May 3, 2020

Strength Where You Need It Most

Pastor Cliff Bergman – Pinawa Alliance Church

May 3, 2020

(Ephesians 3.14 – 21)

The news has almost exclusively centered on the coronavirus for many weeks now. We are kept up-to-date on the advance of the virus in Canada and around the world. The nursing homes in BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec where there have been multiple deaths especially weigh upon our hearts. Added to that is the senseless rampage in Nova Scotia by a deranged killer, the severe flooding of lower Fort McMurray, a community still recovering from the wild fires of a couple of years ago as well as absorbing the effects of imploding oil prices, and just a few days ago the death of 6 members of our military in a helicopter crash just a short distance from their home ship. One can add to that challenges faced locally and by family and friends. In the midst of all the sadness that occupies the news and invades our lives, we are truly blessed to have One to whom we can turn to with confidence knowing that He will care for us through all of this and extent comfort to all who grieve.

The last 2 weeks I focused our attention on Ephesians 1 to remind us of privileged position we have as followers of Jesus Christ, something that surely displaces some of the sadness that we face in the world around us. It seems as though Paul envisioned the possibility that some may not fathom the magnitude of their position in Christ and so he prayed that the eyes of their hearts might be enlightened and they would grasp and experience their glorious relationship with the living God. Enhancing our appreciation for who we are in Christ is a reminder of where we came from, our situation was as bleak as it could be, we were dead in sin. We were without hope and without God, headed to a godless eternity. But God, intervened!  God who is rich in mercy and because of His love for us, has saved us by His grace. 

Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

All those who have heard the word of truth, the Gospel of salvation, and believed in Him (Eph 1.13) have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Those whose faith and trust is in Jesus Christ for their salvation are now at peace with God and have access to Him (2.18). God so wants to commune with His children that we are told that we can not only approach Him, but can do so with boldness and confidence through our faith in Him (2.12). Formerly we were separated from Christ, but now we have been entrusted with the unsearchable riches of Christ, not only for direction for how we should live, but to share with those in our circle of relationships. 

Ephesians 3.14 – 21 records Paul’s 2nd prayer for the readers of his letter, in it he makes a 4-fold petition to God on behalf of his readers. This prayer is informative in providing a pattern on how we ought to pray, but also in providing a panoramic view of our relationship with Christ. Don’t forget that Paul is praying for believers, people who were born-again, but who may have been unaware, or weren’t realizing all the blessings and provisions that were theirs as followers of Jesus Christ. Undoubtedly, many of us can identify with that as we too come face to face with places where we yet struggle and continue to reach for victory which sometimes is illusive. The believers in Ephesus hadn’t arrived and continued to struggle with a variety of issues. Some of the places where they needed guidance regarding how they should live is apparent in the following chapters.  Hence don’t become discouraged, or give up, because you see evidence that you haven’t arrived just yet either. While we can look at places where we have reason to be content with our progress as  a follower of Jesus, there not uncommonly are other places which remain growth areas and still require attention. Thus the reason to keep our eyes on the goal to become more Christ-like. It is to that end Paul prayed for his readers. 

I. Be Strengthened With The Immeasurable Greatness Of God’s Power

Ephesians 3:14–16 (ESV) 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,

In Paul’s 1st prayer he prayed we might know what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us who believe and here he prays that we might be strengthened with that power. He prays that God might be gracious to us and strengthen us when we feel overwhelmed with the task of living out our faith before the community of saints and the watching world; when we grow faint because of disappointment or failure; when doubts crowd into our minds and threaten to swamp our faith. It is then when we take comfort that God extends strength to us from the riches of His glory. It is so great to know that the strength we need isn’t something we need to muster up, something we need to find within ourselves and try to squeeze out of what sometimes is a parched soul? Not at all, God is the provider, He is the source of what we need; He has the living water for which we thirst; He is the One who will nourish our souls as He did the children of Israel with manna from heaven. 

Paul prays that God might grant this to happen to us; that His heart will be moved by our need and our appeal for His intervention. Think of it, God doesn’t just desire to respond, but to do so in abundance. Notice carefully, that God in response to our prayer, or the prayer of others on our behalf, will strengthen us with power through His Spirit. It is God who does the strengthening and does so from the immeasurable greatness of His power.

