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East Lincoln Alliance Church

Strength in the Struggle

Strength in the Struggle
Ephesians 1:15-23

Our family went with Tollaksons to Yellowstone last summer and one morning we were entering the park on a winding road lined with thick pine trees. You couldn’t see very far into the woods because there were so many trees. But then, all of a sudden the trees disappeared on one side and this is what we saw… (picture 1) We had an awesome view of a beautiful gorge with a river flowing through the bottom hundreds of feet below. We pulled off the road to enjoy the view and Kent disappeared down a trail. A few minutes later I spotted him and took a picture… (picture 2) Can you see him? Here’s a close up… (picture 3) He’s standing on the edge of the cliff overlooking the gorge. He wanted to back away from the edge, but I told him he had to stay there and pose for a picture for this sermon…

As we begin this New Year I want you to imagine yourself standing in that spot – that’s today and you’re looking out across the ravine to the other side – that’s one year from now. As you stand on the precipice of 2018, what do you want to see God do in your life in the upcoming year? What changes and growth do you want to happen by the time you reach the other side? Maybe you want to become a better husband or wife, or a better parent. Maybe you want to get back on track in your relationship with God and devote more time to Bible study and prayer. Maybe you want to have more courage and boldness and become a better witness. Maybe you want to give up a bad habit or gain victory over an area of sin that has controlled you for a long time.

The beginning of a New Year is a good time to make resolutions in these areas. But these are things that are very difficult to change and lots of people begin to make changes with good intentions, but end up giving up along the way. It can be disheartening and defeating when lasting change doesn’t happen and when you can’t seem to overcome the things that are holding you down. We know the things we want to do, but we lack the ability to keep doing them long term. This is true in many areas for me – one is being a more effective witness for Christ. I wish I wasn’t so timid and awkward when it comes to talking to people about the Lord. I wish I was more outspoken about my faith in my everyday life, but I’m not. And even though I try harder at times and am motivated to do better, I end up giving up. I go back to where I was before. What is it in your life that you want to change, but haven’t been able to?

This morning I want to bring some hope into this struggle by looking at another attribute of God that’s known as God’s “omnipotence.” It’s an attribute that I’m sure we’re all aware of, but have probably had a hard time figuring out what to do with. So I hope today will help and we will come away with greater strength in the struggle. The passage I want to use is a prayer that Paul prayed for the Ephesians. It’s the same passage I used in an earlier sermon in this series, but this morning I want to focus on a different part of it.

Read Ephesians 1:15-23.
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Paul begins by saying “For this reason,” and he’s talking about what he wrote in the previous verses: Because God blesses his people with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, and because the people Paul was writing to were partakers in all of those blessings – proven by their faith in Christ and their love for the saints – because of those reasons Paul unceasingly gives thanks to God for them as he remembers them in his prayers. And as he’s praying for them, he asks that God would reveal himself to them – that he would open up the eyes of their hearts so that they would see three things. He wants them to know the hope to which God has called them; he wants them to know the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and the thing I want us to focus on this morning is that he wants them to know the immeasurable greatness of his power toward those who believe.

This is the key for us today to find greater strength in the struggles we face and the things we want to see change in our lives – we need to know the immeasurable greatness of the power of God that is toward us. But the way that knowing his power is effective for making lasting change is likely much different than what you probably think. It’s much different than what I was thinking earlier this week. So first I want to explain the immeasurable greatness of the power of God, or his “omnipotence,” and then I want to talk about how knowing that can actually be effective for making changes in our lives.

The “immeasurable greatness of the power of God”… Notice that Paul doesn’t just pray that we would know God’s “power” in this verse – he prays that we would know “the immeasurable greatness of his power.” So Paul is emphasizing something about the power of God – that it has a quality of immeasurable greatness. The Greek words point to the infinite nature of God’s power – it is immeasurable, unlimited, and beyond our ability to grasp. In much the same way that God is unlimited by time, space, and change, as we’ve seen in his other attributes, he is also unlimited by any force or energy in the universe. The greatness or vastness of his power is immeasurable.

We are used to measuring power. We measure the power of electricity using watts; the power of sound using decibels. We measure an earthquake by its magnitude on a Richter Scale; light by lumens; heat by BTU’s. We measure the power of an engine by horsepower. Measuring power is common and necessary for us so that we know what we’re dealing with. It’s how we stay safe when we’re dealing with powerful things because we can prepare ourselves to encounter it. But we can’t do that with God’s power. It is immeasurable… We can’t measure it because it’s different than any other power and we have no way of measuring it. We can’t comprehend what we’re dealing with. But we also can’t measure it because it is infinitely vast. There is no limit to his power.

Paul further describes God’s power by giving two examples. The first is in raising Christ from the dead. God’s power transcends natural law. It is not bound by the rules of science like all other powers. God can raise the dead. This is impossible. Brain cells begin to die after 4-6 minutes of being cut off from blood flow and after 10 minutes they cease to function and die. Jesus was in the grave about 36 hours. There is no coming back from that. It’s impossible. There is no power in all of creation that can bring a person back to life after they’ve been dead for 10 minutes, much less 36 hours. But the power that God has knows no such limitations. He has power over natural law. We see that all throughout the Bible. He made the blind to see; he made the deaf to hear; he made the lame to walk; he walked on water; he turned water into wine; he parted the Red Sea, he made the sun stand still, he calmed the storm… If you have a disease – God can heal it. If you’re missing a limb – God can grow you a new one. If a storm blows a tree down – God can move it so it doesn’t hit your house. God can stop a nuclear missile. He can stop a hurricane. He can make water flow up river. He can let you breathe under water. He can make your car work without gas. God has the power to do anything he wants to do in the natural world and there’s nothing that can stop him.

