Text: Ephesians 1:15-23; 3:14-21
Open your Bible to the book of Ephesians, chapter 1. I am going to read verses 15-23:
15Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, 16Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; 17That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 18The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, 19And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
And then Ephesians, chapter 3, beginning with the verse 14, reading through verse 21:
14For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. 20Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Let me read again verses 20 and 21 of this third chapter because they are a doxology. The Apostle Paul was a man who just could not keep from bursting forth in praise and doxology when he began considering the power and might of our Lord. As he prays such a mind-staggering prayer for these believers, and he considers what God is able to do, he closes that prayer with a tremendous doxology.
20Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Those two verses are the key to the message this morning. God always meets his people at the level of their expectation. God always meets his people at the level of their expectation. I am finding it increasingly true that God rarely, if ever, disappoints me. He usually does for me and gives me exactly what I expect. God is constantly meeting me on the level of my expectation.
The month of October is the month of anniversaries, and it occurred to me this morning that this month is my 20th anniversary as a preacher. Twenty years ago this month I actually began preaching. I think that I can safely say that if I had to go back and evaluate those 20 years of preaching and ministry, my evaluation would be that for 20 years I have aimed too low. That is the greatest failure of my ministry. My level of expectation has never been up to God’s level of performance. If I look back and say that there are many things that God did not do, many problems God did not move into and solve, many areas where God did not bring showers of blessing, I have to say I never was surprised when he didn’t do it. Most of the time in my life God has met me at the level of my expectation.
Years ago a young preacher came to Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle. He had just come back from his weekend preaching stint, and the preacher was complaining a little bit to Mr. Spurgeon. When Spurgeon asked him how it went that Sunday, he said it went all right, but no one was saved. Mr. Spurgeon looked at the young fellow and said, son, do you expect people to be saved every time you preach? The young preacher replied, “No, sir, I don’t expect people to be saved every time I preach.” Mr. Spurgeon replied that’s why they aren’t, because you don’t expect it.
As I study the New Testament and remember the words of Jesus, I come away with this idea or awareness that God is always trying to get me to raise the level of my expectation. Every promise Jesus made to me, every encouragement Jesus gave to me, every command Jesus uttered to me was really, if I understand it properly, a command, an encouragement, a promise for great expectations.
Listen to what Jesus says in John 14:12 to these disciples who are wallowing in the mire of discouragement because Jesus is about to be taken from them. Jesus says, Verily, verily, I say unto you, (anybody, everybody) He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do because I go unto my Father.
Over and over again, Jesus, as he would encourage us to pray, would use language like this: ask and ye shall receive; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone who keeps on asking receives; everyone that keeps on seeking finds; and everyone who just keeps on knocking, that door will be opened. Do you know what Jesus was saying? Jesus was saying I will meet you at the level of your expectation.
He only gave us two parables concerning prayer. One is found in Luke 11, and the other if sound in Luke 18. I really believe in both those parables Jesus is trying to get us to raise the level of our expectation. He says if a fellow comes to a friend at midnight and says somebody has stopped by; they are hungry; I don’t have anything to set before them. I am going to bang on the door. I don’t care if you are asleep. I don’t care if it is midnight. I don’t care if I awaken the whole family and disturb all the children. I am going to stay here and keep knocking on this door. Jesus said that though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity (that word means shameless stubbornness), his persistence, he will rise and give him as much as he needs. Jesus is saying that he will meet you at the level of your expectation.
In Luke 18 he tells about a widow who went to a judge that feared neither God nor man and asked the judge to do right by her and avenge those who had cheated her. The judge didn’t want to be bothered with her. But the Bible says that she kept coming again, and again, and again. The judge was afraid that lest by her continual coming she weary me, he met her need. Do you know what that Greek word weary means? It means unless she beats me violently. The judge was afraid the next time this widow came to see him she was going to bring a baseball bat and hit him over the head with it. That’s what the word means. Lest by her coming she weary me—that means she would do violence to me. Jesus was saying I will meet you at the level of your expectation. Therefore, men ought always to pray and not to faint.
