(August 26, 2018) Jeff Benson brings a challenge…
There’s a lot to love about being part of one’s church community!
One of the things that I enjoy the most is engaging with people who have only recently come to faith in Jesus. One example is a particular young lady who gave her life to Jesus about 14 weeks ago… it’s been really exciting to see her come alive through experiencing God at work in her life.
Discovering God’s love is infectious!
As she’s come to understand God’s love for her and has been sensing his voice and guidance, she’s come alive with an enthusiasm that’s actually quite infectious. Here’s a snippet of something she posted on Facebook recently (She’s allowed me to use it):
‘Through the blood of Jesus Christ we have been saved, we’re free of sin and justified by faith! So many blessings have been just poured over me since I came to faith and it’s so overwhelming at times but I am so thankful because of how much my life has changed! God shined so much light into my life and knowing that I have a God who loves me so much, who is always there and has the best plans for my life is just so amazing.’
Note how much this new Christian used the word ‘so’: So many blessings, so overwhelming, so thankful, so much light, loves me so much, so amazing!
That’s pretty cool isn’t it? It reflects the kind of enthusiasm and passion that we all should have about getting to know God and experiencing him in our lives – a kind of enthusiasm that brings with it a boldness to share something like what she did on social media for all the world to see.
Testimonies like this bring a joy my heart and a fire in my bones – they remind me of God’s goodness and of how fortunate I really am. To have been loved and forgiven by God when I deserved was to be condemned and punished. And to be now in the most beautiful relationship with God where, as my Father, his blessings and his promises are off the charts!
O the depths of God’s love!
God’s love is indeed so amazing that I’m reminded of Paul’s declarations in Ephesians chapter 1. The apostle is just so full of enthusiasm and passion! And he uses rich language because he wants the Ephesian church to understand the depths and richness of what God has done and has promised to do for them (and for us).
Summarising the first half of chapter 1 as simply as I can… Paul says that God has:
- Blessed us with every spiritual blessing (v3)
- Chosen to make us holy and blameless (v4)
- Decided to adopt us (v5)
- Lavished his grace on us (v6-8)
- Redeemed and forgiven us (v7)
- Made his heart for us known (v9)
- Given us the Holy Spirit (v13)
- Guaranteed our inheritance (v14).
One can almost feel the tension in Paul’s passion as he writes these things because he’s talking to a bunch of new Christians who only have the smallest grasp of God’s love. The reality is that our journey of faith as Christians is a lifelong one where along the way God reveals more and more of his love to us, and more and more of himself – and yet, after decades of being a Christian, we still only know in part.
Knowing God better
And, inspired by this thought, by that tension, Paul says in verse 15 and 16, ‘Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.’ He’s saying, ‘I’m really pumped that you’ve come to know God… and so thankful to him for the fruit that is already evident in you!’
But then he says (v17), ‘I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation (in other words I keep praying that the Holy Spirit would pull back the covers and you would see God for who he is), so that you may know him better.’
As a pastor I regularly have the privilege of journeying with couples pre and post marriage… and one of the biggest shifts in dynamics we often see take place in relationship is that, during the courting phase of a relationship (pre-marriage) a lot of energy gets put into getting to know one another, and as a result growing in love for one another.
In fact, a lot of energy gets put into convincing the other person that the wisest and best decision that they could ever make in their life is to be known and loved by you.
Yet… after marriage there is so often a radical shift in that dynamic affecting the security of the relationship. Couples stop making an effort to get to know one another, and as a result stop growing in love and appreciation for one another.
I think it’s very common for us to do a similar thing in our relationship with God. When we first come to the Lord in faith there’s a passion, there’s an enthusiasm – there’s a fire – a desire to know God, to know him intimately.
Dangerous radical shifts…
But somewhere along the journey we become distracted by life, or perhaps we become content with what we know… or we lose sight of the fact that there is so much more to know of our infinite and amazing God… either way we lose that initial hunger and we stop pursuing God and stop growing in our love for him.
And that’s exactly what happened to the church at Ephesus! In Revelation 2:4 God challenges them: ‘Hey, as a church, you’re doing a lot of great things… and you’ve persevered through hardship because of me … and you’ve not tolerated any of the wickedness that has been going on around you… yet this I hold against you: “You have forsaken the love that you had at first”.’
He’s asking: ‘That love that you once had for me, that hunger that you had to know me and love me… where is it now? Where is it gone?’
What about you today? Whether or not you feel that God would say the same thing of you today, what we read here is a good reminder of the fact that God calls us into a relationship with him in which we have the opportunity every day to know him more… and as a result grow more and more in love with him.
Knowing God better with the Spirit’s help
Paul doesn’t exactly give us an instruction manual in Ephesians 1 on how to get to know God better, but the one thing he does point out that is top of the list is knowing God is first and foremost… and that something happens as he reveals himself to us by the Holy Spirit.
Now God will use all sorts of physical things in the process (the Bible, nature, other people, life circumstances, all sorts of physical things external to us)… but it’s only by the wisdom and revelation of the Holy Spirit within us that we can truly come to know God.
When it comes to this idea of knowing God better, Paul’s emphasis is on praying that the Holy Spirit would reveal something in our spirit and to our heart. He writes: ‘I keep asking (praying) that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better’ (v17).
And why? Well, to put it simply: We can know and understand things about God, but truly knowing him (relationally) is a different thing altogether. It’s a spiritual thing – because God lives in us by his Holy Spirit. Our relationship with him is one of unity between our spirit and his Spirit… it’s through that union that the Spirit of God speaks into the void of our life, and the void of our heart.
So we need to pray (as Paul did) that Spirit of God would pull back the covers… and enable the eyes of our heart to see and know God and all that he want to speak into us.
There’s something else here… Paul continues in v18-19, ‘I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe…’
What Paul is saying here is a continuation of what he said at the beginning of the chapter, when he stated that God has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. If you are in Jesus, there are eternal promises over your life… and the list of those things is so long and so deep is so wide that once again, you are going to need Holy Spirit’s help in grasping it, and understanding it.
A guaranteed deposit now!
John 14:1-4 tells us that Jesus has been preparing a place for us in eternal glory where we will experience the fullness of intimacy and unity with God, and the full measure of his love and goodness and power.
But the object of our hope is not just that ‘one day’ we are going to experience every spiritual blessing in Christ … rather that right now we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ and that as it says in Ephesians 13 and 14: ‘When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance …’
In other words through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives we get to experience part (the deposit) of what one day will experience in whole (the fullness of our eternal inheritance).
Let’s be infectiously enthusiastic about Jesus!
Are we maintaining a hope in God for those things? Not just the fullness of those things in an eternal sense… but the promise of those things for now! Is there hope in your heart that by the incomparably great power of God today, tomorrow and next week you are going to experience something more of God’s transforming work in your life?
Paul’s prayer is that is that the eyes of our heart would be opened to see and understand our inheritance – to see something of God’s incomparably great power for us, and that we would be inspired to hope for that power to be at work in us now.
In this life it may only ever be a deposit, a portion, of things to come but all around us – in the church, and outside of the church – is a world full of people who need to see Jesus in us, and experience his power and his word through us. And so it’s right for us to eagerly desire (and set our hope on) everything that God wants to do in and through us as we follow Jesus.
I encourage us all to discover more about God’s love for us and, like the new Christian I mentioned at the beginning, come alive with an infectious enthusiasm about what we have discovered about the depths of God’s love and share the good news.