30/10/2016 - Ephesians 1:19 ‘His incomparably great power for us who believe’
Paul goes to town with this. He is praying that, right at the core of their being, the Christians in Ephesus will know just how amazing God’s power is ‘for us who believe.’ He uses four different words for power to convey a sense of how comprehensive and awesome that power is. He tells us that it is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and put him way above every other power that ever existed - and he did it for us.
It would be easy to feel the burden of responsibility here. If God has put this amazing power within us, shouldn’t we be out there regularly seeing powerful miracles as demonstrations of that power? What are we meant to be doing with this power? The ‘power’ could end up condemning us!
There is a far more helpful way of seeing this. Paul always writes to teach us how to live. He sets out the wonders of the good news in Christ and asks God to open our eyes to its depths so that we might know the power that is available to us in our everyday challenging situations. On our courses we talk about three factors at work in our lives – nature, nurture and choices. Nature and nurture might conspire to drag us down but we have been set free in Christ to make good choices – and now we have within us the ability to rise above all the odds, to rise above all the forces that would oppose us and to push on in our walk with God. The downward pull of nature and nurture and all manner of spiritual forces might feel like a factor of 99. Our position is Christ might feel like a factor of 1 but in that 1 is more power than in the 99 because Christ is already ‘far above all rule and authority.’
Like Paul, we might be ‘hard pressed on every side’, but because the upward pull is always going to be stronger than the downward we are ‘not crushed’. We might be ‘perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed’ (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Why? Because of where we are in Christ.
This must go into our everyday, moment by moment lives. Maybe you are facing a massive challenge and you are doing well. Then the Accuser cleverly introduces guilt into the situation, you lose your footing and the whole thing threatens to come tumbling down around you. What to do? Remember that there is no guilt in Christ – and you are there in him. When someone is trying to help you by pointing out how you can grow and you find yourself falling back into defensiveness because you feel bad, consciously see yourself as complete in Christ and thus remove the need for guilt.
That same power that raised Jesus from the dead is strong enough to raise you above collapse and switch off; it can lift your spirits that could so easily go into freefall and depression if left unchecked. It enables you to do something with who you are and what you feel. We are not victims, helpless in the grip of all-powerful emotions or spiritual forces beyond our control. In fact, we are not subject to anything other than the gracious Spirit of God. We are ‘more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Romans 8:37).
But we must choose. There is an open door before us. We go through it by choosing to do what is right and all the power that raised Jesus from the dead flows into that situation to make the good thing happen. We might not feel like it, we might doubt even whether it is possible but we make the choice – and God does the rest. To explore these thoughts further listen to John's talk, 'Incomparably great power', on 30.10.2016.
See comments below: On 3/11/2016 Kathryn wrote: Thank you, John. That verse would sometimes make me feel guilty, but in this context I can use it to remind myself that I can rise above guilt too as that is not what the Lord wants for me - & His power in me will help me do that.
On 4/11/2016 Cathy wrote: Yes thank you John that really resonated with what happened to me during the week. Circumstances were conspiring against me practically and physically to the point where I was plain fed up and in danger of descending into self pity, however I knew deep down that it was my choice whether I actually arrived at self pity or not. I was aware that 'the eyes of my heart could be enlightened ... that there was incomparably great power available to me' (Ephesians 1 18, 19) That it was actually my choice whether to ask for that power, I could do something about the downward pull of the way I was feeling, I didn't need to be a victim of freefall. Once having decided, and asked for help, God was able to do the rest in his own inimitable, personal way, and restore my walk and sense of joy in him. I like to think too that the heavenly host rejoices with him, when one of his children reaches out and receives what he is so eager to give them.
On 14/02/2017 Cathy wrote: Thank you for talk 'How do we find out what pleases the Lord?' on Ephesians 5:10 (12/02/2017) especially for emphasising the 'finding out' what pleases the Lord and that it could be what we would find uncomfortable or the most uncomfortable. I have a feeling that although our head may object, in the long run it will bring the most delight to our heart, could even be what the Lord specially designed us for. And by saying 'yes' I really want what will please you we are saying 'yes' to the first of Jesus' commandments to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and strength (Deut 5:6) What could be a more delightful discovery.
14/10/2016 - Romans 12:18 ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.’
How do you cope with someone who doesn’t share your standards? This isn’t about being elitist or arrogant but the practical realities that arise when you are shoulder to shoulder with someone who won’t acknowledge that they are being, selfish, sloppy or just plain stubborn. Perhaps you were brought up in home where you were taught to give, to be sensitive to what others feel, to genuinely seek the other person’s good. Perhaps church provided that perspective.
