Talk to Me (January 20, 2019)
Talk to Me
Who is your God? If you could pick an illustration that would describe who he is, what would you choose? Would you choose a world champion strongman who can perform amazing feats of strength and power? Would you choose a top of his field scientist who knows every nuanced detail of his field of study? Would you choose a psychologist who understands how the mind works, and how emotions play into our feelings and actions, or, did you have something else in mind?
As I went through the list – and there are other illustrations I could have given – you may have been thinking to yourself, isn’t he all of those? In the first reading from Exodus 7 we see him perform incredible feats of power like a strongman. And although just the beginning of the full account, you perhaps recall all of the 10 plagues that God sent upon Egypt to display his power over every false god. But brute power would not be enough. So, God is also like a top scientist in that he knows every detail about every aspect of his creation – even things that scientists haven’t yet discovered. Yet, even that wouldn’t be enough. So, God is also like a psychologist who understands how you feel, and how you may react or perceive certain things. Isn’t God, all those things rolled up into one, and yet, so much more than all those things?
The example that Paul uses in this section of his letter to the Ephesians, is that of a father. Yet even in this regard, we really only have a flawed view of what a father is. As we grow up, we learn that our fathers – although we may look up to them – really can’t do everything and really can’t beat everyone else’s dad in an arm wrestling contest. We learn that our fathers may have certain flaws or weaknesses. So, to understand this, you really have to think of a father through the eyes of a toddler. Some of you know by experience but let me paint the picture for you. You wake up on a Saturday morning, sleepily walk down the stairs, and dad is there, already awake, and already busy making one of his specialty weekend breakfasts! When breakfast is ready, he carries you upstairs to get your younger brother out of the crib. Then back down the stairs he walks with ease, powerfully carrying your brother in his left arm, and you in his right arm. The whole family enjoys breakfast together, and then the playing begins! As you play, dad explains exactly how the train burns coal to make the wheels roll and smoke come out the top of the steam engine. But then it breaks! No problem, dad can fix it. He takes out his tools and gets to work, but not before he takes some time to make the sadness go away. It’s a long and fun day with dad. When you finally go to sleep, he’s there to tuck you in and give you a goodnight kiss. You peacefully drift off to sleep because you know he will be there when you wake up.
It’s with this picture in mind that Paul says just a little earlier in verse 12, “In Christ and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Eph 3:12). Paul also probably had in mind the many times that Jesus prayed. When we read the gospels, it is touching to notice the confidence which Jesus rested in his Father. And, because by grace he had the same Father, Paul could use the same free, easy, and confident approach to the Father that Jesus used. “For this reason, I kneel before the Father” (Eph 3:13), “with freedom and confidence” (Eph 3:12), because you are the perfect Father, the complete embodiment of all fatherly qualities, the prototype of fatherhood. That’s exactly how God wants us to approach him. “Talk to me” he says. “I am your heavenly Father. You can approach me any time, with any need, and in full confidence that I will give you what you need.”
So, you have his ear – the ear of your perfect heavenly Father. What will you pray for? Anything! The Bible says pray to God about anything and everything! “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Php 4:6). But I want to get a little more specific than that. Although we can and should pray about everything, there are certain things we often forget to pray about – or simply don’t even know to pray about. And for that reason, it’s good to look at the prayers of others. We do that when we pray the Lord’s prayer every Sunday. It’s easy to think about and pray for material blessings, but what about spiritual blessings? Out of the 7 petitions in the Lord’s prayer only one of them is for material blessings. The other 6 are for spiritual blessings that we may forget to pray about. Here too, in verses 16 through 19, Paul prays for two things. He prays that the Father would strengthen your inner being. And he prays that you would be able to fully grasp the love of Christ.
Let’s talk about those. As he proceeds to mention what it is he wants the Father to do, Paul mentions another reason for being confident of being heard: “The riches of his glory” (Eph 3:16). It’s translated “his glorious riches” in the NIV, but the focus is on his glory and the vast wealth of it. Our Father’s glory lies in his grace. And his grace does not come in little driblets, a little here and a little there – maybe just enough to get you by. No, there’s a wealth of God’s grace, an overflowing flood to completely cover and drown all your sinfulness and all your needs.
