Easter’s Over. But Do You Know Resurrection Power?

Did you feel it this morning? I mean, when you opened your eyes, did you feel wonder-working power coursing through your veins?

Easter is over, but did you know resurrection power today? Did you?

No?

You’re not alone.

Power Piled Up

Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened that you may know…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty strength that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. Ephesians 1:18a, 19-20

That’s just part of the prayer. But did you notice how Paul heaped up power words to describe what’s available for those who believe?

He could have stopped at just one term, but he piled up all of these:

power – dunamis – strength, power, ability, from which we get “dynamite” ,

working – energeia – working, compulsion from within; from which we get “energy”

mighty – kratos – force, strength; might; in our word autocrat

power/strenth – ischus – physical force, ability, force, strength, might

So much power. Immeasurably great power. And it’s all for believers; for us- for me, for you.

But what does it do?

Wonder-Working Power?

It works so many ways, but here’s what it did in me, today.

You see, I’ve been nursing a certain hurt for a while. But the current strengthened me to look the one who hurt me in the eye and smile.  It helped me fix my thoughts on good things when self-pity and wounded pride flared up. This requires resurrection power.

The more we are united by faith with God in Christ,” Paul Bayne says,the more does His virtue or power work upon us, both in conforming us to Himself.” Bayne describes this power in four vivid ways:

(1) What a power is that which so changes men, and makes lambs of lions, chaste and sober of filthy and intemperate, humble of proud — a thing harder than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

(2) To continue and promote the work of sanctification in us, who are carnal, sold under sin, is a thing no less strange than to keep and make fire burn higher and higher in water.

(3) The quickening of us with heavenly desires and holy affections is no small power; neither is it less wonderful than to see iron and lead flying upward…

Such is resurrection power.

Why We Need Resurrection Power

Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes two huge reasons why we must know this resurrection power– a negative reason and a positive reason.

Negatively

Negatively, because of the powers set against us. The Christian in this world is one waging a constant warfare– the world, the flesh and the devil are dead-set against us. (See 1 John 2.)

Here Lloyd-Jones explains the urgency in our war against the flesh, specifically against the force of habit.

[C]onsider the force of habits. How many a man has been stumbled by this. He comes into the Christian life and he’s heard, All things are become new. Then he begins to find there are certain habits within him and he finds it rather difficult to break them. The old man is not annihilated. He’s still there and he’s got to be dealt with.

You and I have to mortify the body. Don’t imagine for a moment that evil habits will be taken right out of your life…There is nothing but the power of God that can keep a man going against the force of habit.

To face the force of habit requires we know this power. But that’s not all.

Positively

Then Lloyd-Jones describes the positive need we have for resurrection power.

You and I are called to keep the commandments of God. Christ calls us to keep his commandments. There are the 10 Commandments and the moral law of God- that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. We are called to follow Christ: Be perfect as your Father is perfect. We’re to live like this sort of life now…

We’re absolutely helpless. We wouldn’t stand for a second. We couldn’t live it for a moment but for this exceeding great power of God that is in us.

The power, I say, is in us. The Apostle is not praying that they will receive this power, but that they will realize that it is in them…It’s an utter fallacy to think that God makes a man new and then leaves him. No, he wouldn’t have stood a moment unless this power is in him. It’s our realization of this power in us that varies

So why don’t we realize resurrection power? Why don’t we know it? 

I mean know it. I mean experientially know it- like you know how a hot shower feels or how dark chocolate tastes, how coffee smells and your dog’s fur feels.

That know.

Dull Heart-Eyes

The biggest reason we don’t know this kind of power is that our spiritual eyes are dull.

That’s what Paul says at the beginning of the Ephesians 1 prayer that the “eyes of your hearts would be enlightened.” Because Paul knew that our heart-eyes had to be enlightened to really know resurrection power.

Notice that Paul didn’t pray that God would give us this mighty power, but rather that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened to know this power. Which means we should probably pray this way. That God will help us understand the resurrection power we have.

Unless God gives us “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation the knowledge of him,” we won’t really know it. And Scripture is plain, God is at work in us today (Ephesians 3:20, Philippians 2:13, Hebrews 13:20-21).

