Composer George Fredric Handel was at the lowest point in his life. He was sick and so destitute he could not afford a doctor. His creditors hounded him daily, threatening to send him to debtor’s prison. Yet he believed in the music he was writing, so every morning he dragged himself out of his sickbed, ignored the threats of the bill collectors, and persevered, laboring over his musical score long into the night.
Finally, the musical piece was finished. It was performed before a royal audience in London. The music was so moving and majestic that the King of England rose to his feet in honor of the resounding chorus. And ever since that first performance, audiences have stood for the singing of “The Hallelujah Chorus.” The musical masterpiece which contains that chorus–Handel’s famous oratorio The Messiah–not only enabled Handel to finally pay his bills, but it gave us one of the grandest, most inspiring works of music the world has ever known.
Handel didn’t lose heart in the midst of his adversity, and neither should we. God is creating a masterpiece of praise in our lives. If we persevere to the end, the angels themselves shall rise to their feet in praise of the moving, majestic tribute to God that He is building out of our lives. We are His handiwork, His masterpiece, and our lives will bring Him praise and honor if we do not lose heart.
In the closing verses of Ephesians 3, Paul expresses his concern for the Ephesians. He writes in Ephesians 3:14-21,
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole 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 saints, 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.
Paul was concerned about the Christians in and about Ephesus because they were in danger of losing heart. Perhaps you know what it feels like to lose heart.
Imagine an athlete competing in a marathon a foot-race of 26 miles, 385 yards. Now that is an endurance contest! To run over 26 miles requires an extraordinary level of perseverance. When a runner has been running for two or three hours straight, knowing that the finish line is still miles away, when his legs begin to turn to rubber and every breath becomes excruciatingly painful, he knows he must keep running or fail. And when he finishes, everyone looks at him with admiration and wonder, saying, “What a great heart he’s got!”
But when you lose heart, you lose your stamina, your morale, your will to persevere. You come to a place where you say, “What’s the use? Why keep going? I can’t make it.” And you give up.
That is what Paul fears is about to happen to the Christians at Ephesus. They were about to lose heart and give up the race. So Paul says to them in verse 13, “Don’t lose heart. The situation isn’t the way you think it is.” And he closes his great morale-boosting message with a prayer, as we see in verses 14 to 19.
The apostle’s prayer
The apostle Paul dealt with the issue of motivation once before, in chapter 1. There too he closed the chapter with a prayer. In verses 15 and 16 he writes, “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” Then he goes on to pray that the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened, that the truth may grip their emotions and enlighten their minds, so that they will begin to see truth not merely as intellectual dogma but as living reality that will motivate their lives forGod.
Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 picks up right from that very point. The apostle makes clear that they need to have light and knowledge to begin, but more than that, they need power to continue. They not only need motivation, but they need perseverance to keep going, to continue to the end.
Isn’t that what you and I need as well? We need perseverance to meet God daily for Bible study and prayer. We need perseverance to continue serving Him when obstacles and discouragement get in our way. We need perseverance to break bad habits and build good ones. We need perseverance to continue showing Christlike love and kindness to those around us, especially those unloving, unkind, difficult personalities who rub us the wrong way. We need perseverance to deal with the problems and pain that nag at us and drain our enthusiasm, and which don’t ever seem to go away.
We need perseverance more than motivation to begin. We need power to continue–and to continue and continue and continue. That is the difference between this prayer in Ephesians 3 and the prayer in Ephesians 1. Paul’s previous prayer was a prayer for understanding–understanding that grips even the emotions. But here, in chapter 3, Paul prays for power–power that keeps us going and keeps us from losing heart.
So if you are losing heart right now–or if you ever have or ever might in the future–then please give careful attention to this prayer. The apostle Paul begins with this issue, with the person who has reached a point of exhaustion, depression, or despair, the person who is ready to give up or turn back. Then he prays for that person, and each step or division of this prayer is designed to encourage and motivate that person to keep on keeping on. The end result, as we find when we reach the end of Paul’s prayer, is . praise.
Let’s look at each step of Paul’s prayer in turn, beginning with verses 14 and 15: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” In other words, Paul begins with prayer. If there is one thing we all need, it is a greater understanding of the ministry of prayer-what prayer really does and how it works.
The apostle clearly understood the value and operation of prayer. Intercessory prayer permeates all of his letters. He always promoted prayer as the solution to the problems of Christians. He continually sought the prayer of his Christian brothers and sisters for his own trials and for the success of his missionary efforts. When somebody’s faith is failing, when they are turning cold and dead in their spiritual experience, our first recourse must be to pray for them.
