Erin picked up a bottle from the grocery store shelf and read, “Blueberry Pomegranate, 100 percent juice, all natural.” The label displayed the image of a ripe pomegranate spilling its glistening seeds onto mounds of plump, perfect blueberries.
Then she turned to the ingredients list. By law, food ingredients are listed in descending order of weight. So the greatest proportion is listed first, so on down to the least. Erin’s “Blueberry Pomegranate, 100 percent juice, all natural” ingredients list read:
- Filtered water
- pear juice concentrate
- apple juice concentrate
- grape juice concentrate.
- Natural flavors.
- And finally, blueberry and pomegranate—just enough to hint at those fruit’s flavor and color.
It was calculated to look like something it wasn’t. In the New Testament passage we come to today, the apostle Paul prays that we who say we are Christians—we wear the label—it’s a prayer that we will be Jesus-filled, not just Jesus-flavored. We want to be true followers of Jesus, plenty of Jesus in our demeanor, our conversations, our service, everything. We want to be Jesus-filled, not just Jesus-flavored.
Prayer is essential to that—taking advantage of God’s power to help us fall madly in love with him. I want you to open your Bible to Ephesians chapter three beginning in verse 14. Here we find a prayer that reveals the heartbeat of someone who has fallen madly in love with God, and now prays for God to do the same for others.
Adapted from Erin Bunting, “Jesus Flavored, or Jesus Filled?” Kyria.com (10-7-09)
Ephesians chapter 3, beginning with verse 14.
For this reason [what reason? The jaw-dropping mercy of God offered to anyone who will trust in & follow Jesus] I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
One of the best ways to discover what’s most important to you is when you pray, and what you pray about? In the New Testament, we have the privilege of listening in on several prayers—when and how Jesus prayed, and when and how some of the apostles prayed. Here in the middle of Paul’s letter to Christians of his day, he literally interrupts himself mid-thought (“For this reason…”). Right there he hits the pause button on teaching, and instead prays for fellow Christians. Everything he has been teaching us about God’s stunning salvation plan, he pauses to pray into us, praying that we will experience everything he’s been putting to paper.
This past week I had the delight of meeting a 99-year-old WWII veteran. I have read about WWII. I’ve watched a bunch of movies about WWII (Band of Brothers, for example). But right next door in Carmel we’ve got a guy who experienced WWII. He served in combat in the South Pacific: on the Guadalcanal, and up through the Solomon Islands. With his daughter there confirming his story, he described his actions rescuing a wounded soldier who was under Japanese machine-gun fire—actions for which he was put in for the Congressional Medal of Honor.
As much as I found Band of Brothers gripping, hearing the stories firsthand, face to face, is a whole new experience. Prayer is one of the best ways to move from knowing about God, to experiencing what God has for you. This is why we’re encouraging you to read through the Bible, with a reading plan in the bulletin every week, and we’re providing opportunities to pray from the Bible, praying from a Psalm every Sunday when we’re together, and praying through a Psalm each day in the Bible plan. Reading the Bible and praying prayers inspired by the Bible go hand in glove. It’s like planting seeds and then watering them. They go together perfectly.
There’s a whole world of experience waiting for you, waiting to be gained through praying about it. If you want to take notes, this prayer breaks out very naturally. The first emphasis is that…
- We have a Father who loves to hear from us. Pray to him!
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”
Chained to a Roman soldier in prison in Rome, Paul, who has been dictating this letter out loud, gets down on his knees in humility before God. He feels so moved by how important this is, that physically in his posture he yields to Almighty God, coming to make a huge request on behalf of fellow Christians.
For Jews in that day, standing was the typical posture for prayer. “And when you pray standing,” Jesus taught, “if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25) In the parable Jesus told of a self-righteous Pharisee and a humble tax collector, each of the two stood praying—the typical posture for praying (Luke 18:11, 13).
In the Old Testament, when the Jewish priest Ezra led in a prayer confessing the sins of his nation, he got on his knees. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane knowing the cross was soon to be his fate, he fell to his knees and put his face to the ground, praying intensely.
So Paul mentioning this implies the intensity with which he felt so moved to pray this prayer for Christians. This is the posture of someone coming into a King’s presence to make a massive request. But it’s important enough that Paul is going to make the ask.
Posture communicates. When you pray, you’re coming to your Father in heaven. He loves to hear from you. So pray! Anywhere, anytime, about anything. Pray about the little stuff. And pray big prayers like this one.
