'And to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God' Ephesians 3:19.
The day after our oldest sonís wedding in May, 2002, my wife was having her private devotional time, praying on her knees, when she was overwhelmed with a sense of Godís love for her. The experience was so profound, so unusual, that she has never forgotten it. For at least a year leading up to this time she had a sense of dread, that God would require something difficult of her which she would not or could not do. This fear constricted her life, causing her to miss Godís goodness, wisdom, and love. But on that day she was deeply reassured of Godís love, saying to the Lord, 'Whatever it is that you will require of me, I willingly submit to it.' Less than a year later we left the people and church we loved at St. Simons Island, GA and ventured to New England to plant a new church.
As Martyn Lloyd-Jones so ably said, 'Our problems can be traced back to our doubt or denial of Godís love for us in Christ.' When you doubt Godís love then you will be paralyzed with fear - fear that God will bring hardship on you, fear that God will take your children, your spouse, your grandchildren. You will fear rejection from those you love. You will fear the future. The moment you succumb to fear is when you look to people, places, and things to comfort you; and these will eventually disappoint you. They cannot deliver as advertised. To deny or doubt Godís love is also to reject the truth of his goodness and wisdom. This will rob you of your joy and freedom. Does God take the people whom we love? Does he bring hardship upon us? Yes, of course. We have all experienced these things; but a profound, deep, abiding sense of Godís love will always draw you back to the truth of what the old Puritan Thomas Watson said, 'All Godís blows are love.'
Paul, the Apostle, in the text mentioned above, is closing out his marvellous prayer for the Ephesians, what the commentator William Hendriksen calls the last rung of the ladder in his prayer, building on what he has already prayed, that in addition to being fortified with power by the Holy Spirit in the inner person, in addition to Christ taking up his residence in our hearts by faith, and in addition to being rooted and grounded in love, knowing the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christís love; Paul also prays that this love of Christ would go way beyond a mere theological knowledge to one which consumes the very essence of every believer. The purpose of such a prayer is that we will be filled up to all the fullness of God. If Jesus is the fullness of deity in bodily form, Colossians 2:9, then being filled up to all the fullness of God means possessing the communicable attributes of God in increasing measure, things like love, mercy, grace, patience, lovingkindness, holiness. In other words, Paul is praying that we may know the over-the-top, other-world, transcendent love of God.
Is it possible that you are missing all God has for you? You have been chosen by the Father, predestinated to his love, adopted into his family, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, sealed with the Spirit until the day of redemption, made heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ. You are no longer under condemnation and nothing will ever separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Yet you still worry. You fear rejection from loved ones. You fear that if you give yourself unreservedly to God he will zap you with untold hardship. You have some vague fear of the future. Consequently you exhibit little of the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. You have trouble loving different, difficult, and diffident people. Paul says the kingdom of God is not eating or drinking but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, but you tend to exhibit little of these.
What are you to do? In John 7 the Feast of the Tabernacles is being observed and Jesus purposely lags behind, not going to Jerusalem with his disciples to observe it. This feast was an annual event, reminding Israel of Godís faithfulness to them in the wilderness, rejoicing over his provision in the harvest of crops, celebrating Yahwehís presence in the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day, reminding them of the water given them when Moses struck the rock in the wilderness. When Jesus finally comes on the scene, on the last day of the week-long feast, he cries out, 'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, "From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water."' This was an astounding declaration by Jesus, and the Jews immediately knew that he was claiming to be the water provided them in the wilderness. Many of them would remember the words of Isaiah who prophesied the coming Holy Spirit, symbolized by water. See Isaiah 44:3, 51:1, 58:11. His disciples would have remembered Jesusí interchange with the Samaritan woman a short time before (John 4:10) where he claimed to be living water.
I doubt that you have ever really been thirsty. I am not talking about going without water during a heavy workout and having dry mouth. No, I am speaking of going without water for two or three days, being stranded on a mountain trail with a broken leg, unable to move toward water. Those who are truly thirsty are desperate for water. They can think of little else. They know they must have water or they die. They would pay any price for it at such a time. Hereís the point - the reason we doubt Godís love is because we donít know the fullness of the living water, the Holy Spirit; and we donít know this because we are not desperate. I think those in church who gather every Sunday night to pray for revival, the lost, world missions, and church planting are sensing our own desperation. When I listen to a Christian radio programme on the way to church every Sunday morning on a secular talk radio station, I cannot help but wonder, 'What are these people thinking?' They are not buying the message. It is too radical, too humbling to hear that they are sinners and need a Saviour. But this reality drives me to desperation. I must have the Spiritís presence and power or I can do nothing. If you are desperate for the Holy Spirit, really desperate, really thirsty, then Jesus will fill you, and when he does, you then will know in a profound, deep, and abiding way the love of God.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.