To get an idea of what that’s like, you have to stand on top of a dam. My family likes to go hiking at the base of Stillhouse Hollow Dam. On our way to the park, you get the twofold picture of this richness of glory. Driving over the top of the dam, on the one side, you have to reservoir which is filled with water and stretching far beyond what your eyes can see. And deep! I wish I could see the reservoir empty just to get an idea of how deep. But I know it’s deep. And yet peaceful on this side. Then you drive down to the bottom of the dam on the spillway side. And as you get out of the car, you hear the thunderous roar of the spillway. When you walk closer you see the water gushing out of the spillway and rushing down the turbulent river, churning as it goes. Then you realize just what kind of power is behind the vastness of the reservoir on the other side. The same applies to the riches of God’s glory. Powerful as it acts within us, pushing out the sinful nature while creating the inner being, yet peaceful as it strengthens with the vast depth of grace. And that is to the glory of God. His glory lies in the fact that he graciously forgives sins, creates faith in your heart and strengthens your “inner being” (Eph 3:16). The “inner being” is what Paul will later call the “new man” (Eph 4:24).
“Then, being rooted and grounded in love” Paul continues his prayer, “I pray that you would be able to comprehend… how wide and long and high and deep his love is” (Eph 3:17-18). So, Paul is building his prayer. From the riches of his glory God has strengthened you by connecting you to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, sinking your roots into Christ – being rooted and grounded in the love of Christ – I pray that God would show you how wide and long and high and deep his love is.
Here’s where I think every one of us could use some strengthening. We don’t grasp the vastness of God’s love. We don’t comprehend the extremes of what his love is able to do. And here’s the really hard part – we don’t want to find out. We are scared to find out. Let me explain what I mean. Your car has airbags. These airbags are designed to minimize injury in the case of an accident. But how many of you have seen your car’s airbags or had to make use of them? You’ve probably seen it noted on a list of safety features, maybe even seen videos of airbags deploy in crash tests, but you probably have not seen the airbags in your current vehicle. You trust that they are there, and hope they do their job should you need them. But you don’t want to have to put them to the test. That would mean that you are in a dangerous situation. The same can be true about the ways in which God helps you comprehend his love. You know it’s there but may not know just what it’s capable of. He may need to take you to the depths so that you can experience for yourself that his love still holds you even at this new low. He may take you through extended hardship so that you know for certain that God’s love will never grow weary or faint even if you do. The fact is, to really know God’s love, he may take you to the extreme and back again so that you understand the riches of his glory, and learn to trust his love.
But he doesn’t always do it that way. Other times he may take you to new heights or broaden out his love in other ways. Those at the wedding in Cana got a small glimpse of God’s love when Jesus changed water into wine – the first of many miracles by which God would display his power, might, care, and concern for the people – broadening and elevating his love to new levels. In all these ways, God slowly and carefully broadens and deepens our understanding of what his love is capable of. And so just like a tree with strong roots can weather the strongest storms because of what it’s anchored to, God wants to show you that you too can weather the strongest storms of life when your roots are strong in him. And just as a tree with deep roots can endure through long droughts by tapping into deep reserves of groundwater, God wants to show you that he will preserve you through life’s droughts because you are tapped into the water of his love.
Here’s the outcome, then. When the Spirit makes you strong in the inner being, when Christ dwells in your heart by faith, and when you are rooted and grounded in his love – all things which God does for you – then you will be able to appreciate and rely on the vast dimensions of Christ’s love. And just when you think you have reached the limit, just when you think you have been to the extremes of God’s love and been brought back safely, unharmed, praising God for carrying you through that fierce endeavor, God your Father says to you, “I can do more!”
“[He] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20). More than all we ask, I get that. But just think about what it means that God can do more than we can even imagine! Keep that in mind as you pray bold prayers. God encourages you to come to him, just like you would come to a perfectly loving father. Present your requests to him freely and confidently, knowing that he will listen. And as you pray, “your will be done” – or whatever variation of that phrase you may use – this is where you are to remember that God may have something in mind for you that you can’t even imagine. And it’s all for the good of his children! Paul had dared to ask for much, even that the Ephesians might be filled with the very best that God has to give. Was he asking too much? Do we ask too much when we pray for the best that God has to give? “Not by any means,” your Father replies. “Talk to me. I will listen. I can do more!”