‘When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted,’ writes DA Carson in A Call to Spiritual Reformation (Baker: 1992, p.15f). ‘So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs – and these are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness and fulfillment…’
He comments, ‘In the biblical view of things, a deeper knowledge of God brings with it massive improvement in… purity, integrity, evangelistic effectiveness, better study of Scripture, improved private and corporate worship, and much more… One of the foundational steps in knowing God, and one of the basic demonstrations that we do know God, is prayer – spiritual, persistent, biblically minded prayer’.
Let me ask, ‘How can we grow as well as meet the challenges that confront us in today’s secular progressive society if we don’t adopt an ever-deepening relationship with God through prayer?’
Ephesians 3:14-21 gives us a glimpse of Paul the Apostle’s prayer-life. He begins: I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name (3:14f).
Genesis 1 tells us that God created all men and women in his image. It is, therefore, true to say that all of us have our fatherhood or parentage in God.
However, as the Bible unfolds, we see there is a special relationship between God and those who turn to him and enjoy a personal relationship with him. Paul tells us what Jesus tells us – we can call God, ‘our Father’. It is this great truth that stands at the head of Paul’s prayer.
With this thought in mind let me touch on the first theme in his prayer: ‘I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,…’, he writes (3:16).
Notice he doesn’t simply pray, ‘God bless…’ Rather, drawing on his deeper understanding of God – the riches of his glory – he prays for God’s powerful work within us.
Change from within. Paul knows that life is not all downhill as we age. Rather, he says that if God is at work in our lives, changes for the better to our inner being can occur.
It’s here we begin to 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 display of obvious power. And we can be tempted to think like this too.
But God in his goodness has a different plan. For the present, he chooses to work in secret— changing us from the inside out, not the outside in. It’s easy to miss this for we tend to think of God’s power in terms of what can be seen.
We might think God’s power in our lives will bring self-confidence, self-assertion, success. And when it comes to churches, we think that God’s power will be seen in high-powered church.
But what Paul is praying for is the work of the Holy Spirit, strengthening us at the very heart of our lives. Because of his understanding of the character of God, Paul wants God’s Spirit to strengthen our appetite for God. He wants the Spirit to strengthen our resolve to trust and follow Jesus so that we say ‘No’ to temptation and ‘Yes’ to him. He wants the Spirit to so focus our life on Jesus that we will drop sinful habits and adopt a new framework for living.
He longs to see the whole of our inner life affected by the Spirit—the desires of our hearts, our thoughts, and the choices we make. Paul is saying, ‘I pray that God will change you through the Spirit’s work within you.’
This can be painful for as the Holy Spirit begins to probe and question, to challenge, discipline and develop us, it hurts. The adage, ‘no pain no gain’ rings true when the Spirit begins his work.
Growth. When he takes the Word of God and reaches to the very depth of our lives, the Word becomes like a scalpel in his hands. Paul knows that God wants us to put on the qualities and integrity that Jesus himself displayed. So he writes in 2 Corinthians 3:16-17 that God is committed to changing us into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ— from one degree of glory to another.
Is your prayer life stunted because you don’t make the time to grow in your understanding of God?
In Knowing God, JI Packer writes, ‘Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit: the spirit, that is, that spawns great thoughts of humankind and leaves room for only small thoughts of God.’
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com