Monday, March 12, 2012

Sermon: Ephesians 3: 14-21 Praying for Power

Some things seem to be beyond our imagining. Just think of the scientists exploring our universe, observing stars, using their powerful telescopes and satellites. They reckon the edge of the universe is about 46 billion light years away. That's the distance that light travels in 46 billion years. To convert it to miles, it's roughly 276,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles!

The same kinds of numbers are talked about today in terms of national debt - so many zeroes, but again, it’s difficult to get your head around. In our reading today, there are things that are beyond our imagining, which Paul tells us to encourage us in our prayers and our Christian life.

So here in Ephesians 3, we find that Paul is praying for the Christians in Ephesus, and as we’ll see, he involves every part of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as he asks for things that they’ll need as Christians; the very same things we need in our Christian life as well.

First up, we find the Father. Verse 14: ‘For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.’ This is beyond our imagining - that we can approach the Almighty God in prayer; that he listens to us. We see how this comes about earlier in chapter 3, where we have access to God through Jesus, with boldness and confidence through faith in him. As we begin to pray, it’s helpful to remember who it is we are praying to. God is our Father - the source of every person, the pattern of fatherhood, the one who shows us what being a father is all about.

Just as God gave Adam the authority to name the animals (Gen 2), so every family in heaven and earth is named by God - it’s a sign that God is in full authority, that God is in control. As some of you might know, we have a wee dog with us in the Rectory, a lively miniature Jack Russell puppy. It was us named her - Pippa - to show that we are in charge of her (even though you would think it was the other way round sometimes!).

So Paul is praying to the Father. But what is it he is asking God the Father to do? ‘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.’

He’s asking for God to strengthen the Ephesian Christians, to give them power, but notice that he isn’t talking about becoming physically strong. He’s not wanting them to bulk up and become like Olympic weightlifters or bodybuilders. Rather it is to be strengthened with power... in your inner being. Living as a Christian is not always easy - we simply can’t do it on our own. For that, we need power to strengthen our inner being.

How do we do that? It brings us to the next person of the Trinity, to the Holy Spirit. From the riches of God’s glory, we are strengthened with power through his Spirit. You see, the Spirit isn’t a spooky, weird ‘thing’ that only happy-clappy types get, or that knocks people off their feet in revival meetings. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence inside us, strengthening us to live as Christians, to grow as Christians, to say no to sin, helping us to live for God.

I’m too young to have seen George Best play live, but I’ve seen the clips on TV. The skills he had, the way he was able to dribble and pass and score was unbelievable. In contrast I’m possibly one of the worst footballers in the world. I try, I run about, get an occasional touch, but I’m no George Best. More like George Worst. But if there was some way for George Best to take over my body, to help me, then my football skills would improve. This is a bit like what the Holy Spirit does, as he strengthens us with God’s power - not to be a good soccer player - but to follow Jesus.

Left to my own devices, I’m far too easily going to turn away from God, get caught up in sin, fall away. But God gives us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us to live for him. To keep on going. You see, as the Holy Spirit empowers us, we find that Christ is dwelling in our hearts, taking over our lives, ruling our hearts, living in us and through us. This is beyond our imagining, that God would come to dwell in us; that we are not on our own in the world.

Christ dwells in our hearts, changing us to be the people he wants us to be. But how does it happen? What brings us to depend on God, and be strengthened by the Spirit and become like Jesus with him dwelling in our hearts? It’s there in 17-18. ‘so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - as you are being rooted and grounded in 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 surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.’

So far we’ve seen the Father, the source of every family, the one in authority over all; and we’ve seen the Spirit, who helps us and strengthens us to live for Jesus. Now we come to the Son, to the Lord Jesus Christ, and Paul’s prayer is that the Ephesians (and us) will know Christ’s love.

You might be thinking to yourself, well, I know that Jesus loves me - we sang about that in Sunday School all those years ago. But we want to keep on knowing Christ’s love, more and more, in all its greatness - Paul speaks of breadth and length and height and depth. But it’s not just you sitting on your own reflecting - no, it’s ‘with all the saints’ - it is as we live and grow together as a church family that we discover the vastness of Christ’s love for us and for everyone else.

Look around you - in the church there are all types of people, personalities, nationalities, and backgrounds. It is as we come together and learn to live together that we realise just how big Jesus’ love truly is, in dying for me, and for you, and for them.

The Trinity - one God in three persons - works together in the believer and in the church to build us up in growth and maturity. The Father gives, the Spirit empowers and the Son loves, so that we ‘may be filled with all the fullness of God.’ And perhaps you’re thinking to yourself, well, that was all right for the Ephesians. They were in the Bible, after all, and Paul was praying for them. Can God do the same for us? Will God, Father Son and Spirit give and strengthen and change me?

In those last two verses, Paul gives us a great encouragement to pray, and to keep praying. If your mind hasn’t been blown already, it just might: ‘Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all that we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.’

This God, to whom Paul is praying, the God to whom we pray, ‘is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all that we can ask or imagine.’ God will more than answer our prayers, in more amazing ways than we can imagine. Isn’t that a spur to pray to our great God?

Perhaps this morning you aren’t yet a Christian. You don’t have Christ dwelling in your heart. My prayer is that you will come to know the great love of Christ for you, the love that took him to the cross, to take away your sins and to save you from the wrath of God. Even today, you can come in faith, and find that God will answer your prayer for rescue.

But for those of us who are Christians, the challenge lies in how we are praying for our church family, and for other Christians across the world. Are we seeking God’s giving and power and love for them to grow? Are we seeking these things for us to grow? Perhaps you don’t know how to start as you seek to pray more intelligently for other Christians. It’s great to know what we want to pray for people, something specific rather than general, something that will really help them. But even if you don’t know this prayer (and other prayers) of Paul’s is a good place to start.

Paul calls us to never lose our sense of wonder. To never become stale or bored at the things of God. To recognise that we have a truly amazing and wonderful God who is bigger than we can imagine - JB Phillips once wrote a book: 'Your God is too small.' It's as we see the greatness of our God that we can trust in him, and be confident that he will hear and act as we pray, in ways more amazing than we can even imagine.

It’s great to know who it is we are coming to in prayer - our great God, Father, Son and Spirit, who together work for our good, far more abundantly than we can ever imagine, and all for his glory. Amen.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 11th March.

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