The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation (Part II)

You’re reading a novel in which the main character has a fantastical experience which changes him. From that time on, whenever he shakes hands with someone, he can see what that person will be in twenty, thirty, even forty years.

He meets a handsome young man who is brilliantly successful – straight A’s in college, captain of the basketball team, with acceptance letters from Harvard Business and other top graduate schools. But when he shakes his hand, he can see that alcoholism will destroy his life, his wife will leave him at 35, take the kids, and he’ll be dead by 50.

Then he meets a woman. Her eyes are hollow with dark bags under them. She is dressed in out-of-date and frayed clothes. But when he shakes hands with her, he sees her clearly as she will be twenty years down the road. She will be lovely. She will have three children who adore her. People will come to her for her wisdom.

He is amazed to see how people’s lives turn out, some beautifully and some tragically. Then he meets and shakes hands with … you.

What will he see? If Christ is in you, he may see lots of success or lots or failure over the next few years, but he will undoubtedly see glory. That is the amazing promise of God. We explore it this week, as we look again at Paul’s powerful prayer in Ephesians 1:15-23, and especially at “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”

Your insights are always welcome (comment below)!

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Where is Heaven? (Clue: It's Closer Than You Think)

Photo by Brett Ritchie on Unsplash

In 1869, The Scientific American ran a short (and sardonic) piece on Dr. D. Mortimer, a medical doctor who believed he had found the location of heaven. His suggestion, if I understand it correctly, was a fascinating one. According to Dr. Mortimer, heaven lay within the sun as a vast globe, “at least 500,000 miles in diameter.”

Apparently, Dr. Mortimer believed that the blessed occupants of heaven were either shielded from its heat or transformed physiologically (an idea based on the Apostle Paul’s writings) so they might flourish there. This location also offers the added convenience of close proximity to a large “lake of fire” for those who are not blessed.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Dr. Mortimer was not the first person who located heaven somewhere in space. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) wrote that a heavenly body known as Kolob was “nearest unto the throne of God” in the celestial heaven. Whatever Joseph Smith meant by that, he seemed to suggest there is a heavenly realm in outer space. Others have located heaven in the star cluster Pleiades.

People who look for heaven in outer space appeal to language used in the Bible. God, for example, “looks down from heaven.” The psalmist lifts up his eyes to God whose throne is in heaven. Jesus described himself as the one who “comes from above” and, in the ascension, was famously “taken up before their very eyes.” His followers stood dumbfounded, “looking into the sky.”

Locating God’s place in the skies can, however, lead to childish and uninviting depictions of heaven. For example, in a children’s book on death, Maria Shriver wrote: “[Heaven’s] a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds and talk to other people who are there. At night you can sit next to the stars…”

Ms. Shriver’s heart is in the right place but I don’t think her heaven is. The heaven she describes is not the stuff of Sunday morning scripture readings but of Saturday morning cartoons, where Elmer Fudd get’s blown up and finds himself on a cloud in a fluffy heaven. It is Looney Toons theology. Has there ever been a real boy or girl who would care to spend an hour in such a boring place?

But locating heaven within a cluster of stars has other problems. For one, the New Testament routinely refers to the skies above with the singular “heaven” but uses the plural “heavens” to refer to God’s place, thus acknowledging a distinction. For another, if Jesus was literally “taken up” in the ascension outside Jerusalem, would he not have been literally “taken down” in relation to the other side of the world – say, Honolulu, Hawaii?

The distinguished New Testament scholar and theologian N.T. Wright has written that “heaven and earth in biblical cosmology are not two different locations within the same continuum of space or matter. They are two different dimensions of God’s good creation.”

According to Wright, this means that “heaven relates to earth tangentially…one who is in heaven can be present simultaneously anywhere and everywhere on earth.” This means that heaven is earth’s “control room,” the “CEO’s office, the place from which instructions are given.”

Jesus’s ascension, then, was not a “vertical take-off” but an assumption of his office as earth’s rightful ruler.  This means he is “available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on earth” – a temple or church building – “to find him.” This explains why Jesus could say, prior to the ascension, “Look, I am with you always.”

Knowing this makes prayer easier. If God is light years away, we’d better pray loudly. But prayer is another thing entirely if he is “available, accessible.” The philosopher Dallas Willard says that the “first heaven, in biblical terms, is precisely the atmosphere or air that surrounds your body.” He suggests that God relates to space as we do to our bodies, which means he is as close to any point in space – which includes us – as we are to our fingers or head.

All this suggests that the answer to the question, “Where is heaven?” is: closer than you think.

First published in Gatehouse Media

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Powerful Prayers: Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation (Ephesians 1:15-21)

(Note: For a few weeks , I will post the manuscript that goes with the audio (posted Tuesdays) from a sermon in the Powerful Prayers series. People have requested the sermon manuscripts many time, but I’ve always been reluctant to make it available for two principal reasons: 1) I never simply read a sermon, so what people read is not exactly what I spoke. The manuscript might be better or it may be worse but it will be different. And (2) because the sermon has not been edited for publication. With those caveats, here is Prayers God Love to Answer: Colossians 1:9-12, Part 2.)

I once read about a young Irish woman who emigrated to the U.S. in the first decades of the twentieth century. She had family in New York, who told her she could find work there, so she saved and scraped and purchased a transatlantic fare on an ocean liner.

After setting aside a little money for expenses she knew she’d incur when she got to New York, she packed a bag with food stuffs to carry her through the six-day journey, mostly crackers. When passengers headed to the dining room for lunch and dinner, she went to her small cabin, got out her cracker ration for that meal, and ate every crumb. She did this for five days.

On her final day aboard, someone asked her why she never came to the dining room and she, embarrassed by her poverty, admitted that she couldn’t afford to purchase her fare and buy her dinner. The woman said to her: “But my dear, all your meals are included in the price of your fare.”

For five days, she went without breakfast and ate crackers and drank water for lunch and dinner, even though the delicious meals in the dining room were hers by right. They had already been paid for, but she didn’t know what she had.

