Paul’s Prayer, Our Dream (Living Stones – Part III)
Sermon Title: Paul’s Prayer, Our Dream
Good News Statement: God grants us dreams for tomorrow
Preached: Sunday, October 16, 2022 at Dogwood Prairie UMC & Seed Chapel UMC
Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.
Scripture (NKJV): Ephesians 3:14-21 Today’s scripture reading comes from the words of Paul from his epistle to the people of Ephesus. We will be reading from Ephesians chapter three verses fourteen thru twenty-one. Listen to the words of Paul and God’s grace…
Appreciation of the Mystery
14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
This is the Word of God for the People of God; And all God’s people said, “Thanks be to God.”
A little boy was waiting for his mother to come out of the grocery store. As he waited, he was approached by a man who asked, “Son, can you tell me where the post office is?” The little boy replied, “Sure, just go straight down the street a couple of blocks and turn to your right.” The man thanked the boy kindly and said, “I’m the new pastor in town, and I’d like for you to come to church on Sunday. I’ll show you how to get to Heaven.” The little boy replied with a chuckle, “Awww, come on; you don’t even know the way to the post office!”
Last week, I concluded the sermon by quoting theologian and author, Oswald Chambers: “Grace is the overflowing favor of God, and you can always count on it being available to draw upon as needed. It is not a question of praying and asking God to help you— it is taking the grace of God now….Don’t say, ‘I will endure this until I can get away and pray.’ Pray now — draw on the grace of God in your moment of need, now. Draw on His grace now, not later…. Let circumstances take you where they will, but keep drawing on the grace of God in whatever condition you may find yourself.”
Grace is powerful. Grace is love in action. Grace is to seek forgiveness. Grace is alive within you. Grace is life-saving, life-preserving, and life-changing. Grace is a means of being included in God’s kingdom. Grace is a sense of renewal in your life. Grace is a gift freely given to you by God, through the cross of Jesus Christ, by the works of the Holy Spirit. Grace is an act of celebration that comes from the hands of God. Grace is what gives you the strength to overcome times of doubt and uncertainty. Grace is inside each and every one of you. You all have the grace of God in your heart and you all have the invitation to seek salvation. Paul wrote to the people of Ephesus, “For by grace you have been saved through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8). You are God’s living proof of grace: use it, cherish it, and let it give you a new identity and power to face tomorrow.
Paul, continuing in chapter three of his epistle to the people of Ephesus, brings forth God’s grace again; however, he does this through a prayer of strength, power, and love. The prayer that Paul offers at the end of chapter three is not just a generic prayer; it is a dream for the people of Ephesus and us—as individuals and as a church. Paul writes, “From whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named…” (Ephesians 3:16). Paul has a dream for us; and this dream is what will help us become the disciple and church Christ needs us to be. Jesus grants us dreams for a better tomorrow.
Let us pray… Dear Jesus Christ, I pray that you bless this message with your love, power, and strength so that we may be able to gain a glimpse of what you are calling us to do. Through this message, O Lord, bring your dreams for us to the surface and guide us as we fulfill the dreams that you have laid on our heart. May my words fall to the ground as your words settle in the hearts of all those before me. In Your name we pray, Amen.
Why do people dream? Research published in 1985 suggests the purpose of dreams is to organize knowledge and form brain connections, which helps with memory recall. This theory suggests dreaming is an opportunity for the brain to problem-solve, make decisions and prioritize.
According to several resources regarding statistics about dreams, people forget up to 95% of all their dreams shortly after waking up, people have 4-6 dreams every night, a typical dream lasts 5 to 20 minutes, and during a lucid dream parts of the brain that are typically inactive during sleep show increased activity. Dreaming is part of our nature. Whether we dream while we are sleeping or we dream about doing something, meeting someone, or going somewhere we all have dreams. How many of you have dreams? How many of you had dreams about becoming someone or doing something when you were younger? At one point, I dreamt about becoming a dinosaur, then an architect, then a chemical engineer, then a professor, and then I dreamt about going to a small town in southern Illinois and leading two country churches and being able to see the stars at night and hearing the rustling of the corn out my bedroom window.