I love the prophet Jeremiah because I identify with some things he went through. Times were bad, and Jeremiah had just stepped out on faith. You can read it over in Jeremiah 32. It is a tremendous story. Jeremiah is in prison, and he has bought a farm. It is a step of faith. By that he is saying that God is going to deliver Israel from all its enemies. No matter how black it gets, no matter how desperate the situation, God is going to restore the land.
As a proof of his faith in the future, he buys a farm that is right at the present time held by enemy hands in enemy territory. He buys that farm as a proof to the people that God is going to restore the whole land. After the transaction is made, and Jeremiah is in jail at the time—not a very good place to do business—he begins to think I’ve spent all my money, bought this farm in enemy territory. I better pray about it. Too many times we pray about things after we’ve already done them.
So he begins to pray. Here is the way he begins his prayer. He says, Lord, there is nothing too hard for Thee. Then he begins to express all his doubts in that prayer. When he finishes, God comes and preaches back to him what he has just prayed. God answer Jeremiah and says, Jeremiah, is anything too hard for me? Do you know what God was doing? God was saying, Jeremiah, you insult me. You blaspheme my name. You’ve just said nothing is too hard for me. Didn’t you really mean it?
Do you know what I think God wants in MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church? I think he wants men and women who will stop insulting God by their low level of expectation. What do you expect God to do in your life? What do you expect God to do in your home life? I don’t care what the situation is; God will meet you at the level of your expectation. What did you expect God to do this morning when you came to church? Here is where it is so true. You will get exactly what you came expecting. If you came expecting God to speak to you, and Jesus to confront you, he will do just that. But if you came expecting little or nothing to happen, I promise you that you probably will not be disappointed. God meets us at the level of our expectation.
Talking about this expectation, I want us to look at verses 20 and 21. Until you and I come to expect from God as we ought to expect from God, it is useless for us to pray, useless for us to organize, useless for us to preach, useless for us to plan and witness because expectation is nothing more than faith breathing. Your body of faith is not going to be able to live any longer than your expectation puts breath into it. There is a very close relationship between what I expect God to do and what I believe God to do.
Jesus, when he went to one city, came away saying he was not able to do much there because of their unbelief—because of their low expectation. Friday night we talked about the great way God has blessed us with his increase, and it is not just a small increase but it was a large increase, over everything that God had done last year, in every area. But I know that God wants to do so much more. Next Sunday when we begin our revival meeting, and as we launch out into the new year, I think what God wants us to do is raise even higher the level of our expectation. Now unto him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think—that’s the key. I want to say two things about our expectation.
I. The level of our expectation ought to be measured by God’s ability.
How much am I to expect God to do?—my home situation, my personal life, these habits, these things that bind me, my school situation. There is a need, a problem. What can I expect God to do? How much can I expect? What should be the determining factor in what I expect God to do? Notice what he says: Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.
Let me say, first of all, that your expectation is not to be measured by what you pray for, or even by what your mind can conceive. This is the way most of us give life to our expectation. We expect God to do only that which we ask him to do, and sometimes we don’t expect him to do that much. Paul says that God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask. You come to God and ask him anything you want to ask him. Is that the measure of what God can do? Not at all! Many times we come to God asking him for something, but all the time in the back of our minds there is really something we wish we could ask him for. The mind races with that. Our mind can conceive so many things we wish God would do, but we don’t have the boldness or audacity to express that in prayer. So our thoughts, our imaginations, our conceptions of what God would do is even greater than what we actually ask him to do.
Notice what Paul says, God is able to do exceeding abundantly above not only all that you ask but all that you imagine. The word imagine means what the mind can conceive. Stop for just a moment and let your mind run wild. Loose it and let it go! What do you want God to do? What can you conceive or imagine God doing in the City of Irving? What can you imagine God doing?