The same thing can happen to us who belong to Christ. He has purchased for us (as the author of Hebrews put it), “so great a salvation,” but we may not know what we have. Many Christians live on rations when they could be feasting.

Not St. Paul. He knew that God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Those blessing include being chosen by him, made his sons and daughters, granted forgiveness, and given a role in the most important project in the history of the world: the Headship of Jesus over every person, institution, and thing on earth (Ephesians 1:10).

Grace has been freely given to us (verse 6), even lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding (verse 8). The delectable fare of the grand dining room is ours, yet some of us have shut ourselves in our tiny cabins with our crackers and water. We don’t realize what is available to us.

But Paul prays we will see it. He doesn’t want Jesus’s people eking out an existence when they could be flourishing – and they could be. The opening paragraphs of this letter are a paean of praise to the God who lavishes his people with all they need. But Paul knows that many of Jesus’s people are like that poor Irish girl on the ship. They don’t know what they have, don’t know how to access it, and are living like they’re destitute.

Let’s read out text (Ephesians 1:15-21) 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. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 

Verse 15 plays a now-familiar tune. When Paul heard about the Ephesians’[1] faith in Jesus and love for all the saints, he knew they were the real deal: a genuine church with enormous potential to serve the kingdom of God and a real adversary who would try to stop them. In other words, they were people in need of prayer.

It should be a warning to us that this church that loved all the saints would be faulted by Jesus himself within a few decades for having “left [their] first love” (Revelation 2:4). If it could happen to that solid, exemplary church, it can happen to us too. The enemy of our souls is too clever to challenge our love for the God who sacrificially loves us, so instead he challenges our love for the saints who ignore us, exploit us, or take us for granted. God’s enemy understands that love works on a circuit. He doesn’t need to break the circuit between God and his people, so long as he can break it between some of God’s people and others of his people. So that’s where he concentrates his efforts.

When Paul heard about the Ephesians’ faith and love, he couldn’t stop thinking about them and wouldn’t stop thanking God for them. Notice how he links thanksgiving with remembering (or, literally, making remembrance) in verse 16. “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” If we, like Paul, would take a moment to remember the people we’re praying for – what they’re like, what they’ve done, what they value, who loves them and is loved by them; in other words, if we would make remembrance of them – our prayers would be more powerful. Making remembrance is so much more than rattling off names on a prayer list.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, like his prayers for the Philippians and Colossians, features one principal request. Perhaps we ought to follow his example. I’m not saying we shouldn’t make more than one request for people but that we would do well to have a principal request for each person, one that stands out when we bring that person before our mind and then before the Lord.

After repeatedly holding these believers in his mind, Paul’s one request for them is that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father (literally) “of the Glory” (a loaded phrase, if ever there was one) would give them (literally) “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” Yet another Pauline prayer for people to receive knowledge. We pray for peace, for provision, for healing, and for comfort – all good things to pray for – but he prays for knowledge.

When Paul writes of “a spirit of wisdom and revelation,” he probably has the Holy Spirit in mind. Even if he is thinking of a human spirit characterized by wisdom and revelation, the Holy Spirit will be behind it. Wisdom has to do with knowing what you already have – those spiritual blessings Paul cataloged in verses 3-14 – and what to do with it. Go back to our friend on her transatlantic cruise. Wisdom knows what is covered by the purchase of the fare. In our case, wisdom knows what Christ has purchased, what’s available to us, and what’s possible for us.

While wisdom takes advantage of the knowledge we already have, revelation imparts knowledge that we don’t have. Because God is infinite, revelation is, and will always be, needed. So, Paul prays for the spirit of both wisdom and revelation.

Notice it is wisdom and revelation “in the knowledge of [God].” The knowledge of God is of more practical use than the knowledge of economics, philosophy, mathematics, physics, mechanics, or any other body of knowledge. The knowledge of God is life-giving. (That’s John 17:3.) The knowledge of God brings grace and peace in abundance (2 Peter 1:2). Where the knowledge of God is present, men, women, and children flourish.  

That’s why Paul asks God to give these Ephesians the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. But what happens when people are given this Spirit? The eyes of their hearts are enlightened (verse 18).

The NIV 84 translates verse 18, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” The latest edition drops the word “also.” The Greek has neither the word “also” nor the words “I pray.” They were probably added as a way to break up a very long run-on sentence. Verse 18 is a continuation of the sentence Paul began in verse 15. He is not making a second request here; he’s stating the desired outcome of the first (and only) request.

He prays that the eyes of their heart may be enlightened. The “heart” in Scripture is the human command center. It is from the heart, not the mind, that decisions are handed down. To have the eyes of the heart enlightened is to have the command center fully informed. It is from the heart that directions are decided.

Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz and a score of other Christian books, had a bad habit: he chewed tobacco. He knew it wasn’t good for him, but he liked it, and he didn’t want to stop. He couldn’t stop. He’d been told that it causes gum disease, tooth decay, and even cancer of the mouth and throat. He knew he should stop; he just couldn’t.

Then one day he was in the car, listening to the radio, and a public service announcement came on. 30 seconds later, Donald Miller no longer chewed tobacco. In a strange, distorted voice, a man warned of the dangers of chewing tobacco (things Miller already knew). Then he explained why his voice sounded like it did: he didn’t have a lower jaw. Cancer, caused by chewing tobacco, had eaten it away.

During that 30 second PSA, the eyes of Donald Miller’s heart – his command center – were opened. Suddenly, what had been impossible for him – quitting tobacco – became possible, even urgent. He says that as the man spoke, he could visualize his face without a lower jaw. He never chewed tobacco again.

The “eyes of a person’s mind” (which is not a biblical phrase, but you get the idea) are able to see all kinds of things in the Bible – good things, true things, beautiful things – but seeing them has little effect on the person. He might eloquently teach them to others but he’s pretty much the same after he sees them as he was before he saw them. But when the eyes of a person’s heart are enlightened, he is transformed. He not only thinks differently, he acts differently.

