Peace (Luke 1:68-79)

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As a motorcyclist, I tend to want to look for a longer, more interesting way, hopefully with lots of corners, to get from one place to another. There are times, however, when I need to find the quickest, most direct route to my destination. That’s when I go to the app on my smartphone where I can type in my destination, add my starting point, and it will guide me in the most direct way to get to where I need to be.

The final line in the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) basically describes Jesus in a similar way. This is the song Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, sung when his son was born. Zechariah didn’t believe the angel who had promised him that his wife, Elizabeth, who was ‘well along in years’ (v18 NLT), was going to have a baby. The consequence was that Zechariah wasn’t able to speak during Elizabeth’s pregnancy. When the child was born, however, and Zechariah told people that the baby’s name would be John, his mouth was opened, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and he prophesied about his son’s future and the Saviour whose arrival he would announce.

Zechariah describes Jesus as the one who will ‘guide us to the path of peace’ (v79 NLT). The peace which he talks about is very different to the way a lot of people understand peace today. Most of the time it seems like we think of peace as a feeling we experience, or being calm in the middle of the chaos of life. The biblical idea of peace includes this, but means a lot more. Its foundation in is the concept of shalom from the Old Testament. This shalom peace rises out of an end to armed conflict between two tribes or nations. Not only would they stop fighting, but the shalom peace they could find was a new relationship where they were able to work together and live in harmony with each other.

Shalom peace, then, means a restoration to what had previously been broken. It is repairing what had been fractured to the point that it is returned to its original state. If we break something like a cup or a plate, it’s never quite the same again. Relationships can be like that too. Shalom peace returns something to its original condition so that no evidence of brokenness can be detected at all. Shalom peace makes everything new, the way things were meant to be from the beginning.

This is the peace that Zechariah tells us Jesus came to guide us into by the most direct route. The way Jesus does it, according to Zechariah’s inspired words, is by telling us how to find salvation through the forgiveness of sins (v77). When relationships are broken, forgiveness is the only way to establish shalom peace and restore what was broken. Creating this shalom peace by forgiving sin was the reason for Jesus’ birth which we will celebrate in a couple of weeks. Jesus opens the way for us to find shalom peace through forgiveness by joining us in our brokenness as an infant, carrying our wrongs to the cross, and raising us to new life through faith in his resurrection. In his birth, life, death and resurrection, Jesus makes it possible for our sins to be forgiven so he can lead us in the path of shalom peace.

We can find shalom peace through the forgiveness Jesus won for us in four main aspects of our lives. Firstly, we can have shalom peace with God as everything which got in the way of a relationship with the Divine is washed away and we are made new through faith in Jesus. Secondly, we can have shalom peace with others as we extend forgiveness to people who wrong us and we receive forgiveness from people we have wronged. As we move towards Christmas, it is worth asking who we can give the gift of forgiveness and shalom peace to because this is really the greatest gift we can offer someone. The third aspect of this shalom peace is within ourselves. I don’t tell people who are struggling with guilt or shame that they need to forgive themselves because you can’t give yourself something you don’t already have. Instead, a better way is to find forgiveness in Jesus, because God has already forgiven us because of what Jesus has done for us. It’s a done deal – all is forgiven! We can find shalom peace within ourselves through this promise. The fourth aspect of shalom peace is in our relationship with creation. We do significant damage to the world around us each and every day, even though we have a responsibility to care for the earth God has given to us. When Jesus comes again to establish his kingdom of shalom peace, then our relationship with the world will also be restored to its original state as God intended.

This idea of shalom peace might sound great but how do we achieve it? At this point, it might be tempting to offer a handful of easy steps to achieve shalom peace in our lives, but life doesn’t often work like that. Instead, Zechariah tells us that Jesus will guide us into the ‘path of peace.’ Zechariah’s words tell us that shalom peace is something we journey into as we follow Jesus in our lives, just like I might follow the directions of my maps application to get to where I’m going. This is discipleship language. It is about learning a new way of living from Jesus, the way an apprentice learns a trade from the master tradesman. The evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke describe this ‘path of peace’ as learning to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). The Apostle John gives us a slightly different version of the path when he gives us Jesus’ new command to love one another with the same self-giving, self-sacrificing love with which he loves us (John 13:34,35;15:9-17). Paul’s letters are all about guiding us in this same path as he explores what it looks like for Christian communities to be following the way of faith and love (Galatians 5:6).

