The first folks got the Covid vaccine this week! And in the next month, 20 million more should be getting that little shot. Hallelujah! But hold on. That still leaves another 280 million more to go. And that’s just in this country. Ok, so yes, we now see a little light at the end of this long dark tunnel. But we know. This tunnel still has a ways to go. And some of its darkest places may lie before us.
But we’re tired aren’t we? We’re tired of the social isolation. We’re tired of the low-grade stress, going around wearing masks and keeping our distance. We’re tired of this new abnormal that has taken so much from us, and Christmas no less! So yes, the dawn is coming! The pandemic is going to be ending. But that old saying rings truer than ever. Yes, it is always darkest before the dawn. So how do we make it through that darkness before the dawn? No, that’s not the question. We know we’ll make it. But how do you make it with hope, with peace, with joy even? How do you do that? How do we do that? How do we let the light shine forth even on the darkest of days?
In the words of this prayer, a prayer written to a community going through its own very dark days, God tells you. For in this prayer, God opens the way to how you can have a fullness of heart even in the darkest of these days? How can that be? Here God shows the way. Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.
How do you have a fullness of heart even on the darkest of days? God tells you here. The more you know the light of the love inside, the more powerful it shines to cut through whatever darkness you face on the outside. And trust me, these Ephesians were facing some darkness. Paul is facing some darkness. He is suffering imprisonment, literally sitting on death row. And his imprisonment is shaking these Ephesians up. After all, they are facing persecution too, along with poverty and sickness. They are facing serious dark times, and they are scared.
Yet what does Paul pray for? Does he pray for protection from their enemies? Does he pray for deliverance from their hardships? No, Paul doesn’t mention that at all. Now, Paul certainly cares about that, so why doesn’t he pray for it. Because Paul knows. If they get this prayer answered, no darkness they face out there will ever defeat them.
And Paul prays this prayer fervently, passionately. He gets down on his knees to pray it. You see, in those days, folks prayed standing up. So, when Paul tell you he is kneeling, he is telling you how intense his prayer was. And what does he ask? He prays that “according to the riches of his glory, that they will be strengthened in their inner being.”
And in those two words “inner being,” you find the key to this prayer. You see. If in your inner life, you have a strength; if in your inner life, you carry a peace; if in your inner life, you have a power, outward circumstances don’t stand a chance of shaking you. If your inner life is strong, you can handle anything in your outward circumstances.
But hold on. Why is Paul asking for that? These folks follow Christ. Don’t they already have that strength in their inner being? Don’t they already have Christ dwelling in their hearts? Why is Paul asking for what they already have?
It’s because, it’s one thing to know something. It’s a whole other thing to experience it. Let’s say someone gives you a huge plot of land, gorgeous fields, some forest, a stream running through it. You know you have it. But knowing that doesn’t compare to walking in it, touching the trees, sticking your hand in that brook, and realizing all this is mine. For your inner life to be strong, you can’t simply know the truth. You’ve got to experience it. And that is what Paul is praying for.
Let’s take this past week. I knew that vaccines were coming. But when I saw the trucks leaving the vaccine plant in Michigan; when I saw pictures of folks actually getting the shot; it felt awesome. It felt real. This thing was really happening. This pandemic was going to end.
Now a couple of weeks from now, I won’t feel that same sort of thrill. That’s normal. None of us feels that intensity of emotion all the time, not even with our own kids or spouses or family members or close friends Heck, if you did, you could hardly function.
But when you do feel it, the feeling stays with you. I’ll remember seeing those trucks roll out and the people cheering, seeing that nurse in Long Island getting the first shot. I’ll remember the feeling it gave me. Feelings like that sustain you. Whether it be joy at realizing the vaccine is finally here or those moments when you feel deeply the love of someone close to you, those feelings sustain you. They feed you. They strengthen you. Yes, you knew that love was there, but when you feel it, you know it at a level so much deeper.
