Feast of the Heart: A Birthday Boy’s Hope
Good day, my race-running (Philippians 2:16) friends in Christ! Great to have you back at the Training Table to join me in a celebration. Since it’s my birthday today, I get the greatest pleasure of saying a few things before I blow the candles on my cake out!
Could I tell you something that might surprise you? The Apostle Paul, the great disciple of the Christian faith who wrote a great deal of the New Testament and who—fourth to God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the person of the Holy Spirit, had the greatest influence on the spread of the Christian church—had a “sort of prayer” for the people of God who were the first Christians in the first century AD… that is my gift to you on my birthday.
The centerpiece and core truth of this prayer remained the same at the various times Paul prayed for the persecuted, hurting, confused, scattered… and yet victorious and joyous church in Christ.
It was a prayer in response to any and all travails, temptations, and adverse circumstances of any kind that the people of God were experiencing at the time—and throughout all time for the church.
The Prayer for All Times
“I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. 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.” (Ephesians 3:13-21)
Please tell me, beloved of God, what do you find unusual about this prayer? Say, as compared to most “prayer requests”? If your answer is that Paul’s prayer has no mention of taking away the circumstances that were causing the suffering, you would be right.
In fact, in no place in any of Paul’s writing does his “prayer request list” include making requests of God to take away all the woes that cause all the weeping. Does this surprise you? What is at the core of this prayer? And knowing this, how might your prayers and the relationships with those for whom you pray be influenced?
At the very heart of those for whom you pray, what might you pray for when suffering of any kind enters their life? Don’t get me wrong: Do we need to request that, in God’s perfect providence, He might take away the suffering besetting the people we pray for? Absolutely…
But what’s the greater, higher, more holy and awesome aim God has in mind for those in whose lives He allows suffering to occur? To become more like Jesus in His response to suffering AND comforting those who suffer as Jesus would!
Paul know full well that God’s mercies are so wide, and so deep, that He made a plan to use the brokenness man caused to conform us in time, and unite us in eternity in heaven: that will be a direct reflection of all the details of our conformation to Christ… forever!
Yeah, it’s a really big deal, birthday party-goers! I know you all have been born. But have you been born-again to set to partake in God’s plan of redemption? It’s a party like no other in the known or unknown universe, Beloved.
Now, in what ways might you think the ultimate party-pooper Satan would tempt us to pray if he had in mind a plan to thwart God’s desires for Christians who are experience suffering? Maybe just lob prayers like hand grenades hoping we hit the target, focus on the externals, and sometimes avoid making any intimate contact with the sufferer that reminds us of so much of life that’s out of our control… Like death. Satan always wants to keep things on the surface, on the circumstances, on the feelings… to avoid the deeper spiritual, faith issues. But we are not human being having a spiritual experience, my friends. We are spiritual beings having a human experience!
But what about the choice of the fullness of joy that is in our realm of control as we suffer (James 1)? Would it be wise to leave that on the table and walk away?
Like Paul, Warren Wiersbe has the same end in mind when it comes to one of the most fundamental foundations of the faith we can grasp: We knead into every crevice of our heart and spirit the likeness of Jesus and then move into the chaos of a broken world in the most redemptive fashion possible:
Wiersbe said, “If you get your theology from life’s circumstances, you will always get the idea that God does not love you!” Holy Cow! Do you see this truism in your midst at all these daze? It goes like this—certainly outside, but so many times inside the church as well—“How could a loving God allow such suffering to occur in the world?” To leave this foundational question unanswered is the heart-hardening agent of all time. As we have in spades, I’m afraid.
A feast for the heart and foundation of the faith is that God loves you and I so much that He’s willing to use the consequences of a broken world that mankind caused to begin with to draw mankind ever-closer to Himself—first by being born again, and then by being sanctified, or made more and more into the likeness of His Son. In a word or two, this would be the glory and mercy of God beyond anything we could ever dare imagine.
Unless, of course, we have forgotten… Please read Paul’s prayer to the Ephesian church again, my friends. Please take heart that God loves your heart and your redemptive story so much that He sent His one and only Son to first redeem it… and then “to strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” SO THAT you will be powerfully used as co-redeemer with Him in the midst of a dark and fast-decaying world (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)!!
Rest assured, party-goers: The circumstances inextricably tied to living in a fallen world will not end until Jesus returns. Period. Trials are unavoidable. BUT, if you wisely, compassionately and truthfully use the hurting circumstances in yourself and the people’s lives around you to love them and help woo them closer to our Lord and His likeness, you will partake in the glory of seeing the Holy Spirit as “The Supernatural Heart-Changer” and relish in the promise that The Glory in eternity will be a reflection of your love and abiding faith as well!
This is a birth and re-birthday gift that will never end (Psalm 139:13-14; John 3:3).
When suffering comes into our lives we are called—like each day of our life—to be in a community of the faithful and look very closely at the source of the suffering in the center of the heart to discern and discover in what ways we can grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ—in and through the trials and travails of this life (Psalm 51; Romans 8; 8:28).
If we really get this, you and me, like Paul, will wake up each and every day and say: “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!”
Happy birthday(s) to you!