This talk was delivered by Stuart Gibson in the opening service of The 3:18 Project’s team to West Belfast, July 2015. The text read was Ephesians 3:14-21.
So here we are! The time has flown by and we’re on team. I’m terrified that this is my sixth year. It seems like only yesterday that I arrived on my first year not having a clue what I’d let myself in for! But as I look back, I just stand in awe of all that God has done. Life long friendships have been formed, lives have been transformed and people have come to faith. I’ve been blown away by how God has turned up and how he’s spoken. I’m more blown away by the fact that He has used me.
There’s been lots of laughter, lots of tears, times of difficulty and times of celebration. It’s been a journey that has shaped me more than I can describe and you’re now part of that journey. What has gone before is as much my story as it is your story. I believe that God is going to speak this week. I believe that God is going to use you this week. I believe that lives are going to be changed this week. I believe and I pray that this week will be the start of a new chapter in your walk of faith where God takes you to places that you never dreamed were possible.
From the outset, I want to proclaim over you that God longs to use you and extend and advance His Kingdom through you. I pray that any chains holding you back and any lies that the enemy has told you will be broken in Jesus’ mighty name and that through you many will come to encounter the Presence of God. I want you to fully realise who you are in Christ and to walk in it every second of your life. Ephesians 3:20 tells us ‘Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.’This week starts our journey of pressing into the Immeasurably More. But what does it look like for us to live in it? What is it even?
I love to talk to people. I love to get alongside them and chat about what God is doing in their lives. I love to see people get excited about stepping out for God and taking risks for Him. I often say something along these lines to them:
‘How cool is it when you come across a person who is just completely on fire and sold out for God? Who is always talking about Jesus and praying for people. Who is really bold and will do amazing and crazy things for God like sharing the Gospel with people on the street and offering to pray for them. Someone who goes and cares for people who are on the margins of society and who no one else even registers. If I could sum him up in a sentence it would be that this guy heals the sick, casts out demons and boldly proclaims the Gospel through actions and words absolutely everywhere he goes. He also has an amazing connection with God. God drives and guides his every action and he is totally and utterly in love with Him.’
In response, I often hear about how amazing and wonderful this guy sounds and how awesome it would to be more like him. I reassure them they can be like him. I even go on to explain that this isn’t even the half of what this guy’s life is like because as a Christian, the same Power that raised Christ from the dead is living in Him. So God actually moves through him in some pretty powerful ways. I then drop what is often a bombshell, even though as Christians it should be the most natural fact in the world. I say ‘you’re life can be like this too’. At this stage, I jump in with scriptural support.
In John 14:12 Jesus says ‘very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.’ Listen those words again, they’re transformative. Here is Jesus, the Son of God, who did all those amazing things that we read about in the Bible, saying to His disciples that not only will they be doing the things that He has been doing but that they will actually go on to do even greater things! Greater things than Jesus. That’s a tall order. To get the full impact of this, let’s remind ourselves of what sort of things Jesus did during His ministry:
- He healed the sick.
- He performed miracles like calming the sea and feeding the five thousand.
- He cast out demons.
- He raised the dead.
- He received prophetic words and pictures from the Father.
No doubt the disciples were blown away when they heard this. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if they had been incredibly sceptical on first hearing it. And wait for it, in case you’d never picked up on this important fact, as a Christian you are a disciple too. Jesus is saying this as much to you as He was the twelve back then. He is saying that not only will you do the sort of things that He did while on Earth, but that you will actually go on to do greater things too. I don’t know about you but for me that’s out there in the realm of extremely exciting territory.
The Bible is absolutely full of characters who are living in this realm of the Immeasurably More. Let’s consider Joshua, he was born into slavery, saw God deliver his people and he wondered in the desert for forty years because of other people’s lack of faith. He never lost faith himself and went onto replace Moses as leader of the Israelites. The mark of any good leader is the before and after of what they lead. Before Joshua took charge, God’s people were migrants who were living hand to mouth. Afterwards they were settlers – owners of the exceedingly good land that God had promised.
So right now you might be thinking – what does this have to do with me? I don’t have to command armies and battles. I don’t have to lead a whole people. The story that God has planned for your life isn’t any less than Joshua’s or anyone else’s. There’s an exceedingly good land that you’re meant to occupy. God wants you to live in the place of the Immeasurably More.
