“I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” Ephesians 1:16-17 (NIV)
Paul’s priority in prayer was that we would come to know God better. Does this seem like an unpractical prayer? Maybe it is more practical than you think.
Several years ago, Holly and I went to a conference in Minneapolis with some close friends. About two or three hours into the nine hour drive, the van picked up a bad vibration. We thought it might be a flat tire, so we stopped to check. Sure enough, the front passenger side tire was rapidly going flat. We found the nail, repaired the tire and moved on. But the vibrations were still there and getting worse by the mile. I know very little about cars, but my friend thought it might be a CV joint going out. He called his father-in-law and described the problem and he too thought it was probably a CV joint. So, we pulled over to find a mechanic who could look at the van quickly. We did, about ten miles back in Janesville, Wisconsin. So, we headed back that way and every minute the vibrations got worse. Then, to our shock and dismay, the front driver’s side tire flew by the window – rim and all! We were going about fifty miles an hour and the tire was thrown over one hundred yards into a bean-field! What we discovered is that the problem with the van was not the CV joint at all, but loose lug nuts on that front tire.
Sometimes when we are feeling bad vibrations as we travel down the road of life, we get sidetracked from the real problem by either a lesser problem (like a flat tire) or an imaginary problem (CV joint) – but we miss the obvious: the lug nuts are loose in our personal relationship with Christ.
Take the problem of lust. If you are struggling in the whole area of sexuality – whether with pornography (as a man) or with romantic fantasies and soap operas (as a woman), you might be tempted to focus on a lesser problem that is legitimate and needs to be changed, like a flat tire. You may need to disconnect cable or internet in order to remove the temptation to watch things you shouldn’t. You might also get distracted by an imaginary problem: a CV joint that is not out. You might think: “I need to get married” (if you are single) or “I need a different marriage” (if you are married). Or you might buy the lie that there are physiological reasons that make sexual self-control impossible for you. But the real problem is that the lug-nuts are loose in your personal acquaintance with God. You need to know Him! “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8, emphasis added).
If you are struggling with depression and discouragement, it would be easy to think that the reason you are depressed is because you are too tired and overworked and need to rest. That may be true. That would be like a flat tire that needs to be changed. But what if you are still depressed after you get rest? You might start assuming that something worse is wrong – that a CV joint in your genes or from your past is out. You might think that you have a genetic predisposition to depression or are suffering from repressed memories. But could it be that the real problem is that the lug nuts of your personal knowledge of God are loose? That you are depressed because your eyes are focused on problems, people, trials, your self – everything except the Living God?
“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation” (Psalm 42:5, emphasis added).
Or maybe you struggle with a consuming desire to be approved of by others. You are insecure and live in the constant fear of man. There may be a small problem that needs to be fixed, like cultivating more authentic and transparent relationships. The temptation is to think that a CV joint is out: to imagine that you have a low self-esteem (probably the opposite is true – an inflated esteem of your self). But the real problem is that the lug-nuts on your esteem of God are loose. You need to know Him, if you want to be free from the craving for approval. Only the true life-giving fear of God can liberate us from the fear of man. “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25, emphasis added).
Let’s apply this on the level of community. If a church is struggling with lack of growth, ineffective outreach, or internal strife, what is the problem? Most churches focus on the flat tires and CV joints – small problems and imaginary problems. More people, bigger budget, better programs, different music, sharper image. Some of those things may help in small ways (like changing a flat tire), but the real problem is this: an ineffective church has loose lug-nuts in their knowledge of God.
When Paul prayed for the believers in Ephesus, he prayed first for a deeper knowledge of God. This is the deepest need we always have. All of our sin problems are really rooted in a defective vision and inadequate acquaintance with God. If we knew him better, the power of competing idolatries would be broken.