Thanksgiving and prayer.
Two words that should be close to our heart every day of our Christian lives. Let’s start this session with a question. Do we give thanks? And when we do - is it heartfelt? Are we really thankful for every piece of food we get to eat, despite knowing we will not be going hungry tomorrow? If you were starving and hadn’t eaten for a week, would your thanks be more heartfelt or sincere when you were able to eat again? There is, of course, so much that we can be thankful for, are we so accustomed to these things that they are taken for granted and no longer come to mind?
Once we’ve considered what we are thankful for, what should we do with that thanks? We should give the thanks to God through prayer. Maybe spend a few moments as a group in prayer… what are you thankful for?
Another statement to consider… If God is in charge of everything and knows what is going to happen now and in the future, what is the point of praying? In fact, what is the point of doing anything? Why proclaim the gospel? Why study the Bible? Why do good works? If what is going to happen is going to happen anyway, none of these count, we might as well do as we please and God can do what he wants.
The reasonable answer to this statement is that, although God does do as he pleases, he uses means like prayer, proclaiming the gospel, Bible study and good deeds. We’ve looked at this objection before when we considered evangelism, God uses our actions for his will. God wants us to pray. He knows what he will and won’t do, but some things he will only do once we have prayed and come to him with sincerity, thanks giving and prayer. Only then he will answer our prayers, if it is his will to do so.
In James’ letter he says “You do not have, because you did not ask God” (James 4:2), As Christian’s we also pray “God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Both are equally true. If we do not pray, the good things that we pray will not happen, since it is through prayer that God gives the blessing. If it is accordance with his will.
The first chapter of Ephesians teaches this lesson. It stresses the sovereignty of God in salvation. Yet it also emphasises the importance and urgency of prayer. In the first half of the chapter, Paul praises God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But then, in the second half, we have a prayer. The idea of the prayer is is that God, who has planned and accomplished this salvation, might complete it as his people grow in knowledge of him.
For Paul, the knowledge that God was working was an inducement to prayer, not an excuse for neglecting it. It was because God was at work, that he could pray with confidence.
But, we should not go further without considering prayer. Prayer, both individual and corporate, is of upmost importance to our Christian life. The Bible has around 650 passages that are prayers, we cannot ignore the fact, that if we are to call ourselves Christians we should be praying. If you ask yourself the question “Do I pray enough?” You probably already know the answer…
The Bible gives different instruction on how to pray. To pray alone as in Matt 6:6, in small groups as in Matt 18:20 and in larger groups as in Acts 2:1. However you look at it, prayer is vital to the life of a Christian. There are many prayer groups across MIE. You are encouraged to look at rota and see if there one on there that you, as a home group, could attend? How can you encourage those that don’t go to one to come along?
Vs15-23 is an outpouring of thanks to God, but this time Paul is telling us what he is thankful for, and that he is giving that thanks through prayer, to God. Paul's statements of prayer in this chapter, follows a typical Greek construction. He says what he is praying for and then for what reason he is praying it. In vs 17, he prays that God “may give you the the spirit of wisdom… so that you may know him better”. Then in vs 18-19, Paul prays that “the eyes of [their hearts] may be enlightened” in order that they may know “the hope to which he has called [them]”. Putting these together, Paul is praying for knowledge for the Ephesians, so that they obtain a fuller understanding of the elements of salvation, that being our hope and inheritance through Jesus Christ. When we pray, do we use that format? Do we tell God why we are praying? Have you found yourself asking for something from God, but not explaining as to why?
It would be reasonable to say that Christians vary in the amount of knowledge they have, or want to have regarding The Trinity. Some people may settle for very little knowledge, they simply understand that Jesus died on the cross and he died for us, then hope to go to heaven ignorantly. Others may settle for mere knowledge of the Bible. This knowledge is good, of course, for the Bible is God’s word and there is no knowledge of God apart from it. However, others will strive to know scripture inside out and spend hours memorising verse after verse.
Others may strive for knowledge about God, this knowledge is called Theology, coming from the greek words Theos, which means God, and logia (and/or logos), meaning sayings (and/or words) together they are “simply” the study of God’s word. Theologians would be able to discuss the attributes of God, but it is also possible for someone to know about God without knowing God. It is possible to know deep theology without being a Christian.
We know from Acts 19 that Paul himself went to Ephesus, this letter is to the people that he himself proclaimed the gospel to. He spent several years there teaching them about God and the Bible. You may ask then, why is Paul praying for the Ephesians to know God better? He has taught them all these things already. Does he mean that the Ephesians didn’t listen or didn’t learn at all? Or is there a hidden meaning in the scriptures that they are yet to uncover?
But if we were to ask these question I think we would have mis-understood what Paul was praying for. Paul wasn’t praying that the Ephesians know more about God, although there is always more to learn, but rather that they would get to know Him. Knowing Him and knowing about him are two very different types of knowledge.
This then could put forward the questions, what does it mean to know God? Before we go on, maybe spend a few moments discussing this question as a group…
The question is likely to be a difficult one to answer, one that whole books have been written about. One book, written by a British scholar J. I. Packer suggests there are three elements to knowing God. “Firstly, knowing God is a matter of personal dealing. . . . It is a matter of dealing with him as he opens up to you, and being dealt with by him as he has full knowledge of you… Second, knowing God is a is a matter of personal involvement, in mind, will and feeling… The believer rejoices when his God is honoured and vindicated, and feels the acutest distress when he sees God flouted… Equally, the Christian feels shame and grief when convicted of having failed his Lord… Third, knowing God is a matter of grace. It is a relationship in which the initiative throughout is with God - as it must be, since God is so completely above us and when we have so completely forfeited all claim on his favour by our sins”
What matters through all this, is not as much that we know God, but the fact that he knows us, and that is the view that Paul looks at this from in this whole Chapter of Ephesians. Paul prays that the Ephesians (and we) might know God because it is God who first put his love on us when he elected, and knew us, before all creation.
1) Have we become so accustomed to what we have, spiritually and materialistically, that we take what we have for granted?
2) When we give thanks, are we sincere? Do we desperately mean the thanks that we are giving? Or is it a customary “nod to God” because we know we should give thanks.
3) Considering your personal prayer life, do you think you pray enough? How can you encourage each other to pray more?
4) Why do you think some people find it difficult to pray vocally in groups?
5) Do you think that God will listen to and answer prayers that are rushed, stumbled through or not articulated well, if they are sincere?
6) As a home group, how much do you pray when you are together? Do you keep a prayer diary? If you ask for prayer for a situation or a person, do you review it the next time you meet to feed back to your home group any outcome or changes following the prayer?
7) Can you give examples of times when your prayers were answered? How were your prayers answered? Were they answered the way you expected?
8) What emotions does it stir up to consider one person spending their life following Jesus, but knowing that a person who finds him in the last moments of life also has redemption? (Thief on the cross)
9) Have you prayed today?
10) Is it time to pray again?