Notice the One to whom Paul prays. He says, “I kneel before the Father.” It wasn’t customary for the Jews to bow their knees in prayer. We think of kneeling as the common posture of prayer, but the Jews usually prayed standing upright, with arms outstretched to God. It was only when something was of deep, intense concern that they bowed the knees or prostrated themselves before God. That is the position the apostle takes here.
Of course, it really isn’t important what your physical position is God is much more concerned with the condition of your heart than the position of your knees. A poem by Sam Walter Foss, “The Prayer of Cyrus Brown,” says it so well:
“The proper way for a man to pray,”
Said Deacon Lemuel Keyes,”
And the only proper attitude
Is down upon his knees.”
“No, I should say the way to pray,”
Said Reverend Doctor Wise,
“Is standing straight with outstretched arms
And rapt and upturned eyes.”
“Oh no no no” , , , , said Elder Slow,
Such posture is too proud.
A man should pray with eyes fast-closed
And head contritely bowed.”
“It seems to me his hands should be
Austerely clasped in front
With both thumbs pointing toward the ground,”
Said Reverend Doctor Blunt.
“Last year I fell in Hidgekin’s well
Headfirst,” said Cyrus Brown,
“With both my heels a-stickin’ up
And my head a-pointin’ down.
And I made a prayer right then and there,
The best prayer I ever said,
The prayingest prayer I ever prayed,
A-standin’ on my head.”
Ol’ Cyrus Brown could teach you and me a lot about praying with earnestness and sincerity! And that is precisely the point underscored by the apostle Paul as he writes, “I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” In other words, God is the very epitome of fatherhood, and every fatherhood in heaven and on earth that deserves the name of father derives from the fatherhood of God. He is the archetypal father-the Father from whom all true fatherhood takes its essence and its character.
Let us not mistake paternity for genuine fatherhood. We are familiar with paternity suits, in which a woman sues a man for financial support, claiming that he caused her to be pregnant, that he participated in the conception of the child. But participating in the conception of a child does not make a man a father, in the truest sense of the word. A loving adoptive father is unquestionably much more of a father than a man who simply donated his DNA in an act of passion, then left mother and child to fend for themselves.
Paul talks here about true fatherhood–the loving, caring, providing, training, guiding action of someone who truly fills the role of a father. When you are despairing, when you are about to lose heart and quit, Paul wants you to remember to turn to your loving Father. God is the very quintessence of fatherhood, and He reaches into the storehouse of His inexhaustible resources and showers upon us the riches of His glory, as Paul says in verse 16: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”
God’s being is God’s glory. He himself is His own treasury of glorious riches. When God wants to display His glory, He simply reveals Himself in His own glorious reality. He simply shows us what He is like. God is not some cold, remote being out in the universe or up on Mount Olympus, indifferent to our needs and our prayers. He is a tender, concerned Father, who is involved in our daily lives and who answers our prayers out of the inexhaustible riches of His own personal glory.
Our inner being
Next, Paul traces, step by step, the course of recovery from spiritual depression, from losing heart: “he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” This is not merely a reminder that the Spirit dwells in the inner being, although that is true. Rather, the idea here is that the Spirit can infuse His own strength into your inner being.
What does Paul mean by the phrase “inner being”? He is distinguishing between our outer humanity and our inner humanity. The outer part of ourselves–our “outer being”–is the part we dress, clothe, feed, wash, dry, bandage, and smear with wrinkle cream. We are always concerned with our outer humanity–the body and its needs.
But God is concerned with our inner humanity. Many Bible commentators take this to mean the soul, with its faculties of reasoning, emotion, and will. But I don’t think this is what Paul means in Ephesians 3:16. In another letter, Paul gives us a clue to what he means. In 2 Corinthians 4:16, Paul writes, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” Paul says that we do not lose heart because, even though our outer humanity is aging, decaying, and deteriorating, there is a part of us–the innermost–part that is getting better, fresher, stronger, and more vital with each passing day. That is our “inner being.”
You may well ask, “Well, haven’t you just described the soul? Isn’t the soul our innermost being?” Actually, no. The Bible differentiates between the soul and the spirit. The Greek word for soul is psuche, from where we get the words psyche and psychology, which refer to the human mind not the spirit. The Greek word for spirit is pneuma, which is literally the breath of life.
As we grow older, our soul ages as well, and can become enfeebled by age and diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The soul is subject to the ravages of brain injury, alcohol and substance abuse, and physical exhaustion. The emotions of the soul
can grow unstable with age, stress, and trauma. Even the human will, which is part of the soul, can become enfeebled, so we lose the drive and determination we once had in youth. So the soul is linked with the outer man, which is perishing day by day.
The inner being that Paul describes is the spirit, not the soul. The spirit does not age. It is the most fundamental and eternal aspect of our nature.
