Thursday, October 30, 2014

Praying to Be Found “In Christ” (PrayerLife)

Maumee Bay State Park (Ohio)

One Friday night Linda and I ate a local restaurant that is under new management. We had not been there in over ten years. I dropped her off at the door and parked the car. I walked up the steps towards the restaurant doors… and missed. I walked full face and full force into a pane of glass to the right of the doors. The glass was, to me, perfectly clear. I didn’t see it. This was a ego-stunning experience for me! I thought I’d broken my nose. I was hoping people didn’t see me do this. The clear glass wall was there all the time. I just didn’t see it.

In the book of Ephesians Paul alerts the young church of Ephesus to something that is there all the time, but has not been clearly seen. This unseen reality is: people who have believed in Jesus are now “in Christ,” and “new creations.” It is important to see this because it is the central Christian fact, from which everything follows. To not recognize this will cause me to put confidence in my meager human abilities, in what Paul calls “the flesh.”
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this.

In our Ministry School class on healing I teach out of John Wimber’s excellent book Power Healing. We were entering the part of the book that moves us into praying for others. Wimber quotes 2 Corinthians 5:17 - “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” Then Wimber writes… IN ITALICS… these words:

“The key to our spiritual healing -  and the one point that must be understood and experienced for the rest of what I write in this book to make any sense – is becoming new creations in Christ and living our lives as fully forgiven and reconstructed people.”[1]

At this great reality Paul drops to his knees and prays:

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 1so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 1may 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, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.[2]

If the Ephesian Jesus-followers trust this, if they know this cognitively unknowable love of Christ by faith and by experience, their lives will bear much fruit. 

“Church,” as Paul understands it, is essentially “a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”[3] That is REAL CHURCH. Why complicate this? By the Spirit’s work Christ takes up residence in me, and in us. Paul’s prayer is that Christ will permeate his whole being. “It is the equivalent of the command in 5:18 to be continually filled with the Spirit.”[4]

When the first church in Acts 2 was in the upper room in Jerusalem they weren’t holding meetings to figure out, on their own without God, what they were to do. They were, as Jesus instructed them in John 14-16, abiding in Him. And waiting. For what? For the coming, for the filling, of the Spirit Who will lead and guide them.
The early Church exploded throughout the Roman Empire without having “programs” to entertain people. God had it figured out, and they were following Him. The thrilling, empowering reality was Christ, the hope of glory, in them. Paul counsels the Ephesian church to acknowledge and trust this. 

Ben Witherington writes that “Paul is praying for the continuing presence of Christ within the Christians through faith. The verb katoikeo signifies literally to make a home or to settle down and so has in view a more permanent presence.”[5] Our hearts have become a Temple that hosts the Spirit’s earth-shattering presence. Knowing this, why would anyone trust their own finite, all-too-human efforts rather than Christ?

Christ’s indwelling means I am not my own. I must discover the reality that the Lord of heaven and earth, the One through whom all things were made, the One who holds all things together, has made his home in my heart. The intent of Paul’s prayer is clear: He wants me strengthened by God’s Spirit so that I may intimately know Christ’s presence and love.

Rather than some cute little “Personal Homeboy Jesus” hidden away in a closet to be pulled out when I need a miracle, Paul has met the Lion of Judah who gives shape and strength at the core of his being, and who takes up residence in me and redefines me. If this happens, everything else will fall in place. Including what I am to do.[6]

This is what I am praying for the most. I write my prayers in my journal, often adding a heart with an arrow drawn through it as a symbol of my request. I am constantly praying, “God, give me a heart of your love, that love that transcends all human understanding."

Knowing and understanding the love of Christ requires being rooted in that love, experiencing it, being grounded in it. My praying is for an experiential knowledge, a “knowing”  that goes beyond mental or intellectual abilities. Witherington writes: “One can grasp it only through experience, and even when one experiences it one is left groping for words to describe it. The ultimate goal of being rooted in love and grasping its meaning is to “be filled in all the fullness of God.””[7]

Why is this important? Because “grasping and experiencing God’s love is the key to receiving the full presence of God into one’s life.”[8]

As a believer in Jesus and follower of Him I am a new creation. I am “in Christ.” "In Christ" - this is the great Pauline theme. God wants me to grow and mature in my faith, like a healthy fruit-bearing plant. The growth will come, as Paul writes in Ephesians 3, as I am – by faith – rooted and established in the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge. 

I’m praying that I would “grasp” this. The grasping will come by experience, since it is beyond grasping by human knowledge. The result will be that I will then be filled with the fullness of God. I didn't see the clear pane of glass that was there, but I did encounter and experience it. I must know, by experience, that the Spirit is there, already working in power within me.[9]

[1] John Wimber, Power Healing
[2] Ephesians 3:14
[3] Ephesians 2:20-22
[4] Klyne Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians
[5] Ben Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, 274
[6] See Thomas Merton’s famous chapter on “Being and Doing” in New Seeds of Contemplation.
[7] Ib., 275
[8] Ib.
[9] Ephesians 3:20