During elementary school, I could always tell when my father got off work early. I would walk through the front door of our mobile home to the sounds of either “Dream On” by Aerosmith, “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac, “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees, or “You Make My Dreams (come true)” by Hall and Oates (and other songs that I would classify as the “oldies”). These weren’t the only songs that I heard on those days. However, these are some of the songs in which rest in my memory. Needless to say, they are songs that stick with me today. They stick with me today because of the loveable message that my father was telling me at a young age. My father was telling me to dream on to bigger and better things, to not be afraid to dream during the day, and to simply just dream. And that is what I did and still am doing to this very day. In the words of Aerosmith, “Dream a little, I’ll dream on.” But what has changed from then to now is that my dreams are not so much self-focused but God-centered.
Dreams can be entertaining, surprising, nourishing, and inspirational. Dreams can also be painful, traumatizing, dramatic, and terrifying. Dreams are uncontrollable experiences that bring to mind a means of revelation. Whether they are telling us about the future or the past, dreams are tangled within our daily lives. But yet, maybe God is trying to tell us something through our dreams? Maybe God needs us to see our dreams as God-centered rather than self-focused?
Biblically speaking, Daniel had dreams, Ezekiel had a dream, God came to Abimelek in a dream, an angel appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and several prophets received guidance and instruction in the forms of dreams. (However, Solomon did write in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God” (Ecclesiastes 5:7)). Today, my dream is to be a dreamer of faith: a dreamer like God during creation, a dreamer like Daniel who survived the lion’s den and interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, a dreamer like Ezekiel when he made the dry bones rise, and a dreamer like Joseph, Peter, and Paul who brought forth the good news of Jesus Christ. I dream about experiencing creation how God intended creation to be: faithful, loving, and exploring. I dream with the love of Jesus Christ down in my heart. I dream for the words of Paul to come true. What do your dreams look like?
When relating dreams to the church, Paul states it perfectly when he exhorts to the people that they are to dream in such a way that makes them who they are, who God has appointed them to be and become: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-12). God intended for each and every one of us to fulfill our dream because our dream has been God-given, God-driven, and God-centered. Paul, through his prayer, leaves us with a dream to become the disciple and church of tomorrow.
Paul begins in verse 16: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…” Paul’s dream for us as individuals is to gain the strength that we need to become the disciple that God needs us to be. The strength that Paul is writing about is not the strength you get by going to the gym and working out five days a week. It’s not a physical strength. Instead, Paul is talking about wisdom, knowledge, and truth, the strength of the mind; the very elements of God that build up our faith, that help us become saved by grace.
Proverbs 1:2-3 states, “For gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair” will strengthen your faith. And from this faith, we will live with the Holy Spirit in our inner being. Paul has a dream for us that will strengthen our faith—through wisdom, knowledge, and truth. As a church, our faith becomes stronger the more we listen to our people, hear the needs of our community, and put our faith to action so that future generations will have place to gather and worship for years to come. Paul has a dream that we, as individuals and a church, will find ways to strengthen our faith. Paul’s prayer is our dream to become filled with the wisdom and knowledge of God as we learn to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
In verse 17, Paul prays, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” In chapter two, Paul uses the same phrase at the end of telling us that “for by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Through our faith, we are saved. Through our faith, we allow Christ to dwell in our heart. Through our faith, we create a space and place where people are invited to worship as they are: sins, faults, mistakes, questions, joys, happiness, and everything in between. Through our faith, Paul prays that we constantly live into the dream that we have been given, and this dream is to realize that Christ dwells in our heart and has called us to set aside our past and focus on the new life that is before us.
Paul writes to the people of Ephesus, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 4:31); and “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires [so that you will] be made new in the attitude of your minds; and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Paul’s prayer, that Christ will dwell in us through our faith, is our dream to be made new through Christ. With Christ, we are made whole and complete, equipped to be made new to bring the dreams of Christ to life.
Towards the end of his speech during the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., stated, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I have a dream today.” Paul’s dream is that we will overcome the valleys in our life, overcome the rough terrain upon which we tread, and find paths that have been made straight and paved with the love of Jesus Christ. Our dream is to be made new and to set aside our own ways so that Christ can dwell in our heart and build our church.