All of these are ways in which Jesus guides us into the way of shalom peace, just like my maps app shows me the way to where I need to go. Our destination is a full experience of God’s shalom peace where everything will be restored to the way God intended in the beginning. Until that day we can still walk the way of shalom peace as we follow Jesus, living in his forgiveness, and growing in restored relationships with God, other people, ourselves and all of creation.

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The End Times (John 5:21-29)

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What would you do with your life if you knew you were going to live forever?

Most people I have known over my life, both from within and outside of the Christian church, have told me that they believe the goal of a religious life is to do enough good to get into heaven. The requirements or the standards may be different from person to person, but the one goal remains the same: do enough good and avoid enough bad so that when we move from this life to the next, we can be sure that we qualify for eternal life. So the view is that we spend our whole lives trying to do good in the hope that maybe we’ll be good enough to get eternal life.

But what if that’s actually back-to-front? What if the goal of a life of faith isn’t to try to get eternal life, but to grow into a life that has been given to us which will last for ever?

On Sunday we celebrated the last Sunday of the church year. It is often called the Day of Fulfilment because it looks forward to the end of time when Jesus will return to judge between those who will live for ever with him and those who will miss out on that eternity. It is a reminder that not everyone makes it into eternal life. Jesus teaches us what is needed if we want to spend eternity with God when he says, ‘I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life’ (John 5:24a NLT). The Christian perspective as Jesus teaches it is that all who listen to his word of grace and truth (John 1:17) and trust in God (John 1:12; 6:29) will live for ever.

The best news in from Jesus in John 5:24 is that we don’t even have to wait to get it. Instead of spending our lives trying to do good so that we might have a chance at getting eternal life, Jesus goes on to say that it is already ours! He says that those who hear his message of grace and truth and trust that God will give what he promises ‘will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life’ (NLT). I checked the Greek to make sure that the tenses of the verbs were faithful translations of the Greek test and as far as I can tell there is no mistake here. According to what the Apostle John reports Jesus said, eternal life isn’t something that we work for in the hope that we might somehow be good enough. Through his life, death and resurrection for us, Jesus has already carried us over from death to life and eternal life has already started!

Jesus goes on to say that one day he will return to fulfil all of God’s promises to us, to raise the dead to new life, and to judge between those who will live with him forever and those who won’t. He says that we don’t need to fear that judgement because we are already free from condemnation. This is the same as what Paul says in Romans 8:1, that ‘now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus’ (NLT). We don’t have to be afraid of being judged or condemned by God or anyone else because Christ has already carried us over from death to eternal life, and we already participate in the resurrected life of Jesus now because of the gift of the Holy Spirit in us.

This means that we can understand Discipleship as growing into the eternal life which Jesus has already given to us. God has a new life for us to live which is grounded in and producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control like we read about in Galatians 5:22f. It is a life which is sustained by, flowing out of and expressing itself in the love that God has for us which Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a – love that is patient and kind, that is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude, that does not demand its own way, is not irritable, keeps no record of being wronged, does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices when the truth wins out, that never gives us, never loses faith, is always hopeful, endures all circumstances, and lasts forever. This is the love of God which is the source of our lives and which brings life to others.

The goal of the Christian life, then, is not to somehow do enough good to get eternal life. The goal of the Christian life is to grow into the life that Jesus has already breathed into us through the Holy Spirit which is stronger than death and which will last forever. Whatever we decide we want to do with the life Jesus has given us, or whatever we believe God wants us to do with this life, we can constantly be growing into the life that is described by the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians and Paul’s words description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. This is what it can mean to be Jesus’ disciples: following him into the life that will last forever which Jesus has already given us and in which we participate now.

A lot of people are afraid of the end times because they see it as a time of judgment and condemnation. We don’t need to be afraid, but we can look forward to Jesus’ return with confidence and hope. Jesus has already carried us over from death to life, and the life the Holy Spirit breathes into us now through his word of grace and peace will last for ever.

So, what do you want to do with your life, knowing that you’re going to live forever?

Priorities (Mark 10:17-31)

 

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A couple of times in my life I have really wrestled with Jesus’ words in the story of the rich man in Mark 10:17-31. I was looking for God’s direction in my life and wondering if following a particular path would mean selling everything I had. That was hard to contemplate because I like my stuff – my books, musical instruments and motorbike – and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to sell them in order to follow where God might be leading me.

So I can identify with the rich young man of the story and sympathise with him as he walks away sad. He couldn’t give away his possessions, and I’m not sure if I could either.

But maybe that’s the point of the story.

