How do we root our faith and hope into Christ? How do we fill our hearts with the truths we highlighted in the Faith and Hope articles?
The end goal of the prayer in Ephesians 3v14-21 is that the believers would be "filled with all the fulness of God" (v19). What will that look like? It will look like the life described in Ephesians 4-6; a life filled with fruit, in all goodness, righteousness and truth, pleasing to God (5v9-10). So how do we get filled like this? Working our way backwards through the prayer, we find the answer; it is by comprehending and knowing, more and more, just how loved we are in Christ (v18-19). How can we comprehend and know this? Working back again, we see that it is by being deeply rooted and securely grounded in this love (v17). Once more, how do we do that? According to the prayer, it involves God's rich glory and power working in us through the Spirit and our faith (v16-17).
In Chapter 12 of Bunyan's classic, Christian is at the palace 'Beautiful' and meets with a number of people, one of which is Prudence, who asks Christian if he still faces temptation to think and do things that are part of his old nature. Christian admits that he sadly does. Prudence then asks if there are times he is able to overcome these temptations and stating that he does experience such "golden hours" he explains how:
"When I think what I saw at the cross, that will do it; and when I look upon my embroidered coat, that will do it; and when I look into the scroll that I carry in my bosom, that will do it; and when my thoughts wax warm about whither I am going, that will do it."
Did you catch those four things Christian mentioned? He is able to overcome his sinful nature and live out his new life when he thinks upon:
The Cross - what Christ was willing to suffer for him and the heavy burden of the guilt and shame of his sin that fell from his shoulders when he looked to Christ.
The Coat - the glorious robe of the righteousness of Christ that replaced his old sinful rags, representing a new relationship as a child of God and as a citizen of the Celestial City.
The Scroll - this is his assurance of salvation and his "pass" into the City which he often reads and finds comfort in along the journey.
The City - Christian would go on to explain why he longed to be there; he would see the risen Christ, he wouldn't face temptation to sin again, he would never die and he would be surrounded by those who loved Christ too.
How is Christian able to overcome? He considers the grace of God. He considers who he is because of that grace. He considers where he is going because of that grace.
We are so prone to setting up our own standards that these suggestions can become standards in themselves; a list of obligations to tick off to measure or achieve our godliness. I hope you will be able to receive them in the way they are meant.
Our first fight everyday, before we seek to fight sin or endure suffering, is the daily fight for the heart. We wage war here first; the daily battle to believe the gospel.
Paul wanted the Ephesians' hearts and minds to be filled with the unfathamobale and immeasurable realities of how loved they are in Christ. Christian told Prudence that when he chooses to think upon his past salvation, his present sealed identity and his future expectation, he is able to overcome.
What you choose to fill your mind with is important. You meditate all day every day. You are always talking to yourself, but you are not always telling yourself the truth. I can fill my mind with all my failures, all my reasons for guilt and shame, all my doubts and weaknesses and struggles. Or I can fill my mind with the beautiful truths of the gospel; I am now in Christ, when God sees me He chooses to not see my sin.
Instead, He chooses to see someone who is righteous in His Son! The more I embrace this truth - the more I really rest in the fact that God actually delights in me - then the more I respond to this beautiful grace with glad obedience to Him. Sometimes it is hard to control our thinking and so I want to give you these next steps as ways to help us..
1. Your Reading
Reading scripture can easily become a box ticking habit. Our godliness, however, isn't measured by how dog-eared and marked-up our Bibles are. Reading and studying God's word can give us rich nourishment. But only if we read it with the right motives and attitude. We can read the Bible out of a sense of guilt, shame and even pride. It can become a legalistic barometer of our spiritual wellbeing. We don't impress God through our reading.
In the last few years I have been reading scripture differently, asking four questions that begin with God's character, attributes and deeds before working its way down to who I am and how I can apply the passage or chapter I am reading. It has massively impacted how and why I read God's word (here's a link to the 4Qs).
The more I allow the scriptures to point me to the rich character of God and His awe inspiring attributes, and see what He has done for me and given me and made me through His Son - the more I respond to all of this by joyfully asking how I should respond to these truths as glad, worshipful obedience.
This isn’t just going through the motions. This is knowing our desperate need to feed on the gospel today and so hungrily reading scripture. Scripture is one of the beautiful ways we gaze upon Christ. It is one of the ways we hear him speaking to us. He works in us as we pour over his word.
2. Your Praying
Prayer. As soon as we say, hear or read the word our minds yawn as we think of the struggles we've had to get through private prayer and prayer meetings. Or we shudder with guilt at how much we haven't prayed. Just like reading, we can pray for all the wrong reasons and in all the wrong ways.
An incredibly helpful way to change the motive and method of your prayers is to start praying your way through the prayers recorded for us, by the Holy Spirit, in the New Testament letters (check out (Ephesians 1v15-23, 3v14-21, Philippians 1v9-11, Colossians 1:9-14, Hebrews 13:20-21).
