Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This Week's Sermon: Taking Hold of God's Love

Ephesians 3:14-21.
The need for love surrounds us. It is expressed everywhere in popular culture from music to children's movies. The popular songs throughout recent generations shout the need for love: "You're nobody 'til somebody loves you..." "All you need is love..." "Don't you want somebody to love, don't you need somebody to love..." and on they go crying out for someone to love. Even in the children's movie Beauty and the Beast the thing that will break the curse is when the enchanted prince learns to love someone and to be loved in return. We all need love. The world around us is starving for love, and we as Christians find ourselves--whether we realize it or not, swimming in an eternal sea of love.

Paul is praying in this section for the Ephesian believers. For this reason; because as he stated in verse 10, God’s eternal purpose was to make known his wisdom through the church, and because we can approach him boldly through faith. Paul boldly asks for things that seem impossible. He asks that they know the unknowable, that they be filled with the immeasurable, so that their lives may bring glory and honor to God.

I love this prayer. Paul in a nutshell prays for everything that would perfect the church and turn us into the God-glorifying, Christ-imitating, Gospel-shining people he wants us to be. All in just a few sentences! If we could have these prayers prayed over us, and if God answered in all his power and might, and we allowed him to do this work in us, there would be no containing the results.

The first thing Paul prays is that the Ephesians would be strengthened. That is good. We would all like some extra strength. But he doesn’t stop there. The source of that strength is God’s glorious riches. Out of God’s abundance, his inexhaustible resources, out of the strength that he has that will never quit, Paul is praying for that strength to enter the lives of the Ephesians. And the vehicle for that strength is the very Spirit of God. So Paul is asking God through the Holy Spirit—who is the only one who could possibly handle that much power—to give strength from his everlasting power to the Ephesians in their inner being. There is no real life comparison to this, but the closest thing would be charging a tiny battery from the world’s largest power plant. The purpose for this power and strength in their inner being is so that they are capable of having Christ dwell in their hearts through faith.

Do you realize that it takes a supply of strength from God’s abundance for us to have the ability for Christ to dwell in us? For us to have the faith to let him in, God goes to his storehouse and pours forth his power through the Holy Spirit. That is what it takes for us to have Christ dwell in our hearts through faith. Next time you are having a low faith day, remember this verse, and stop trying to conjure up faith on your own. You have to be hooked into the power supply in order to even have a chance. It is a job that is way too big for us. We have to let God pour his power into us! He has the abundance, we have the need, we just have to let him in. Wow, and that was just one part of the prayer!

Next Paul prays that they will be rooted and established in love. Rooted, like a tree, and established like a skyscraper that has to have foundations deep below the earth’s surface. That is what we need in order for the next part of Paul’s prayer to be possible, and it is what Paul assumes is already in place for the Ephesians if the first prayer is answered. If Christ is dwelling in your heart through faith, you are getting roots that are growing down into God’s love, your foundations are being laid deep beneath the surface. Assuming that process has begun, and that God is faithful to complete it, Paul prays that out of that rooting, out of that establishment of foundations in God’s love, we might have more power to grasp how wide, and long, and high and deep is the love of Christ.

Picture a tree, planted in the earth. That tree is rooted in the soil, but no matter how long it lives and grows in that soil, it will never reach the top of the sky. It will never reach the center of the earth. It will never spread its branches out to touch on the other side of the globe. The same is true for us. Paul is praying for us as tiny trees to grow until we grasp, and take hold of the completeness of the boundaries of God’s boundless love. We will always grow and never reach the limits. But the way in which we grasp God’s love is the same way that the tree grasps the earth. The tree takes hold of the earth. The tree makes the earth its own. The tree takes in minerals from the soil and so takes on characteristics from the earth. In the same way, we can take hold of God’s love, and make it our own. We can hold onto it, we can take it in, we can let it change us from the inside out. And I would say that being rooted and established in love, we cannot help but take in God’s love. And we would be fools not to grasp hold of it and make it our own. This grasping of God’s love, again is not something we do in our own strength, but only as God works in us to strengthen us. And it is also another step closer to Paul’s ultimate prayer for the Ephesians. He prays that they may have power to grasp the love of God, so that they can know it fully and intimately.

Paul is praying for them to fully know the unknowable, to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge. It is too great for us to understand. Like the earth is too great for the tree to ever touch every part of it. But to seek this understanding and to grow in the knowledge of God’s love is as much a part of our lives as Christians as the tree’s natural tendency to keep growing taller and push roots further down, and stretch limbs farther out. Every tree grows as if it could someday reach the heavens. Every Christian life ought to be the same.

If we could understand this love that defies comprehension, then we would, as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, have the capacity to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. I think, in part, this is attainable. Paul prays for them to be filled to the measure. He wants them to be filled to the top, with no space left. It is conceivable that we could be so filled that we would have no desire, no hunger, no empty space left to be filled by anything other than God. Most of us don’t live that way. We do not seek to fill every space in our lives with God, but rather to let God occupy the space we have left over after we fill every other part of our lives with other things. We are happy to have God occupy a tenth of our lives, or maybe a quarter. If we even cross paths with someone who has let God occupy half of their lives, we are shocked, and even a little offended. This part of the prayer has two parts, that they be filled to the measure and that they be filled with all the fullness of God.

Even if we did allow God to fill us 100%, we would not necessarily allow all his fullness in. Let’s face it, there are parts of who God is that we are uncomfortable with. We don’t like the stories of God’s immediate judgment—like the 15,000 Israelites who died because they were complaining about God’s choice of leadership. And we don’t like God’s extreme grace either—like the parable of the workers in the field, we can’t understand why someone who makes a deathbed confession of faith could possible inherit the same heavenly reward as Billy Graham, but Jesus said they do. So we pick and choose what parts of God we want to allow into our lives. But Paul is praying for the Ephesians to be filled up to the fullest with everything that makes God who he is. That is my desire for each of us as well.

All of this is a precursor to the real prayer. That God will be glorified in the church and through Christ Jesus through all generations, forever and ever. And he is worthy of that glory because he is the God who is able to do the impossible. He is able to give us the ability to have Christ dwell in us. He is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. He is able to enable us to take hold of his love. He is able to fill us up with the fullness of who he is. He can do it. If Paul could think to pray it, God is able to do all of that and more. He is the God of the impossible, and he wants to do the impossible in you and me, and in our church and city. The question is not “Is he able?” The question is “Am I willing?” Or even “Will I ask God to make me willing?”

Think with me of that tree for just a moment, and imagine that you can sink your toes into God’s love, that you can stretch your arms out and keep reaching farther to take it all in. The tree doesn’t make the rain, or the soil, or the air, or the sunlight that make it grow. All the tree does is open itself up to receive. My challenge to you this morning is to open your heart and allow God to do his work in you. He is so able, and willing, and can do the impossible in you. Let him in, let him work. See the impossible springing up in your life.

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