There are two main dangers we can face when we try to unravel this story. The first is taking Jesus’ words about selling everything we have too literally, and thinking that we have to do it to enter into eternal life. Monks and nuns have been doing that for centuries, but I’m not sure how many of them got closer to God by doing it. The second danger is not taking Jesus’ words seriously enough and ignoring what he’s trying to teach us. We can get lost collecting more and more stuff in a meaningless consumerism and miss out on the grace Jesus has for us in this story.

The third strategy of the Growing Young research from the Fuller Youth Institute is to take Jesus’ message seriously. As Christians who want to follow Jesus faithfully, taking Jesus’ message seriously might sound kind of obvious. But when it comes to stories like this with the rich young ruler, how do we do that?

Maybe taking Jesus’ message in this story might mean looking carefully at our priorities in life. When Jesus challenged the man to sell all he had, and when I was challenged with the possibility of selling everything I owned to follow God’s call, it challenged us ask to think about what matters in life. Is Jesus the most important thing to us? Or are the things we own more important? Do we love Jesus enough to be willing to give everything we have up for him? Do we trust him to provide for us each day? Or do we want to hang on to our possessions because we find a sense of who we are, what we’re worth and some sort of meaning for life in them?

Jesus is challenging us to reorganise our priorities around him, our love for him and our trust in him, rather than in the things of this world. There may be times when that might mean giving everything away, but it could also mean that we look for a sense of who we are, what we’re worth and what gives our lives meaning in our relationship with Jesus rather than the accumulation of material possessions.

This challenge from Jesus also teaches us something about ourselves. We all like to think that we’re good people. However, if Jesus’ standard of ‘good’ means giving everything away to help others and totally trusting in him to provide for us on a day-to-day basis, then who of us can live up to that? Remember that the man’s question at the start is what he did he have to do ‘to inherit eternal life’ (v17). He was thinking that he could somehow work his way into eternity. However, Jesus showed him, and us, that if we want to work our way in to eternal life, then it will cost us everything.

Can we do that? If we’re trying to work our way into eternal life as ‘good’ people, are we able to be so ‘good’ that we give away everything we have to others to provide for them in their poverty, and rely on God giving us what we need from one day to the next? Like the person in the story, I think this would probably be the point that most of us would walk away too.

But, as I’ve said already, maybe that’s the point.

The disciples were perplexed by what they witnessed as well, so they asked Jesus, ‘Then who in the world can be saved?’ (v26). And Jesus gives us the good news when he said, ‘Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God’ (v27).

Jesus is telling us that it is impossible for us to work our way into eternal life. However, what is impossible for us is possible with God. Only God has the power to give us a life that is stronger that death which will last literally for ever.

This is one way we can understand ‘grace’: that it is God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves. It is impossible for us to work our way into eternal life, so God does the impossible for us by doing what’s needed and then giving it to us as a free gift.

This is the good news of the story: that Jesus came to do the work of salvation for us. While it was impossible for us to sell all we have and give it away, and when we recognize that it is impossible for us to live up to Jesus’ standard of being a ‘good’ person, then God did the impossible by sacrificing everything for us in the person of Jesus to save us and give us eternal life as the ultimate act of grace. We can find it hard to give up our stuff, but Jesus gave up his place in heaven, the thing every religious person in the history of the world is trying to gain. Jesus gave up all of his heavenly glory to be born as a humble and helpless baby in a manger. He gave up all his possessions to live homeless and unemployed. Jesus did the impossible when he gave up everything, including his life, and went to the cross to die in our place. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God did the impossible make it possible for us to live forever as his children in perfect relationship with him and with each other.

As people to whom God has gifted the eternal life of Jesus, we are left with the question of how to take this teaching of Jesus seriously. I’m going to leave that up to you to work out with Jesus. It might mean selling what we have to follow God’s call on our life. It might mean reprioritising our lives so we find who we are, what we’re worth and the meaning of our lives in our relationship with Jesus instead of our material possessions. It might mean seeing what we have as the way God wants us to serve others, such as our families, friends or church community. It might even mean accepting that we’re not as good as we think we are and trusting the goodness of God’s grace to us in Jesus.

No matter how we might interpret this story, one way we can all take this teaching of Jesus seriously is to live every day in the faith that with God, nothing is impossible.

Doing the Word (James 1:17-27)

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We all know how important it is to follow the directions when we need to take medication. If we are sick, it doesn’t help us to go to a doctor, get a prescription, listen to how we are to take it, but then put it on the shelf and forget about it. If we are going to get better, we need to trust that the medicine will do what the doctor promises, follow the directions and take our medication.

