Thursday, 29 December 2016

A prayer for the turning of the year

I pray that out of his glorious riches the Father 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 grounded in love, may have power… 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 fulness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19

2016 is nearly over.

Time, then, for stock-taking – for reflecting on the joys and sorrows, the successes and failures, of the past year. Time too to look ahead, not asking to know what is going to happen, because that is not possible, but aiming to set our sights high so that we make 2017 as good a year as lies with us.

I suggest that we offer a very serious prayer to God: a prayer based on the rich, remarkable and tightly packed words Paul offers to his Christian brothers and sisters in Ephesus.

It’s too condensed to be opened up in full detail, but one thing that stands out is that it rests on a particular belief: what the Christian church would later come to call the “Trinity” – the persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit within God. Let’s skim it on that basis…
  1. God the Father is “gloriously rich” (verse 16).
He is the maker of all things, and all that he makes and does is good. The whole universe is at his finger-tips – he owns everything, and nothing happens without his knowing. And he it is who one day will bring everything to a wonderful conclusion.

Our God is not some weak and feeble God. He is perfect, holy and infinite.
  1. God the Holy Spirit is at work “in our inner being” (verse 16).
This can only mean that if we are Christians then God actually lives within us, for the Holy Spirit is God. Our very bodies – yes, weak flesh and blood though they are – are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). And the Spirit means, among many other things, power.

The very energy of God himself is at our disposal.
  1. God the Son is infinitely loving (verses 17-19).
He too is said to “dwell in our hearts through faith”. Faith means not only a mental assent to God – “Yes, I believe in Jesus” – but a glad acceptance of Jesus, a belief that his death and rising were for us personally, and a willing submission to him.

But the emphasis falls on his love, which is mentioned three times…

First: as Christians we are to be “rooted and established” (verse 17) in that love, like a healthy plant or tree growing in fertile soil, or like a solidly built house on a strong foundation.

Second: it is so great that we can never measure it – it is “wide and long and high and deep” (verse 18) – though Paul does pray for the Ephesians to be able to “grasp” at least something of it.

And third: it is a love “that surpasses knowledge” (verse 19), unlike any love that we can ever know in our human relationships.

In short, the man Christ Jesus is God’s love bundled up in a package we can see and recognise: didn’t he himself utter the staggering words, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)?

So… if you want to know what God is like don’t stare up at the skies – no, look at the baby in the manger, look at the Galilean workman walking the roads of Palestine, look at the man who fed the hungry and healed the sick, who calmed the storm and raised the dead, look at the servant washing the feet of the disciples, look at the agonised man sweating and praying in Gethsemane, look at the God-forsaken criminal hanging on the cross.

And look at the risen Lord standing in the garden on the first resurrection morning and saying “Peace be with you” to those who saw him.

Where else will you find such love, such power, such authority? No wonder the preaching of these things changed the world for ever – and still changes lives today.

Paul ends his prayer with an even more breath-taking hope: “that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.” I don’t know how to comment on those words – just trying somehow reduces them to the commonplace and ordinary. Each of us must close our eyes and make a real mental effort to grapple with them.

But there it is: just a skim – nothing more. But enough, I hope, to prompt us to ask a question: “How then should I pray as I look to the coming year?” Well, here’s a suggestion…

O God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, forgive me that my vision of you is so small and shrivelled, and my faith in you so weak. Enlarge my mind and heart by the Holy Spirit, and fill me to over-flowing with that divine love which cannot be measured and which never ends. Amen.

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