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. (Ephesians 1:17)
In his new book, *Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God,Timothy Keller tells us that the consistent theme in Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians was that they might know God better.
Paul’s prayers for his friends in these cities didn’t include appeals for changes in their circumstances even though they faced persecution, disease, oppression, and separation from loved ones. There’s not one petition for a better emperor, or even for bread for the next meal. Paul doesn’t pray for the things that most of us would include near the top of our lists of requests.
This doesn’t mean it would have been wrong to pray for such things. Paul knew, says Pastor Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, that Jesus himself invites us to ask for our “daily bread” and for God to “deliver us from evil.”
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
For Paul however, the most important prayer for his friends was to ask for what he believed was the most important thing God could give them — to know God 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, (Ephesians 1:18)
To have the “eyes of the heart enlightened” with a particular truth, explains Pastor Keller, means to have it penetrate and grip us so deeply that it changes the whole person. In other words, we may know that God is holy, but when our hearts’ eyes are enlightened to that truth, we not only understand it in our mind, but emotionally we find God’s holiness wondrous and beautiful. Accordingly, we willingly avoid attitudes and behavior that displease or dishonor him.
Paul recognized that it’s more critical to have a fuller knowledge of God than to receive a change of circumstances. Without this powerful sense of God’s reality, good times can lead to overconfidence and spiritual indifference, while bad times can lead to discouragement and despair. Knowing God better is what we must have if we are to face all the circumstances of life. Moreover, a rich, vibrant, consoling, hard-won prayer life is the one good that makes it possible to receive all other kinds of goods rightly and beneficially.
For Paul, prayer was not merely a way to get things from God but a way to “take hold of God”. And he is not alone in this view. While the Psalmist David did pray for other things, he too knew that nothing is better than to know the presence of God.
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your loving kindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You. (Psalm 63:1-3)
Most of this post was excerpted from the book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, by Timothy Keller.
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