When it comes to medicine, it makes sense to both listen and do. It is the same for us as followers of Jesus. One of my greatest concerns as a pastor is that it can be easy for us to turn up to worship, hear a message, thank the pastor for the message at the door, but nothing changes after that. I have actually had a couple of people tell me over my years of ministry that they don’t want to think too much or be challenged in their faith. All they want is to come to church and hear a nice sermon.

Seriously.

That’s why James’ words about not just listening to God’s word but doing what it says are so important for us. We all carry an illness called sin. While it may not be popular to talk about sin in our contemporary Western culture, the reality I see is that we’re all suffering from the effects of sin in our lives in one way or another. We all suffer from broken relationships, illness, death and other maladies which come from carrying sin in us like an infection that we can’t get rid of.

Like a medication prescribed to give us health and life, God’s word is the remedy for sin. Every story in the Bible, from the creation of the world in Genesis 1, to the death and resurrection of Jesus, to the fulfilment of God’s salvation in Revelation, points us to a God who brings light and life to the world and everything in it through his word. The centre of these stories, the person of Jesus, makes new life possible by carrying all our sin in himself to the cross, putting it to death once and for all, and giving us the gift of new life through his resurrection. The good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is God’s way of giving us healing, wholeness and life in a similar way that medication gives us healing, wholeness and life when we face a specific illness. That’s why James writes that God’s word has the power to save us (v20 NIV). God’s word isn’t just information about God. It is the power of God to heal us from sin and give us life that is stronger than death (see Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18).

If God’s medication for our condition is the good news of Jesus, then his directions for taking that medication is faith. One of the mistakes we can make is to think that God’s word is a long set of moral rules and ethical commands, and that doing what the word says means keeping all these rules. Instead, the directions Jesus gives us is to trust the good news of his sin-conquering, life-giving love. I tend to interpret the words of the Bible through what Jesus says in John 6:29. Some people had come to Jesus to ask him what the works were that God wanted them to do. Jesus replied, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’ (NIV). If the good news of Jesus is the medication, his directions are to trust him. That’s it. The rest of the Bible tells us what this faith looks like, and how it can make a difference in our lives and the lives of the people around us.

If we listen to James’ words about being both hearers and doers of God’s word from this perspective, we can understand them saying that it is vital that we not only hear the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, but that we live like it’s true. When we find God’s love in the gospel, then ‘doing the word’ means loving others, even when it’s hard or we don’t think they deserve it. When we encounter God’s grace, ‘doing the word’ means being grace-filled in our relationships with others. When we experience God’s mercy, forgiveness and peace in the gospel, ‘doing the word’ means being merciful, forgiving and peace-making towards everyone we meet. Following Jesus isn’t just about finding his goodness for ourselves. Being ‘doers of his word’ means extending the goodness of God we find in Jesus towards everyone in our lives through all we do and say.

This week, I want to challenge you to be hearers as well as doers of God’s word in your lives. If you’re not a regular reader of the Bible, doing God’s word might start with making time each day to listen to the good news God wants to speak into your life. It really doesn’t matter how we’re reading our Bibles. What’s important is that we’re listening for God’s promises of grace, love, forgiveness and new life in his word for ourselves. If you need help doing that or not sure where to start, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Being a doer of God’s word might also mean praying regularly. Last week we heard Paul write, ‘pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere’ (Ephesians 6:18 NLT), so prayer is an important part of doing the word. We can also ‘do the word’ by being ‘quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry’ (v19 NLT). You might want to practice this during the week by listening more than talking in your conversations with others. Try it and see what a difference it can make. Or, if you’re looking for a more serious challenge, listen to what Jesus says about telling the difference between our human traditions in the church and God’s commands (Mark 7:5-8), and imagine how prioritizing what God wants over what you want for your church might look.

In whatever ways we endeavour to be doers as well as listeners of God’s word, what is essential is that they are acts of faith in God’s life-giving love for us in Jesus, not attempts to try to get his love. That love is already yours, for Jesus’ sake.

The medication, God’s remedy for sin, is already ours as an act of grace from the God who loves us. We wouldn’t receive medicine from a doctor and leave it on the shelf. We’d follow the directions so that it can make us healthy and whole again. In the same way, we can’t just listen to the word of God that gives life and then do nothing with it. That doesn’t help anyone. By being doers of the word, listening to God’s promises and living like they are true, extending his grace and love to others by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we can find healing, wholeness and a life that is stronger than death.