That illustration might lead us to assume that whenever the eyes of a person’s heart are opened, they will see bad things, like a chewing tobacco habit. That certainly happens, but mostly they see good things. That is where Paul puts the emphasis. He knows there are wonderful things we will miss without the spirit of wisdom and revelation, chief among them, recognizing God in our daily lives.

Years ago, a tourist to Basel, Switzerland, climbed onto a streetcar and sat down next to the twentieth century’s most eminent theologian, Karl Barth. The two started chatting and Barth asked him if he was new to the city. The tourist said he was, so Barth asked him if there was anything he was hoping to see while he was there.

The man said, “Yes, I’d love to meet the famous theologian Karl Barth. Do you know him?” Barth answered, “Well as a matter of fact, I do. I give him a shave every morning.” The tourist was absolutely thrilled. When he got back to the hotel, he went around telling everyone, “I met Karl Barth’s barber today.”[2]

Without the spirit of wisdom and revelation, we may fail to recognize God when he speaks to us. Without the spirit of wisdom and revelation, we will not make the most of the things God has made available to us. Paul mentions three of those things here. He prays that God will give the Ephesians the spirit of wisdom and revelation and so enlighten the eyes of their hearts so they can know: (1) the hope of his calling; (2) the riches of his inheritance; and (3) his power that is at work on behalf of believers.

The first thing Paul wants the Ephesians to know is “what is the hope of his calling” (literal translation from verse 18). If they know – which they won’t without the Spirit of wisdom and revelation – what God had in mind for them when he called them, their entire outlook on life will be transformed. If they know the hope of their calling, they will be able to come through hardship, pain, and even anguish in ways that will impress the world and glorify God.

Paul knew that hope keeps people from being blown off course by the prevailing winds of culture. Hope enables people who are hard pressed to endure. A shared hope makes it possible for people of different races, from different social classes, with differing educational backgrounds to work together, play together, and be for each other.

Paul refers to this hope as the hope of his calling. Let’s not misread that, as if Paul had written, “the hope of your calling.” This calling is not full of hope because we receive it but because God issues it. It is not just a vocational calling, like a calling to be a pastor or a schoolteacher, but a calling to join Jesus’s side, his campaign, and work for him – to be his special people.

In Philippians, it is referred to as the “high calling” or the “upward call” but we are liable to misunderstand that. “High calling” sounds like the vocation of a doctor rather than a factory worker. That’s not at all what Paul means. If we translate it, as some versions do, as “the upward call,” it sounds as if we’ve been called to leave earth and take an extended – eternity-long – vacation in heaven. That’s not it either.

When I was in high school, hoping to avoid Vietnam, guys would talk about their brothers getting “called up.” They were being drafted, called to active duty, called to serve. That’s more like what Paul had in mind. We’ve been called up.

In high school, getting “called up” did not sound hopeful. So, what does Paul have in mind by “the hope” (literal translation) “of his calling”? The hope of his calling is that our side (that is, Christ’s side) will be victorious. Our king will conquer the enemies of evil, suffering, and death. Heaven will come to earth and there will be peace and no more fear. As Isaiah put it: “…the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).

If you wanted to sum up this hope in one word, you could hardly to do better than the word “glory.” We are hoping for God’s glory: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:3). We are hoping for Jesus’s glory (2 Thessalonians 2:14b), when he is acknowledged head over all things in heaven and on earth (Ephesians 1:10). And we even hope to be part of this glory, since God called us to share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:14). We hope for the day when our faith will, as Peter put it, “result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6); the day when, as Paul put it, “the glory … will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

Our calling is to be a part of this with the rest of Jesus’s people. We share the “hope that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). We hope to play a role in the biggest, most glorious thing in history; a role in making the world come out right, in remaking it. It seems absurd to think that people like us can have anything to do with something so great and glorious and yet, because we’ve been called by God himself (entirely of his mercy and grace), we are a part of it.

You’ve been called up to live for, fight for, and even die for Jesus Christ. It is a calling that is full of glory, full of hope. It portends a better world, a united human family living peacefully, joyfully, lovingly, and creatively with God in our midst. It is not a wistful hope but a living one, already substantiated by Jesus’s resurrection – “the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.”

If you think, “But I have never heard his call,” then listen and hear it now. God is calling, calling you to join his side, to join his people, to serve his kingdom. God is calling you to his glory. Can you hear him? He wants you! Don’t dodge his call.

[1] “Ephesians” is used here as a circumlocution for the Christians in Asia Minor Paul was addressing in this letter.

[2] John Ross, Surrey, England, Leadership, Vol. 8, no. 4.

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Powerful Prayers: The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation

In this incomparable passage on prayer, we’ll discover another way to pray for the people and the church we love.

After Josh Ferrin of Bountiful, Utah, bought his first home, he went poking around and found a little access panel in the ceiling of the garage. He thought it might be a place his kids would like to play. When he investigated, he found eight boxes, each with rolls of cash wrapped in twine – $45,000 worth.

He called the previous occupant, whose family had owned the house for years, and told him to come and get the cash. The owner, a Mr. Bangerter, never realized what treasure he had in his own home. St. Paul knows that Jesus’s people might not realize what treasure they have in their relationship with Christ, so he prays that they might discover it.

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A Different Kind of Climate Change

Though many Americans first became aware of climate science in the last few decades, it has a long history. By the 1850s, scientists investigating large-scale climate differences in past geological ages began to suspect that atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane might have an impact on global temperatures.

Their theories generated debate but not consensus. Nevertheless, interest in vacillating global temperatures (in ages past) grew. By the late 1950s, some scientists were not just thinking about the history of climate change but its future and they saw trouble ahead.

I feel like one of those 1950s climate scientists (minus the math proficiency). Like them, I am warning about climate change, although it is a different climate – the social climate – that concerns me. I too see trouble ahead.

In the earth sciences, climate change is measured by temperature fluctuations in earth’s oceans, on its surface, and in its lower troposphere. In the social climate, change is measured by fluctuations in respect and contempt levels. Currently, respect levels are falling and contempt levels are rising.

Social climate change threatens human flourishing. It puts human institutions like marriage and government at risk. Long-term consequences could include poverty, governmental instability, and the unraveling of the social fabric.