But we won’t know that unless our heart-eyes are opened to see what’s already ours.

Power Already Ours

Steven Cole related a story about the late, wealthy newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst had spent a fortune collecting art treasures from around the world.

Then one day he found a description of some items that he desperately wanted to own. So he sent his agent abroad to search for them. After months on the trail, his agent reported that he’d finally found the treasures. And guess what? They were already in Hearst’s warehouse. He had been searching for treasures that he already owned!

If you are a Christian God’s mighty power is already yours.

But maybe like Mr. Hearst, you’re not aware of what you possess and you don’t possess your possessions. Maybe you don’t experience God’s mighty power to resist sin and live a holy life. 

Cole asks if some of us are looking at our lives and asking,

Is there a power that can subdue my tongue? Is there a power that can subdue my anger? What power can subdue my bitterness? Is there a power that can subdue my lust? Is there something that can conquer the sin I don’t ever seem to get a hold of?

Well, Paul is right there waiting for us when we ask questions like those. He’s already prayed that God would open the eyes of our heart to know the surpassing greatness of His power toward us to believe.

Then, with a prayer, it shows up.

How His Power Shows Up

In Romans 6 Paul explains how being united with Christ means we died to sin and we live to God. How resurrection power means we die to sin and and live to God.

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 

Then, in Philippians 3, Paul explains how even his own suffering and physical loss is gain,

[T]hat I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead… Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 

Paul had been a believer more than two decades when he wrote that to the Philippians. Which means that that pressing on to know God’s resurrection power isn’t one and done. To know resurrection power is our lifelong quest.

I love how John Piper explains this life-and-death, resurrection power paradox:

Sin is defeated at the cross; yet sin remains to be fought. Satan was defeated at the cross; yet Satan remains to be fought. And for this fight, may God answer Paul’s prayer in our lives! May we know the power of God toward us who believe— resurrection power now—to live and die for the glory of Christ.

Resurrection Power Now

Yesterday I asked a few friends how they experience resurrection power now.

One friend said she feels the power when she forgives a someone who keeps disappointing.  Another said he knows it when he is patient with a child who keeps provoking.  And the third said she experiences it when she keeps praying- without losing heart- for a loved-one who keeps straying. The last friend said she felt this power when she stops the vicious cycle of anxious thoughts to cast her cares on God.

How about you? How do you feel resurrection power?

I feel it when I repent and press on when I sin, rather than waste time in guilt and shame. And I know resurrection power when I’m strengthened to wait patiently and serve others with joy. Like when I greet ones who hurt me with friendly eyes and a smile.

And none of these is one bit natural for me. The actions are fire raging in water, iron flying upward. Dying to sin, living for the glory of Christ. 

All are proof of God’s wonder-working resurrection power.

There Is A Power

Maybe yesterday you ate too much at Easter brunch. Or lost your cool, again, with a rude child last night. And maybe today you’re asking, Is there a power that can help subdue my sin or break this force of habit? 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones answers a resounding yes. Even in these we can trust that God’s resurrection power is at work. We can trust that he who began a good work will be faithful to bring it to completion. 

Oh, beloved people! Is there anything more important to know than this? We are in the hands of God and he’s working in us. He’s given us this power to believe and He’s right now working in us- fashioning us, molding us into perfection.

We can’t avoid it and we can’t escape it. We are in His hands and he will go on with it -Blessed be his name! My comfort and assurance this morning is to know that God is working in me and He will never cease to work in me until I stand before him in glory. 

What a comfort and assurance it is: He who began the good work will never cease to work in me until I stand before him in glory.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,

according to the power at work within us,

to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

Windows In Heaven

Eyes can miss what’s really there and ears can fear what’s not.

Deceived By Our Senses

Sometimes we focus on bad things not really there. Witness: the bogeyman under the bed, the boss who seems like he’s out to get you, the catastrophe ahead if you miss this chance. A loud- and phantom-sound of enemy chariots that could make a mighty army flee. 