When you are really discouraged and have given up, you are said to be “dispirited.” That is an accurate term. You have become “dis-spirited.” Your fundamental nature is dissatisfied and utterly discontented. You are not merely bored (that is in the realm of the soul), but you are filled with a persistent sense of despair and lifelessness within. That is where recovery must begin.
Paul tells us that the Creator Himself, our loving Father, gives us a fresh infusion of strength by His Spirit into our spirit–our inner being.
Remember what Jesus himself taught in that great passage on prayer in Luke 11:11-13:
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Do you feel the force of his argument? When Jesus talks about how the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him, He is not talking about how to be indwelt by the Spirit, but about how to recover from losing heart. The first step is to ask God to grant that your spirit will receive a new infusion of strength, that you can drink again of the river of the Spirit of life which is in you. This is how your spirit is restored, empowering you to live as God intended.
You may not have a strong sense of restoration in the realm of your feelings and emotions–that, after all, is part of the soul, not the spirit. But you will experience strengthening and refreshment in your innermost being, in your spirit.
Rooted and grounded
Next, Paul prays that God grant you to be strengthened with might through His Spirit “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,” verse 17. Notice the connection–Paul does not say “and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,” but “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” You are strengthened by the Spirit so that Christ may literally make His home in your heart. The strengthening of your spirit results in your sensing the personal presence of the Lord Jesus, as your reborn faith takes hold of his promise once again.
The key to it all is in the last two words of that statement: “through faith.” Why have you been languishing and losing heart? Because your faith is failing. The reality that God has revealed to you has begun to seem unreal. Your faith is dragging. The solution: A fresh infusion of the Spirit to awaken your faith, so that you can begin to believe again.
The first thing to believe is the most fundamental fact of the Christian life–Jesus Christ has come to live in you. This fact is not dependent upon your feelings, which ebb and flow. It rests solely upon Jesus’ promise given in the Upper Room in John 14. The question was put to Him by Judas Iscariot a short time before He would be betrayed by this man. Judas said to him, verse 22, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus replied, verse 23, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
That is what Paul refers to. Faith is awakened now. You remind yourself that Jesus Christ lives in you. You are a believer. He has taken up residence in you. He will not leave you. He is at home in your heart, and you belong to Him.
Do you see how Paul is leading us, step by step, back to recovery? Though we may be in danger of losing heart and giving up, Paul shows us the way back to strength, motivation, and fresh courage. He underscores the way back with this prayer for the Ephesian Christians in 3:17-18: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power. . . .”
Here is yet another key to recover from a fainting heart: love! We are reassured by Jesus’ promise to be with us, and we know that He loves us, He cares for us, and He will never change that relationship. Christ’s love roots us in Him. It is the ground of our being. This is a statement of ultimate security. Roots are solid in the ground, dug deep into the earth, steadfast and immovable, like a tree that has sent its roots deep into the rich, life-sustaining soil.
We once had a young sapling tree on our property that seemed so spindly and frail, a stiff breeze could have knocked it over. An agronomist advised me to stake the tree and tie it firmly during the first couple years of its life. I followed his advice, and today that tree is immovable. The roots have gone so deep into the soil and have spread over such an area that it would take considerable work to kill it–and you’d have to blast the stump out of the ground to finish the job. Today it could stand a storm of near-hurricane force!
The same is true of you and me. If we put our roots down deeply into the love of Christ, we become immovable, firmly fixed, rooted and grounded. We become secure in Him. His love gives us our sense of security and well-being.
Sharing our lives
Paul takes us a step further and deeper with these words, verses 17-18: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Here Paul shows us that a key to recovery when we are losing heart is our relationship to other believers. We are to reach out to other Christians–and as we do that, God gives us the power, along with our fellow believers, to grasp and experience the full width, length, height, and depth of the love of Christ!
All too many Christians today attempt to live in solitary confinement. They resist relating and sharing–and thus they fall into the trap of this world, which demands privacy and wallows in darkness. Christians must share their lives, not isolate themselves. They must walk in the light, not hide in the darkness. When Christians take seriously the commands of Christ to love one another and live in close community with one another, then the church becomes a force for change and healing in a world of alienation, isolation, and loneliness.
There are 59 “one another” commands in the New Testament, including 21 that say “love one another.” Here is a partial list:
“Be at peace with each other” (Mark 9:50).
“Wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
“Love one another” (John 13:34,35;15:12,17; Romans 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:9;1 John 3:11;3:23;4:7;4:11,12; 2 John 5).
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Romans 12:10).
“Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16).
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Romans 15:7).
“Instruct one another” (Romans 15:14).
“Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Peter 5:14).
“Have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25).
“Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).
“Carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).
“Be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).
“Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32).
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
“In humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
“Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another” (Colossians 3:13).
“Admonish one another” (Colossians 3:16).
“Make your love increase and overflow for each other” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).
“Encourage each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
“Encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13;10:25).
