How can we weather the challenges of our changing and uncertain world?
Come with me to Ephesians chapter 3, verses 14 through 21 where we find one of the great prayers of the Bible. The curtain over Paul the Apostle is drawn aside and we are given a glimpse of him at prayer.
I kneel before the Father, he begins, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. Genesis chapter 1 tells us that God created us in his image and it is therefore true to say that all humanity has its fatherhood or parentage in God. However, as the Bible unfolds, we see that there is a very special relationship between God and those who are personally drawn to him. Paul is echoing what Jesus taught his disciples: we can call God, ‘Father’.
This really is an extraordinary privilege – to be able to call God ‘Father’. In fact, when we think about it, there is no higher honor that God could give us, for it means we stand in a very special relationship with him as his adopted sons and daughters. This awesome truth stands at the head of Paul’s prayer. And he prays that we might experience this awareness in our lives, so we can relax and enjoy the amazing privilege of being God’s special people at every twist and turn in life. Three themes stand out.
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…
The work of the Spirit goes to the heart of our being. Despite what cosmetologists and exercise gurus 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 that 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, success. And when it comes to churches, it is thought that God’s power will be seen in high-powered church growth and in dramatic answers to prayer.
But God 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 an important distinction most of us miss. Paul is praying that the Holy Spirit will strengthen us at the very root of our character and our lives. He prays that God’s Spirit will so work in our lives and so teach us that we will be strengthened in our appetite for God and our love and loyalty to Jesus. He wants us to focus our hope on Christ, to drop sinful habits and develop a new framework for living.
Paul says that he wants to see the whole of our inner life affected by the Spirit — our hearts and affections, our will, our minds and decisions. It’s radical and it’s painful. Once the Holy Spirit starts to work in our lives, begins to probe, to question, to challenge, to discipline and to develop us, it hurts. For when he takes the Word of God and reaches to the very depth of our being, the Word becomes like a scalpel in his hands.
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 we 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.
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).
With imagery that awakens us to the complexity and profundity of God’s love – the breadth and length, and height and depth – Paul prays that we will know the love of Christ. He wants us not only to know but also experience God’s love so that we may be able to say, and really know it and feel it in our hearts, ‘the Son of God gave himself for me.’
This genuine experience of Christ rarely comes to anyone who is not spending time in the Scriptures – for example, meditating on Ephesians chapter 1 through chapter 2, verse 10. The kind of mind-shift we need to prompt us to do this usually requires large explosive power. Sometimes God give us a wake-up call through hardship, bereavement or tragedy. Sometimes it’s not until we see material possessions for what they are, baubles and trinkets, that we begin to comprehend the reality of God’s love.
Indeed, it’s only when God’s power is at work in our lives that we will begin to see what it meant for God to get into our skin and enter our world, what it cost for him to suffer and die in our place. 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.
Beyond Imagination. 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.
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, 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.