What signs are there of social climate change? One is the long-term decline in respect rituals. Every culture has respect rituals, which are exhibited in greetings, introductions, interactions between people of different ages, genders, or class, and during major life events like births and deaths. These rituals have always been open to modification by succeeding generation.

It appears that certain respect rituals are not so much being modified as dropped. For example, it was once normal to use honorifics when introducing people to each other: “John, this is Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith, this is Doctor Roberts.” In many cases today, the honorifics are not the only thing that’s been dropped; introductions themselves have been abandoned.

As a long-term pastor, I have witnessed significant changes in death rituals. Funerals and memorials services once provided a shared outlet for grief and an opportunity (as people used to say) to “pay our respects.” It is increasingly common today for families to dispense with the funeral service altogether, or to hold a gathering in its place at a restaurant or even a bowling alley.

Not only are respect levels falling, contempt levels are rising. Consider the outburst by the congressman who shouted, “You lie!” at President Obama while he was addressing a joint session of Congress. Such behavior could not have happened a generation earlier; it was unthinkable.

I was in a Barnes and Noble in suburban Chicago recently and was surprised (and dismayed) to see all the recently published books that have the f-word in their title. The use of vulgarity is rooted in, and gives expression to, contempt and is often a precursor of hostility. The rapidly rising level of vulgarity in speech is a clear sign of social climate change.

According to Professor Steven L. Grover of the University of Otago, respectful behavior is “the manifestation of believing another person has value.” If this is true, then the absence of respectful behaviors and the presence of disrespectful ones betoken a belief that another person does not have value.

We’ve seen this before. The twentieth century genocides in Turkey, Germany, Cambodia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina were all preceded by the proliferation of a belief that certain people do not have value. The spread of such a belief inescapably leads to dramatic changes in the social climate, changes that bode poorly for future generations.

In earth sciences, people have come together to take steps to slow or even halt the harmful changes happening to the climate. Changes in the social climate have received less attention, though they are potentially just as destructive. Even the few who have sounded the alarm seem unsure about what can be done.

Jesus, however, understood what can be done and has outlined steps for doing it. They are more demanding than anything suggested by the Kyoto Protocol or the Paris Agreement, which explains why they have been alternately ignored and contested. Yet they represent an achievable approach to securing a healthy social climate in which future generations can flourish.

First published by Gatehouse Media.

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A Prayer for Your Love Life: Philippians 1:9-11 (manuscript)

(Note: For a few weeks , I will post the manuscript that goes with the audio (posted Tuesdays) from a sermon in the Powerful Prayers series. People have requested the sermon manuscripts many time, but I’ve always been reluctant to make it available for two principal reasons: 1) I never simply read a sermon, so what people read is not exactly what I spoke. The manuscript might be better or it may be worse but it will be different. And (2) because the sermon has not been edited for publication. With those caveats, here is Prayers God Love to Answer: Colossians 1:9-12, Part 2.)

St. Paul wrote more of the New Testament than any other writer – he is the author of something like one quarter of the New Testament. If we are going to understand his letters, it is important to realize that he wrote them with some basic assumptions in place. He doesn’t argue for these things. He takes them for granted and assumes his readers do the same. For example, Paul assumes that the Creator of heaven and earth is actively involved in what is happening in our world. He is not on vacation. He is paying attention.

He assumes that the Creator, who is the God and Father of Jesus Messiah, is currently at work in our day-to-day world. All people on earth and every institution of which they are a part is known by God, accessible to God, and responsible before God. That includes you and me and Lockwood Church. This is not something Paul argues; he takes it for granted.

He further assumes that this God is pursuing a specific goal and is employing individuals and institutions to achieve it, whether they realize it or not, whether they cooperate or not. That goal is stated this way in the letter to the Ephesians: “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).

We read over that and miss how revolutionary (in the fullest sense of the word) it is. The goal is to bring all things – nations, for example, and their governments – under the headship of one leader: Jesus. The U.S., Russia, China, England, France – and the other 191 so-called sovereign states – will be governed by one head, Jesus Messiah. That’s the plan. Talk about a one-world government – this is it – and it is God’s intention to make it happen.

But it is not just nations. It is people, animals, weather systems, physical processes, spiritual forces – authorities, powers, and dominions – everything. Paul sees God making all things work together toward this goal and Paul has committed himself – even to the point of sacrificing his life – to that cause. He further assumes that the Colossian church exists for the same purpose: the realization of the universal lordship of Jesus; otherwise, they would not be a church.

If we read Paul without realizing this, we will unwittingly substitute some other goal in place of this one. For example, we’ll assume (like most of the people we know) that the goal of life is happiness. We’ll read a passage about prayer (for example) against that background and it will look quite different to us than it did to Paul. We can carefully exegete the passage, do word studies, and have really good insights. We can use the right theological terms to describe it, but we’ll nevertheless miss the point.

Take, for example, the request we looked at last week: that church people be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. That will look very different to us than it did to Paul, if we assume the reason for knowing God’s will is so we can help our children succeed in school or establish our financial security in retirement. Paul assumed the reason for knowing God’s will is to establish the headship of Jesus over all the earth.

This explains why some people try the Christian life for a while and then give up: they thought it was about one thing when it was really about something else entirely. Some years ago, we had a remote control for the TV, another for the VCR, and one more for the DVD player, and we kept them all in the same drawer. Sometimes, I would grab one, push the power button and, when nothing happened (or, at least, nothing I noticed), I’d think: “This thing isn’t working!” But of course it was. I was just trying to make it do something it wasn’t designed to do.

If we think the purpose of knowing God’s will is so we can avoid every difficulty and live a comfortable and prosperous life, we’re bound to come to the conclusion that prayer doesn’t work. However, if, like Paul, we are committed to and engaged in preparing for Jesus to take sovereign rule over all the world, we’ll see that prayer works exactly as intended.

With all that in mind, let’s look at the next prayer in our Powerful Prayers series. Paul prays for his friends in the city of Philippi (Philippians 1:9-11): And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. 