And that is why Paul is praying with such passion. He yearns for these believers in Ephesus to feel the deep reality of what they already have. He knows. When you grasp God’s love like that, it roots that love deeper than ever. And everyone needs that
The Welsh preacher, Martin Lloyd Jones, would counsel troubled Christians and ask them this question. He’d ask. “Are you a Christian?” They’d often respond. “Well, I’m trying to be.” And he’d reply. “You don’t get it, do you?” Being a Christian isn’t something you try to be. It’s a status, a standing, a reality you already have. But too many times, even Christians don’t get this reality. They don’t realize, in the depth of their being how much God loves them. And if you’ve never felt it, it’s hard to trust that love is there, especially when you struggle or doubt.
But if you do experience it, the power of that love, it will carry you through anything. So, Paul prays for that, for an experience of God’s love that not only will you never forget, but the power of that experience will change you forever. And you pray for it, because in the end, the experience, it comes as a gift.
You don’t earn it. But if you ask, it will come. And you keep asking until it comes. The great missionary pioneer, Hudson Taylor, kept one prayer in his Bible as a bookmark. The prayer’s first line went like this. Lord Jesus make thyself to me, a living, bright reality. And every day, several times day, Hudson Taylor prayed that. He asked. For asking is where it always begins, with simply saying, God, make yourself real to me. That’s why I’ve given you all these prayers these past weeks –
Search me O God or Break me where I need to be broken or Here am I send me. Those prayers carry power if you pray them. And now this one, God, make yourself real – let me grasp the love.
And when Paul says grasp, he means it. This word in Greek literally means to wrestle someone to the ground and rob them. Now why does Paul use this word? It’s because as you go through life, you can miss the power of God’s love unless you literally grab it and wrestle its reality into your very heart.
A few weeks ago, I was putting some things away in my bedroom at home, and I saw a folded piece of paper on my bureau. I wondered. What is that? And I opened it to find a note that my son Patrick had written before he and my wife left for Canada. He wrote in his own six-year-old struggling script these words. Dad, you are awesome. I will miss you so much in Canada. Love, Patrick. And seeing those words, remembering him writing it, grasping it in my hand, it was amazing. I was literally grasping the reality of his love for me. And doing that, in fact looking at it right now, just feels me with such joy.
And what I experienced in grasping that note, you can experience in grasping the breadth, length, height and depth of God’s love for you.
Maybe the breadth means that you grasp no place exists on the face of the earth, where Jesus’ love can’t reach you. Maybe the length means you grasp that even if you run away, Jesus will go to any length to bring you home. Have you ever experienced that? You’ve run away from Jesus, from his love for you, only to find his love seeking you out, searching for you, drawing you home. Maybe grasping the depth means remembering how Jesus went all the way down, into the very depths of human pain, even death itself, to deliver you. Maybe you remember the words of the concentration camp survivor, Corrie Ten Boom, who said, “There is no pit so deep that Jesus is not deeper still.” Maybe the height points to where Jesus is bringing you, into the full glory and beauty of all that God is. Do you see how grasping onto the love like that has the power to shift your perspective on everything?
Your worries, your anxieties, your self-pity, your low self-esteem, your jealousies and resentment, no outward shift in your circumstances will resolve those things. But knowing this love will. Because if you are not rooted and grounded in love, then your life will become rooted and grounded in fear. And fear blinds you to the truth. It blinds you to the truth of this wondrous love that lies all around you, even on the darkest of days. But the more Jesus roots his love in you, the more you will see clearly what is true and what is not. And you will grasp how wondrous, how infinite, how far-reaching Jesus’ love is, how utterly surrounded by his love you already are. And in that love, you will discover a fullness welling up inside you, one that can hardly be contained, that bit by bit will cast every fear and dark place out of you even on the darkest of days. Then these final words of the prayer will become more real than ever. You will discover that this power at work in you can and will accomplish abundantly far more than anything you could ever ask or imagine or dream.