This prayer (vv. 14-19) is one long sentence in Greek. And here’s the point: I wish I could make everyone fall madly in love with God, but I can’t. I can preach and teach what the Bible says and means. I can explain it with illustrations and analogies and stories. I try my best every week to help you know and feel the powerful love of God.
I wish I could make your heart sing over how much God loves you. I don’t have that power. But God does! So I pray this for you. You can pray like this for yourself, for your own heart to be swept up into the love of God. And you can pray like this for people you love, who don’t personally know the love of God. That might be a family member who has never gotten it. The lights have never turned on for them about Jesus. Or it may be someone who used to revel in following Jesus, but their heart has cooled for any of a thousand reasons. Pray like this for them. Ask your heavenly Father to do for them what you wish you could do, that he can!
We have a Father who loves to hear from us. Pray to him! Pray what? Pray how? Here are four great things to pray for yourself and for others. Four steps climbing higher and higher, bringing you and others you pray for closer to God. The first is a prayer for strength:
- May God’s Spirit strengthen you.
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…”
Picture this: it’s mid-August 2019. The temperature is 98, with 98% humidity. It’s a heat wave that’s been going on two weeks. Middle of the afternoon, every home and business is cranking the air conditioning at full blast, when it all produces a brownout: power is restricted. It is reduced. Why? Because the demand for power has exceeded Duke Energy’s ability to provide power.
That’s our normal understanding of how power works. There’s a limited amount, so when it’s exhausted, you’re out of luck. Thinking of his friends who may be running out of power to press on in following Jesus, Paul calls on God’s limitless power—his glorious riches. God doesn’t run out of power. All you need, he can give. So pray. Pray for God’s Spirit to strengthen you. Pray for the Holy Spirit to give power to someone else who’s running on fumes.
This first prayer is asking God for strength: strength to think more like Jesus and less like the old me; power to act more like Jesus and less selfishly; strength to do right morally when I feel the powerful pull of temptation; power to forgive when I feel like taking revenge.
Do you ever ask God to amp up his power in you? Go for it! And pray this for others, especially when you see they’re going through something that would drain anyone of strength. Ask God to give them strength from his super-abundance of it!
Let’s do a Paul right now. Mid-talk, hit the pause button. Who do you know who is out of power right now? In some area of life, they’re limping along on the side of the road, emergency flashers on. Unless something changes, they’re going to be a casualty all too soon. Don’t say it out loud, but who comes to mind? I have a few people come to mind right away: too much crisis going on. It’s overwhelming.
Got someone in mind? When you feel that kind of weight—whether you’re the one under it or you’re feeling a sense of how heavy the situation is for someone else—you can go one of three ways: you can stuff it and move on because it’s so hard to feel. You can try to anesthetize it through entertainment so that you don’t have to feel pain. Or you can pray about it. Name the problem. Call it what it is. And ask God for power to get through it. “Father in heaven, please. Out of your glorious riches, strengthen this person through your Spirit in their inner being. I can’t handle the intensity of what they’re facing. You can. And you can give them the power to make it through. Do it, Lord. Show your strength on their behalf. Let them experience your power in a way that they will know it’s you coming through for them.”
So there’s the first stair-step of praying for yourself and others: ask God for strength. The second builds on that. It’s a prayer for faith.
- May the Lord Jesus make himself at home in you.
“…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
Pray for strength, so that you might more deeply experience what it means that Christ has come to make himself at home in you. And by the way, of the two Greek words used for indwelling, the word Paul uses refers to permanently settling in.
Let me be very clear here. Some of you might hear this and think, “Wait, I’ve already asked Christ to come into my life. So what exactly is this prayer?”
It’s praying that we will experience the reality of Christ in you, and that more and more, Christ’s influence will transform you. We confess Jesus as Lord, and we pray that he will find us more and more receptive to him being Lord within us. A pastor from a hundred years ago explained it this way. The wording is old, but this is good: “[dwell] is a word made expressly to denote residence as against lodging, the abode of a master within his home as against the turning aside for a night of the Wayfarer who will be gone tomorrow.”
Updating that, we would say Jesus comes not just to temporarily check in as with a motel on vacation, but rather to make your heart his home. He is Lord, and we pray that in our hearts, he will be increasingly welcomed as Lord. That same pastor concludes, “[Christ] enters not to soothe and cheer alone but before all things to reign.”
So we pray for faith, to experience Jesus as Lord in our lives. The third step up in prayer is a prayer for love.
- May God’s love become deeply real to you.
