Sunday, March 29, 2015

Will We Be Strong People?

(A sermon based on Ephesians 3:14-17 for the Fifth Sunday in Lent preached on March 22, 2015)

As Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians while away from them, so I will be praying for you when I am away from you. I’ll be praying the same kind of prayers that I’ve been praying for you while I have been here with you.

I pray that you will know God. I pray that you will know God as fully as you possibly can know God. I pray that you will know God deeply and personally. I pray that you will experience all of the benefits that come from knowing God.

What can keep you from knowing God? Oh, lots of things can.

Failing to think about God can keep you from knowing God. Too many of us are “practical atheists”; we say we believe God exists but live as if we don’t really think that God exists—or at least as if we don’t remember that God exists. Such behavior can take many forms but I have in mind a failure to consider God in all of our attitudes, our motives, and our actions. We can’t really know God if we don’t keep God constantly in mind.

Substituting activity for relationship can keep your from knowing God. We have a busy and active church and that is good but we don’t want to let busyness and activity—even in service to the church—become the totality of our life with God because such a life has shallow roots. When we have shallow roots we will eventually find ourselves withering up and dying.

Forgetting to pay attention to your life can keep you from knowing God. We get so busy with the things of life that we sometimes fail to notice what is really going on in our life. It is so important that we take regular soundings of our spirit to see how deep or shallow we are running—otherwise we will not know when we are at risk of getting lost in open waters or of running aground in shallow water. It is vital that we pay attention to the state of our life because it is only in our life that we can know God.

I pray that none of these things—nor any other things—will get in the way of you knowing God.

I pray that you will know God. I pray that you will know God as fully as you possibly can know God. I pray that you will know God deeply and personally. I pray that you will experience all of the benefits that come from knowing God.

I pray that you will know God in God’s fullness. Notice that Paul said that he prayed to the Father that the Ephesians would be strengthened through the Spirit and that Christ would dwell in their hearts. So Paul prayed that God in God’s fullness—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—would be known in the lives of the Ephesians.

Let’s be amazed at the grace of God that causes God to come to us so that we can know God. We are talking about the Creator and Sustainer of all that is; we are talking about the Sovereign of the universe. And that Creator, Sustainer, and Sovereign knows us and wants to be known by us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life!” What a privilege we have to know God in God’s fullness!

I pray that you will be blessed “according to the riches of (God’s) glory.” God has all the resources of the universe—and them some—available; it is out of that unimaginable abundance that God wants to bless us. Be careful, though, how you think about this. Paul does not pray that the Ephesian church will be the biggest, richest, most prominent, most influential organization in town.

No, Paul is very specific in his prayer. He prays that the Ephesians would be strengthened in their inner being through the Holy Spirit. I pray the same for you and I hope you will pray the same thing for yourselves. Imagine—we can have the strength of God because we have the Spirit of God. God comes to dwell in us through the Holy Spirit; what could make us stronger than having God’s Spirit in us?

Notice, though, where this strength is known: in our inner being. It is known down deep where we are who we really are; it is experienced in our innermost self. It is necessary, then, that we know ourselves, that we know who we really are in our spirit, so that we can know the strength of God in the ways we really need it. In our innermost being masks don’t matter, appearances don’t matter, and reputation doesn’t matter. All that matters is who we really are and how God touches us as we really are.

So again we see that we need to tend to our spirit; we need to tend to our innermost self through prayer, through reflection, and through repentance so that we will encounter God with more openness and so that we will receive God’s strength with more awareness. And we need that strength if we are going to be the kind of people and if we are going to be the kind of church that live out God’s way in the world and in our relationships with each other.

Paul also prays that Christ would dwell in the hearts of the Ephesians through faith. He is talking about the ongoing indwelling of Christ in their hearts, which is another way of saying their “inner being.” I pray that you will grow to trust in God more and more so that you may know the presence of Christ more and more.

What can you do to build your trust in God? You can pray. You can worship. You can pay attention. You can give your life over to God daily. You can in every moment commit to follow Christ more. You can always remember and never forget that Christ is with you, that Christ is in you, and that Christ is among you.

As you do all of that, your lives will be more and more “rooted and grounded in love”; your lives will be based more and more on the love of God that is seen most fully in Jesus Christ and that is present in us as the body of Christ. (I’ll have much more to say about that on the Sunday after Easter.)

Please remember that I will be praying for you. I pray that you will know God. I pray that you will know God as fully as you possibly can know God. I pray that you will know God deeply and personally. I pray that you will experience all of the benefits that come from knowing God …

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