A New Kind of Person
We’re going to be looking today at Ephesians 3:14-21, so if you have your Bible with you, you can turn there now. If you don’t, you can follow along on the screen. READ TEXT.
When I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13 years old, our great uncle Albert lived up the road from us on Mitchell Rd. in Wilmington, Ohio. Uncle Albert was an old, retired farmer. The farm had long ago been sold, but he still had a small garden in his yard. And one day his corn blew over. I think the wind blew kind of hard for a while, but the corn in our garden was still standing. His blew over. So he called my mom and told her that he would pay my brother and I to come down and help him stand his corn back up. So with visions of going to K-Mart to buy something incredible from the toy section with the money he would give us, we hopped on our bikes and pedaled up the road to Uncle Albert’s house. When we got there, he handed each one of us a hoe and said, “I’ll stand the corn up, and you boys hoe some dirt up around the base.” As we worked, still dreaming about the toy department at K-Mart, one of us asked him, “Uncle Albert, why did the corn fall down?” And he answered, “It didn’t have a deep, anchoring root. We got a lot of rain this spring, and the soil stayed wet, so the roots stayed near the surface. They didn’t run deep. So when the wind blew, the corn blew over easily.”
Ever feel like that? Like your roots in Christ don’t run as deep as they should? Ever feel like you’re going to blow over, fall down, when the winds of life pick up a little bit … or a lot? Have you felt yourself waver? Have you seen yourself fall? Have you needed someone to help you get back up? Today we’re going to talk about what it means to be deeply rooted in Christ. That’s the exact phrase Paul uses too, in V. 17. He says that the goal of life in Christ is that we are rooted and grounded deeply in Christ and his love.
And that depth, that rootedness and grounding, begins in prayer. Time spent with God. Now, before we go any further, let me ask you a question. It seems to me that when it comes to prayer, there are two kinds of people – prayer warriors and prayer wimps. Prayer warriors are those who love to pray and spend tons of time praying. They can pray while they’re driving, pray while they’re shopping, pray while they’re weeding their flowers, and they are usually people who spend a good amount of time JUST praying. In groups, in pairs, in solitude, they pray. And then there are prayer wimps. Let me be clear here … I will be the first to acknowledge that I am, by nature, a prayer wimp. Pastor and author Max Lucado, whose books have depth and yet are loved by millions, says this about us prayer wimps: “Some people ‘get’ prayer. They inhale heaven and exhale God. They retreat to prayer mountains and prayer events. They would rather pray than sleep.” Those are the prayer warriors. But then he says this: “Why is it that I tend to sleep when I pray? My mind wanders. My thoughts zig, then zag, then zig again. Distractions swarm like gnats on a summer night. Prayer giant? Hardly. Prayer wimp? Admittedly.” How many of you would be willing to join Max Lucado and I in admitting that truth be told, you really are a prayer wimp?
Well, the good news is that those of us who, like Max Lucado are willing to admit that we are prayer wimps can become recovering prayer wimps. In his book, “Before Amen,” which I highly recommend (Max’s books contain a lot of depth but are really easy and entertaining reads), he outlines the prayer that he developed that worked for him. He calls it his “pocket prayer” and it goes like this: Father, you are good. I need help. So do they. Thank you. In Jesus’ name, amen.” He goes on to say that “I let this prayer punctuate my day. I keep it in the back of my mind, ever within reach of my thoughts. As I drive through traffic…Father. Walking through the office…You are good. Stepping into a meeting…I need help. Looking at the stressed face of the receptionist…They need help. As the day draws to an end…Thanks. In Jesus’ name, amen.” As a recovering prayer wimp, it won’t be the prayer you’re praying in five or six years, but it’s a great place to start. Father, you are good. I need help. So do they. Thank you. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Now, before we go any further, we need to notice that Paul has fallen on his knees in prayer “Before the father.” You see, there are two concepts fatherhood that we need to understand. The first is of paternity – fatherhood in the purely physical sense of the term. It can be used of a fatherhood in which the father never even meets the child. You’re my source, but we have no real relationship. But fatherhood describes an intimate connection marked by love, deep relating, and care. When Jesus prayed to God as his “Father,” and encouraged his followers to do the same, the word he encouraged them to use was Abba, the Aramaic word that came closer to the sense of fatherhood, not just paternity. But using the word “Father” for God creates problems for some, especially for those who have experienced abuse or neglect at the hands of their father. And truth be told, there isn’t a single person here who has or had a perfect human father. I’m a father, and I can promise you that pretty much every day I mess something up. I say something wrong. I do something wrong. Usually more than once. It’s on a regular basis that I’ll say to myself, “Yep, I messed that one up. Aubrey’s gonna need therapy for that one someday.” You see, every father, every parent, is human and fallen and sinful and makes mistakes. And what we do is we take our image of father – some of us have a positive image even though our father sometimes failed and some of us have a really negative image of fatherhood – and we place that image on God. We view God through our broken lens instead of letting God transform our view of what a father CAN be. In Psalm 68:5, God promises to be a “father to the fatherless and protector of widows.” In other words, where human frailty, brokenness, & sin fails you, I WILL NOT. Now, look at Vv. 16-19.