Back to what I was just saying. When Paul writes of “what is best” in verse 10 (we’ll go into that shortly), it is with the goal – the universal headship of Jesus – in mind. What is best is not determined by our ease, comfort, or prestige, but by the establishment of the sovereign rule of Jesus Messiah over all the earth. If you haven’t realized it before, the people of Jesus are insurgents, revolutionaries, preparing for the overthrow of the status quo and the return to power of earth’s rightful ruler.

So, it might surprise us that Paul, the committed revolutionary who for the sake of the cause spent years in jails and prisons all around the Mediterranean, prays for the Philippian revolutionaries’ love life. He’d already written in verse 4 of “all his prayers” for the Philippians and mentioned that he always prays for them with joy. In verses 9–11, he tells them what he prays, and it is about their love. What has love got to do with the subjection of every nation and people and power on earth under one head, even Christ? What’s love got to do with it?

Everything. The revolution to which Paul was committed is a revolution of Love. The Lord to which Paul submitted is the Lord of Love. His rule is the rule of love: To “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’”; and to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27) is the law of his kingdom.

Life as Jesus’s person begins with, and ends in, love. If your faith does not equip you to love – God and people – something is not right. Jesus called love the greatest command.1 He told his followers that they must be like their Father in heaven and love even their enemies.2

Paul told the Roman Christians to “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.”3 He wrote, “Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”4 In Galatians, he went so far as to say, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself”.”5 James, the first leader of the church at Jerusalem, wrote, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.”6

Jesus told his disciples that love was their ID card. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”7The reign of Jesus will not be one of severity and dominance but of love. The revolution is powered by love – love is the Church’s secret weapon. No wonder Paul prayed for the Philippians’ love. We can’t do right when love is absent. We can’t be right when love is wrong.

Paul’s prayer for his friends is that their love will abound. That word is frequently translated “overflow,” like a river that overflows its banks. Kenneth Wuest says the word suggests something that is conspicuous. When the river that flows through some town overflows its banks, it is conspicuous. Paul is praying that the thing about these Christians that overflows, that is most conspicuous, will be their love.

Let’s pause there for a second. Is that the most conspicuous thing about Lockwood people? Is love the first thing others notice about us? God gave the Church no substitute for love. Organizational efficiency can’t replace it. Good preaching won’t compensate for its absence. Superb music is no alternative. Love is what makes a church great. Lack of love is what spoils it.

There are two specific qualities in love with which Paul is especially concerned. He wants love to abound more and more – start overflowing and never stop – in knowledge and depth of insight. Both those qualities merit close attention.

Knowledge is the same word we saw previously in the Colossians’ prayer, and carries the idea of recognition. In Colossians, that knowledge had to do with recognizing God’s will. Correlating love with knowledge seems odd to us because we, influenced by Chaucer and Shakespeare, think that love is blind. Paul thinks that love alone truly sees.

Now, this has consequences. If Paul is right, we’ll never really understand someone we don’t love. Husbands won’t understand their wives, wives their husbands, parents their children, children their parents, without love. The Senegalese poet Baba Dioum had it backwards when he said, “we love only what we understand.” We only understand – really understand – what we love.

That means if you’re having trouble understanding someone – “Why is he doing this? I don’t understand him at all!” – your first step should be to ask God to love him through you. Then love him. Pray for him. Speak well of him. Do good to him. That is the path to understanding.

Paul prays that “depth of insight” will also abound in their love. “Depth of insight” translates a single Greek word, which originally referred to sense perception. Paul is praying that the Philippians’ love will be perceptive. Love can actually heighten a person’s perception.

Think about a quarterback who is totally in the zone: he sees things he wouldn’t otherwise see. Nobody displayed this ability more often than Peyton Manning. When he was on his game, he could see (without realizing he was seeing) the middle linebacker picking up the slant, the cornerback blitzing from the right side, the safety helping out on the wide receiver and the tight end releasing and having about a five-yard opening. Because he perceived all this, he could choose the best option, hit the tight end, and make a first down.

For us, the way to get in the zone is to love. When we love, we perceive things we would otherwise miss: the delay in answering; the tense facial muscles, the hesitation in speaking. We will sense things we would normally not notice. That is love at work.   

When does this “depth of insight” come into play? It comes into play all the time: when we’re raising children; doing our jobs; spending our money; relating to our parents; teaching a class; helping our friends; even playing the piano or building a house. Paul knows that the knowledge and depth of insight available through love will help us discern what is best.

The word translated “discern” is an important one in Paul’s vocabulary. 86 percent of the time it is used in the New Testament, Paul is the one using it. It is a “quality control” word. It has the idea of testing something for approval. It’s the word Paul uses in Roman, when he tells the Christians there that they will be able to “test and approve what God’s will is” (Romans 12:2).

How often we need to do that. Is this opportunity from God? Should I forge ahead or hold back? Should I take this job, volunteer for this ministry? We weigh the pros and cons – which is the right thing to do – but in the absence of discerning love we’re bound to misjudge their weight. We’ll think the financial component weighs more than it does and the relationship component less. We’ll approve or reject an opportunity without realizing we’ve set it on an inaccurate scale. Only love can balance the scale.

If (verse 10) we are “able to discern what is best” we will be able to remain “pure and blameless until the day of Christ …” The word we have here is not the one usually translated “pure.” It is a compound word with two roots: The first meaning sunlight, and the second from the verb to judge. “Something evaluated in the light.” Paul wants his friends to lead the kind of life in which they can see clearly and be seen, without deceiving or being deceived. That has never been more important than now.

The word translated “blameless” is also not the usual word. The idea here has to do with avoiding stumbling. Paul is praying that his friends’ love will enable them to make choices they (or others) won’t stumble over later. I’ve seen people make choices that eventually caused them to stumble and fall out of a healthy relationship with God, with spouse, and with family. Paul doesn’t want that for his friends.

A therapist who specializes in working with millennials says there is a theme that runs through the various encounters she has with her clients. Whether they come to her because they struggle with anxiety or feel like failures, the theme that resurfaces again and again is: “I can’t decide what to do. What if I make the wrong choice?”

