor. 12:1-10.
    • >> See p. 223 for a great poem on why God doesn’t always answer prayer.
    • “There is a profound sense in which the sovereign, holy, loving, wise Father whom we address in Jesus’ name is more interested in us than in our prayers.” (224)
    • His answers to our prayers “will always be for his glory and his people’s good.” (224)

Afterward: A Prayer for Spiritual Reformation

Carson prays for readers along the lines that he has been describing.