Once again, it’s a prayer that what is already true, you will come to experience.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…”
May you experience the love of Christ, even though it’s too great to fully wrap your arms around it. It’s that great, vast, unfathomable. And even before he prays that we’ll grasp Christ’s love, there’s a prayer that we’ll be rooted and established in love; rooted and grounded. The first word picture comes from gardening or farming. The other is used in building, construction. Christ’s love is both the soil which Christians are to sink in and draw from, and Christ’s love is the foundation on which we are to build everything we do.
And again, here’s the greatest difference between religion and Jesus. Religion is all about what you need to do to get to God: Jesus is all about what God has done. Do vs. done. This is a prayer that God will empower you to revel in the deep, deep love of Jesus. Falling madly in love with God comes from getting your arms around all that Christ has done for you. So I pray this, Paul says. Pray this for yourself. Pray it for your family and friends. Pray it for people who drive you up the wall. Pray it for any enemies you may have. Pray this for people you don’t like. Pray that God’s love displayed in Jesus will become real to them. His love is real; now pray they experience his life-changing love.
Like the old song said, what the world needs now it love, sweet love. Not pseudo-love that glosses over conflict and pretends everything is fine. What the world needs—starting with Christians—is to know the love of Jesus, to feel how expansive his love is. For you. And for the other person. Ask God to make his love become deeply real to you.
The love of Christ is:
- Wide enough to invite everyone
- Long enough to last forever
- High enough to lift you to God
- And deep enough to forgive your worst offense
If you go to a Colts game and experience the rush of belonging to a crowd of more than 60,000 people, you get a taste, a glimpse of what it’s going to be like when we stand amidst people from every tribe, language, people and nation, together raising our voices for the greatest victory ever won, the love of Christ displayed on the cross!
Or stand at the shore of the Atlantic or Pacific ocean and let your eyes go all the way to the horizon. You hear the crash of waves on the shore, never-ending. You get a sense of the ocean’s power that can sink a ship or roar inland as a tsunami. You get a feeling of how vast it is as it reaches far beyond what you can see.
In similar ways, pray that God will empower you to taste the reach of Christ’s love, and that grasping his love will change you.
And by the way, we best perceive the love of Christ how? “Together with all the Lord’s holy people.”
Our experience of Christ’s love is personal, but it isn’t private. The love of Jesus is meant to be felt and sung and declared and enjoyed in relationships within the local church. Christ’s love is a personal-yet-shared experience. And the more you get to know fellow Christians, the more you hear of the many ways they’ve experienced Christ’s love.
Four stair-steps up in prayer:
- May God’s Spirit strengthen you.
- May the Lord Jesus make himself at home in you.
- May God’s love become deeply real to you.
- May God’s fullness be realized in you.
Paul prays all of this so…
“…that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
And with that, he reaches the limits of language. What does it mean to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God? Since God alone is flawless in every way: perfect in how he loves; perfect in administering justice; perfect in patience; perfect in goodness, and so on. Since God alone is flawless in every way, and we certainly know we are not flawless, what could it possibly mean to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God?
Perhaps this: “God, everything you want to do in me, I’m asking you to do.” [repeat]
You created us to walk upright before you. Keep working on me in that.
You intended for us to deal with one another as created in your image and likeness. Make that happen more and more in me.
Everything you intend for me ultimately, that I become like Christ, I’m asking personally. Do it. Have your way. I trust you. I need you. And I want you to carry on to completion the good work you’ve begun in me. Have your way, all the way.
Dwight Moody, who started as a volunteer in the YMCA in Chicago, famously was told, “the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.” God powerfully spoke to Moody through that challenge, and he set out to become that kind of person. That’s essentially the prayer here. “God, all that you want to do in me, I want you to do.”
Pray for strength.
Pray for faith.
Pray for love.
And pray for fullness.
We have a Father who loves to hear from us. So pray to him!
Almost done. Paul wraps it up by just about shouting that…
- We have Almighty God at work in us. Praise him!
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
God can do anything: far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! And he does everything not by pushing us around, but by working within us. Praise God!!!
To God be the glory here in the church!
To God be the glory in Christ Jesus!
To God be the glory throughout all generations, from the oldest to the youngest, and as we intentionally pass his greatness on to our kids and grandkids.
And to God be the glory for ever. And ever. Without end, praise him. We start now, and we’ll never stop!
The strength to live comes from him.
The power to save comes from him.
The love displayed on the cross comes from him.
So all the glory must go to him!
We end where we began. We don’t want to be just some kind of bland, Jesus-flavored people. We want to be Jesus-filled!