Paul continues his prayer in verses 17-19, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, 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.” Paul’s prayer is our dream of love; but not just any kind of love, though. This love only comes from Jesus Christ—an unconditional love that sees past our faults and knows what we are capable of. This love is wider than anything we can dream of, longer than anything we can fathom, higher than any mountain imaginable, and deeper than any trench at the bottom of the ocean. This love is uncontainable, but yet it lives within your heart. Paul wants us to know that Jesus Christ loves us. Jesus loves you. And this love gives you the power—the motivation, inspiration, and encouragement—to do something great in this life. This love is healing. This love is renewing. This love is strengthening. This love is a dream come true; and this dream come true is what will build the church of tomorrow. This church is filled with love and now is the time to invite others to know what it feels like to be loved in return.
Through the deep rooted-Christ-love in your heart the words of Jeremiah 29:11-14 become a dream of righteousness that gives us hope to become the disciple and church that God is calling us to be. Jeremiah quotes the LORD, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you….’” Paul’s prayer is our dream to love God more deeply than we did yesterday and to know that with God in our heart—no matter what our past may have been like—God still has a plan for us, plans to give us hope and a future.
Paul closes his prayer by inviting us to experience God more and more in our life. Paul prays in verses 20-21, “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.” Paul’s prayer is our dream that we, too, will allow God to continue to work in our lives and in the life of our church. What is God calling you to do? What is God calling our church to do? What are your dreams for your life and for your church?
I once heard a story about a seven-year-old boy named Nathan. Nathan and his parents live in a simple middle class neighborhood. Their house, cars, savings, possessions and overall lifestyle are quite modest. Nathan is a second grader. One day Nathan’s second-grade teacher gave her class a unique assignment. She told each student to write a brief essay and to draw a picture depicting their version of a perfect life. Nathan completed the assignment and turned it in to his teacher.
Nathan’s perfect life picture had three sections. First, he drew a picture of his modest house. The drawing included Nathan, his mom and dad, and his dog. Under the drawing of his house he wrote “My home.” To the right of his house he drew a checkerboard with faces inside each square. The caption under the drawing read, “My friends.” Next to his friends Nathan drew a picture of a church with a steeple. The caption read, “My church.”
Under the three pictures of his home, his friends, and his church, Nathan penned his brief essay. Nathan wrote, “A perfect life for me is the life that I’m in right now. Because I have a lot of friends, and a good family too, and a good church. I do not need a perfect life. I already have a perfect life.” Nathan is only seven years old. But he’s already figured out that contentment in life comes not from getting more, but from being grateful for what we already have. Paul is not giving us anything new in his prayer: we know we have strength, we know we have faith, we know that we are loved, and we know that we need God in our life to help us fulfill the work that He has called us to do. Paul’s prayer isn’t perfect; instead it is exactly what we need in order to have our dreams come true.
Sometimes we pray that our dreams would become the prefect thing in our life. But remember, God doesn’t expect us to be perfect dreams. Rather, God expects us to strive to live a life that is perfect to Him: that we pray to Him, that we love Him, that we listen to Him, that we care for others through Him, that we build a church that extends beyond four walls and door for Him, that we seek to be the disciple that He needs us to be, and that we come to love Him more each and every day. We all have dreams, but are our dreams God-centered?
In closing, my father wasn’t just playing music for the sake of playing music, when I would come home after school. He was playing music to remind me to always keep dreaming: “To climb aboard the Dream Weaver train/ Driver take away my worries of today/ And leave tomorrow behind” (“Dream Weaver by Gary Wright, 1975). In Christ, our dreams become realities and our realities become the train that leads us to answering his call, to clothing ourselves with our new self—full of love, faith, and righteousness. We may not remember 95% of our dreams, but I’m positive that we can live out 100% of the dreams that God is calling us to wake up to. God has a dream for you! And this dream is something that He created just for you! He has appointed you to do something great on this earth. Don’t be afraid of the dreams that God puts in your heart. They are there for reason. What dream has God laid on your heart as a disciple and what dream has God laid upon this church?
Let Us Pray… Dear God, fill our mind with strength, fill our heart with love, and fill our spirit with faith. Lord, help us to hear the dreams that you have for us and for our church. Your Apostle Paul prayed that our dreams might come true, so Lord, allow those dreams to come true as we embark to be who you need us to be as disciples and as a church. In your name we pray, Amen.
As you find yourself dreaming this week, allow God to be the focus of those dreams; and allow God to fill your heart with love, faith, strength, and the reminder that He has called you to be His disciple. May God bless you as you strive to dream of life and church that changes the world. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit go transforming lives as you live well and wisely in God’s world. And all God’s people said, Amen. Amen. Amen.
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