In Paul’s first prayer he drew attention to the nature of God’s power – power that was displayed in the resurrection of Jesus’ lifeless body from the grave, power that ascended Jesus back to heaven, power that was, and is, at Jesus’ disposal as He sovereignly reigns over all dominions. Hence, there is nothing that happens to us, or in the world around us that is beyond God’s power. For reasons I don’t fully comprehend, God, for now, gives satan and the realm of darkness considerable freedom in their agenda of deception and destruction. Consequently, His children, as residents of the world face trials, tribulations and tests upon their faith, and as they do, God extends power and strength to navigate victoriously through these turbulent times. Sadly, many times people forfeit God’s available enablement for them because they don’t turn to Him for help – they choose to go it alone, and generally God conforms to their wish. Let’s not miss out on God’s supernatural intervention for us.

God is able to do something no one else can do – He can strengthen us where we need it most, in the depth of our inner being. Scripture uses other terms like heart, soul, spirit to describe the very essence of who we are as a person. That immaterial part of us, that is “US”, the part that will survive and lives on when our physical body dies, the part that will thereafter be clothed with a resurrection body. It is there, in the essence of who we are that God reaches down from heaven with supernatural power. We appreciate the support and comfort of fellow believers as our inner being need strengthening. We miss the supportive hug of a friend as this isolation goes on and we gain a deepening appreciation for the Church gathering collectively. While others help strengthen us in our inner being, something we are so glad for, at the end of the day, especially in times of great pain and inadequacy, it is God alone who can provide the reviving we need deep within our souls, the place where our hearts sometimes ache with sadness over the things we or others encounter, or are gripped with the depth and finality of loss as a loved one is taken from us. Last week I mentioned the impending death of a dear friend of ours in Lethbridge; Margaret passed away on Wednesday morning. We are so grateful the hospital permitted her husband, Darl, to be at her side. Darl undoubtedly will take great comfort in his sorrow from Margaret’s abiding relationship with the Lord, that her suffering is over and he has legitimate reason for assurance that she is with Jesus whom she dearly loved. At the same time though his heart breaks with the pain over her death, death that has come all too soon. Those of you who have had a spouse taken from you, or a child, especially understand what he is going through. As God’s children turn to Him in their time of need and as God’s people pray for them, God ministers supernatural strength into the depth of their being so as to press forward. There are times when feel overwhelmed, when we simply don’t know where to turn, or how we will make it through the circumstances we are in. While God often doesn’t change the circumstances He provides supernatural enablement, something only He can provide – it is another dimension of His grace, to get us through victoriously.

The experience of the strengthening with power through his Spirit in our inner being surpasses understanding.

Philippians 4:7 (ESV) And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

However, while it is supernatural power from God, it encompasses and is sustained by His word. This power is not some impersonal force like electricity. Rather it is power under the control of God and displayed by Him throughout history. As we realize this power was adequate for Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and is effectual in Jesus’ sovereign reign, it is reasonable to conclude it will be adequate to give me victory in whatever God should permit to befall me. This power that was demonstrated in God’s creation of the universe and His ongoing sustaining of it, it will be adequate to strengthen me where I need it most – in the depth of my inner being.

Consider some other examples of God’s power and demonstrations of His intervention throughout Biblical history as we consider His strengthening of us in our inner beings. One of the reasons for reading our Bibles is to acquaint ourselves with God’s provision for His people – often doing that which was impossible apart from Him exercising and displaying His power

I have always been fascinated with God’s deliverance of Israel from captivity in Egypt. Perhaps it is due to the imprint left on me by the film, The Ten Commandments, back in 1956. There were so many displays of God’s power beginning with God’s preservation of Moses as a babe by an Egyptian Princess, most likely the woman who would one day be Queen Hatshepsut, or God’s encounter with Moses at the burning bush, or the plagues of Egypt which struck out against Egypt’s gods, or God’s preservation of the first-born of Israel while the first-born of all those not covered by the blood of the Lamb died, or another that intrigues me, the crossing of the Red Sea. Recent findings support the crossing took place at Nuweiba on the Gulf of Aqaba. If so, when the Hebrew people crossed over on a 14 km long underwater land bridge which God had intentionally placed there centuries earlier when He etched out the Red Sea, God held up a 14 km long wall of water on either side of them and towering to a height of as much as 80 meters. Can you imagine the discussion around the camp fire that night, or the images that were etched in the minds of the children as they made their way across? They would tell and retell what God had done throughout the decades that followed. That is the God who strengthens our hearts when our sky is filled with clouds and He pierces through that cloud filled sky with a glimmer of sunshine reminding us He is there and He is able.