The first thing Paul prays for you and for me is that we will receive inner strength. But this is not just any inner strength. Some people just seem to have a lot of inner strength. Basketball fans might remember the “flu game.” Game 5 of the 1997 NBA finals. One of Michael Jordan’s most memorable games. Jordan woke up the day before this critical game nauseated and sweating profusely. He hardly had the strength to sit up in bed and was diagnosed with a stomach virus or food poisoning. The Bulls’ trainers told Jordan that there was no way he could play the next day. The Jazz had just won Games 3 & 4 to tie the series at 2 wins apiece, and there was doubt as to whether Chicago could win without Jordan. Game 5s have often been the turning point in the NBA Finals best-of-7 format, since the winner would be just one victory away from an NBA title. Despite being really sick, Jordan rose from bed at 3 p.m., in time for the 6 o’clock tip-off at the Delta Center. Jordan was visibly weak and pale as he stepped on the court. At first, he displayed little energy, and John Stockton, along with reigning MVP Karl Malone, quickly led the Jazz to a 16-point lead in the second quarter. But Jordan slowly began to make shots despite lacking his usual health. For the next two quarters the teams went back and forth, with the Jazz making a run and then the Bulls pulling to within a few points. With 46.5 seconds left and Chicago down 85-84, he was able to shoot free throws. He made the first to tie the game, but missed the second. A teammate tapped the offensive rebound to Jordan, who dribbled back to allow the offense to set up. He passed the ball to Pippen, who was quickly double-teamed. Pippen then passed the ball back to a now-unguarded Jordan, who made a 3-point shot to give the Bulls an 88-85 lead with 25 seconds remaining in the game. Chicago was able to maintain the lead. Jordan played 44 minutes despite his weak body. He was visibly tired and sluggish throughout the game. He finished the game with 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 block. With only a few seconds remaining and the game’s result safely in Chicago’s favor, Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms creating the most replayed and lasting image of The Flu Game.
That’s a kind of inner strength, but that isn’t what Paul is praying for here. He’s praying for an even greater inner strength for you and me that can only come from God. It is the strength to live as a disciple of Jesus in the face of cultures around the world that in ways great and small oppose living life that way. One man described it this way: “My past reflects a lot of pain from a broken marriage. It has not been easy to have had a close friend marry the woman who had been my wife for 17 years. To have her live in the same community, work in the same school district & see the children exposed to two distinctly different philosophies of living is not easy. I don’t always like the opportunities that are mine to witness to the healing & forgiving love Christ makes available to me. The love that is for my brokenness, however, when I let it, does heal.” Michael Jordan found something deep inside that he was able to draw on, but it was still just Michael Jordan. How much more is available to those who grow weary inside, tiring of serving God faithfully when the road is long and beset with obstacles? Paul is praying that we will grow toward Christ, that we will become strong in Christ.
The second thing Paul prays for is that we will know the love God has for us in Christ. One pastor tells of a time, many years ago when he met with a teenage girl in his congregation. “She was about sixteen at the time, and she was discouraged and becoming depressed. I tried to encourage her, but there was a revelatory moment when she said, ‘Yes, I know Jesus loves me, he saved me, he’s going to take me to heaven—but what good is it when no boy at school will even look at me?’ She said she ‘knew’ all these truths about being a Christian, but they were of no comfort to her. The attention (or the lack of it) of a cute boy at school was far more consoling, energizing, and foundational for her joy and self-worth than the love of Christ. Of course this was a perfectly normal response for a teenage girl. Nevertheless it was revealing of how our hearts work. [Jonathan] Edwards would say that she had the opinion that Jesus loved her, but she didn’t really know it. Christ’s love was an abstract concept while the love of these others was real to her heart.”
