rooted in love: love

Paul’s praying again in this week’s passage. It’s a beautiful prayer – worth enjoying in its entirety. Our text was Ephesians 3:14-21

That is why I kneel before God, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  

And I pray that God, out of the riches of divine glory, will strengthen you inwardly with power through the working of the Spirit. May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, so that you, being rooted and grounded in love, will be able to grasp fully the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love and, with all God’s holy ones, experience this love that surpasses all understanding, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 

To God—whose power now at work in us can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine—to God be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, world without end! Amen!

Thoughts on the text are below.

My word. This prayer is gorgeous.

I pray that God will strengthen you inwardly…

May Christ dwell in your hearts… may you be rooted and grounded in love… may you grasp the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love…

May you experience this love that passes understanding…

May you be filled with the fullness of God…

Anybody here in need of any of that? Who doesn’t long for this, at some level?

Paul just asks for it. He doesn’t spend much time pontificating. He just asks in prayer.

Most of what he asks for has to do with love—to know love, be grounded love, to experience love. That’s our word for today about what it is to be church. We’re a community rooted and grounded in love—love for God, love for each other, love for the world. All that love is lovely, but also difficult. Paul knows that, and the next three chapters of the letter to the Ephesians focus on the how of love—how to be a people marked by love. But first, he prays about it. That’s where it all starts, if we want more of this love business. It starts with prayer.

Prayer can be a fraught subject.

For some of us, prayer comes easily and naturally, like a mother tongue.

For others of us, prayer seems exceedingly strange. It can take years to summon up the courage to whisper to someone else, “Do you really pray? What does that mean?” I promise, if you feel that way, you are not alone.

What makes prayer seem so odd for some of us? Maybe it’s the whole talking to the creator of the universe bit that’s just too much. God is not only God, but also listens? To me? And the absurdity of that stops us dead in our tracks, keeps us from praying before we’ve begun.

Or maybe it’s an idea we have an in our heads of what prayer looks like that makes it tough—if you’re a night person the idea getting up early to have time with Jesus can sounds miserable; if you’re a chatty extrovert, sitting in silent contemplation of the mysteries of the universe is torture; if you are shy or anxious in social settings, praying aloud with others can be horribly awkward.

A couple of things prayer is not: it does not have to be quiet. It can be, but it can also be loud, raucous even. Prayer also does not need special times or places. Whatever happens in your daily life—that’s ground enough for prayer. Prayer during times of quiet and peace is good. But it is not holier than prayer during the busyness and fullness of our days.

Prayer does not have to involve words. It can be an inclination of your heart, as you take in the majesty of the Olympics as the sun sets, or as you interact with your spouse or friends. Prayer can be letting yourself be filled by peace that passes understanding, peace that might even—if you’re really advanced at this prayer stuff—endure through a toddler’s tantrum or rush hour traffic.

When prayer does involve words, they don’t have to be fancy. They can be. Paul’s words here are beautiful. If you enjoy language, then the beauty of form can be part of your prayer. But if that’s not your thing, or if your words have run dry, prayer can be as simple as God, the sky is so blue. Thank you. Jesus, could you love this person for me, because I’m having a hard time with that right now. Holy Spirit, I’m scared. Help me.

Wise people say prayer is about relationship with God. That may sound absurd to you. Relationship? With God Almighty? Creator of the universe, Author of Life? A relationship?

And yet, the testimony of our scripture, and of our mothers and fathers in the faith is that we are known by God and, amazingly, God is willing to be known by us. God shares something of God’s self with us. We can know and be known. That quality of experiencing God, and being aware that we’re known and loved by God, can grow and deepen with time. Prayer is how that happens.

If you’ve been praying for a while, you probably know this better than I do. If this sounds far-fetched to you, and yet like something that your heart yearns for, but you don’t know where to start, Paul gives us a pretty good example. We just ask. It really is that simple. We ask.

God, I’d like to know you. And note: to pray that prayer, you don’t have to believe anything on an intellectual level. You can be full of doubt or skepticism, even downright certainty that this is all bogus. But if your heart longs for this prayer, then it’s honest. It can be as simple as, Jesus, I need you. O Holy Spirit, open my eyes. God, show me your love.

You can say this out loud. Or whisper it, or journal it, or sing it, or draw it. It can be your refrain as you walk, or wash the dishes, or commute.

You don’t have to feel spiritual while you pray it. The important part is the praying, the asking, the reaching out, the opening of self.

One caution. Prayer will change us. Take Paul’s prayer for example. How might it change our lives?

If we said, God, you have so much. Strengthen me, please. If we scrawled this prayer down and carried it with us to doctors appointments, and difficult meetings, if we carried through the days where we don’t think we have enough resources to meet the needs at hand, would this prayer, might this prayer, bit by bit, help us discover strength we didn’t know we had?

Or if we prayed, Christ, dwell in my heart. Root and ground me in love. Would we find that we’re not as rooted in a need to be liked, or a need to prove ourselves, that we’re not as rooted in the values of our culture, the values of money and success and winning? Would we find that our roots have grown in the fertile soil of another land, the land of love?

And if we prayed, O Lord, let me grasp the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love, let me experience this love, fill me with it, if we prayed that for ourselves and each other, might we find that our hearts are more tender, that our vision is wider? Would we begin to see God’s image in the most unlikely people, the most unlikely places? Would we even find that we love more, people who make us mad or have hurt us, would we discover some love even for them?

And what if we prayed this prayer for our church? How might our life together grow deeper in love, wider in love, longer and higher and broader in love? How might that love ripple out to our neighbors? Here in the north end? Throughout the city? Around the world? It’s more than I can even imagine.

Do we dare to ask for stuff like this in our prayer? Can we even begin to imagine what could happen if we, as a church, prayed for this kind of love, for ourselves, for Bethany?

Paul closes his prayer by giving praise to the God who is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine. That’s at the heart of all this.

That’s why it doesn’t matter if your prayers are frequent or rare, erudite or stuttering, easy or hard. It doesn’t even matter if you know what you believe about God, if you’ve got all your theology sorted out and your doctrine is “correct.” Our prayer doesn’t depend on us. It depends on God. And God is able to do more than we can ask or imagine.

When we pray, we don’t have to have it all figured out, we don’t have to understand the what or why of it all, we don’t have to feel spiritual or holy. We set all that aside and reach out to the Love that over and around us lies, the Power that lies at the center of it all, we reach out to God who is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine. We reach out and we say thank you, or wow, or we just rest, or we ask. It really is that simple.

We’re going to take some time for silent prayer now. You might use Paul’s prayer as your own. You might just let those words wash over you. Or perhaps there is something else you’ve been needing to ask in prayer. We’ll be silent for three or four minutes. Our time of silent prayer will conclude as we sing the words of this passage from Ephesians. Let us pray.

by Sarah W. Wiles
August 19, 2012
Bethany Presbyterian Church
Tacoma, WA
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