“Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness” (Ephesians 6:23, NLT).
Prayer is how Christians participate in the relationship of Father, Son and Spirit. It is as easy as simply talking to him, but sometimes, especially when praying for people in difficult situations, we find ourselves at a loss for words. In this short prayer, tacked on to the end of Ephesians, Paul gives us not only a sample prayer but insight into the heart of God.
God is love (1 John 4) and he is faithful. Because we know this about him and we know he hears us when we pray, asking him for love with faith is a prayer he will always answer. We all need both, so we can pray this for others and ourselves in any and every situation with complete confidence. God doesn’t withhold himself from us but is eager to share and help us through life with these and every fruit of the Spirit—and all we have to do is ask. I’m sure Paul wouldn’t mind if we echo and even copy his prayers. They are timeless, insightful and reflective of God’s heart for us.
“Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven'” (Matthew 9:2, NLT).
An old movie called Love Story made this line somewhat famous: “Love means you never have to say you’re sorry.” After many years of marriage and two children, I believe that’s not true. Husbands and wives need to say they’re sorry when they hurt each other. It’s good for kids to apologize to their parents and siblings. Saying you’re sorry makes relationships work a lot better.
God likes hearing us say it too, but it’s not necessary to continually beg and plead for forgiveness. The paralytic in this verse didn’t even ask for it and Jesus forgave him, simply because of the faith of his friends. Before we ever asked for it, Jesus forgave us from the cross. It’s just not true that Jesus withholds his forgiveness—the first time we come to him or the thousandth time—unless or until we abhor ourselves in dust and ashes or perform bloody acts of contrition. As his beloved children, saying we’re sorry is more for our benefit than his. His love means we’re forgiven; our love back to him means saying we’re sorry (again) and thank you (again).
“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners” (Romans 5:6, NLT).
In our self-sufficient, I-can-do-it-myself culture, helplessness is seen as a negative condition and a sign of weakness. If you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps, something must be wrong with you, so people will either write you off or take advantage.
God doesn’t see helplessness the same way. Our weakness is his artist’s medium. Rather than write off the whole human race, God sent his Son to pull us—while still in our completely weak and powerless state—out of sin, misery and death. He didn’t wait for us to get stronger, do good works or clean up our act. And he still doesn’t. No one can clean themselves up enough to deserve grace, but in his love and compassion, God was happy to lay down his life for us, once and for all. He lets us trade our helplessness for his all-sufficient grace, which makes us his work of art.
“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16, NLT).
I’ve always been a Spiderman fan. I owned a couple of Spidey comic books as a girl and read them over and over (I wish I still had them—they’d be worth a lot of money). When the movies came out, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Peter Parker, Mary Jane and villains like Doc Ock come to life. For you non-Spidey fans, Peter received his power from a spider bite and was transformed from an average teenager into an amazingly strong super being.
That’s fantasy of course. In real life no one has super powers. We all have to get along with our natural human strength and most of us have enough of that to function. The strength we more often lack but desperately need is on the inside. Inner strength is what helps us hold on to honesty and integrity in the face of temptation or the scorn of those who feel we should behave as badly as they. It’s what helps us keep going in the face of adversity. But we can’t manufacture much of that on our own. True, lasting inner strength comes from God the strong One, through the Holy Spirit who empowers us as we stay connected to Jesus—no spider bites necessary.
“We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us” (Romans 8:23b, NLT).
In ancient Roman times, a young man came of age when his father decided he was ready, at which time he was fully adopted as a son and given all the rights and privileges of an heir. Until that time, he was no better than a slave, had no freedoms and made no decisions. No doubt boys looked forward to the celebration and realization of their entry into adulthood.
Christians, by virtue of being united with Christ, are already God’s sons and daughters, but as I’ve mentioned before, we realize this in a now-but-not-yet way. We are a bit like the Roman boys who, though members of the family, were still under the protection and authority of their fathers and didn’t yet function as adults, even as older teenagers. Our adoption by a loving Father is already final, and with eager hope and anticipation, we have many good things to look forward to, including bodies as glorious as that of the risen Christ.
“And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering” (Romans 8:23a, NLT).
Appetizers are a great way to start a meal, but are small, so even though they can be satisfying to some extent, they often leave you wanting more. These little bits of food are no substitute for a substantial meal and are only meant to tease the appetite and stimulate hunger.
The Holy Spirit is our appetizer for the wonderful future God has in store for us. He reassures us of God’s great love and mercy and testifies to our spirits about Jesus, who is Truth. The peace, comfort and glimpses of glory he gives us leave us wanting more and remind us this life isn’t all there is. A time is coming when we’ll have new bodies, live on a new earth and will never cry again. Appetizers aren’t meant to fully satisfy, but they do hold the promise of much more to come. We’ll just have to keep waiting in delicious anticipation for not just the meal, but dessert too!
“The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him” (Ephesians 1:14, NLT).
Most things we buy come with a guarantee. Some are touted as total satisfaction or your money back. Others are limited. A lot of them have fine print which can translate as “good luck getting anything from us.” I’ve rarely used a product guarantee, but especially for the larger ticket items, it’s nice to have.
Some wonder how they can be sure God will do what he says. He knew we’d be skeptical so one of the reasons he sent the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of anyone who accepts his grace and forgiveness was to help us trust him. The Spirit, who is God, testifies to our spirits, just as in a court of law, to the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and the certainty of the inheritance we receive in him. We all have doubts from time to time, but when we do, the Holy Spirit is there to reassure us God’s guarantee is made of gold and has no fine print.