And sometimes we miss good things that really are there. Witness: the cloud of friends waiting in the wings to surprise you, the stern boss who’s really got your back, the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. A mountain full of horses with chariots of fire to fight for you.

I had a week last week.

I saw my run through that gauntlet coming. Hard-hitting meetings Monday through Thursday. Book club Monday, visitation Tuesday, AWANA Wednesday and conferences Thursday. Back to back, after-work meetings meant scrambling for boy care, scrounging up dinners, and scrimping on sleep.

Then Friday. Friday was firstborn’s birthday. And boy’s birthday means party at our house. And the thought of that was almost enough to make me feign the flu. And ponder frozen pizza and bake your own cake.

I’m not a panicky person. But a glance at that row-full of margin-less days was enough to take my breath away.

Yes, I needed stamina. But my heart needed strength, too, for the would-be-stay-at-home mom in me to fight the surging self-pity and resentment at having to work long hours away.

I needed endurance and energy, and equally, strength to comprehend, and see. And my week was infinitesimally light and momentary compared to the chronic suffering and and struggle pressing on some of you now.

Compared to an enemy army surrounding, it was a gentle spring breeze.

Enter Elisha 

The prophet Elisha had a high price on his head. So high, in fact, in 2 Kings 6:13-14 we read the king of Syria sent horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city.

So when Elisha’s servant rolled off his mat next morning and strolled out to look around, Behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. So, alarmed, he questioned Elisha, Alas, my master! What shall we do? 

Elisha answered his anxious servant, Don’t be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them. That’s not all, though.

Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17)

God gave his servant strength to see what did not appear to the naked eye. Heavenly armies were in the wings, waiting to do battle with Israel’s enemies. But it took righteous man’s prayer in order for a servant to see.

God lets his servants see what help is really there. And lets his enemies hear what is not.

Sandwiched between Elisha’s praying that his servant see the chariots that were and Israel’s besieging enemy fleeing at the sound of the chariots that were not, Elisha announces that Israel’s famine would end in dramatic fashion:

Thus says the LORD, “Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel.”

The captain of the king is incredulous, faithless, blind and asks,

 If the LORD himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?

The entire Syrian enemy army was besieging Samaria- starving Israel out. The captain saw that. But then God worked his wonders. He messed with the enemies’ senses and made windows in heaven. 

The Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us.” So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives. (2 Kings 7:6-7)

But there were no chariots or horses this time. The entire army fled at phantom sounds. And their stockpiles of food, their seahs of barley and wheat, were sold for measly shekels.

Things are not always what they seem. There are truer realities than what senses tell. But sometimes need help to believe.

God could just put a windows in heaven, but he uses another means to help dull our eyes see.

How We See

Each day we get out of bed we can walk by faith in the Son of God or stagger about in the here and now. We can see the thorns and miss the brilliant horizon beyond. We can live overwhelmed with earthly circumstances and focused on overfull schedules.

Or we can pray for eyes to see.

That’s the means God so often uses to open our eyes to see. Elisha did. Paul did too. He prayed for the Ephesians to have spiritual eyes to see God’s love and know rock-bottom reality (Ephesians 1:17-19).

We can pray for ourselves and our friends like Paul prayed for his. We can pray,

  • That we will know the hope to which God has called us (1:18) and know when our hope is false.
  • That we will know the riches of the glorious inheritance God gives in the saints (1:18) and not settle for sinful pleasures now.
  • That we will know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us who believe (1:19) and not fear the enemy. 
  • That we will know the love of God that surpasses knowledge (3:19) and let this love drive bitterness out. 

Paul calls it walking by faith, not by sight. And that’s not a solo job. When the world’s bearing down and hope’s losing ground, we need boots on the ground help seeing. Ed Welch says,

This is when we call out for help from the body of Christ. Spiritual battles should not be fought without the aid of other people who can join us in prayer, encourage us with their presence, and offer apt words of truth. We could ask them to pray for us as Elisha prayed for his servant. When surrounded by an army that was sworn to kill the two men, Elisha prayed that his servant would see by faith. “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see” (2 Kings 6:17). 