I like to play with visions—my own—and just visualize what God could do in this church, what could do in my life, what God could do in the City of Irving. I believe the day is coming, and this is what I am praying for, that such a revival will descend upon the City of Irving that people will stop their cars and get out on the side of the road and get down on their knees calling on the Lord for mercy. That is what my mind can conceive. Paul says, oh, you are aiming too low! God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that you ask or can even imagine, even think.
I’m reading this book, The Second Evangelical Awakening. It is a tremendous book and tells about the revival that took place in America 100 years ago. When I read it, I just say, Lord, do it again. Do it again! That was over a hundred years ago. You think if man can do better than he could do a hundred years ago, you know God can do much better than he could a hundred years ago.
All the Episcopalians, Methodists and Baptists got together for an ecumenical prayer meeting. They didn’t know if it would work or not. They all met together in a neutral place, on neutral ground, to pray because God was moving in their city. They didn’t want to miss it. A man who was in charge of the ceremonies stood up and said, I have a prayer request. He read it. It said, my husband is lost and I am praying for him, and I want you to pray for him too. After he read that request, a burly looking man stood up in the middle of that prayer meeting and said, I am that lost husband. I have a fine Christian wife, and she has been praying for me. I know that request must have come from her. I’m that lost husband. Would you pray for me? Another man stood up and said, no, I’m that lost husband. I have a praying wife, and I know that must be her request. Would you pray for me? Another man stood up and said, no, my wife is a fine Christian, and she has been praying for me. I’m that husband. You pray for me. All in all, five lost husbands stood in that prayer meeting and said that’s my wife praying for me.
Can you imagine? I wish I could back and look over that wife’s shoulder as she sat down that day and wrote that prayer request. I wonder if she really knew what God was going to do. Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think!
You’ve got to see what God’s ability is. First of all, it is resurrection ability. If I am going to measure my expectation by God’s ability, I need to investigate that ability and see just what kind of ability it is. It is resurrection ability, resurrection power. What kind of power is he speaking of in verse 20? He says, according to that power that works in us. You have that power identified in verse 19 of chapter 1 when he said: And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead. It is resurrection power. That is plenty of power, plenty of ability.
Think about what God needs to do in your life—your problem, your expectation, what your mind can conceive, what you want to happen in your home, what you want to happen in your life. Let me ask you? Is it more difficult than raising someone from the dead? You say, preacher, I have this habit, and I’ve been trying to overcome it for years. Let me ask you. Do you think it would be easier to overcome that habit, or to raise a man from the dead? You say overcoming the habit would be easier. I can’t think of anything harder than raising a man from the dead. If you can raise a man from the dead, you could do anything couldn’t you? Don’t you imagine if you had the power to raise somebody from the dead and exalt him at the right hand of the Majesty on high that you would have power to do anything you wanted to do? That is what he says. You measure your expectation by God’s ability and his resurrection ability. The greatest demonstration of what God is able to do is when, by the Holy Spirit, he touched that lifeless body of Jesus in that tomb and raised him. He came out holding the keys of death and hell in his hand. God says if you want to know how powerful I am, there it is. You look at it.
You ask why God didn’t use creation as a demonstration of his power. Wouldn’t creative power be an even greater power than resurrection power? There is one thing we forget. Jesus was crucified by the evil of this world. On that cross the devil did his worst. In the resurrection God did his best. The reason God chooses the resurrection instead of the creation is because the devil didn’t bring about the chaos that called forth creation. God decided he would create. There was no opposing power in creation. There was no opposition from the enemy in creation; God just spoke. But there was opposition; the resurrection was needed because the devil had done his worst. God is saying whatever the devil can do when he has done his worst in your life, you remember I have resurrection power. Just as I raised Jesus out of the grips of Satan and broke him from the bands of death, I am able to break you away and liberate you from the worst the devil can do in your life. It is resurrection power.
