Editor’s note: The posts you’ll read this month will all center around the word “perissos” as found in Ephesians 3:20 and John 10:10. In the future, we’ll offer a greater variety and breadth of scripture, but we wanted to explore some of the depths of these two passages first.
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 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, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:14-21
Like most human beings I often feel like a contradiction in terms. I have never dealt well with uncertainty, with being out of control, with not knowing how events will play out. Yet I have this deep and gorgeous thirst for an authentic and passionate life that has caused a lot of uncertainty. Having a big meaningful life often means stepping into situations that are out of our control. The pendulum of my life has swung between my desire to maintain control and my desire to have a deep life, the source of sin and conflict for much of my existence.
Following Jesus has not helped resolve this contradiction. In some ways, it’s made it uncomfortably worse.
Which in some ways is one of the great ironies of a life of faith. If you just defined life with Jesus based on what you see at church, it might seem like such a boring, staid, and a passionless existence. Here is the pinnacle of passion-within-limits: singing a song two-and-a-half times, praying hedge-your-bet prayers to an all-powerful God (i.e. “you’re the only one who can x, but it’s totally ok if you don’t, sorry for bothering you and asking you to do something you might not want, ok, thanks bye! Love you!”), and arguing over predestination or infant baptism or hell. You want certainty and predictability? You’ve pretty much got it.
A devastating consequence of this passion-within-limits–or our human attempt to contain and understand an infinite, uncontainable deity– is that as Dorothy Sayers observed, we “have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mile,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”
Of course a life with Christ usually involves going to church and though not every church is like the one I described, a relationship that is nourished only on Sundays isn’t much of a relationship at all. And just as I am a contradiction in terms, so is Jesus. He is both lion and lamb, Faithful and True and the One whose eyes are like flames of fire. He not only can do perissos–exceedingly abundantly more–than all we can ask or think–but he IS more than we can imagine. In some ways this God is just impossible because he defies all the limits we want to impose.
I’ve found myself wondering why life with this “too dynamic to be safe” Jesus (again, Dorothy Sayers) often seems like something to be endured. Why do I always seem to manage my expectations about this God, as though the Spirit that lives in me isn’t one that causes dry bones to live just by breathing on them? Why do I hedge my bets? That doesn’t seem like a full life. It seems like a small one. Is that really what happens when we invite this Jesus to dwell in our hearts by faith?
In some ways I think a life with Jesus is like being one of the Doctor’s companions in Doctor Who. The Doctor, a Time Lord who has a non-linear understanding of space and time, chooses humans as traveling companions. Together they journey through both space and time and have all sorts of adventures that mostly involve saving the world. The Doctor has a “swear jar” on his spaceship, for anytime someone says “impossible.” He is described as being like “fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and can see the turn of the universe and…he’s wonderful.” Sounds a lot like Jesus, huh?
We are invited to join Jesus, this–dare I say it–Impossible God on a journey through this life as he saves us and the world. I’ve found it’s all too easy to think that I am the one in charge of the relationship, that I invite God to be my sidekick. That’s where things get boring. I just run out of ideas and imagination too quickly.
But this passage in Ephesians tells me something different. That this perissos God invites me to be rooted in his love so that Christ may dwell in my heart by faith. I am invited to explore the expanses of God’s love. As the Message version of this passage reads, “reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights!” and in so doing understand how this love has no limits. I can live a full and abundant life because I am living in all of God’s fullness.
If that doesn’t blow my whole notion of God and life with him away, then in verse 20 I’m reminded that even if I can imagine what this could be like, God will still exceed it. I don’t need to manage my expectations with this God. If anything, my expectations should be dropped into the vast ocean of his love so that I can watch how God exceeds them–abundantly more than all I could ask or think.
So what does that mean? How can we explore the expanses of God’s love?
I’ve stumbled upon many different ways in my attempt to internalize this truth. I’m going to offer a few suggestions here.
- Lectio Divina (Divine Reading): This is an ancient practice that involves allowing the Spirit to help us listen to Scripture. Here is a step-by-step guide to Lectio Divina from a Catholic perspective. For those of you who are uncomfortable with having an icon or holy image on which to fix your gaze, I suggest using a candle (or scrapping it–it’s not a necessary part of the practice).
- Writing out and meditating on the scripture on which this reflection is based and memorizing it (so it literally gets into your head). I’ll include a prayer below to pray because we want it to not just be an intellectual exercise, but a spiritual one.
- Here is a song that I feel encompasses some of what this passage is saying. You’re welcome to listen to it throughout the day as a way of focusing your attention on God. I especially love these lines: I wanna wake and feel Your glory/ I wanna speak in tongues of angels for You Lord /I wanna sing a song eternal/ I wanna trample on the curses of the earth/I wanna call upon Your healing/I wanna see the sick and weary be made new/ I wanna swim inside the blessings/ I wanna swim inside the blessings of the Lord
Prayer: Loving, Gracious, IMPOSSIBLE God, you are so much more than we can fully understand or imagine. You are the Lion of Judah and the Lamb that was slain. You are gentle and humble in heart and the Creator of heaven and earth. Yet you made yourself small and put on flesh to live and die as one of us. We confess and repent that we often think you are altogether like us–small, fearful, petty, limited–when you are break all limits and barriers we can construct. We confess and repent that too often we hedge our bets and play it safe with you when our Impossible God has prepared a table for us where nothing is left off it. Thank you that you continue to invite us to journey with you through life. Thank you for inviting us to be rooted and established in your love, for wanting to make your home in us. We don’t know how exactly to enjoy you–would you show us? We don’t know how to experience you–would you make yourself known to us? We want to swim inside your blessings, we want to see and feel you in this world. Please help us to stop managing our expectations of you and of what life with you can look like and instead awaken us to see and know your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.