We need friends to pray that our spiritual eyes would be wide-open; that we’d have strength to see.

Seeing Opportunity

They knew my week was chock-full and so three dear sisters prayed for me. Texts and mid-week check-ins came to let me know they prayed. Sure enough, my heart was helped and my soul made strong. Self-pity was stifled and energy was enough. As the week went by and deadlines were met and boys were fed, I started seeing opportunity. 

Michael Youssef says the difference between seeing opportunity or impossibility is in the connection. When we’re connected by faith, by prayer, to God’s power, we see opportunity. Dead wires are disconnected, filled with dread. They see impossibility.

But live-wires see opportunity for God to look big in our smallness and to showcase His strength in our weakness. And God likes looking big like that.

God looked extra-big to me last week. He looked big when he let none of my words fall to the ground in intense meeting. Big when He gave me words to encourage friends much more weary that me. Big when a critical report arrived not a second too soon.

But God looked huge Friday night when I finally kicked back in our house-full of guests. And the pizza that night-our third night in five- tasted better than I can ever remember.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 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, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe according to the working of his great might… Ephesians 1:16-19

Prayers’ Double Grace

“Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it.” 

C.S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” originally from The World’s Last Night and Other Essays

Always, he knows a word before it’s on our tongue. Always, he calls us to pray

Never, can a plan of his be thwarted. Never, can a sparrow fall to the ground without him. 

And yet God lets us play the game. God instituted prayer, Pascal said, in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causalityIn other words, prayer lets us feel like we have a hand in making good things happen. 

He lets our frail, little selves be somehow part of carrying out His sovereign, known-before-time-began, grand plan. He lets our prayers be the means to have happen his good and perfect will. 

Sometimes God does this before the prayer is even audible, sometimes while we’re still speaking (Isaiah 65:24). Often his answers come while we wait (Psalm 40:1). 

But does God grant requests because we ask? 

God answers us before we call, while we speak, and often while we wait.


Two years ago a wondrous text came through. It came just after Carrie shared her burden with our life group, that God would preserve a precious life. The answer came before we paused to pray; God answered before we even called. But in some little way we felt we’d played a little part.

Today my phone chimed while were still speaking. We were praying for Terrie who had some weighty “relationship issues” on her plate. I’d asked for God’s wisdom in the timing and grace in the confronting. Then came Terrie’s text.

The time was right last night. We spoke of all the areas I was concerned about and he was attentive and sincere. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. 

God had more double-grace in store. As if Terrie’s answered prayer, weren’t enough to feel the dignity of causality, God gave me more. This was of the waiting patiently and he heard my cry sort.

Of the for ten years with words and groans sort. Suffice to say, the little note my husband wrote at 11:10 this morning was God’s answer to all that. The two-line yellow post-it note was an answer to hundreds of garbled, groaning heart-cries. Does that mean prayer works?

Would grace have happened anyway or did our prayer affect God’s answer? 


Or, as John Cooper asks, Must we deny one teaching of Scripture-that prayer is effective, to affirm another-that God is sovereign? When God told Moses he intended to destroy the Israelites, Moses prayed and God did not destroy them. The interaction was real. Moses appealed, God relented. But God knew it would go down this way. 

When those phones chimed answered prayers and the post-it note filled me with glee, it wasn’t that my prayer brought it to pass. God did. 

We are commanded to present our requests to God and to pray, “Give us our daily bread.” But to think that God would grant a request because we pray- would make us agents of his grace– that blows the mind. For millennia, man has been mulling. Calvin, Pascal and Lewis are a recent few. 

Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents…He could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to co-operate in the execution of His will.  

“God,” said Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.” But not only prayer; whenever we act at all He lends us that dignity. It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so. They have not advised or changed God’s mind—that is, His over-all purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures.

-C.S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” from The World’s Last Night and Other Essays

In short, God uses means. All his ways are grace and always, when God answers us, this is grace. And when he lets his creatures co-operate in doing His will-when he lends such dignity-this, too is undeserved grace.

God granted two big prayers today. Each, alone, was grace. That God would grant me a part by praying- if only a day for Terrie’s timing or a decade for a tangled, twisted web-this is double grace. 

