PETER STAVERT calls for active prayer lives shaped by the power of God.

1. Start a conversation about prayer

I was sitting on Granville Railway station, beginning this article and there was a young man sitting next to me, keenly interested in what I was doing.

"Do you know, Jim?" he asked. "Ah," I thought, "why is it that I always seem to attract conversations when I just want to get some work done? Is it that I have a sort harmless, middle-aged face?"

"Do you know Jim," he said and pointed into the distance. "Don't go there," he said. "There are gangs " they would belt you up."

Just as it was dawning on me as I was reading the sign where he was pointing, where it said "Gymnasium'. The conversation had moved on. "It is all Mr Howard's fault. He caused it."

"Caused what?" I asked politely. "There would be no crime without him. That case would be worth a hundred dollars to a robber," he declared with renewed interest and before I could say a word in this "conversation'.

He said, "There would be no terrorism without Mr Fraser. He caused it all, you know. And that is a nice set of glasses. If a thief took those he could get some money for those".

And before I could say a word, he turned to the person next to him on the other side and said, "Do you know Jim? I wouldn't go there if I were you. There are gangs that belt you up. Lots. All" Mr Howard's fault you know. He caused it".

And I realised that I was in a loop. I could not get through to this young man. There was a connection missing. I wanted to press the button that enabled a conversation between us, but it did not happen. It was not going to happen. The train came and I heard him talking about "Jim' to another person.

I would hope that together, you and I have a conversation about prayer. And that God, through my words, would press that button and activate us in prayer and in prayer together.

2. Have we failed?

Let me check for a moment. Do you think we are succeeding in prayer or failing? I wonder if 400 years on in our "reformation' brand of Christianity, we should confess failure?

Father Paul, my friend and Catholic priest, once said to me, "I do not know how you Protestants exist. Your life is all "doing'. You are so busy with your programmes and groups. Do you ever stop to pray? Do you ever stop for a day and pray?"

In the suburbs of Sydney thousands [of Muslims] gather for the times of prayer. I ring the bell on Sunday morning and gather just a few in comparison. Now before we feel too guilty, we are in a sense at prayer reading God's word. Let's look at the words of Paul in Ephesians 3: 14"21.

3. For this reason: The fuel and the flame

a) "For this reason': the context of Ephesians
"For this reason I kneel before the Father" (Eph 3:14) What reason? Let the context of the Scriptures' "for this reason" speak its own message. Circle the words as they begin to make sense to you and so you will allow the Scriptures to speak.

"For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, for this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles " and you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone."

Can you see the sense of inclusion? This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephes 1:15 - 3:6).

"For this reason', because you are included together in Christ with all the saints, Old Testament or New Testament, who look to the Lord Jesus, you are included in Christ. God is building a new Temple " a new society, a people of God, who will also be a people of prayer.

Paul is now telling us what we should be. As we look around our churches and people are becoming Christians from every nation and race and colour, this doctrine of the church and the inclusive nature of God should give us great cause for prayer.

So Paul at prayer, kneeling in prayer, shows his earnestness. This is a big request. He lays himself out before God, for us, for that new community, for that new society and for that new church.

b) The "us' concept
Let's check the concept of "us' for a moment.  Circle the "I' and "us' words as we come to them.

"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge " that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (Eph 3:14 - 21)

It is clear that Paul, singular, is praying for "us' plural. It would be no stretch of the understanding that he is asking for us together. At first sight we often take the verses personally, i.e. "what I must do in my prayer time at home, in my quiet time?"

All that is true, but what shall happen when we are together? When we come together Paul makes no apology when he says that the power is in us together; in the Church.

I have just been reading the biography of John Stott, volume 2 " a very hefty volume. He says, "Do you remember the 1970s, when we began to lose our theology of the Church? As long as a person became a Christian we used to say, it doesn't matter whether they " ".

Paul is challenging us here. It is hard for us to be a praying "us', if we have a rebellious heart to God's theology of the church; if we without thinking individualise each command and promise of scripture.

4. How does prayer work?

i) He is asking God for us that there might be power

In the original Paul says that God might give you, out of his great power source, his great riches, the power to be strong.

Paul is saying that God is the power source, and if you want his power, you need to be plugged in to the power source.

And this plugging in needs to be through his Spirit, though our inner being.

The Spirit needs to come to the inner man of each of us and fill us. And Paul is praying that this might happen. How does this happen? Some of it will happen together. We will open our hearts together through worship, through our Sunday by Sunday teaching, in our home groups, in the fellowship of suffering and laughter. Some of it will happen in our own daily readings and prayers. Paul here prays for power, knowing that we have a limitless source. But you and I so often look to other sources for power and then wonder why we are burning so low.

5. What, therefore, should we be doing?

i) We should call upon God
Ask that God will open us to the love of God. My understanding is that we will get nowhere with our Mission unless Policy One gets on the move:

"In submission to the Lord Jesus Christ and his command to make disciples of all nations, to call upon God for such an outpouring of his Spirit that his people will be assured of his love through his word, seek to please the Saviour in all things, manifest the godly life and be filled with prayerful and sacrificial compassion for the lost in all the world."

I cannot see that his church is calling on God. We are organising finances. We are very good at arranging meetings and inventing structures that will last for ever.  We are good " dare I say it " at helping people become Christians.

But I do not think we are good at calling people to pray. Forty years ago when I was converted there was a sense of a life of prayer.  There was the obligation of a quiet time. There was the memory of the church prayer meeting. We have replaced these with other things. But I am not sure we are praying.

ii) We should call upon God in repentance
You may not like the word, but we need to repent.  We need to renew our calling on God in prayer alone. If we cannot take time to pray alone, what can we substitute for it? We must call upon God.

iii) We should call upon our congregations to call upon God
Over the last 30 years the home group networks have taken over in the lives of our churches. It has been great. I think it is here that the real prayer has been transferred. Here we pray for each other and care for each other and the love of God is very real. We may have shifted a little to praying for each other and seeing God in each other's lives. We now need to call up God himself, for God's sake and not for ours. That we might be filled with the love of God and the fullness of Christ, for Christ's sake, and for Christ alone. We must call upon God.

iv) We should call upon God in our gatherings
In the last 40 years we have gained much by our concept of gathering and meeting together, but I think the concept of prayer and calling on God has slipped. I like to go to other churches on holidays and I have noticed during the last few years, apart from a token prayer, we do not always "pray' in church. The set prayers have gone, and sometimes I am not sure they are replaced. The beautiful modern music has helped us to some extent, for we have sung and prayed.

But the other morning in Airds one of our number led us into a long, heartfelt prayer right into the throne room of God. And for a few moments we sensed the love of God that is so wide and deep. As a church we must call upon God.

v) We should call upon God as a Diocese
I think we are really trying this. Bishop Reg Piper has led well in calling us to pray, in our regions and deaneries, but we have not always followed. Certainly as a Diocese we must call upon God.

Canon Peter Stavert is rector of the parish of Campbelltown. This is an edited version of a sermon provided for the Ephesus Code program. Visit [url=][/url] to download this sermon and other ministry resources, including continually updated prayer points.

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