Now you have flat mates who think it is alright to regularly leave a sink full of dirty pots and pans, work colleagues who have no conscience about expecting you to do what they can’t be bothered to do, potential friends who don’t seem to have grasped the basics of relationships. Sadly, you might find yourself in a church which doesn’t go to sufficient depth to teach these values. How do you approach these, and similar, situations?
Now, the hope is that by sharing your concerns you can help others to a better place. But what can you do when you come up against a resistance to change and grow? Firstly, don’t compromise your standards. Whatever you do to make a situation work, within yourself don’t lower your standards. In other words, you may have to come to a practical compromise but that isn’t because you were wrong in the first place to have those values. Don’t turn your positives into negatives by allowing other people’s negative responses to make you doubt yourself. This damages you.
Secondly, know the limits of your responsibility. Thankfully there are those who welcome the opportunity to learn and grow but not everyone is prepared to pay the price of change. Many people have found a way of operating that works for them and they are not willing to put their comfort zone at risk. You cannot make yourself responsible for change in other people’s lives unless they have given you that right. In a church that takes relationships seriously, there will be a mutual accountability so that such growth can take place. Where that doesn’t exist, you cannot assume it.
When someone doesn’t change, it doesn’t mean you have failed. It simply means they have made the choice not to change. We must allow others the dignity of choice – even when it hurts. And this brings us to our third point: allow yourself to feel the effects that other’s people’s negative choices have on you. Jesus wept over the consequences of his countrymen’s hard hearts (Luke 19:41). Acknowledge the sadness that you feel when you see the potential in another’s life being wasted, when you see someone you love being hurt, when you are the victim yourself of another’s selfishness. Look at it, process it, pray for the person – but don’t allow yourself to feel responsible. Recognise that strong emotions quickly turn into guilt and a sense of personal failure – and refuse to go there. Put that person back firmly into God’s hands and focus on your own walk with the Lord.
See comments below:
On 14/10/2016 Nicky wrote: Thank you very much, John for this very important advice for us to heed as we walk forward on our journey of love with the Lord. What you said reminds me of my relationship with my parents in-law. They both have very one-sided opinions about a lot of topics and can't accept another point of view, which is very hard for me (I think my husband is so used to this behaviour that it doesn't seem to bother him most of the time!) A lot of people say to me "oh, just leave them - there's nothing you can do" but because they're my parents in-law and my children's grandparents - and they only live a few miles away from us - I want a better relationship with them than that if possible and slowly but surely, some little changes are happening and I'm sure the Lord wants me to carry on trying. My big challenge after an attempt at trying to help them see the "other side of the coin" is not to feel guilty about having tried and then consequently turning the situation back on myself - as John says, it does a lot of damage. And I have to keep remembering not to think that we must always try to fix things - if we listen to the Lord and walk with him, he will give us opportunities to act but it may not be straight away and we might have to be patient.
On 16/10/2016 John replied: Thank you Nicky for that good practical example of what I wrote about. It highlights the challenge well because it isn't about walking away or cutting anyone off but about how we cope when there are different values. If we refuse to turn things back on ourselves it means we stay available and open, as appropriate, and can possibly still be a blessing to those who disagree with us.
On 17/10/2016 Martina wrote: Thank you John for this thought provoking insight. In my role as a Nurse my first priority is my clients , and leading the team to ensure high standards of care are implemented. I am not a natural leader and I dislike confronting other team members if their work is sloppy. However I had no choice as a health care assistant refused to carry out my instructions and other carers had also complained about their work. However due to their dismissive attitude I had no choice but to approach my Manager . Subsequently whilst knowing I followed the correct Complaints Procedure, I found myself feeling guilty about reporting this member of staff as they have quite a few personal issues outside of work and I feel compassion for their situation. My Manager is now taking this issue very seriously but nevertheless it is a difficult situation and I have certainly felt challenged.
On 18/10/2016 John replied: Thank you Martina for another illustration of how important this principle is of knowing what is your responsibility and what isn't. For all of us, when facing those challenges, it is worth pausing and getting that issue straight in our minds - i.e. what or who am I responsible for here and what is outside of my responsibility. Then we have to settle it and keep our hearts at peace. God bless you in your important work.
On 2/11/2016 Mindy wrote: Thank you John for this Bible insight which I just happened to read (or led to read). I have been feeling responsible for my sons who have had a disagreement, the elder one feels his younger brother has made poor choices in his ways or life and has told him so. Now neither of them are speaking and not wanting to meet up. I have been feeling responsible in trying to get them to speak and to forgive but this isn't happening so started to feel I was failing them. This advice about giving them and their situation back to God and praying for them is what I know I need to do and just love them both and continue on my walk (albeit slippery at times) with God.