Or consider God’s words some 40 years later when He told Joshua following the death of Moses, 

Joshua 1:9 (ESV) Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

If there was someone who needed to be strengthened in his inner being, it was surely Joshua who had good reason to feel a bit overwhelmed with the task ahead. The promised land was before them on the other side of the River Jordan. This required another Red Sea crossing miracle since the normally manageable river was in flood stage and beyond that was the impregnable fortress of Jericho, with walls described as reaching to the heavens. Joshua needed more than just encouragement, he needed God to reach down and strengthen him and then go before him and the nation of Israel. Who would have thought that once again God would intervene by sweeping the water aside and drying the riverbed before their footsteps  to the other side? And who would have envisioned that the walls of Jericho would come down after walking around the city for 6 days so the people could be fully acquainted with the enormity of the challenge and then on the 7th, blow their trumpets to announce the hand of God as He exercised His power.  Displays of God’s power throughout history bolster our confidence and assurance as we encounter obstacles and sometimes feel overwhelmed, they validate our confidence in trusting Him today. Let me point out that the promise to Joshua is one repeated in the New Testament, hence one we don’t need to doubt about its applicability to us. In the NT context it is quoted in an encouragement for contentedness with material possessions.

Hebrews 13:5 (ESV) Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

I am indebted to Erwin Lutzer who in a recent message, What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do, (It’s on YouTube) pointed out that the promise of Heb 13.5 in Greek is far more emphatic than the English translation conveys. I examined his observation; the following translation does not adequately express the extent of God’s assurance that He will by no means leave or forsake His children. 

I will never, no never, leave you and never, no never, forsake you

The verse is comprised of two sequential double negatives so as to emphatically erase any doubt about God caring for His child. God wants us to realize He will care for us as we trust Him with our care.

Or as you consider evidence to validate our belief God can and does strengthen His children in their inner being, turn the pages of history to King Hezekiah. He was one of the kings of the southern kingdom of Judah at the time of the Prophet Isaiah. Hezekiah, unlike many of his predecessors, sought to please the Lord and turned the people and their practices back to God. Nevertheless, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, in about 701 BC laid siege to Jerusalem and the fall of Jerusalem seemed inevitable. However, Sennacherib didn’t take into account the God of heaven to whom Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet called out to. God saw their repentance and trust in Him and He sent an angel to strike down Sennacherib’s seemingly invincible army. Sennacherib returned to Nineveh where he was killed by his sons while worshipping his god (2 Kings 19; 2 Chronicles 32). Let this display of God’s power encourage each of us as we seek His strengthening with His power through His Sprit in our inner being. The experience of peace is backed up with the evidence of God’s word and the display of His power throughout history.

It is little wonder the prescription for experiencing peace in unsettling times given in Philippians 4 includes reflecting on who God is and has He has done, i.e. that which is true

Philippians 4:8 (ESV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 

Before concluding let me remind you of the importance of

II. Be Home To The Abiding Presence Of Christ (17a)

Ephesians 3:17a (ESV) so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith

The 2nd of Paul’s petitions was that Christ might comfortably dwell within us. In contrast to the Old Testament period when God was portrayed as dwelling in the physical Temple, God now dwells in each of His followers, a profound and incomprehensible truth. In light of that reality, let us hold to values, priorities and practices that foster Christ-likeness and an environment that is inviting for Jesus to dwell in.        

Conclusion

The four petitions made in this prayer are all interwoven and reflect what it means for us to experience what it means to be in Christ.

Over the past several weeks Beverley and I, like some of you, have discovered some technological capacities. We have learned about Zoom and have had a number of online visits with our family. We also discovered YouTube and the ability to view YouTube videos on our TV. That has enabled us to listen to YouTube music videos on Sundays. We have been so blessed by those of Keith and Kristyn Getty. Many of you are familiar with them and their music, including songs written with Stuart Townend.  One song that stands out, its original lyrics were written by Ada Habershon in 1905 and 1906 for meetings with evangelist R.A. Torrey and have more recently been revised by Matt Merker, is, He Will Hold Me Fast.  Len featured it on Tuesday as his song for the day, sung by a different group. It is one of those songs that easily continues to resonate in your mind throughout the day, 

John 10:28 (ESV) I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.