Monday, October 16, 2017

Deeper Than Skin

“Beauty is only skin-deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”
~ Dorothy Parker

We’ve all heard variations on this theme — juxtaposed with the hand-wringing earnestness of advertisers bent on squeezing more profit from our insecurities — that who we are matters more than our surface appearance.

We want to be (and be around) people who have character, substance, a spark of life, that goes beyond the surface.

Including in our spiritual lives.

We’ve all met people who look like they've got it all together, but upon closer examination (which, being translated, means, “getting to know them”), have turned out to be ‘surface-only’ Christians. They’ve got their public persona finely-crafted, but have paid scant attention to their spiritual depth.

Our first thought is usually along the lines of: “Wow, that’s disappointing.”
Our second — and immediate — thought should be: “Lord, am I any different?”
How do we get “deeper than skin” in our spiritual journey?

In the book of Ephesians, we find the apostle Paul really excited about what he’s heard about the Christ-followers in Ephesus:
“Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you.” (Eph. 1:15-16)
Paul had experienced no shortage of hardships in his ministry (cf. his resumé of pain in 2 Cor. 11:24-27), yet here we find him raving about how thankful he is about their “strong faith” as well as their “love for God’s people”. These were not ‘surface’ followers of Jesus — the Ephesians were the real deal.
And what Christ-follower wouldn’t want to have a reputation for a strong faith in Jesus, as well as a sincere love for others?
But wait…

Paul is thrilled about their faith and love, and yet he immediately goes on to say that he’s “constantly” praying for them to go deeper still.

Paul’s epistles to various groups often make mention that he is praying for them. But this is one of those unique moments where Paul tells them (and us) the specific details of his prayer.

And I lean in a little closer — what, exactly, does ‘going deeper’ than a strong faith and a sincere love look like?

Paul enumerates several things:
  1. spiritual wisdom insight, in order to know God better (Eph. 1:16-17)
    • (There’s more to know about God? Even if you’ve already got a ‘strong faith’? Apparently, yes.)
  2. that their hearts would be better able to understand the confident hope that God gives (Eph. 1:18)
    • (Do you have any friends who, despite their faith, walk around feeling condemned? Pray like Paul did: that they become able to live in confident hope.)
  3. to know God’s power at work in us (Eph. 1:19-21)
    • (The Holy Spirit is not some sort of Divine Administrator, just logging and tallying the number of people who become Christ-followers. Paul reminds us that the same power God used in raising Christ from the dead is available to us.)
Paul returns to his prayer emphasis a few chapters later, as well (Ephesians 3:14-21), once again letting us in on the specifics of his prayer. Keep in mind, Paul is speaking to a group of people who have already been identified as having a strong faith in Jesus and a sincere love for others.

Paul prays for them (and us):
  1. to be ‘empowered’ with strength from the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:16)
  2. that Christ will live in us by faith (Eph. 3:17)
  3. and now that we have been ‘rooted’ in love:
    • have power to know the depth, the height, the width and the length of God’s love
    • to experience Christ’s love even though it’s too immense to fully understand
    • so that we are full of God. (Eph. 3:17-21)
Incredible: Paul’s prayer on behalf of people who already know God’s love... is that they would know — an experiential ‘knowing’ — His love even more. And that we are not ‘full’ (complete) in spiritual growth until we grasp the greatness of His love.

Hello, life-long pursuit.

A pursuit that will result, I suspect, in us becoming ‘deeper than skin’.

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