Paul isn’t praying for an intellectual knowing that God loves us. He is praying that the indescribable love of God will come alive in our experience. In fact, Paul’s prayer is for two layers of love. The first is that we will be rooted and grounded in love for one another. The second is that we will gain an ever-deepening experience of and understanding of the love of Christ. But the truth is, one of those grows out of the other. St. John, in his first epistle, writes “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). It all begins with God’s love. God loves me. God loves you. God loves us. And God doesn’t love us because we are loveable. God loves us because it is the nature of God to love. In Romans 5:8, Paul writes “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The ultimate expression of unselfish love, the cross of Christ, came while we were still unforgiven sinners, without hope, without life, without love. And because God loves us, we are capable of loving God, and we are capable of loving one another. Paul is describing a new humanity, a new kind of person, neither Jew nor Gentile, but a new kind of person alive in Christ. And the primary mark of this new kind of person is love. Love for God that expresses itself in our love for one another.
The love of Christ isn’t something we can wrap our minds around. It’s too deep, too long, too broad, too high. It is beyond the capacity of our finite minds to fully comprehend the love of Christ. But we can grow in our experience of that love. The love of Christ is long enough to last for eternity, deep enough to reach the most degraded sinner, high enough to lift that sinner to heaven, and broad enough to encompass all who want to receive it. And Paul prays that our comprehension of that love of Christ will deepen TOGETHER WITH ALL THE SAINTS. A life firmly anchored in the love of Christ leads us to want to be together with people who are on the same journey. Paul isn’t encouraging us to become exclusionary, a sort of a spiritual country club or group. He’s reminding us that love can only be experienced IN COMMUNITY. We can’t experience love, the love of God or the love of others, by ourselves. One of the primary ways we experience the love of God is by experiencing that love through others. The people of God are supposed to love one another. In fact, love should be the dominant quality of our lives. Our experience of God’s love for us leads us to respond in expressions of love for God, for one another, and for everyone else we happen to meet.
And Paul prays that we will know this love in such as way that we will be filled with all the fullness of God. This isn’t a prayer for human prosperity. This isn’t prosperity gospel, name it and claim it, pie in the sky spirituality that believes that God always blesses his children financially and physically and mentally. God isn’t a genie in a bottle. It is when we pray and ask in alignment with the will of God that we know that God hears and acts. 1 John 5:14 says “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” So what does that fullness look like? Paul describes it well in his letter to the Galatian Christians. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). This is what it looks like to have the power of God at work in you! Years ago Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse pointed out that love is intrinsic to all the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22. He said, “Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Long-suffering is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Goodness is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins.” There are no fruits of the Spirit without love! One of the foundations of our lives, that sense of deep rootedness & security, comes from the assurance we receive that God loves us, has accepted us, and that we are dear & precious to him.
Paul wants us to know, to experience, the love of God in such a deep way in community that we are filled to overflowing with the fullness of God. Now I can’t contain the fullness of God. There’s no way! It’s like going out to the bay with a mason jar, filling it with water, and thinking that all of the bay will fit in that jar. It’s absurd. But when I fill the jar, all that is in the jar, filled to the brim as it is, is fully representative of the quality of the water that fills the bay. When we grow in those two things: in our desire for the Holy Spirit to strengthen us inwardly, and in our experience of God’s great love for us, something interesting happens: filled to the brim with God’s love, the love of God spills out of our lives and into the lives of others. We experience a deeper sense of connection to one another, a deeper care and concern for one another. Our fellowship deepens to significant relationships with each other.
This is a bold prayer. An audacious prayer. It is a prayer offered from a heart that knows that it is impossible to ask God for too much, that God’s capacity for giving exceeds our capacity for asking. Look at Vv. 20-21. Back in V. 16 Paul prayed that we would experience these things “according to the riches of HIS glory …” As we grow in the inner strength that only God can give, as we grow in our experience and understanding of the love of God in Christ, our wills, our desires, our wants, are shaped and grow more in line with God’s will and desires. Our prayer becomes not “God, make me healthy and wealthy and happy,” but “God, make me effective for Jesus’ sake. And then our eyes turn outward, and aware of the limitless supply from God available to us when our aims are in line with his, and filled to overflowing with his love, we step out together in faith to share that love with others. And our guiding principle becomes not: “Do I like this?” or “Is this good enough for me?” or “Does this fit my preference & taste?” but “WILL THIS HELP US REACH THOSE WHO WE HAVE NOT YET REACHED WITH THE LOVE OF CHRIST.” When we pray in alignment with the will of God, all of the length, and the depth, and the breadth, and the height of the love of God is backing God’s answer to our prayer. May we, you and I together with all who will join us on this journey, be strengthened inwardly by the Spirit of God, and may we know and experience the love of God, that we may not blow over when the winds of culture and society blow against us, but may stand, faithfully, as disciples of Jesus Christ.