As I write just under 200 million people throughout the world have been infected by Covid-19 and over 4 million have died. Yet in the midst of this pandemic some who claim to be Christian insist that God will look after them – they don’t need to wear a mask, let alone be vaccinated.
Rightly, we pray for ourselves and for the millions whose health and welfare is at stake, and for the millions who grieve. What expectations can we have when we pray?
In Ephesians chapter 3, verses 14 through 21 we read one of the rich prayers of the Bible. Paul the Apostle begins, I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
While Genesis 1 says that God created all men and women in his image, the Bible reveals a special relationship between God and those who turn to him. Paul is taking up what Jesus says to his people: we can call God, ‘Father’.
What an extraordinary privilege! There is no higher honour God could give us. It means that we stand in a very special relationship with the supreme Lord who transcends space and time. Significantly in his prayer, Paul prays that we might increasingly experience this reality in our lives. We can identify three great expectations.
Inner strength. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,… (3:16).
The work of the Spirit goes to the heart of our being. Despite what cosmetologists want us to think, the truth is that our physical bodies are wasting away. The time will come, when as far as our physical body is concerned, there is little hope for the future. But Paul wants us to understand it’s not all downhill.
If God is at work in our lives, changes for the better to our inner being can occur. It’s here we see the counter-cultural way God works as opposed to the way that the world expects him to work. The world expects God to work with great displays of power. Tempted to think this way too, we might say that God’s power is to be expressed in self-confidence, self-assertion, and success – there’s no need to wear a mask or be vaccinated.
However, Paul is praying that the Holy Spirit will strengthen our appetite for God. He prays that in the riches of his glory the Spirit will so strengthen our relationship with the Lord, that our confidence and loyalty to him will grow. We see evidence of this power at work when God’s people cope with life’s stresses and pressures with serenity, wisdom and grace.
Transformation. That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love (3:17).
This is the only place in the whole of the Bible that speaks about Christ dwelling in our hearts. Dwell means ‘settle down’, or ‘putting down roots’. Mixing his metaphors Paul prays that God’s people will be well-rooted trees withstanding droughts, and well-built houses that can withstand hurricanes.
There will be many things in us with which Jesus Christ will not be comfortable. Repairs and renovation are needed in our lives. And anyone who has done house renovation and repairs knows it takes longer and costs more than originally expected.
Knowing that this kind of life-changing transformation is what God wants and knowing that it requires God’s power in our lives, Paul prays that God will do what is necessary to make our lives a fit home for his Son.
Now these changes can hurt, for the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God as a scalpel to cut through to our thoughts, words and actions. For as we read in 2 Corinthians 3:16-17, God is committed to change us into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ— from one degree of glory to another. And to follow this through, it means having a neighbor love that with the Covid-19 pandemic we will want to be vaccinated and, as needed, wear a mask.
Grounded in Christ’s love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that passes knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (3:18-19).
Early in the 19th century Napoleon’s army opened prisons used in the Spanish Inquisition. They discovered the remains of a prisoner in a deep underground dungeon. The prisoner had suffered a grim death, but he had left a witness. On the wall a cross had been sketched and words written at each corner. At the top of the cross was the word, height, at the bottom, depth, on one side, length, on the other, breadth. In his great suffering this man had known and felt God’s love.
I pray, says Paul, that with all of God’s people you experience the power of God’s love in your hearts, and knowing that experience the fullness of joy with the transcendent Lord.
Benediction. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (3:20-21).
Paul’s words here startle and encourage us. Our thoughts and imaginations are lifted beyond time and space to the Lord himself. Significantly, the focus of God’s powerful work is amongst and through his people.
To return to our expectations in prayer. Too often we forget God’s awesome cosmic purposes; we focus too much on ourselves. Maybe we are content to swim in the shallows of faith rather than in the deep, crystal clear waters of God’s love. For in his love God has far greater expectations for us than we can even begin to imagine.
A prayer. Almighty God, who taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: so enable us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and always to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.