Running Toward the Kingdom
After I-80 replaced old highway 40 over Donner Pass the trip to Reno from our house got a bit easier. It easily cut the time in half but it also made for some interesting driving strategies for those on the drive. Do you remember those 1965 VW's bugs? When we drove Donner pass with one the bug raced down the hills. Their engines would scream as they floored it down the road. My dad didn't try to keep up with them. He just got out of their way and let them go. He knew he'd be passing them up when they hit the upgrade just ahead. They didn't have the power or speed needed for a consistent drive.
How often have we found ourselves going through life like those VW buts—underpowered, running wide open then barely moving? Jesus knew each of us would find times in our life that was like that. We read in the gospel how God has given us a resource when we are poor, hungry, weeping, or hated. The answer comes in looking far forward to the time when as Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:9-10,
"And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ." NIV
Likewise Paul's prayer is a prayer for us as we careen along this road called life. It is a prayer for consistency in our journey with Jesus. He hits on themes he's written about just prior to this and he continues his aim at helping us see the power and majesty of our God who loves us more than we can understand.
Paul's prayer is for wisdom and insight. He linked wisdom and understanding in verse 8 and here spiritual wisdom is tied to our knowledge of God but its purpose is that we might "know him better". This knowledge Paul desires for us is best summed up in Roone Arledge's line from ABC Sports, "up close and personal ".
This prayer is answered by having our spiritual understanding, a practical knowledge and reasoning, continue in us through God's work. Translate the word "heart" in scripture as "brain" or "thinking". Contrary to the spirit of Valentine's Day, the heart is never viewed as the seat of emotions for Greeks or Jews. What God's done for us in Jesus, that is, opened us up to see and understand His mystery in Christ now continues to have an effect in our lives.
That effect involves our realization of HIS calling. In verse 12 hope was the action of the believer but here hope is the object. It is "God's hope". It is a hope that leads to God's outcome and purpose the kingdom of God, the second coming, the riches we've had laid up for us in heaven and all the rest. One cannot equate hope and wishing in the Bible. Hope is certainty. Hope is assured. God's hope will become reality.
The effect of clear thought has us grasp the truth that we are God's inheritance. In the section before we read about "our" inheritance but Paul makes it clear that we are God's possession. It's not about what God gives us. It's about the fact that we literally belong to God. For those of us coming out of the Reformation of the church in the 1600's it is this truth that leads us to make such strong statements about "covenants". God's truth, his covenant with us is a binding force that ties us to him in spite of our sin and failure. And it promises us hope when we find we've broken the covenant because God is ALWAYS faithful.
The third effect of God's work in our vision of reality is that we grasp just how powerful God actually is. Verse 19 in the Amplified version says,
"And [so that you can know and understand] what is the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His power in and for us who believe, as demonstrated in the working of His mighty strength,"
Four similar words are used to describe God's power and it is all aimed toward us, for our benefit. Some have tried to draw nuances out of each of these words but that is stretching it at best. It is more like a "cascade effect" in which one word leads to another which leads to another etcetera.
Grab hold of this and don't let go because I don't care how great you think God is he is greater. No matter how powerful you believe God is he is more powerful. No matter how loving you believe God is, he's more loving. Get the picture?
And here's the kicker. Every bit of that power, might, love, greatness, mercy, wisdom etc. is demonstrated most clearly in putting Jesus at the seat of authority in heaven. I like how the Contemporary English Version translated 20-21.
"It is the same wonderful power he used 20when he raised Christ from death and let him sit at his right side in heaven. 21There Christ rules over all forces, authorities, powers, and rulers. He rules over all beings in this world and will rule in the future world as well"
For those who believe every religion leads to the same place take note. If this verse is wrong then why should anyone put their trust in Christ? Is it just because of his moral teaching, or sacrificial life? That seems a bit shallow doesn't it? However, if this is true then those religions which claim to be on an equal footing with Christianity has to show how they're beliefs accommodate for Christ being the ruler of the future.
What's more the methodology God has chosen to continue this news of God's power and saving grace is the Church. It is the fallible, ever wishy-washy people who seek to serve God who are led by Christ who fills us and directs us in this task.
Let me leave us with a quote from Dave Goetz's article Suburban Spirituality about the church and its role in God's plan
"For all of its foibles—lousy preaching, political infighting, self-centered focus, stagnation, a gaggle of special interest groups—the pokey local church…is still the most fertile environment for spiritual development. In fact, there can be no genuine spiritual progress without a long-term attachment to a pokey local church."1
1 Dave Goetz, "Suburban Spirituality," Christianity Today (July 2003), p. 33