What these millennials need is exactly what Paul is talking about: love that overflows with knowledge and insight. It’s what we all need.

The result of this perceptive, discerning love is (verse 11) a life that brings glory and praise to God. Sir Christopher Wren built St. Paul’s Cathedral in London to the glory of God. J.S. Bach composed his music to the glory of God. Handel dedicated his Te Deum to the glory of God. Countless church and school buildings have “To the glory of God” etched on their cornerstones. But nothing brings more glory to God that a person who loves, except a church-full of people who love.

We can only live this kind of life if we are connected to the source of this kind of love. This “Love,” as St. John put it, “comes from God” (1 John 4:7). Paul writes, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5) It is possible to connect to the source of love, through confidence in his Son Jesus Christ. If you’ve never done that, I invite you to do so today. If you don’t know how to do that, please talk with me after the service or get together with a Christian friend whose life you respect and ask them how they got connected to God.

It’s a little like using a hose. It doesn’t work unless it’s connected to a spigot. The hose doesn’t make water; it conveys it. No water is coming out of it unless water gets into it. It has to be connected. But that’s not all. Once connected, we need to open the valve. The way we do that is by choosing to love. That choice is ours.

A wise man once said, “Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”12

Choose to love. Choose it again and again. It’s not enough to say you love your spouse. You must choose to love your spouse. Choose to love your friend, your enemy, your teacher, the stranger in the store. Your choice is what opens the valve.

Love – not only a feeling but an attitude; not only an attitude, but a commitment –is eagle-eyed. Love discerns what is best. Love keeps us from making decisions that will trip us up and hurt those around us. Love is what brings glory and praise to God. Dare to love. Choose to love. Live a life of love.

Go and be imitators of God. Choose to love. Dare to love. Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Amen

1 Matthew 22:37-40

2 Matthew 5:43-48

3 Romans 13:8

4 Romans 13:10

5 Galatians 5:14

6 James 2:8

7 John 13: 35

12 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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Prayer for Your Love Life

I’ve often asked myself what must happen for someone to discern what is best in a given situation. Is it best to take this job or stay with the one I’ve got? Should we move to a larger house or continue making do? Shall we retire or should keep working for a few more years? How can we discern what’s good from what’s best?

When we ask: “What must happen in order to discern what is best?” we’re assuming that discernment is primarily a procedural thing, as if discernment is just a matter of following the right steps. I’ve come to think there is a prior and more important question: “What kind of people do we need to be to discern what is best?” The Apostle Paul’s surprising answer to that question is: We have to be people with a healthy love life.

That love life – what Paul elsewhere calls “a life of love” – is critical to godly discernment. And that’s what Paul prays for in tPhilippians 1:9-11: that his dear friends’ “love will abound … so that [they] will be able to discern what is best…”

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Grief and Hope in the Face of Kobe’s Death

Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash

I watched a video clip of Shaquille O’Neal sitting with his sports show co-hosts, talking about the sudden, tragic loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash on Sunday, January 26. At several points in Shaq’s monologue, he was forced to pause, overcome with emotion.

Shaq’s grief is understandable: Kobe was a teammate, friend, and, in times past, an opponent in a very public feud. Shaq’s complicated friendship with Kobe would undoubtedly bring a deep and profound grief. But millions of people who never met Kobe, even people who never saw Kobe play, were deeply affected by the superstar’s death.

What accounts for this outpouring of grief? How is it that so many people experienced shock and disbelief when they learned that Kobe died? Most of us who have reached adulthood, certainly those who are middle-aged or older, are well acquainted with grief. We’ve all lost someone – perhaps many someones – we have loved. So why should the death of a celebrity we never met touch us so deeply?

Kobe’s passing brings the reality of death home to us. If a handsome, healthy young man like Kobe Bryant – a competitor, a victorious warrior – could be vanquished, then none of us is safe. Unlike other celebrities who died young, Kobe was not courting death. He wasn’t living a devil-may-care kind of life. If this could happen to him…

Kobe was not only relatively young; he was enormously valued. He was not a throw-away commodity. His ability amazed us and we couldn’t help but respect his indomitable spirit. Watching him, even if one was (like me) rooting against his Lakers, was just plain fun. His death, as John Donne put it, diminishes us all. We understand, with Donne, that when the bell tolled for Kobe, it tolled for us too.

Word of Kobe’s death left many people in despair. Thousands brought flowers and pinned notes to makeshift memorials all over Southern California. Some took off work to process their grief. Others could not get out of bed. The pain of loss was real.

Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash

Grief is like crossing a deep river on a swinging bridge. Anyone who has done it knows that when someone steps onto the bridge or advances toward you, everything shakes. Grief is like that. When we are in the midst of it, everything we encounter, even common things like meeting old friends or paying bills or going to church, can shake us. But a swinging bridge has two cables, one on each side, stretched across its entire length. If we grip one with each hand, we can maintain our balance as we cross. There’s something similar in grief, where the two supports are memory and hope.

Too many people make the mistake of holding on to memory but not to hope, lose their emotional balance, and fall into despair. But hold on to memory and hope, to the past and the future, and one can maintain balance in the present. We must grab the future with one hand – setting our hope, as St. Peter says, “firmly on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” – and with the other hold the memories of the past.

If you are grieving Kobe’s death, take time to remember him. Review his highlights. (Bring popcorn and make it a big bowl – the highlight reel goes on and on.) Celebrate the love he had for his family. Don’t hide his sins – not even the devastating rape accusation or the vulgar abuse he showered on a referee, which earned him a $100,000 fine from the NBA. Remember also his confession of wrongdoing in both cases and the apologies he made.

Be encouraged by Kobe’s faith in Jesus Christ. He had returned to the church. In fact, it’s been reported that on the morning of the tragic accident, Kobe was at church to pray before early mass. While holding onto to those memories, reach out and take hold of hope: the hope that Kobe and his family will be reunited one day; that God’s love will triumph over his sins (and ours); and that the victorious warrior, “Jesus Christ, has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light.”

