This week's Bible Study - December 27, 2015
Strengthened by God's Power
Quotes of the Week:
Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.
Have you heard of the workout called P90x? Well, a few years ago, I tried it. I had watched the infomercials that were run so often, and I had some time on my hands, so I thought, what the heck. A friend of mine had the disks, so he let me use them. There are several disks in the set, so I figured I would pick one and work on that. It was focused on the arms. It was a tough workout, and I did it every day for a week. Man, did my arms ever hurt! After a couple of days, they hurt. I remember going to bed at night with them aching, yet I kept with it - you know, work through the hurt. As the week went on, they were more or less stuck in a bent position and I felt somewhat like an odd shaped T-Rex (or so I have been told). Brushing my teeth, getting clothes out of the washer and typing on a keyboard were all typical of difficult tasks I faced. I played a lot of basketball at the time, and needless to say, my touch was lost.
I found out that I should have read the directions and cycled between the disks in the set, as opposed to the one over and over. Following the instructions would have certainly helped. There are many different efforts that we all begin, with the best of intentions, but many of us often fail to pay any attention to the step by step instructions or the guidance that we should have followed. We tend to think we can handle it on our own. In assembling complex items, this failure to follow directions has often led, in my experience, with parts left over after something has been assembled, or parts missing. And, when we set off with an effort to begin a strength training program, with no thought of the steps that need to be carried out, we can end up hurting ourselves more than helping.
Many tend to seek God in their own, personal way, regardless of how He has related to us through Scripture. Christianity establishes a personal relationship with the Lord, but there are aspects of how we relate to Him that have been given to us in Scripture. Even when we do seek God as He should be sought, we may find it difficult to establish a regular pattern, without it becoming rote. In our spiritual lives, strength comes from the Father, and we gain that through prayer. When you pray, what do you pray for? Many have learned standard prayers that they may say before meals or at a specific point in the day. When we do pray, we often find our prayers to be full of what we or those we love need, but little else. I've heard the acronym ACTS - Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication used to help give a guideline for prayer. This is a good acronym to remember, because each of these aspects should be parts of our prayers, although it could be that even using ACTS can become rote. Many believers have a difficult time thriving in their prayer lives.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:15, we are told to pray continually. Some look at that verse and realize that, in truth, they have a problem praying daily, or a few times each week. Perhaps the key is learning what it means to be in constant prayer and communication with our Lord. We may not be praying through a full list of concerns, but praying for things in our day as they appear. Certainly, there are specific requests that are timely, as in praying for those who are in present need. We each know those who have lost loved ones, are dealing with a major illness, or with a laundry list of other concerns. What might be different in our lives if we took concerns to God when they came to mind, as opposed to trying to remember them at some point in the future?
In this lesson, we will look at how God intends to strengthen believers. As Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, he often wrote how he was praying for them, and what he was specifically praying for. This can be somewhat of a guide in how we should be praying for ourselves and others.
The passage starts focusing on the commonality we have in our relationship with the Father. It is amazing to think that you and I are brothers and sisters in the Lord, regardless of whether we are in the same family, friends with one another, or perhaps if we don't know one another at all. There should be a closeness between believers that surpasses what we find elsewhere. We know this is how it should be, but even within our churches, we see schisms and groups of people that want to have nothing to do with each other. When this takes place, what would we say or do if Jesus were to come into our midst? Would we expect that He would visit each 'group' individually, or would we all go to meet Him?
Paul's prayer began on his knees, as he knelt before the Father. Do you believe that your physical position is important when you pray? Does God hear the prayers of those on their knees more than the prayers of those who are standing or sitting? It certainly does not have to do with the position of your body, but more so the position of the heart. Are we focused when we pray? Are we communicating with God or are we merely saying words?
Note that Paul's prayer does not revolve around material prosperity, nor pain and suffering, nor physical or emotional help nor even heightened spiritual experiences. I would think that I would be pretty accurate in saying that in almost every one of our prayers, those type of things are mentioned. Certainly, that isn't the case every time, but our prayers tend to be more 'me-focused', revolving around our circumstances. If you think of Paul's situation when he wrote at least a couple of his letters to churches, he was in prison. If it were you or I, we likely would have something in our prayers that at least asked people to pray that we would be released from prison. We see none of that from Paul.