My favourite element of Joshua’s life is found in chapter 10. From every angle, this story shows us the Power of God. It’s where we see Joshua display audacious faith. The dictionary definition of audacity is when people behave with ‘boldness or daring, especially with confident disregard for personal comfort or conventional thought.’ This confident disregard for the status quo is actually a clear hallmark of the Gospel. It goes to the heart of what it means to live by faith. It is a characteristic of life in the Immeasurably More.
So five opposing Amorite armies are planning to attack the Israelites. Joshua makes the tactical decision to attack first and leads his whole army towards them on an all-night march. During this God speaks to Joshua and says ‘Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you” (v.8).The attack goes well, God turns up and the enemy starts to run away. But then the sun began to sink and Joshua faced a decision. The victory was not yet complete, and once it got dark, the rest of the Amorites would slip away. Joshua was determined to fight on. Maybe it was because he knew that if he didn’t destroy the enemy now Israel’s conquest of Canaan could grind to a halt. Maybe he knew that anything less than a total victory would conceal God’s Glory and presence. Overall, he remembered what God had promised that night ‘Not one of them will be able to withstand you.’
Author Stephen Furtick says at this point that ‘most of us – even really good Christian people – would have called it a day. I’ve done all that I can do. I’ve exhausted every option. I’ve given it all that I’ve got. But Joshua wasn’t most people. He refused to go out like that. That wasn’t the way it was supposed to end. This was where his audacious faith began.’ Joshua kept pressing into God for more. We now see a clear example of what it can look like when we step into the Immeasurably More. Joshua summons up his courage and prays one of the most audacious and faith filled prayers in the Bible. When you really think about what he asks for, its sounds too far out there. But audacious prayers don’t intimidate our God. He prays ‘O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon’ (v.12) It seems ridiculous that someone would pray for the sun to stand still. It seems like too much to ask. It seems more unbelievable that God would actually answer with a yes. But He did, God answered and the sun stood still in the sky. The Amorites waited for the cover of darkness that would never come.
Joshua is a clear example of someone who lived in the Immeasurably More. He isn’t the only one – the Bible is full of them. Abraham, Moses, Peter. Abraham had a son at an extremely old age. Moses, who had murdered and had a stutter, led the people out of Egypt and parted the Red Sea. Peter, who made so many mistakes walked on water and led thousands of people to faith.
They were ordinary people like you and me. They show us what the Christian life can and should look like. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. They served the same God that we serve. So we need to ask ourselves the question. Are we living in that place of Immeasurably More? Are we stepping into the full potential of all that God has made available to us?
Am I there yet, absolutely not. I’m guessing you’re the same. This is a lifetime journey. You see with God we can always go further, we can always go deeper. The more we step into this, the more we will see ourselves and others impacted. You’re here, so that means you’re already pressing and whenever we start pressing God will honour our faithfulness. So let’s ask the question: How do we press into the Immeasurably More?
The first thing we need to do is kneel. Ephesians 3:14, just 6 verses before the promise of the Immeasurably More, says ‘For this reason I kneel before the Father’. We need to submit ourselves fully to God. We need to hand every single aspect of our lives over to Him. We need to not only acknowledge Him as God but also as Lord of our lives in their entirety. That means setting aside what we want for ourselves when it’s contrary to what God wants for us saying ‘Father, I am yours. Use me as you will.’ We need to commit to that wherever it may take us and no matter how uncomfortable it gets. This journey isn’t always going to be safe and easy. Jesus never said it would be, but He did promise it would be worth it.
So, we need to completely hand every aspect of ourselves over to the Father in reverence and submission. ‘Father, I am yours. Use me as you will.’
That’s a lot easier said than done and that’s why we need to be strengthened. Verse 16 and 17 say ‘I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.’ We need to be strengthened by the Spirit in order to reach our full potential in Christ. Let’s consider that word strengthen. It implies our weakness.