Sometimes before we call, sometimes while we speak, and sometimes while we wait. But answers yes are never deserved, never earned. 

Always, when prayers are answered, grace. 

Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. Isaiah 64:24
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. Psalm 40:1



Prayers of a Lesser Thanks?

Are comparison prayers-could be worse, at least it’s not- a lesser kind of thanks?


On their backs, our thanks resound?
No! (We won’t boss Mack around.) 
Well, maybe for a chance, 
To boost our prayer stance,
Just enough to get thanks off the ground!

Beware of comparison thanks, I told the ladies. Our life group topic was, yes, gratitude. My shower that morning was lukewarm, spit it out, tepid. So I prayed a Yertle prayer. I thanked God that at least it wasn’t ice-cold. 

Even as I shared it, my example it didn’t sit well. In my lap. These prayers never do.

Like, Thank you God, that:

  • My kids aren’t as ___ (wild, rude, fragile) as hers. 
  • My husband doesn’t play video games like hers.
  • At least my wife doesn’t go shopping as much as his.
  • Even though the quiver’s not full, at least I’ve got one, while some have none. 
  • Even though the car was totaled, the injuries weren’t worse. 

Yertle prayers don’t often sit well. Maybe it’s because they remind me of the old adage, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

But haven’t you wondered about the man with no feet? Was he thankful? Is he still crying?

Do you wonder the gratitude invoked by could be worse comparisons is of the same quality as, say, Job’s, The Lord give, and the Lord takes. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Or David’s,  I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples, offered as he hid from Saul in a cave.

Still, who among us hasn’t prayed one of these? Thank you Lord, that least I have a warm house, a loving family, good health, freedom to worship in public. That my woes are so very first world. 

But they leave a funny aftertaste. What if my shower was ice cold? If work was dull, with no benefits? If the quiver is empty? If I was one of 60,000 starving in the Yida, South Sudan refugee camp? If malaria and malnutrition, without home and family are your lot? What then?  

There’s the rub. Yertle prayers leave an aftertaste because, maybe, they aren’t totally pure. They’re relative, contingent. Maybe a lesser thanks?

Guess what? It’s a fallen world. We grow weak and we see dimly. Motives are mixed. But, hallelujah! We have a gracious God. And sometimes comparing is the boost triggers a truly thankful heart. I think He can sympathize with prayers that aren’t 100% pure. We don’t, after all, have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

Since my “Beware of comparison prayer,” alert I’m rethinking. I’d love to read your comments, too. I think I wouldn’t be so wary. Here’s why. 
  1. Thanking God is good.  It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name O Most High (Psalm 92:2). Just plain good. 
    • Because we magnify Him with thanksgiving (Psalm 69:30), and
    • Because it’s God’s will, and that’s always good (1 Thessalonians 5:18). 
    • Because He commands thanksgiving (Colossians 3:15, Psalm 50:14), and 
    • Because thanksgiving guards our hearts and minds and brings peace (Philippians 4:5-7). 
    • And if that’s not enough, because thanking God is the very business of heaven (Revelation 11:16-17). 

2.  Thanking God is good, even if it means comparing. (As long as it’s not self-exalting, self-righteous, smuggery.)

As far as I can find, there’s only one biblical example of bad thanksgiving. You remember it. Jesus told the parable to some who trusted in themselves, and treated others with contempt. (Luke 18:9-14)

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.


3. Thanking God is good. (As long as it’s not contingent on a physical set standard; as long as we adjust along the way.)

What I mean is this: Will thanking God that my boys’ are having school success in elementary school, be able to translate to thanks if they forgo college ten years from now?  And if my lukewarm shower is a cold shower after my next run?

Will thanking God in my 30’s that I can say, run for an hour without pain, translate to thanking him in the next decade (or day) that I can, walk to the mailbox with pain? And one day, if I’m unable to leave my bed, what then?

Where will I stand then to launch my thanks to the God?

Through [Jesus] whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 

Romans 5:2 
The same place as I am now.  This grace.
How about there?