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Powerful Prayers: Colossians 1:9-12 (Part 2)

(Note: for the next few weeks , I will post the manuscript that goes with the audio (posted Tuesdays) from a sermon in the Powerful Prayers series. People have requested the sermon manuscripts many time, but I’ve always been reluctant to make it available for two principal reasons: 1) I never simply read a sermon, so what people read is not exactly what I spoke. The manuscript might be better or it may be worse but it will be different. And (2) because the sermon has not been edited for publication. With those caveats, here is Prayers God Love to Answer: Colossians 1:9-12, Part 2.)

A college student named Nick Lutz’s got a hand-written, four-page letter from his ex-girlfriend. She acknowledged the mistakes she made in their relationship and apologized. Nick responded by sending the letter back to her, marked up like a term paper graded by a nitpicking professor. He pointed out formatting errors she had made, noted the introduction was too long, and made critical comments in the margins. At the bottom of the last page, he wrote: “Strong hypothesis but nothing to back it up,” and gave her a D-.[1]

If you’ve ever tried to do something right and been criticized for it, you know how exasperating that can be. Oswald Chambers said, “A man who is continually criticized becomes good for nothing; the effect of criticism knocks all the gumption and power out of him.”[2]

Some of you have had all the gumption and power knocked out of you. Maybe it was your parents who knocked it out of you – if you are a parent, I beg you not to knock the gumption and power out of your own children – or maybe you married a professional critic.

Maybe you sat under the teaching of church leaders who led you to believe that God is the professional Critic in the Sky, our Faultfinder who art in heaven, harder to please than any parent or spouse or boss. You take for granted that God is displeased with you. If that’s the case, I have really good news: you can please God; you can be a real part of his ineffable joy. Pleasing God is totally possible – you can do it – and pleasing God will bring great pleasure to you.

So, what do you have to do please God? What’s first? Go to church – a lot? Read the Bible for hours each day? Stop watching TV and read books – mostly boring books that don’t hold your attention? Oh, and fast – twice a week would be a good start. (You can always work your way up from there.)

That’s where our mind goes when we think of pleasing God: what do I do? But what really pleases God is who you become. Doing has an important part to play in becoming but doing is not an end in itself. God doesn’t need us to do things for him because his hands are full. That’s not why he gives us things to do. He gives us things to do because doing them will help us become strong, loving, effective, joyful, thankful people—and that is what pleases God.

In Colossians 1:9-12, St. Paul gets specific about pleasing God and gives us four things that really delight him. Let’s read those verses: For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 

“…we pray this” – that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will – “in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way.” That translation makes it sound like knowing the will of God leads to two distinct results: living a life worthy of the Lord and pleasing him in every way, but those two things are closely linked. A more literal translation might go like this: “to walk worthy of the Lord unto” – that is, which leads to ­­– “being a complete pleasure to him.”

In other words, when we are trying to live in a way that is worthy of Jesus’s sacrifice, his love, and the high calling he’s placed on our lives, we will be pleasing to God. And it’s not just that we’ll try harder. If anything, we’ll feel less like we’re trying and more like we’re flowing.

There is a clarity in the original language which translations simply cannot match. There is one request – that God fill the Colossians with the knowledge of his will – along with a proposed means for granting that request: through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Next is Paul’s reason for making the request: that the Colossians will live a life worthy of the Lord with the result that they will become completely pleasing to him.

All that is in verse 9 and in the first clause of verse 10. What follows in the rest of verses 10, 11, and the beginning of 12 is a description of what God finds pleasing. So not only does Paul tell us that we can please God, he tells us precisely what pleases God. He lists four things which, in the original language, jump off the page at us because each one is in the form of a Greek present participle. You can recognize those participles in English because they take the form of gerunds – those words that end in “ing.”

See if you can find them in the text. The first is “bearing fruit.” (In Greek, that is one word: fruitbearing.) Next is growing in the knowledge of God. Third is being strengthened. And fourth is giving thanks. If those words describe you, you are pleasing to God. He can’t look at you without a smile on his face.

Let’s look at those four traits, one at a time and, as we do, let’s look at ourselves. For that, we are going to need God’s help, so let’s take down our defenses and ask God to show us plainly where we stand.

The first characteristic that pleases God is fruitbearing. God wants his children to be productive. He loves to see us making a difference. Notice that this fruitbearing happens “in every good work.” That’s why the knowledge of God’s will is so critical: his will for us as individuals and us as a church includes doing certain good works. Paul has written elsewhere that “God has prepared beforehand good works for us to walk in” (Eph. 2:10, lit.).

Do you see how this plays out? God fills us with the knowledge of his will – makes us aware of the good works he’s prepared for us to do. As we go through our day (“walk” is Paul’s metaphor for that), we recognize the works God has prepared for us, engage in them, and produce fruit – things that advance God’s purpose in the world. You will never be as fruitful doing the things you think of to do as you will doing the things God thought of for you to do.

There used to be a character on TV who, nearly every episode, would say: “I love it when a plan comes together.” As we do the good works God prepared for us and start producing results, our heavenly Father’s plan comes together and he loves it – he is pleased.

Of course that means if you’re not doing good works, you’ll not be fruitful. Fruit grows and ripens as we do the good works the wise God prepared for us to do. But that’s not all: as we engage in those works, we also grow in our knowledge of God, and that pleases him too.

Our heavenly Father wants his children to know him. Growing up, I didn’t know my earthly dad as well as I could have. He was an enigma to me. I knew when he was angry but I didn’t know what made him angry. I knew when he was happy but I didn’t know what made him happy. I knew he valued courage and hard work but I didn’t know why. And, unlike my heavenly Father, my dad wasn’t particularly eager to reveal himself to me.

But that changed, especially after I had kids. I started “growing in my knowledge of him,” which I think pleased him and certainly improved our relationship. Most people want to be known – want to share themselves with others – and, in that, they are like God. He wants us to know him, not just because he wants to be known but because knowing him is life changing. More than that, knowing him is life giving. In speaking with his Father, Jesus prayed, “…this is eternal life: that they may know you…” (John 17:3).

