How can we grow in our prayer life? It is very easy for prayer to become routine. We default to commonly uttered words or familiar patterns of prayer so that all our prayers end up sounding similar. Prayer can become rote or repetitive, where we just say the same thing over and over without much thought. Or maybe this is just a struggle of mine.

One of the ways to break repetitive and routine prayer habits is to pray the Scriptures. And there’s no better place to start praying the Scriptures than with Paul’s prayers for the churches. Here’s some insights from William Barclay’s New Daily Study Bible on the opening line of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21. May these notes infuse your prayer life with more meaning and break the routine we can often fall into.

The God Who is Father

“It is for this cause that I bow my knees in prayer before the Father, of whose fatherhood all heavenly and earthly fatherhood is a copy, that, according to the wealth of his glory, he may grant to you to be strengthened in the inner man, so that Christ through faith may take up his permanent residence in your hearts.”

Ephesians 3:14-17

He begins with the words: It is for this cause. What is the cause which makes him pray? Paul has painted his great picture of the Church. This world is a disintegrated chaos; there is division everywhere, between nation and nation, between individuals, and within a person’s inner life. It is God’s design that all the discordant elements should be brought into one in Jesus Christ. But that cannot be done unless the Church carries the message of Christ and of the love of God to everyone. That is what Paul is praying for. He is praying that the people within the Church may be such that the whole Church will be the body of Christ.

We must note the word used for Paul’s attitude in prayer. ‘I bow my knees’, he says, ‘in prayer to God.’ That means even more than that he kneels; it means that he prostrates himself. The ordinary Jewish attitude of prayer was standing, with the hands stretched out and the palms upwards. Paul’s prayer for the Church is so intense that he casts himself face down before God in an agony of passionate request.

His prayer is to God the Father. It is interesting to note the different things which Paul says in this letter about God as Father, for from them we get a clearer idea of what was in his mind when he spoke of the fatherhood of God.

1. The Father of Jesus

God is the Father of Jesus (1:2–3, 1:17, 6:23). It is not true to say that Jesus was the first person to call God Father. The Greeks called Zeus the father of gods and of the people; the Romans called their chief god Jupiter, which means Deus pater, God the Father. But there are two closely interrelated words which have a certain similarity and yet a wide difference in their meaning.

There is paternity. Paternity means fatherhood in the purely physical sense of the term. It can be used of a fatherhood in which the father never even sees the child.

On the other hand, there is fatherhood. Fatherhood describes the most intimate relationship of love and of fellowship and of care.

When the word father was used of God before Jesus came, it was used much more in the sense of paternity. It meant that the gods were responsible for the creation of men and women. There was in the word none of the love and intimacy which Jesus put into it. The centre of the Christian conception of God is that he is like Jesus, that he is as kind, as loving and as merciful as Jesus was. It was always in terms of Jesus that Paul thought of God.

2. The Father We Can Access

God is the Father to whom we have access (2:18, 3:12). The message of much of the Old Testament is that God was the person to whom access was forbidden. When Manoah, who was to be the father of Samson, realized who his visitor had been, he said: ‘We shall surely die, for we have seen God’ (Judges 13:22). In the Jewish worship of the Temple, the Holy of Holies was held to be the dwelling place of God, and into it only the high priest might enter, and that only on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement.

The centre of Christian belief is the approachability of God. The folklorist and short-story writer H. L. Gee tells of a little boy whose father was promoted to the exalted rank of brigadier. When the little boy heard the news, he was silent for a moment, and then said: ‘Do you think he will mind if I still call him daddy?’ The essence of the Christian faith is unrestricted access to the presence of God.

3. The Father of Glory

God is the Father of glory, the glorious Father (1:17). Here is the necessary other side of the matter. If we simply spoke about the accessibility of God, it would be easy to sentimentalize the love of God, and that is exactly what some people do. But the Christian faith rejoices in the wonder of the accessibility of God without ever forgetting his holiness and his glory. God welcomes sinners, but not if they want to trade on God’s love in order to remain sinners. God is holy, and those who seek his friendship must be holy too.

4. The Father of All

God is the Father of all (4:6). No individual, no Church, no nation has exclusive possession of God; that is the mistake which the Jews made. The fatherhood of God extends to all men and women, and that means that we must love and respect one another.

5. The Father We Thank

God is the Father to whom thanks must be given (5:20). The fatherhood of God implies our debt to him. It is wrong to think of God as helping us only in the great moments of life. Because God’s gifts come to us so regularly, we tend to forget that they are gifts. Christians should never forget that they owe not only the salvation of their souls but also life and breath and all things to God.

6. The Father of Fatherhood

God is the pattern of all true fatherhood. That lays a tremendous responsibility on all human fathers. The writer G. K. Chesterton remembered his father only vaguely, but his memories were precious. He tells us that in his childhood he possessed a toy theatre in which all the characters were cut-outs in cardboard. One of them was a man with a golden key. He could never remember what the man with the golden key stood for, but in his own mind he always connected his father with him, a man with a golden key opening up all kinds of wonderful things.

We teach our children to call God ‘father’, and the only concept of fatherhood they can have is the one that we give them. Human fatherhood should be moulded on the fatherhood of God.

Learn More from Barclay’s New Daily Study Bible

These comments are from just one part of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21. This volume unpacks the rest of Paul’s prayer. Check out all the volumes of the New Daily Study Bible in our store and continuing learning from this accessible, classic commentary!

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