The Way of Love (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)

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I have to be careful where I step at the moment.

We have had a lot of rain in Adelaide recently and there is a fair bit of mud around. When I walk from our home to the church, it is easy to walk through some muddy puddles and then carry it on my shoes wherever I go during the day. A few weeks ago when I arrived for worship on Sunday morning I had actually walked in something on my way over to the church. I’m going to assume it was mud, but I really didn’t to smell it to find out for sure. I had to clean the bottom of my shoes before the service started because I didn’t want to leave muddy footprints all around the sanctuary.

That’s the thing with mud – it sticks.

Usually we think of mud sticking as a bad thing. When I was contemplating these words from Paul in Ephesians 5:1,2 though, I started wondering whether we can think about mud sticking in a good way.

The words the NIV translate as ‘walk in the way of love’ and the NLT interpret as ‘live a life filled with love’ are simply ‘walk in love’ in the Greek New Testament. Both the NIV and the NLT translations are good, but I really like the picture of ‘walking in love’ the way that we might walk in mud.

One reason is that if we are going to walk in God’s love, we actually need to get into it like a muddy puddle that’s full of God’s goodness and grace. Last Saturday afternoon, my two young sons and I pulled on our boots and spent some time walking through and jumping around in some mud outside our house. Maybe that’s what Paul is saying God wants us to do with the love he has for us in Jesus. Maybe God’s love isn’t something to theorize or theologize about, but to walk through, jump around in, splashing in its goodness so we’re covered in it. It’s a similar idea to what we looked at a couple of weeks ago from Ephesians 3:18 – that God’s love for us in Jesus is so wide, long, high and deep that we can spend our whole lives exploring its goodness and never reach its limits.

To walk in God’s love starts with having both feet in his love. But it doesn’t stop there.

The next aspect of walking in God’s love is that we carry it with us wherever we go and whatever we do. Just like the mud we were walking through stuck to our shoes and boots, when we walk in God’s love it sticks with us. It covers us and even becomes part of who we are. Paul says we are God’s ‘dearly loved children’ (5:1 NIV). Through Jesus, God has given us new identities as people he has adopted into his family and who he loves. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we go and do as people whom God loves enough to give his Son for us. Like mud that sticks to our shoes or boots, this truth sticks to us our whole lives as we live it out in our relationships with others.

The entire Bible points us to the reality of God’s love so we can walk in it with our relationship with him and with others. In Ephesians 4, Paul gives us some specific ways in which we can walk in God’s love with others:

  • Putting off falsehood (v25) – not just telling lies but living in open, honest and authentic relationships with others
  • Not letting the sun go down on our anger (v26) – whether we take this literally or metaphorically, it means working our issues out with others
  • Doing something useful with our hands so we can give generously to others (v28) – this gives us whole new way to think about our work as a way to love others
  • Using our words to build others up and benefit them (v29), not knock them down
  • Getting rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice (v31) – I wonder why our congregation laughed when I said that these never happen in our church
  • Being kind, compassionate and forgiving to others (v32)

It’s worth spending some time contemplating these and asking God to show us where he wants to challenge us in our lives and in our relationships. Living in a congregation like this would be great, but I don’t think many of us actually live up to the love Paul describes.

When we are challenged by Paul’s words, we need to go back to the muddy puddle of God’s love for us. Too often we try to do better by ourselves and then get frustrated or guilty when we keep doing the same things. Instead, Jesus teaches us to remain in his love (John 15:9). Using the image of God’s love being a muddy puddle, when we’re falling short of being the people and community God wants us to be, we need to go back to the love God has for us in Jesus to walk through and jump around in some more. As we get covered more and more with the sticky mud of God’s love for us in Jesus, it will cling to us and we will naturally carry it with us in our lives.

Ephesians 5:1,2 is one of my most favourite discipleship texts because this is what following Jesus is all about: walking in God’s love for us in Jesus so it sticks to us and we carry it with us into every circumstance of life. Especially as we talk about and plan the future of our ministry to young people, it is good for us to be keeping Paul’s words in mind. Our culture is teaching us and our young people to live in a way that is all about us and what we get, the exact opposite of the way of love Paul points us to. Jesus tells us that if we live this way, our destination is destruction, but if we walk in the way of God’s love, then we find life to the full (Matthew 7:13,14; John 10:10). Where will our young people learn to walk in love if it’s not from us?

