“I, Paul, am in prison because I am a missionary for Jesus Christ to you who are not Jews.” Ephesian 3:1
1st Century AD. You are in a prison in Ephesus. You long to know how your young children are doing, your young children in the faith. You have been called to preach the Good News and announce the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles. Seeds have been planted but they must be watered and fed and cared for in order for there to be fruit. But, here you are locked up. So, you write letters and pray and pray and pray.
“For this reason, from the day we heard it, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. This means that you’ll be able to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Lord, and so give him real delight, as you bear fruit in every good word and grow in the knowledge of God. I pray that you’ll be given all possible strength, according to the power of his glory, so that you’ll have complete patience and become truly steadfast and joyful.
And I pray that you will learn to give thanks to the father, who has made you fit to share the inheritance of God’s holy ones in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son. He is the one in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 9-14
As I read these verses I envisioned Paul sitting in a dimly lit and damp prison cell. He is agitated and fretting. He is deeply concerned for those outside the cell, those surrounded by the power of darkness. Paul is not whining. He is not demanding. He is not writing his bio.
Paul is praying and hasn’t stopped praying for those beyond his cell. Paul is praying that they may be filled with knowledge and that they may be given all strength to use that knowledge to bear fruit. He prays that they will learn to give thanks for the One who transferred them into his Kingdom out of the darkness. The irony that Paul has been transferred to a dank dark prison cell because of the Kingdom does not affect his vision of the Kingdom or his prayer life.
This is Kingdom prayer. The prayer is for others. The prayer lifts others up and reinforces others. The prayer points away from self and toward the One who is able to do more than we ask or think on behalf of others. This is dark night of the cell prayer, where one is alone with God and unable to move but a few feet. Paul’s actions are distilled down to praying verbs: “fill”, “bear”, “grow”, “learn”.
There are many who are unable to move but a few feet. The elderly, who have been active most of their lives, now sit. Some may even think of their bodies as a prison cell. But, in that “cell” the “wisdom and spiritual understanding” that was prayer directed at them some two millennia before can be applied to their Kingdom prayer now. They can pray for their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren just a Paul prayed for his children in the faith. The fact that they, two millennia later, have faith means that Paul’s prayer was effective. Some were “filled” with knowledge. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit and “gained” strength. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit and “gained” strength and “learned” to give thanks.
There will always be situations beyond our control. I was reminded this past two weeks of how uncontrollable are the forces that surround me. The weather in the Chicago area has been frigid. I do not remember such cold temps and I have lived in the area for over 65 years.
At 65 years you begin to think about mobility later in life. You wonder, at least I do, about how long your legs will cooperate. So, I see it is time for me to exercise Kingdom prayer with action verbs. It is long past time for me to pray it forward.
More Kingdom prayer from prison:
“For this reason, I bow my knees and pray to the Father. It is from Him that every family in heaven and on earth has its name. I pray that because of the riches of His shining-greatness, He will make you strong with power in your hearts through the Holy Spirit. I pray that Christ may live in your hearts by faith. I pray that you will be filled with love. I pray that you will be able to understand how wide and how long and how high and how deep His love is. I pray that you will know the love of Christ. His love goes beyond anything we can understand. I pray that you will be filled with God Himself.
God is able to do much more than we ask or think through His power working in us. May we see His shining-greatness in the church. May all people in all time honor Christ Jesus. Let it be so.” Ephesians 3: 14-21