Ephesians 3:14-21New Living Translation (NLT) Paul’s Prayer for Spiritual Growth
14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,[a]15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.[b]16 I pray that from God's glorious, unlimited resources God will empower you with inner strength through God's Spirit.17 Then Christ will make a home in your hearts as you trust in Christ. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God's love is.19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. Footnotes:
3:14Some manuscripts read the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
3:15Or from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
If you've been following out backyard series, this time on church or body building, you no doubt knew that today's entry, cardio, would be inevitable. As much as we needed to review core training, or the basics of our faith that we went over last week, everyone who has ever hit the gym knows that a good cardio workout is part of a comprehensive training program. But while in the gym we do cardio to build up our endurance, burn fat, and strengthen our heart and lungs, in Church & Spiritual Bodybuilding we focus on how our collective heart can be strengthened- how our love for God roots and grounds us in love, and how the holy spirit working in our midst builds up our love for one another, challenging us to burn away our old notion of love, and go out and love as God loves.
Let's unpack all of that-
I just finished reading to you a continuation of the letter of Paul to the Ephesians. He has spent the better part of chapter 2 talking about how God's promises are for all; how the gentiles (or, non-Jews) are, through Christ, heirs along with the Jews to all God has for us- and tells the Ephesians that he has been called to spread that good news of God to those who used to think they were not included. Think about that for a minute. Here is Paul, one of the leaders of the jewish community- a perfect jew, by his own admission, with a complete knowledge of God's law to the jewish people- how and why God covenanted (made promises) with the Jewish people to be agents of peace on the earth- believing for his whole life that God's people are to be set apart- even marked with a physical sign telling others who is in and who is not... this same person now sent out to tell non-Jews- um- you are all included in this work too... you are all loved just as we are- just as you are- God has broken down all the barriers and dividing lines through Christ, and all of you have equal access to God...
I know some of us have experiences with churches in our past who have taught some similar things- that you must do or say certain things to be in, or accepted by God, or that if you are not XYZ religion, you can not participate in the church- and all of a sudden- Christ flings the front door open and says, I know what you've believed about God in the past and what you have to do or say to be "a believer", but from now on you don't have to be catholic, or pentecostal, or fundamentalist, or presbyterian or anything else- you just have to have a pulse- God loves you just the way you are... Now picture the staunchest, die hard person in your congregation- maybe the one who taught you in the ways of the faith- who you knew nothing anyone did or said could shake them from believing- picture them receiving that news. And all of a sudden they do a 180- all of a sudden they are preaching inclusion, preaching equality, preaching 'now Jew or greek, slave or free, no more male or female- just people- everybody's in.
That's Paul. And though most scholars don't believe this letter to be written by Paul, but the generations who followed Paul's teachings, this revelation of God is so enormous that when even the author thinks out it, or writes or talks about it, the news itself continues to overwhelm even him- and so they open this passage by saying "when I think of all this I fall to my knees before the father, creator of everything in heaven and earth. And for the inclusive language buffs here today, you'll notice I left in the word Father. If you were to translate directly from the greek it would be "God is the father (Greek: pater), from whom all fatherhood (Greek: patria) is named. Naming is about authorizing."(1) And this speaks to every family being named as God's family, born a Jew or not. God is the one who has done it- and it's so overwhelming if causes the author to fall down in prayer... but not for themselves- but for the church- for us- a prayer to be overheard by countless generations.
And because they know the enormity of the task ahead of us, they pray for us by 'God's glorious unlimited resources, to be empowered with inner strength through God's Spirit!'...This is not about God's Spirit as something other worldly communicating with our spiritual part. It is about our inner self, (it's about our heart- for the ancients, the center of our being)- which governs all we do and are, and about God's Spirit connecting with us so that all that we are and do is transformed or empowered. Notice this is nothing we do on our own. It's by God's spirit that it happens- and this is a total transformation of the self.
What would that look like, for you to be totally transformed? For everyone, it will look different, depending on your call, your gifts, and who God has designed you to be... but it means that we would look like our very best selves.
Let me pause here for a moment. Have you ever taken time to envision your very best self? Where your physical, emotional and spiritual health come together in perfect harmony and you are living out rich full life in community? If you're like me, it can be a bit of a stretch to actually visualize that... but when I do, she looks a bit like a combination of wonder woman, mother teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt and Aretha Frankiin. My bar for myself is up here!
Our best self can seem so far off. If we don't have a ways to go physically, (and that can be due to any number of things, not just fitness), then emotionally, definitely we are far off- after all we still act like spoiled brats when we don't get what we want, or get angry when we feel threatened, or judgmental when we are challenged.... but then thinking about our best spiritual selves? Yikes- what does that look like- because there are lots of mornings when my prayer time is cut short, or some when it doesn't happen at all, or times when I feel like I do an OK job of showing God's love to others and sometimes, well... and times when I feel like coming to church to be in community and times when I want to read the paper on Sunday morning... enough with the people already... times when I want to get out there and make the world a better place, and times when I want to just flip channels... what's wrong with that?
Well, nothing... except that when we start looking at what we feel is supposed to be our ideal, or our best selves, and counting the ways in which we fall short of what we perceive as our best selves, then on some level we breed disdain for ourselves- when we hold our bar for our best always just out of reach, our arms get tired after a while... and we tend to focus more on the negative aspects, on the mistakes, rather than look at what good God may be doing in and through us. So while it's nice to know that there is a better version of us out there, its best to leave the final picture of that perfection to God.
What? To God? Then how do I proceed on the journey? What goals will I work towards? How will I know what areas need development, how to improve- and most important- how will I know how well I'm doing in comparison to others? That is how we are taught to measure ourselves, isnt it? By who wins?
But here's the good news- we don't have to worry about how we are not measuring up- we don't have to worry about the parts we are missing, or the ways we are failing. We only need to trust God with every part of ourselves, even the ones we see as broken... because honestly, God already sees you as perfect. God already sees you as whole. God sees you as your best self. The disconnect comes when we don't see ourselves the way God sees us. If there is one thing we can "do" its to ask for the vision to see ourselves and love ourselves the way God does, to trust the one who calls us beloved child...
Talk about empowerment. Verse 16 says that Christ will make a home in your hearts as you trust in Christ. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. That's a vision to grasp of your best self- that you are rooted and grounded in God's love. if God's love is your root, everything that grows from the root is of God- and I know we can look at our lives and think, how could that be? It is because of love. it is, because that's what love is. It's looking for and seeing the best in something, in others, in yourself...
This is the way the world changes. And as I've said before, it's not some Pollyanna rose-colored-glasses way of seeing the world. It's standing on the promises of God, no matter how things look. It's waking up in the morning, acknowledging the power that lives in you, accepting again and again that you are rooted and grounded in God's love, choosing daily to pray for the "power to understand as all God's people should, how wide, how high, how deep God's love is."
It's choosing to look for signs of God throughout the day, and to praise God when you see them- and even when you don't. It's coming to learn and share and grow with your community of faith, even when you feel you don't fit in, or feel you don't belong, or feel you just don't want to. It's sharing what God is doing in your life and in the lives of this community... and trust me, God is moving here.
And I know that all of this is tough to grasp- it's much easier to see ourselves as far from what God wants us to be- it gives us much more license to stay right where we are- but Paul says, May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
in other words, we get on the spiritual treadmill every day- we allow the Spirit of Christ which lives in our hearts to strengthen us, to pump that energy to our whole being, to transform us into God's ideal- not some version of ourselves we think is perfect... You are God's perfect beloved child- right now... and God is able, through God's mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.