Some Christians don’t know any more about God now than they did when they first believed. Some still think God doesn’t want them to have any fun, or doesn’t care about them, or has abandoned them. How sad it must be for God, when his children misunderstand him like that. He longs to be known by his children.

The knowledge of God that Paul had in mind is more than just knowing about him – the knowledge needed to recite the creeds or defend the doctrine of the Trinity. This knowledge is personal. People who are growing in this knowledge “get” God in a way they previously did not. They recognize what he’s after in various situations, like a husband and wife who “get” each other so well that one look, across a room, can communicate volumes.

As we grow in our knowledge of God, we grow in our likeness to God. And this happens, remember, as we are filled with the knowledge of his will and engage in the good works he has prepared for us to do. God not only gave us good works to do so that we could be fruitful but so that we could have the pleasure of getting to know him.

Those are the first two things that please God: bearing fruit and growing in our knowledge of him. The next thing that pleases him – that next participle – is “being strengthened.” God is delighted to see his children grow stronger, build muscle, become unbreakable.

God is a Father and no father ever said, “I sure hope my kid grows up to be a weakling.” No father wants a child who is always giving up, falling apart, and unable to handle the things life brings. God is a Father and he is pleased when he sees us growing strong.

This sentence is eye-catching in the original language. It goes something like this: “being empowered with all power according to his power” (where the final term for power is a different word in Greek). Power. Power. Power. God wants his children to be strong. He is pleased when his children are strong enough to handle what comes their way.

How does that strength manifest itself? Kevin was telling me recently about the kind of strength athletic scouts look for in potential recruits, which is described as explosive power. The best test to display this power is the standing vertical jump. But what test displays the power that God longs to see in his children? There are actually three of them.

First, the endurance test: “strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance.” Among God’s children, strength is measured by how long one can trust God when circumstances are difficult. When sickness comes and doesn’t leave; when promotions are denied; when the car was in the shop three months ago because the brakes went out, two months ago because the muffler rusted through, and this month because the transmission needs to be replaced; when life is harder today than it was yesterday, and will be even harder tomorrow, God wants his children to be strong enough to trust him and go the distance. The endurance Paul has in mind could be defined as faith in God over an extended period of time in the midst of difficult circumstances.

The second test of strength – we could call it second-level strength – is patience. Patience could be defined as love over an extended period of time in the presence of difficult people. Endurance puts up with difficult circumstances without giving up. Patience puts up with difficult people without breaking down. Of the two, patience reveals the greater strength.

This kind of strength can endure unfair criticism. It keeps treating people in a Jesus-like way, even when they are self-centered and difficult. People who develop this second-level strength can even bless those who curse them and pray for those who mistreat them (Luke 6:28). That’s strength!

When a spouse is thoughtless or unkind, they call on God’s strength, trust him, and do what’s right—regardless of what the other person does. And they are able to do that repeatedly, one act of forgiveness, followed by three reps, then five, then ten. Three reps of putting up with annoyance, then five, then ten. Three reps of overlooking a fault, then five, then ten. They are strong and they’re getting stronger.

But we’ll make a serious mistake if we think of it as our strength, a sign of our abilities and accomplishments. This strength comes to us from God. We are strengthened with strength according to his glorious power. Both the strength to endure trials and the strength to be patient with people come out of a connection to God. Disconnect from him, and your strength for these things immediately begins to diminish, just like the strength of your phone battery diminishes as soon as you disconnect it from the charger.

What that implies – you may have already realized – is that if you aren’t able to endure difficult circumstance without giving up; if you aren’t able to be patient with difficult people without breaking down, your connection to God may not be solid. This kind of strength does not originate with you; you need to be recharged.

If the way I take this passage is correct (which is like the ESV but unlike the NIV), there is also a third level of strength. If faith over time in difficult circumstances is a sign of strength; if love over time with difficult people is a sign of even greater strength; then joy in the midst of difficult circumstances and the presence of difficult people is the sign of supreme strength.

In Greek, the word the NIV translates as “joyfully” is really a noun, “joy,” so I think what Paul is saying is this (verse 11): “being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance” (first sign of strength) “and patience,” (second sign) “with joy” (the ultimate sign). Joy in difficult circumstances and with difficult people is evidence of that explosive strength that comes from God alone. Kingdom people who have joy under such circumstances are like top-tier competitors at the Olympics. Their heavenly Father is in the stands, and every time they endure a trial or forgive an offender he jumps for joy.

God is pleased when his children are strong. That was the third thing that pleases him. There is one more. It is at the beginning of verse 12: “Giving thanks” (there’s the participle) “to God the Father…” Gratitude is an indicator – maybe even the indicator – of spiritual health and it pleases God. Most of us can be grateful when things go right, when the terrible thing doesn’t happen but the unlikely blessing does. But spiritually mature people are also grateful when things just go on: when the table is set for supper; when a favorite song comes on the radio; when the furnace works; the car runs; and telephone wait time is shorter than expected. They are even thankful when things go wrong. They regularly and genuinely thank their heavenly Father, whatever the circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

To recap: the four traits that please God are (1) fruitfulness; (2) a growing knowledge of God; (3) strength, manifested through endurance, patience, and joy; and (4) gratitude. With that in front of us, would you say you are pleasing to God? Are these traits evident in your life? If not, are you aware of something that is getting in the way? Do you need to reconnect to God, to be recharged? What is God saying to you right now?

[1] Emily Lund,; source: “Fla. Student Grades Ex’s Apology Letter, Sends It Back” NBC 5 Chicago (2-21-17)

[2] Oswald Chambers, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 4.

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Powerful Prayers: Prayers God Loves to Answer Colossians 1:9-12 – Part 2 (Listening time 26:00)

How strong are you? How much weight can you bench press? How many miles can you run? (In my case, it might be better to measure in yards.) How high is your vertical jump?

But what about spiritual strength? What does it mean for a follower of Jesus to be strong? Are there tests to measure spiritual strength?

Yes, there are and we learn about them from the Apostle Paul’s description of his prayer for the Colossians. There are three principal tests for spiritual strength. Take the tests – see how you do.

Feel free to comment. Best to you!

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