You know, with everything going on these days, many of us are struggling to remain motivated. Somehow things have not gone quite as we expected. Many of our plans have not seen fulfillment. As a result, we find ourselves asking, “How can I do better? How can I motivate myself really to do what I know I should do?” Last week I received a note asking a question which puts this rather graphically:
“Why am I having such a difficult time with self-discipline? For the twenty years of my life before becoming a Christian, I found myself unable to achieve this. And after two plus years as a Christian, it still eludes me, though there seems to be some reason for expecting it on the basis of Galatians 5:23.”
The verse referenced is about the fruit of the Spirit. It says that not only will there be love and joy and peace, but also gentleness and goodness and self-control (or self-discipline). So, this brother was asking, “How can I have this? As believers there is certainly the hope of discipline, self-discipline, but how can I lay hold of it?” This is where many of us struggle — the struggle of should against is. “I am this; I should be that. How can I do it?” Yeah, I bet most of us have felt that way at times.
The world’s answer is a “Make a resolution,” a determination to get’er done. The proverbial, “pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps.” Well, as I have said many times before, “as Believers, our only bootstrap is the cross.” Sometimes, when we lay hold of the cross, it can be comforting; but man oh man, sometimes it is like picking up a snake. Even Jesus demonstrated this when He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We go out and shout, “I determine to do this! I will grit my teeth and do it! I will set myself to it.” Yeah, we have made our declarations and set our determinations, and well, it didn’t work!
This is the very problem Paul was facing in the closing verses of Chapter 3 in his letter to the Ephesians. He was concerned about these Ephesians. You get the setting of this passage in Verse 13, where Paul says,
I beg you not to lose heart because I am now suffering for my part in bringing you the Gospel. Indeed, you should be honored (Ephesians 3:13)
You have to understand that the believers reading Paul’s letter were in danger of losing heart, of being discouraged. How about you? Have you ever lost heart? Have you ever been discouraged in your faith? I’ll tell you what, when an athlete is in a race of some kind; he has to find the resources, the endurance to keep running. Despite the fact that his legs are turning to rubber and his breath is heavy and experiencing physical pain. He has to keep going. And when he finishes, we say, “Oh man, what a great heart he has. He has what it takes to stay with it.” But, oh, when you lose heart, when you lose stamina, you lose that strength to carry on. You reach a place where you say, “What’s the use? Why keep going? I can’t make it.” And you give up.
That my friends, is what Paul saw happening in the church in Ephesus. They were about to give in, to lose heart. So he says, “I am concerned. Don’t lose heart. The situation isn’t the way you think it is.” And, as we read, he teaches them some wonderful truth to show them why they shouldn’t lose heart. But then he closes with this great prayer:
When I think of the greatness of this great plan I fall on my knees before God the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name), and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner reinforcement — that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ—and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled through all your being with God himself! (Ephesians 3:14-19)
Paul has dealt with the problem of motivation once before, in the first Chapter. He closed that chapter with a prayer, too. In Verse 15 he wrote,
“Since I heard of this faith of yours in the Lord Jesus and the practical way in which you are expressing it towards fellow-Christians, I thank God continually for you and I never give up praying for you” (Ephesians 1:15-16).
Then he goes on to pray that the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened, that the truth would grip their emotions and enlighten their minds. That they will begin to see truth not merely as intellectual dogma but as a living reality, a revelation to know more of our Father, and that they would be motivated to begin to move in the magnificent splendor of our inheritance that is promised to all believers.
The prayer in Chapter 3 picks up right from that very point and goes on from there. Paul clearly states that not only do we the have light and knowledge to begin, but we need the power to continue. Not only do we need motivation, but we need the determination to keep going, to stay with it, to stick on to the end. Quitting should not be an option!
Isn’t that what we need? Most of us realize that we can make it through the next first few weeks pretty well. We can stop all of our bad habits, and we can be kind to our neighbors, our mother and father, our children — and even the dog — for at least two weeks, can’t we?
But then, much to our frustration, it begins to ebb and wane. After a couple of weeks of our resolution, we are pretty well back into the same old ruts we were in before. No, what we need is not only motivation, not only the light to begin, but the power to continue. That is the difference between this prayer in Chapter 3 and the one in Chapter 1. That was a prayer for understanding — understanding that grips even the emotions. But this is a prayer for power — power which keeps you going and helps you to recover from losing heart.
So if that is your problem (or has been), then, by golly, I hope you will pay attention to this prayer, because Paul begins with someone who is about to lose heart (or has lost heart). It could be someone who says that they have reached the bottom and overwhelmed with despair and that they think they are unable to come back to the Lord. What do you do for them? Maybe you are there yourself.
Perhaps you are thinking of someone right now who is there, and you don’t know where to start. Then pay careful attention as Paul takes us step-by-step up a grand staircase of endeavor here, step laid on step, rising continually, and leading us to the fullest possible experience of Christian vitality. We will look at it in the simple divisions that Paul himself provides — first his prayer itself, and then the great accolade of praise which comes at the end.
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