These words were spoken to me by a mentor as I prepared a message for a small, Spanish speaking congregation that I was invited to preach at. This community would be seen by many to have little strategic significance and would not be on the radar or most, including myself, had it not been for my interactions with one of its leaders as he worked on my house. During these times, seeing the integrity of his heart, the way the Gospel permeated all that he did, and how much I was convicted by every interaction we ever had, my heart shifted to see the significance of Christ at work in him and in the small community to which he belonged.
What does it mean to give them a vision for who they are in Christ and how does one call them forth into that calling? For years now the Spirit has been blowing to the south and to the east globally and it while it has been clear that Europe is moving further from its Christian foundations, it is becoming increasingly clear that the West as a whole, including my own nation of the United States, is no longer anchored to the Gospel in word or in deed. Once the launchpad of global missions, the west is revealing itself as those who also need to receive from the sending of the body globally.
Ironically through migration, many brothers and sisters in the faith have been coming to the US and other nations with a faith that is still robust and touching their daily lives and interactions. Those who first received the Gospel from their European counterparts, are now the ones bringing it back to their descendants and the nations they inhabit.
“Listen my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love them.” ~ James 2:5
As I prepared for this message, I realized what was really in my heart for this community was not a sermon, but a prayer, particularly Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21. In verse 14 Paul bends his knee before the father (Gk. pater) of all lineages (Gk. patria) and picks up a prayer he actually began at the beginning of the chapter in verse 1. After a brief diatribe in verses 2-13 where Paul speaks to the mystery of the Gospel revealed through the inclusion of the gentiles, Paul resumes this prayer, one in which he praying in response to what was shared in chapter 2 of the text.
So why was Paul praying? This prayer emerges after he speaks to how the cross has broken down the dividing walls of hostility, making one new man, reconciling both Jews and gentiles in one body and bringing peace to those who were far off. Two powerful symbols emerge for this new community: 1) They are fellow citizens of the household of God and 2) A holy temple of the Lord, where they are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
The significance of this is often lost on us, but for those who were formed in 2nd temple judaism, a period in which the tangible glory of YHWH was not something they were ever able to experience within the temple itself, these words would have settled into their hearts in a profound way. God’s presence had once more returned, now dwelling in the midst of the a people which now included the Gentiles themselves. Rather than being centripetal, the Spirit of God was now moving as a centrifuge from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, taking the most sacred space within the temple complex itself, the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, and creating it within a people.*
It is for this reason that Paul then bends his knee before the father of all lineages, from whom every family in heaven and earth is named. The following prayer breaks down into 3 petitions, the first two having two particular requests within each and the third being a summary of what had been prayed prior. There is not the space, nor the time, to go as fully into these requests, but the final request of the second petition and the summary petition beg our attention in a unique way.
Picking up the reason for why Paul is praying this prayer he seems to envision this new community in Christ not being static or restricted, as the original holy of holies was, but dynamic in that their capacity to live into its reality was possible in ways they couldn’t yet imagine. Therefore he gives two paradoxes that transcend our intellectual capacity to grasp:
- 1. That we would know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge
- 2. That we may be filled with all the fullness of God
Both of these paradoxes speak to that which is impossible apart from Christ, yet within this ‘one new man’ whereby we are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit, the impossible becomes possible. Our prayers are invited to move beyond that which we can intellectually grasp, and we are invited to experience the full personhood of God, being filled with all of who he is.
If we had doubts about this, the closing doxology of the prayer gives us permission to pray into these paradoxes, knowing the potential of what we pray for is greater than we can even think of imagine. Paul’s vision for who we are and what it means to belong in Christ as his church, held within it an understanding of the power at work in us through Christ and how his glory was manifest and revealed through this transformed community.
It is interesting to note that the New Testament is rather quiet on specific methodologies related to mission and evangelism.** The emphasis is on the accomplished work of Christ and how that transforms our identity in the church, revealing itself primarily through the way in which we relate one to another.
“Shoreless ocean…who can toll thee!”***
So how do I give this community that I was invited to speak to a vision of who they are and call them forth? I do so by praying into this prayer both with and for them, learning to believe with Paul that the power at work within them, and us all as the body of Christ, is at work to bring these paradoxes into reality in deeper and fuller ways.
There is a great gift within what God is doing in Spanish speaking churches and communities. Whether they know it or not, and whether the nations receiving them can see it or not, God is sending them in new ways to bring the Gospel back to those who first brought it to them, but also to those who don’t yet know of the love of God in Christ. Many of the reached least nations in the world, many of whom have a resistance to western workers and churches for historically valid reasons, do not have such barriers with other nations who have also experienced similar colonialism and patriarchy. Additionally, from a cultural standpoint, many of these nations and people groups have a closer affinity to hispanic culture than the hyper individualistic and capitalistic culture from western nations. Succinctly put, doors are open for them that may be closed or closing for others.
I don’t have a message then for this small community whose significance is yet to be realized in its fullness, nor one for the Spanish speaking church in general, but I do have a prayer. I pray that the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge would be something they grasp and I pray that they would be filled with all the fullness of God. I bend my knee before the father of all lineages and take these petitions to the one who is able to do far more abundantly than we can ask or think. In doing so, I pray also for my own children, who not from my own lineage, but that of their mother, also share in the call of Hispanic and Spanish speaking church. To the Father be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
* Paul uses the word naos, distinguishing his focus on this inner sanctum rather that the temple complex as a whole (hieron)
** This is worthy of another writing as there is significant misunderstanding and misapplication around this.
*** Author unknown, quoted originally by A.W. Tozer in the Pursuit of God