I’m a serial people-fixer. As a pastor, husband, and father, I want to see the people I love grow in their faith, make wiser decisions, and feel closer to Jesus.
I listen to people, give suggestions, recommend books, point out errors in thinking, and help them strategize. If they just get what I’m saying and take my advice, I tell myself, then everything will be fine.
Every now and then, someone takes my advice and things get better. But other times, whether someone takes the advice or not, their life just stays the same—or sometimes gets worse.
You probably experience the same thing with people in your church or family. You feel like you listen to the same problems over and over again, and give what seems like wise counsel—but week after week, nothing changes.
When people aren’t “fixed,” I get annoyed with God or the people I’m trying to help because I followed what I thought was the right formula and it just didn’t work.
Over the last couple of years, God has been showing me why I get so frustrated, and why my attempts to fix people keep failing. It’s because I can’t change people.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU CAN’T CHANGE PEOPLE
I can’t make someone love God more. I can’t make someone love their spouse more. I can’t even make myself do those things. That power belongs to God and God alone.
So what can we do for the people we love? Pray for them.
I know—you already know that. You understand prayer is important and it’s something we should do for those we love. But are you doing it? Are you actually praying for the people in your church or community by name? Actually begging God to change them?
For a long time, I wasn’t.
It wasn’t because I didn’t care. It was because I didn’t really know how.
Maybe that’s where you are. You love the people in your life and genuinely want them to change. You’d like to pray for them, but every time you do it seems like you’re bringing up the same minor details about their lives and asking God to make them a little bit happier.
That’s what it used to feel like to me. But one day God, in His grace, brought me to the book of Ephesians and showed me what it looks like to pray for the people I love.
PAUL’S RECIPE FOR GOSPEL-CENTERED PRAYER
In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul wrote what has become for me and many others a model prayer for those we love—people we want to see changed by the power of the gospel. I’ve come to think of it as a recipe for gospel-centered prayer. Here it is:
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe ...” (Eph. 1:15-19a)
Paul wanted the Ephesian believers to taste the fullness of a relationship with Christ. If an abundant life with Christ is the meal Paul hopes they’ll experience, his prayer is that their eyes would be enlightened to three different flavors of that meal: hope, riches, and greatness.
STEP 1: START WITH HOPE
The first ingredient in gospel-centered prayer is that the people we want to see transformed would know the hope to which they are called in Christ. That hope is eternal life in heaven and restoration here on earth. God didn’t just save us from something; he also saved us for something.
Many times, believers come to faith in Christ because they want to secure their eternity in heaven. That’s a very real concern. But at times Christians overplay the eternal aspect of salvation, leaving believers content to coast into eternity without ever realizing the fullness of life in Christ today. We should pray for ourselves and our fellow believers to see that God has redeemed our future and our present.
If people get that they will not only spend eternity with Jesus but that they can actually experience life with him today, they will live differently. The greatest acts in the history of our faith have been carried out by men and women whose hope was fixed on Jesus. If you want to see someone’s life transformed, pray for God to open their eyes to the hope to which they’ve already been called.
STEP 2: ADD THE FULL AMOUNT OF RICHES
Now it’s time to add the second ingredient: “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” The first few times I read this I totally missed whose inheritance Paul was talking about. I assumed it was referring to the believers’ inheritance, but I was misreading the pronouns. Paul prayed that the believers would know the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints.
What can God possibly inherit? The hardest people to buy gifts for are those who have enough money to buy everything they want. What do you get the guy that already has everything? Here’s the crazy answer: you and me—the “saints.”
We are God’s glorious inheritance. That means God expectantly waits for the day when he inherits you and the rest of his adopted sons and daughters.
I work from home now, but I used to work in an office most of the week. My wife once told me our three children would sometimes stare out the window, eagerly anticipating the moment when I pulled in the driveway. They were longing for the moment when they could rush to the back door, throw their arms around me, and welcome me home.
Did you know that God feels that way about you?
Knowing God is giddy to spend eternity with you changes how you live and think. Pray for the people you love to truly know that love God has for them.
STEP 3: STIR IN THE IMMEASURABLE GREATNESS OF GOD’S POWER
The final ingredient in Paul’s gospel-centered prayer is “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” So many of us, myself included, feel so insignificant and powerless to do anything remarkable for God. We want to make a difference with our lives, but don’t see anything special about our skills or talents. That couldn’t be more wrong.
Right after Paul prays for his friends’ eyes to be opened to the immeasurable greatness of God’s power, he reminds them this power is the same power God “worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:20).
Think about that. The power God gives to each believer is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at the right hand of God.
Do you believe that same power is in you? Do the people in your church or your life think that power is in them? If you lived like that were true, how would it change your heart? How would it change the world?
Pray for those you love to realize the power of the Spirit of God. Pray they would live in the Spirit instead of just reading about him.
The three flavors of a life lived fully with Christ are the hope to which we have been called, the riches of God’s inheritance in his people, and the greatness of God’s power for those who believe.
The Holy Spirit who inspired Paul’s words knows tasting a relationship with Jesus is the only way people will ever give their lives to a relationship with Jesus. We won’t experience that relationship without a heart transformation. And we can’t experience a transformed heart without tasting the only thing which has the power to transform it.
Grayson Pope (M.A., Christian Studies) is a husband and father of three, and the Managing Web Editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He serves as a writer and editor with Prison Fellowship. For more of Grayson’s writing check out his website, or follow him on Twitter.