Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Be Strong in the Lord: Ephesians 3:14-19

How big is your God? In these familiar verses, often used as a benediction, the apostle is praising our great, big God. Such a growing awareness of God will radically impact our lives. Hear now God’s word.

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. “ (Ephesians 3:14-19)

I can’t remember how old I was, maybe 12 or 13, but I distinctly remember sitting around the table in the kitchen eating lunch after church one Sunday and offering my infinite wisdom on the pastoral prayer, “Pastor prayed way too long. I thought it would never end.” My grandfather, who never said much, quietly said, “You can never pray too long.” You can never pray too long. How is your prayer life? How much time have you spent in prayer this past week? Does prayer seem boring and pointless to you? Do you pray because you have to or because you want to?  Why do you suppose we struggle so with prayer?

While these verses do not directly deal with the issue of prayer, I believe principles found here profoundly impact our prayer life. A small child falls down on the playground and skins a knee. What does she do? Immediately she will go running to or crying for mom or dad. Why? The child, aware of her need, believes that mom or dad can help her. Why do we struggle with prayer? I believe one of the reasons is that our perception of God is not nearly big enough. As our view of who God is grows and deepens, not just in theoretical sense, but in an experiential way, we will become ever increasingly people of prayer.

We must see that God is big in power, verse 20. God is able to do immeasurably above all we ask or imagine. An emphasis upon God’s power has appeared frequently in this letter thus far: 1:11 we read that God works out everything according to his good pleasure and will; 1:19f, we read of the incomparably great power of God the Father who raised Jesus Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand far above all rule, authority and dominion. God created all things out of nothing, by the word of his power, and is even now sustaining your next breath. This God, through his power is able to do above all we ask or imagine. It has been suggested that the apostle is using here a super superlative. That is, he is not just saying that God is able to do all that we ask or think; or that God is able to do above all we ask or think; or even that he is able to do abundantly above all, but that God is able to do infinitely more abundantly above all we ask or think—it is as if what you are asking is 1 penny and God is able to respond with 1 trillion dollars. This is a super superlative—God’s power is far greater than anything you can possibly imagine. Do you believe that? No. No we don’t. At least not as we ought. For if we did we would pray for more regularly, far more fervently than we do.

As Pastor it has been my privilege to witness God do infinitely above all we could ever possibly ask or imagine. Looking back, I can think of circumstances that were so dire, so desperate and then I think of where things are today, and I believe if you told those involved back then that this is where it was going to end up, they would have told you that you were living in a dream world. Yet God did it. God did do immeasurably more than all we could have ever asked or imagined.

Now I want you think about a particular situation in your life.  Maybe it is a relationship that seems to be beyond reconciliation. You might be devastated by problems in your marriage or with close friends who do not seem so close any more. You are hurt, disappointed and yes, maybe even a bit angry. Do you believe that God is able to do immeasurably more above all you could ever possibly ask or imagine in this situation?  Do you believe that God can bring about reconciliation? Do you? How big is your God? Maybe you or someone you know is facing cancer or some other very serious health concern. Do you believe that God is able to do above all you can possibly ask or imagine? Do you believe that God can bring healing?  Do you?  How big is your God? Maybe you are looking at your neighborhood, you know that God is calling you to be a witness to your neighbors, but you are scared out of your mind. Do you believe that God is able to do abundantly above all you can possibly ask or imagine? Do you believe that God can bring your next door neighbor to Christ through you? How big is your God? 

But notice that this verse says that God is able, this God who is powerful enough to do all kinds of things in your life—but this is not to say that he will—or that he will do it in accordance with your time table. Sometimes we are faced with a difficult question, “If God is able, why doesn’t he do something? When a loved one dies, when the cancer doesn't go away, when the spouse moves out or tells you to move out, or when the job isn’t forthcoming, what are we to make of all that? What are we to make of the all powerful God then?  If he is able, but doesn’t seem to act, do we conclude then that God doesn’t care?