The second example Paul gives is that God seated Christ at his right hand in the heavenly places – high above all rule and authority – whether that be human authority or spiritual. So God’s power is unlimited when it comes to government, authority, and demonic powers. History isn’t about a struggle between God and mankind or God and Satan, because there is no struggle with God. God has the power to do anything he wants. He causes kings and presidents and dictators and governors to rise and fall. He causes nations and armies to rise and fall. He has the power to make any angel or any demon do anything he wants them to do. He can elevate or demote you in your company any time he wants. He can free you from any and all demonic influence.

God is omnipotent, all-powerful, entirely able to carry out every plan and purpose he has and there is nothing that can stand in his way. Paul wanted God to reveal that to his readers and he wanted them to know that his power was toward us who believe.

Just one question – what are we supposed to do with that? I think most of us believe that God is all-powerful, but how is knowing that effective for making lasting change in our lives? I think most people treat the knowledge of God’s omnipotence like a pep rally before a game. They try to get all pumped up so they can go out and crush the opponent. “We just need confidence – we need faith…” But what do you do when you still end up losing? That’s really troubling to me –we have the unstoppable all-star on our team, and yet we keep losing. I feel like I lose a lot more often than I win. The timidity in witnessing comes back. The temptation keeps overwhelming and we give in. The addiction remains. The temper blows – again. The depression comes back. The motivation disappears. If God is omnipotent, shouldn’t it be a guarantee that all the ways we want to change and grow in this upcoming year will happen? We should be invincible. Why aren’t we?

When I first studied Paul’s prayer I was thinking he wanted us to see God’s power to get pumped up; and if we have enough faith and pray enough with the right attitude, we should be able to overcome any obstacle and weakness in the upcoming year. But past experience tells me there’s a major problem with that – it doesn’t work. So that led me to dig deeper. Why does a God who is omnipotent and whose power is toward those who believe, let those who believe continue to struggle with weakness? Paul struggled with this very same question and he writes about it in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul had what he called a “thorn in the flesh” – a problem with barbs on it that he couldn’t pull out. If he was here today, that’s the thing he would have wanted to see God change in his life in the upcoming year. He believed in God’s omnipotence and it says that he pleaded with the Lord many times that it would be removed. But it wasn’t. And it really bothered him. And I think he had the same questions that we do. “You are all-powerful! Why don’t you take this from me? Why don’t you make me stronger?” And this was God’s answer to him in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

“My power is made perfect in weakness…” What does that mean? This is so much different than how I normally think about God’s power. I would have thought that God’s power is made perfect when his people don’t struggle with weakness anymore. If God is omnipotent and his power is for me, shouldn’t that result in my victory over my weaknesses?... victory over temptation? Victory over addiction and, depression, and anger, and lust, and complacency, and timidity? What does God mean when he says “My power is made perfect in weakness”? Paul gives us more insight into this by giving a personal example at the beginning of 2 Corinthians.

Read 2 Corinthians 1:8-10.
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death…” Have you ever gotten that low? Some of you have. Why would an omnipotent God ever let his people get to that point? I’m sure Paul was praying throughout that whole time just like we do and yet God didn’t step in and turn things around. Paul got so weak that he gave up. “God wants us to die.” That’s about as low as you can go. Why does God let things get so bad? Here’s what Paul found out: “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”

God’s power was made perfect in Paul’s weakness because God used Paul’s darkest hour to change something deep inside him that was impossible for Paul to change. Paul could a lot of things, but he couldn’t make himself rely on God for deliverance and not on himself. That was impossible for Paul – but not for God. God had the power to change Paul and he worked that power in Paul’s life by using Paul’s weakness. God’s power was made perfect in Paul’s weakness. If God would have taken away Paul’s afflictions and despair like Paul wanted him to, he would have continued to rely on himself and not God. God used Paul’s weakness to work his power.

Those kinds of experiences changed Paul’s perspective on weakness. When it came to the thorn in his side that he first pleaded with God to remove, God showed him that he gave him that thorn to keep him from becoming conceited – another thing that was impossible for Paul. God did the impossible by using Paul’s weakness. If God would have removed that thorn like Paul wanted him to, he would have become conceited. So again God used Paul’s weakness to work his power. In seeing this Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul says he learned to be content with weakness. Does that mean he became content with his sins and failures? I don’t think so. I think it means he became content with the fact that he was weak and he didn’t have the power to do the things or live the life God called him to live. And in being content with weaknesses he was then able to trust only in God to do the impossible and that’s where God’s power could shine through. That’s how God’s power was made perfect in his weakness.

As we look at all the things we want to see God do in our lives in the upcoming year, I think God wants us to realize we can’t do them, and I think he will let us continue in our weaknesses and failures to bring us to the point where the realization of our weakness is a settled fact for us. “I can’t do this.” If God just stepped in and worked his power to enable us to overcome all our weaknesses when we ask him to, we would probably end up thinking highly of ourselves and our abilities to conquer our problems. God doesn’t want that. He wants us to come to the humble realization that we’re weak and we can’t do it and he is the only one that can. That is how his power is made perfect in weakness and that is how we will begin to find strength in our struggles. 

 

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