So, which way are we walking? Do we walk our own ways, heading in our own directions, trying to find our own way through life? Or are we walking in love, stomping around in God’s infinite and perfect love for us, and carrying it everywhere we go, in everything we do?

Walking in love brought Jesus to life that is stronger than death. This is the path he leads us to as he calls us to follow him. When we get lost along the way, then maybe it’s time to jump in muddy puddles, remembering that when we walk in the love God has for us in Jesus, it really sticks!

Already, but not yet: Living in the tension with young people

Already But Not Yet

I came across this article from Caleb Roose of the Fuller Youth Institute today entitled Already, but not yet: Living in the tension with young people. It’s worth a read if you know a young person (or anyone really) who has tough questions or going through a challenging time in life…

Growing (Ephesians 1:15-23)

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I’m not the world’s most dedicated or skillful gardener. However, I like to have plants around our home that are healthy and look good. At times, some plants don’t seem to be doing as well as I had hoped, so I’m faced with a question: is this plant still alive or is it time to take it out and put something else in its place?

My way of trying to work out if a plant is still living is to look for signs of growth. If it is growing, I will continue to look after it and try to help it grow. If it isn’t growing, however, then it’s time to take it out so something else can grow in its place.

It’s a simple idea: growth is a sign of life.

Maybe that’s why the Apostle Paul prays that the early Christians is Ephesus ‘might grow in (their) knowledge of God’ (v17 NLT). Just like the plants in my garden, growth is a sign of life. He prays for them, and as we hear these words also for us, because when we are growing in our ‘knowledge of God’ then something is alive in us that is producing that growth.

It’s important to understand, though, that when Paul talks about ‘knowledge’ he isn’t talking about something that is primarily intellectual or academic. In this information age, we usually understand ‘knowledge’ as facts, figures or data about any given person or topic.

For pre-modern people, however, ‘knowledge’ was much more relational. It is the difference between knowing a whole lot of information about a person and actually having a relationship with them. For example, I can know everything there is to know about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, but that won’t get me an invitation to their wedding. For that to happen, I would need to know them and be in relationship with them. This is how the Bible understands ‘knowledge.’ It is much more a relationship with people than just information about them.

What Paul is praying for, then, is that we are growing in relationship with God. Essentially, the Christian faith is relational. God welcomes us into relationship with him as his children and he asks us to call him ‘Father.’ Jesus, the Son of the Father, became one with us, died and is risen from the dead to restore the broken relationship with God. Jesus’ command to love others in the same way he has loved us is at its heart relational – we can only love God or other people when we are in relationship with them.

My relationship with my wife, children, other family members and friends will grow and change over time as we go through life’s challenges and joys together. In the same way, Paul is praying that our relationship with God will continue to grow as we journey through life in relationship with him. As we go through the ups and downs of life with God, giving thanks for the good times and looking for his grace in the tough times, we will be growing in our relationship with him as we learn to trust him in all circumstances of life.

Paul continues his prayer by asking that this growing knowledge of God would show itself in the lives of God’s people in two ways. The first is hope (v18). In a world where people are struggling for a lot of different reasons, we could all benefit from a greater sense of hope. Paul’s prayer is that we might grow in hope through a growing relationship with God.

The second is understanding ‘the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him’ (v19 NLT). Paul describes this as the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and raised him up to share in God’s authority in his ascension. This is the power of God to bring light into dark places, to lift us up when we are at our lowest points, to bring us out of isolation into restored relationships with others, and to give us life when everything around us is trying to rob life from us. This power of God can show itself in lots of different ways, depending on what’s happening in our lives. It makes me wonder how God might display this power in your life…

We grow in our relationship with God the same way that we grow in any other relationship. We grow in our knowledge of God by making time for him in our busy lives, as we listen to his words of promise and grace in the Bible, as we talk honestly with him in prayer, and as we grow in our relationships with other Christians in community and especially in worship together. As we exercise these and other spiritual disciplines, and as we learn to love brothers and sisters in the faith and be loved by them, our relationship with God will grow as we participate in the body of Christ, which is the church (Ephesians 1:23), and journey through life together.

Our growth in knowing God is vital to our life as his people, so we included it as the second element of our congregation’s discipling plan. Because growing is a sign of life, we want to help people grow in their relationship with God. I pray, along with the Apostle Paul, that the members and friends of our community of faith, along with all who read these words, would be growing in their knowledge of and relationship with God, so that together we might also understand more and more the hope to which he has called us, and the incredible greatness of his power for us who trust him.
So, how can we help you grow?