It is also released power. I am so glad God didn’t keep this to himself. Notice what he says in verse 20: Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us. This is one of those mind staggering statements. According to the power that worketh in us; God has not confined this power to himself, but he has released this power within me. Did you know that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is living in me this morning and is at my fingertips? God has placed resurrection power at my disposal.
It needs to be recognized power. All of you who are saved have resurrection power released in your life. Do you know the reason you are walking around with your chins on the ground, living defeated lives before the devil and unable to break the chains of habits? It is because you don’t recognize that power. This is why Paul was praying in chapter 1, verse 19, that God might give to us a spirit of wisdom and revelation. The eyes of our heart being enlightened, being opened, that we might know what is the exceeding greatness of his power. While I’m preaching, why don’t you just pray? Lord, open my eyes this morning to see the power that is in me. That is what is needed. It doesn’t do any good to have resurrection power resident within us unless we recognize it. Don’t you know that God has placed this rich deposit in your life? Why don’t you pray right now? Holy Spirit of God, open my eyes that I may see that I have resurrection power released in my life. Recognize it. When you recognize it, three things will happen.
1. You will pray bigger.
I wish we had time to go back to this prayer that Paul is offering in this third chapter. Let’s just take two or three things. Notice what he prays for these Christians:
a. they might be strengthened with might by the inner man,
b. Christ may be at home in their hearts,
c. they may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and
length, and depth and height,
d. to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge,
e. that they might be filled with all the fullness of God.
Just imagine! When you get a glimpse of the power of God that is available to you, you will pray bigger.
You’ll plan bigger.
You’ll praise bigger.
Look at verse 21. Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. Do you know what calls forth the praise of God’s people? It is not when we sit around surveying what we’ve done. To me the gladdest part of my ministry now is not to sit back and see what we have done, but it is to sit back and see the salvation of the Lord and see what God hath wrought. That’s what causes praises to come out of the lives of the people. I promise you this one thing. If God ever opens your eyes so that you can see the resurrection power that is indwelling you, that power which is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that you ask or think, you’ll come away praising the Lord. That’s point No. 1. The level of our expectation is to be measured by God’s ability.
The limit of our expectation is measured by our availability.
If you will look in that twentieth verse, he says, Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think (then the most important word in that verse comes next), according to the power that worketh in us. God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, BUT what God is able to do is according to that power that worketh in us. Listen, don’t you expect God to do anymore than you are willing to let him do through you. God will do no more than you are willing to let him do through you. You see, God makes himself available to those who make themselves available to him. The only limit of what God will do in your life, in your home, in your school, in this church is your availability. You are wasting your time praying God, save so-and-so if you are not willing to let God save him through you. If you are not willing to shape up, confess sin, repent, go and witness, you might as well stop praying because God is not going to do anymore than you are willing for him to do through you. Has it ever occurred to you that you may be the answer to your own prayer? God may be the means. I hear people pray like this: Lord, somehow, someway. I wonder if it ever occurs that they may be that somehow, that someway that God is looking for. As far as I understand the Scriptures today, God doesn’t send an angel to witness to people. He sends you. He sends me.
The bottleneck, the barrier, the clogged channel is with us. The only limit to my expectation of what God is going to do is my availability. Listen! In proportion to how much I make myself available to God, that is how much God will do. What are you expecting God to do for you? What do you want God to do through you. Are you willing to say, Heavenly Father, I don’t want to put any limit on what you are able to do. I absolutely refuse to put any limits on what you are able to do. As best I know how, I make myself totally, one hundred percent available to you. If there is sin that needs to be confessed, if there is reconciliation that needs to be made, if there is restitution that needs to be made, whatever the price, whatever the cost, Father, I want to make myself absolutely available to you. That simply means that you will be willing today to let God do whatever he wants to do in you, through you, and for you. Are you willing? My willingness meets God’s willingness, and the result is always miraculous.
Let’s pray together.
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2009