We are so geared to the bottom line, to gaining results, that we often place the emphasis in the wrong place. We pray and we make our evaluations about God on the basis of what we see. Does he or doesn’t he answer my prayer and we fail to see that God is big in his presence, verse 20. God’s power is at work within us. The power that created the world, that raised Jesus from the dead, that is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine is at work within us. God is not just at work out there in the Universe; here is at work in here, in me and in you. Years ago when I worked for AT&T, Robert Allen was the CEO of the company, a very powerful man. He had no idea who I was, nor did I expect him to in a company that was large.  Such is not the case with God, He is so big, and he is at work within us. All those who believe in Jesus Christ have the assurance of God’s presence with us through the Holy Spirit. Earlier in verse 16-17, it is the apostle’s prayer that through the power of the Holy Spirit that Christ may dwell in our hearts. In 5 weeks, believe it or not, we will sing, “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” God’s presence is with us. Why would God be so big towards us unless he loved us?  When we see that God is big in his presence we have a frame work for dealing with the difficulties of life.  Yes, God is able to do great things here and if he is not doing what I think should be done, it must be because the all powerful, all knowing God has something else in store, some other plan or purpose that is driven my his intense love for me which is demonstrated by his presence in my life. Sometimes that love may mean bring an answer of “No”; or “not yet, wait” or “yes” but whatever may take place, God is big in his presence, the Almighty is with us.

In 1981, when I was in college I wanted to attend a missions conference at the University of Illinois simply known as Urbana.  The conference began shortly after Christmas and ended at 2am New Year’s morning. I desperately wanted to drive out with my college friends. My father though was very concerned with the thought of college students driving 1,000 miles in the winter through the night to Illinois. Though he had the ability to grant permission, he refused and said I would be taking a bus. I didn’t like it. I didn’t understand it. I wanted to ride with my friends. Yet after the conference, I heard the story of my friends trip across country, that in the middle of the night, the one who was driving at 3 a.m. began to hallucinate that these lights were coming right at him and he pulled off the road so suddenly it shook up the person next to him, “What are you doing? Are you trying to get us all killed?” “Didn’t you see those lights heading right for us?” “What are you talking about?” Hearing their story, I realized that while earlier I desperately wanted to go with them, perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to drive with them and that dad said, “no” to my request because of his love for me. Unlike my dad whose presence was not with me as I traveled, God is with his people because of his great love for us. Again think of those situations, as you pour out your heart to God remember, that no matter what happens he is the God who loves you and is with you. 

God is big in perspective, verse 21. To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus our Lord forever and ever. Amen. Here we see that all of life is to be directed toward God for his glory. This is a theme repeated in Ephesians. The idea that we are to live for the praise of his glory is found in 1:6, 12 and 14. God is so big he will bring glory to himself in all things. This truth is one of the reasons why we struggle in prayer. One of my favorite comic strips appeared in Outland several years ago.  The child scientist approaches his buddies and says, “I have spent all week on the calculations.  There are mistakes.  Galileo was wrong. The world revolves around....me.” Opus the Penguin objects and yells, “Boy are you ever wrong! It goes around me!” No doubt one of the reasons why prayer is so frustrating for us is that our prayers frequently revolve around ourselves and in getting what we want from God that is our personal glory. But as we see that God is big in perspective, that is His glory, our prayers begin to change as one author said from, “Lord hear my prayer I need this,” to, “Lord you know I want this, but more than that give me the faith to accept what you want, for more than anything else I need you.” Remember what the first question of Westminster Shorter Catechism?  What is the chief end of man?  To glorify God and enjoy him forever.  This gives a new perspective on prayer - God’s perspective one whose aim is to bring glory to God. 

You might think of your specific situation and wonder how is God going to bring glory to himself in this?  What if a loved one dies of cancer?  What if we, as a couple, are never able to conceive?  What if the rest of my life I have to struggle with this? I know some of you, for example, struggle with diabetes. How can God possibly glorify himself through things like this?  Sometimes, quite frankly, I just don’t know. But I do believe that God is so big, he will and does bring glory to himself in all things. Many of you know the story of Joni Erickson Tada who as a young woman suffered a serious spinal cord injury which left her paralyzed, confined to a wheel chair the rest of her life. At the moment the accident occurred there was the question, “How can God bring glory to himself out of this?” Yet time has given us perspective. God has sued her to touch the lives of millions in such a way that no one would have ever imagined or dreamed. God did glorify himself, even in this tragedy. The same is no less true for you. Whatever that situation is, you may not know how God can bring glory out of this - but he has done it before and he will do it again. This is why we pray.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were faced with a life or death choice—bow down before the idol or be cast into the fiery furnace. They said to Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful ruler on the face of the earth, “our God is able to save us from the fiery furnace, but even if he does not, even if he does not, we will not bow down to the image.”  They knew that God was big in power to deliver them; big in his presence that he was with them; and big in perspective that somehow God was going to bring glory to himself even in this. Fine you might say, but that story is so removed from me it doesn’t relate. But the principles in the situation you face are exactly the same. We pray because our God is big; He is big in power, in presence and perspective these truths draws us all closer and closer to God praise and glory of his name.  Let us pray.

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