Paul truly loved the believers in the church at Ephesus, but his primary prayer was that their inner being would be strengthened through God's Spirit out of His glorious riches. I am sure that Paul cared for their circumstances. Surely there were people that were dealing with illness or loss, but Paul's concern was deeper. The thing that would have lasting impact would be a change that would come from within. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Paul wrote "Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." He prayed that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith, and that they would be rooted and grounded in love. He prayed that they would be able to begin to grasp, along with the other believers, the width and length and height and depth of the love of Christ.
What would be different in your life if you truly were able to grasp the love of Christ? I don't doubt that any of us as believers do not understand a concept of His love for us, as He offered Himself as payment for our sins. But, do we really grasp His love? When Berkley and I were in Maine this past fall, we went to the Acadia National Park. As we drove around, we saw some very beautiful lakes which were large and very blue on the day we saw them. We walked down next to a couple of the lakes, in order to get some pictures, but we never stepped in; we didn't go swimming. We appreciated the beauty and size of the lake, but other than visually seeing it, we were not immersed in it. This is how many people see Christ. They read about Him in Scriptures and gain some head knowledge. At times, they may experience His presence in a real way. But, there is always more than we experience. We often overestimate how close we are to Christ. When things are going good, we often take His love for granted, but when we had failed in our own lives, and can still recognize the love of Christ, it can become even dearer. What might life be like if we truly understood His love? Would that be the key for us to be able to follow Him even more closely?
Note that Paul prays that we can grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ IS. This is not something that may one day be, but it is what you have available now. Do we fail to focus on the love of Christ and the power associated? In an earlier lesson, we learned from John 1:1 that Jesus is the Creator. He brought out of nothing all that was made. What amount of power is available from the Creator of all things? We tend to want to tap into that power for earthly things, and this is understandable, because in this life, this is all we tangibly experience. We want His power for healing and restoration. We want His power for success in our endeavors. We know that God can solve all of those problems, but in some situations we have seen Him act and in others not. I have no response as to why God sometimes acts and not others, but if we end up expecting God to solve all of our earthly problems, I can rather assuredly say that we will never truly grasp the love of Christ. Paul's prayer and one that we should be praying is to have the ability to truly grasp His love.
As Paul closes this prayer, he goes back to the focal point. He consistently focuses on God from the start to the finish. Strength will come only from Him, so when we wander in our prayers, are we missing something? In a discussion a few of us had recently, it was brought up that the fact that we pray to God shows that we understand it all comes from Him, so in simply praying, we are acknowledging God's strength. This is true, but though Paul knew that God could provide, he focused his prayer on God's power and majesty. He acknowledged that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power at work within us. We know that God can do all things, but we know that not all things that we ask are within His will. It is very difficult to know what God's will is in many areas of our lives.
As we think of the context of this passage, this strength is available to work within us. In Romans 12, we learn that we are to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Oh, that our minds would truly be renewed on a daily basis! When we focus on what we can do, we are more likely to conform to this world, and are negating what God, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, promises to do.
Paul asks that glory would be given to God in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations. In most companies, there are mission statements that help the employees to focus on what is utterly important in that company. Are our churches and individuals within our churches, including you and I, focused on giving glory to God and Jesus Christ? Or, do we get more focused on ministries and do 'good things'?
It is truly amazing that we can even request anything from the Lord of Creation. It is a great privilege that we have to know that we can take our requests directly to God, as opposed to through other people. We will all take a myriad of concerns to Him, knowing that there is so much pain and hurt in the lives of people we know. God desires for us to pray for others and for situations that are near and dear to us. There are many more things that can be said about the power of prayer, and different views of what people think God will or won't do in regards to healing diseases and other very tangible concerns people have. However, the crux of this lesson revolves around what God WILL do, when we truly seek Him.
Are we seeking God and asking for His power to work within us? I believe at times we will do this, but we all fail on this often. You can be a minister and working out of your own power, not allowing God to give you power internally. I have taught and written Bible Study lessons for many years, yet I know that I have not always sought to be renewed. I may have said the words, but my heart has not always been in line with my words. As I begin to truly seek God anew, I ask that you do the same.
Continue to share your heart and take all of your concerns to God, but begin to realize what God has promised to give you. Realize that God has promised to strengthen your inner person, so that you are able to make changes in your life that can truly enable change. In what areas are you weak currently? Ask God to grant you the ability to be the man or woman that you know He wants you to be. This isn't to say that you or I will ever be perfect, but perhaps there are changes that we all can make that will enable us to gain victory over areas that have so often caused problems, if we truly sought God.