Folks, the truth is we all come here from different places. We all have our own backgrounds and our own struggles. It could be issues at home or in our relationships. It could be self-doubt, where we don’t feel we’re good enough. You might be sitting here now and wondering what you’re doing here? When I first did this team I was convinced I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t make any sort of impact at all. It could be something like worry. It could also be past stumbles and failures. It could be guilt related to that. Sometimes we need to have the strength to forgive ourselves and move on. God has forgiven us, after all, and he wants us to be healed and built up by His love. It could be that you don’t really comprehend the fact that you are loved beyond your wildest dreams. That you are valued in ways you can never start to imagine. These things get in the way of us living in the Immeasurably More. In the way of living in the fullness that God has planned for us. We need to face up to them and be honest about them with ourselves and with God. The enemy is more than content for us to allow them to continue to weigh us down and hinder our walk of faith.
This strengthening doesn’t come from ourselves but ultimately from the Spirit. As the verse says ‘he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit’. We need to be honest about our weaknesses. Then we need to pray and seek God’s strengthening. Alongside this, we need to continually seek Christ and desire more of Him in our lives. These are prayers He will answer. We’re chasing after the love of God first and foremost. After that, everything else will begin to fall into place. We will be equipped for works of service.
‘Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.’
Know who you are
Finally, it is vital that we know who we are. Who is it we bow before? Verse 14 tells us it is the Father. God is our Father, the central part of who we are is that we are in His family. No matter what we do. No matter what we don’t do. No matter what we’ve been through. We are loved beyond our comprehension. Knowing this love, and living in this love is vital and central to all that we do. We need to remember that Christ came to heal, save and set free. Our identity needs to be rooted in the family of God, not in what the world tells us. As we’re told in Romans 8, nothing can seperate us from God’s love.
We need to realise what it fully means to be part of that family and to be in Christ. We can see the Immeasurably More in our own relationship with God and with others. But we can also see it as we seek to advance the Kingdom this week and beyond.
I came across a great phrase recently ‘What the devil fears most isn’t more churches or ministries, it’s that Christians will fully realise who they are in Christ.’ We are resurrection people. There is no dead place that cannot come alive. No one is beyond the love of God.
Each of us can do Immeasurably More for God through the Spirit. After all, the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives inside each of us, and that Spirit longs to spread out from us to the people around is. We carry the presence of God in us. We do nothing on our own strength, our job is to make ourselves available to God and to step out in His power. Our challenge then as we go forward is to step into this rich and powerful heritage that should be the hallmark of the normal Christian life. This isn’t just for those occasional exceptional people we hear about and come across. God is freely offering His power, in fact as His representatives here on Earth He longs us to walk in it. The point is clear, we need to wake up to who we truly are. The church desperately needs to return to its roots and remember the Power that is freely on offer to it. I can’t overestimate the depth of this Power. God is infinite and there is simply no limit to what He can do through us. What is it you want to see that is beyond even your most daring dream? What is it you want to see so much that you can’t even imagine it possible? God is able to give us the Immeasurably More.
I’m going to read to you about what happened in the upper room in Jerusalem 2000 years ago when Peter stepped into the Immeasurably More. I am praying Lord do it again! Do it this week, do it in Newtownards, in Bangor, in Belfast in every town and city on this Island. Do it again, Jesus.
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Peter went on to stand up and deliver his sermon quoting the prophet Joel:
“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants[c] and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
This is Peter, the normal man, the fisherman, who made so many mistakes. The man who was too scared to speak up for Jesus. This was his first sermon after he was baptized in the Holy Spirit.
The Bible goes on to say that 3000 were added to their number that day! 3000! That’s the same God that we are serving, right here, right now. In youth ministry we hear the phrase ‘it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the spiritual heath’ and that’s very true. It’s also very true that as a Christian if we are used in one person coming to faith it’s all worth it. But let’s not use that to limit our scope, let’s not use that to disguise our fear. One person going to heaven is amazing, but so is 3000.
We are living in a time of miracles and I am fully convinced that God is moving powerfully in this land! Wherever I look I hear more stories of His amazing work, stories of more people believing in Him. Across denominations, across churches across communities! I’ve seen it in my church. I’ve seen Him breath life into the dry bones and I want to see it increasingly in West Belfast. The Lord is moving and people are flocking to Him.
He is powerful and mighty and we will not stop, we will not falter, until we see every man woman and child on this Island declare Jesus Christ as Lord! Every single conversation and encounter you have this week, I challenge you to step out and to make it count for the Glory of God.
A thought to close on, before we pray. The Apostle Paul was sold out for God, He was a risk taker willing to step out for God. He lived in the Immeasurably More.
Let’s stand and wait on the Holy Spirit.