“Build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
“Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
“Confess your sins to each other” (James 5:16).
“Pray for each other” (James 5:16).
“Love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22;4:8).
“Live in harmony with one another” (1 Peter 3:8).
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).
“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5).
The Christian is to have no private areas in his life at all. There must be, in the life of every Christian, at least one nucleus of close Christian friends with whom you can be open, honest, and transparent, and with whom you can begin to experience the height and depth and length and breadth of Christ’s love.
Why does Paul describe the love of Christ in these four dimensions? Some see in them the cross, with its height and depth and length and breadth. Some see it as a description of the deep and wide extent of the love of God. But I think these dimensions refer to elements of Paul’s earlier discussion in Ephesians.
The “length” is what he calls in Ephesians 1:18 “the hope to which you are called,” that hope which began before the foundation of the world, and which reaches on through all of recorded time, and into the limitless reaches of futurity and eternity. That is the length of God’s program of love, of which you and I are a part–the hope to which we are called.
The “width” is what Paul calls the riches of Christ’s inheritance among the Gentiles. God’s grace is not narrowly confined to anyone group, the Jews. It is freely available to all, without discrimination or division–to Jew, Gentile, black, white, rich, poor, slave, free, male, female–it doesn’t make any difference. All humanity is caught up in the riches of Jesus Christ, in the cross and in the church. That is the width of God’s love.
The “height” is the place to which we are raised with Christ. He has raised us to sit together with Him in heavenly places, far above all principalities, powers, and authorities, in this age and in the age to come. It is the place of authority as a Christian, the place of power to be freed from everything that would drag you down and blunt your effectiveness for God.
The “depth,” of course, is what Paul described in Ephesians 2 as death, the living death out of which God has called us. Once we were victims of death and sin; now we are victors over death and sin. Once we were children of wrath; now we are children of God, raised from the depths to heights of splendor with Christ.
All of these dimensions of Christ’s love are available to us as we learn to live in close community and fellowship–what the Greek New Testament calls koinonia–with one another in the church. This is the kind of lifestyle we committed ourselves to as a congregation at Peninsula Bible Church. Without it, the church
is barren, narrow, and isolated. With it, we experience all four dimensions of the vast and amazing love of Christ.
Love that surpasses knowledge
Next, Paul tells us that a key to recovery from losing heart is to know the unknowable. He writes in verse 19: “And to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Here is another of God’s great paradoxes–we are to know the unknowable! How do we do that? Here is where the Christian experience reaches its full peak. You can’t understand it but you can sense it, you can know it, you can feel it.
There are many things we can feel that are beyond our comprehension. A baby feels his mother’s love. He knows it. But does he understand it? No–not anymore than you and I can understand the amazing love of Christ. Still, His love is ours to experience and revel in. It is ours to draw strength from, and as we experience His incomprehensible love, we recharge our spirits so that we do not lose heart.
Paul goes on to say that the knowledge of the unknowable, the experience of the inexpressible, enables us to be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”!
That is the pinnacle. Once God has performed this work in us, once we have been filled with the fullness of God, we have truly realized the purpose of our own creation. This is what God made you and me for. He created us as vessels, wholly filled and overflowing with God himself.
This is not a condition you attain once or twice in your Christian life. It is a condition to which you are to return again and again. This is what Paul refers to as being filled with the Spirit. It is the condition in which God is in possession and control of our lives, enriching us, blessing us, and strengthening us. Our faith is strong and vital, and we reach out in joyful ministry to others. As Paul put it earlier, we are God’s workmanship, and as He fills us with Himself, we discover all the great and wonderful works to which we have been foreordained.
Paul underscores the wonder and astonishment we feel as we realize the incredible work God is doing in our lives–and again, the thrill of seeing God so powerfully at work in our lives is a wonderful “heart medicine,” an antidote to losing heart. Paul writes, verses 20-21, “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.”
That is the secret, isn’t it? You and I can do nothing–but God, living in us, filling us, working through us, is able to do abundantly more than we can even think to ask Him to do in our prayers! What are your goals for this day, for this year, for this lifetime? God can exceed your wildest dreams–if you stop trying to manipulate, scheme, and bring it to pass in your own strength. Allow Him to live in you and through you, and the wildly unthinkable will become commonplace in your life, day after thrilling day, year after astonishing year.
We each have only one lifetime to live–so we dare not blow it. Instead of trying to run our own lives according to our own finite plans, let’s turn our lives over to the One whose plan is infinite and eternal. When we are secure within His loving heart, we can never lose heart. Who could think of turning back, of giving up, when He has shown us a glimpse of the glory that lies before us?
So don’t lose heart! The race is nearly won! Come on! Keep going! Don’t look back look ahead! His love carries us forward and His glory is almost within our reach!