Or, having worked through the 4Qs over a passage, pray about what you've learned. Read the Psalms and learn to pray the way they pray. Read a hymn and pray through the things that stand out.
Don’t just ask, bask. Not just shopping list prayer. Not just praying for things outside of ourselves; our circumstances, and other people in our lives. Confess specific sin and neediness. Praise God for his character and attributes. Thank God for his goodness and grace towards you in Christ.
3. Your Fellowship
The Christian life is personal, but it is never private. We need to break out of our individualistic western mindsets and deeply come to understand that Christianity is a community experience. This is about being real with others about your needs and struggles. This is about praying for someone and asking for real prayer. This is about encouraging someone and hearing real encouragement.
This isn’t just Sunday and midweek. This ought to be, as much as is possible, a daily practice. Go for a walk with someone, meet for a coffee, video call. Confess sin and struggle. Come out of hiding. Take the masks off.
Sometimes, when shame or guilt, or temptation or suffering or whatever is screaming so loud at us that we can’t hear anything else - we need our brothers and sisters to gently, firmly, lovingly speak truth into us - truths you might well already know - but need reminded off in that moment. And your brothers and sisters need this too.
4. Your Gathering
We don't go to church or "do" church. We gather as the church. As we read through passages like Ephesians 4v11-16 and Hebrews 10v24-25 we see that the call to gather as the assembly is not a call to come and be faithful attenders of a meeting.
Rather, we are called to gather together, to encourage and be encouraged to consider the faithfulness of Christ and to respond by joyfully remaining faithful to Christ in every aspect of our lives by His grace.
The focus of our gatherings should be to point each other to the glory and grace of God, who we are in light of that and how to live that out in our lives by His grace in us. This means that the time before the gathering officially begins, the leading, the singing, the praying, the preaching, the giving, the baptisms, the table and the time after the gathering officially ends should all be pointing to the surpassing beauty of Christ, the incomprehensible love He has for us, the rich and secure identity we have in Him, the indescribable glories that are ahead of us with Him, and how to live out all these amazing truths in obedience to Him - by His grace.
What a beautiful experience our gatherings can be if we all came gospel hungry.
When someone is praying, don’t tune out, pray along with them. When singing the hymns, don’t just go through the motions, let the words fill your mind and heart as you declare wonderful truths about God and his gospel back to him, to yourself and to your brothers and sisters. When there is a reading, listen in, hear what it is saying about God and about us in Christ, let it speak to you. When there is preaching, listen for what God is wanting to say to his people through the reading and proclamation of his word. Before the meeting and after, talk with your church family, ask how you can be praying, share how they can be praying. Encourage and be encouraged. Don’t rush out. Share how someone’s prayer, or a reading, or one of the hymns, or a point in the message ministered to you that morning and ask them what ministered to them. Enjoy the breaking of bread and drinking of the cup. Let its meaning speak to your heart. Let it help you imagine the suffering and death of Jesus, God in the flesh, for us. Let it point you to God’s holiness and his love, to your sinfulness and your salvation. Give thanks, pray, weep even.
Come to the other gatherings during the week too. Don’t be a see-you-Sunday-Christian. You need your brothers and sisters and they need you. Come and feast and come and feed. Be part of the prayer meetings, be part of the Bible study. Hungrily, listening for gospel truths, speaking gospel truths to others
These four practical suggestions are simply ways that you can be helped to root your faith and hope into the rich soil of God's glory and grace because they help you to focus more on the glory and grace of God and who you are in light of that. I hope these can help you to stop Pulling a Martha.
None of these things make God love us more. Rather, through doing these things we grow in our understanding of how loved we are. Filled with that knowledge of how loved we are and how righteous we are in Christ, we are filled with gratitude and praise and dependency and neediness. And God is pleased to work.
Take up this fight to believe the gospel daily. In a world with so many voices, including the false things you tell yourself, let the scriptures, your brothers and sisters, your local church speak the truths of scripture into your life.
Feast and feast and feast hungrily.
Bearing Fruit Series:
Up the Apples and Pears (Christian Fruit, article 1)
Pulling a Martha 1 (Busy but Fruitless, article 2)
Pulling a Martha 2 (Responding to Christ's Love, article 3)
Not Needed, Loved (A True Perspective of Service, article 4)
Wild Grapes and Empty Fig Trees (What our Flesh Produces, article 5)
Plastic Fruit and Bushy Branches (Legalism, Hypocrisy, Pride and Judgement, article 6)
The New and True Vine (Jesus, the only God-pleasing, fruitful human, article 7)
My Hope is Built on Nothingness (How to Abide 1, article 8)
Don't Stop Believing (How to Abide 2, article 9)
Amazing Grace (The Beginning, Middle and End of the Christian Life, article 10)
Thine be the Glory (Why God Does what He Does, article 11)
How to Root (Some Practical Suggestions for Root Work, article 12)
Suffering and Fruit (The Connection Between Suffering and Fruit Bearing, article 13)