When Jack’s son, Troy, was arrested on charges of drug possession, Jack’s world collapsed. He knew that Troy had gotten into trouble before, but he had no idea it had gone this far.
Here he was, Jack’s only son, facing years in prison—and a very rough prison, at that. Jack wanted nothing but to spare his son the loneliness, the violence, and the abuse that were part of life behind bars. He knew his son was guilty, but he couldn’t bear the thought of what prison would do to him. In an impassioned plea, Jack begged the judge, “Please, take me instead. I’ll do anything to keep him from this.”
As desperate and hopeless as Jack was, we all sense that any father in a similar situation would make a similar offer. Who but the coldest of fathers wouldn’t sacrifice himself for his child? But there is one instance in which a father did not save his son—and has forever been admired for it. None other than God himself allowed his own Son to be put to death for our sake—and this Son wasn’t guilty of anything! What’s more, God didn’t just let his Son die; he gave him up for us.
Imagine how painful it must have been for the Father to watch as his only Son was abandoned by his friends, scourged and beaten by his enemies, and then put to death in the most tortuous way imaginable. When all is said and done, we can come to only one logical conclusion: God our Father loves us with boundless love. His love has no limits—extending even to the sacrifice of his only Son, Jesus.
Destined for Greatness. For centuries, theologians have puzzled and debated the topic of predestination. How do you combine the belief that God is in control of this world with our understanding of human free will? We may never be able to answer this question—at least, not until Jesus comes back! Yet in his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells us that “before the foundation of the world,” God “destined us” to become his adopted sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:4, 5).
Paul wasn’t trying to solve the question of predestination here. He was merely expressing the incredible truth that God created us to love him and to be with him forever. He was showing that God is not stingy with his blessings. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth: if we show God the smallest bit of love, he will lavish his blessings on us!
If you think about it, Paul’s words here boggle the mind. God’s goal for all of us is “adoption to himself through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5). This goes far beyond spiritual blessings. God wants nothing less than to make us all members of one large family. And he wants to do this by filling us with his own divine life!
A Spirit of Revelation. Describing this grand intention of God, Paul made it clear that each of us is God’s great treasure. He loves us all equally. What’s more, we don’t have to wait until Jesus comes again to see God’s intention fulfilled in our lives. Every day, we can experience his love and live in the dignity, freedom, and security that come from being his children.
According to St. Paul, all these blessings have the power to make us holy and blameless, even though we are weak (Ephesians 1:4). They have given us the dignity of being his sons and daughters, even though we sometimes act like children of the flesh (1:5). They have marked us with the seal of the Holy Spirit and with the promise of eternal life, even though we are sinners who sometimes feel very much bound to this sinful world (1:13-14).
God wants all of us to know about these blessings that he has poured out. And that’s why he wants to give us a “spirit of wisdom and revelation.” It’s why he wants us to know “the hope” to which he has called us, “the riches of glory in his inheritance,” and “the surpassing greatness of his power” at work in us (Ephesians 1:17, 18, 19). In short, God wants us to have an experience of him and his grace so that we will know for certain that we belong to him. Understanding these truths is one thing; having God reveal them to our hearts is something even better.
Open My Eyes, Lord! So how can we get a better glimpse of this revelation? How can we experience God in a way that convinces us of his blessings? One very good approach is to take on the disposition of a child. Children tend to accept everything that their parents offer them. They’re very good at being generous receivers. So be open and expectant, just like a child.
Practically, this means focusing your mind on your Father’s boundless love. In prayer, take one or more of the blessings listed in the first chapter of Ephesians, and imagine them being fulfilled in your life. Experiment with this a bit, and see what God does in your heart as you dwell on his blessings.
Perhaps you can picture yourself standing before God your Father. Like all fathers, he loves you and sees the good in you. Try to see yourself as he sees you—holy and blameless. Imagine what it’s like to know that your every sin has been wiped away, and your heart has been made clean. Imagine the dignity, self-worth, and freedom you can have as the truth of your redemption penetrates your heart. Think about the peace that can mark your friendships because your conscience has been relieved of guilt. Try to sense God’s presence in you as you dwell on these thoughts. What is your Father saying to you? How is he looking at you right now?
Or maybe you can ponder Paul’s statement that God has destined us to receive a great inheritance (Ephesians 1:14). Imagine yourself as the son or daughter of a very wealthy man. As his heir, you are promised to inherit vast amounts of wealth. Even now, as a child living in your father’s house, you are enjoying all the benefits of his endless resources. You know that it’s but a small taste of all that is awaiting you, and you are amazed. Now, dwelling on this image, think about the real inheritance God has promised you. Think about all the blessings listed in Ephesians, and know that they are yours. Imagine how much your Father must love you—so much so that he would gladly give you everything you would ever need!
Or you may want to meditate on the gift of the Holy Spirit, whom Paul calls the “first installment of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:13). As a first installment, the Spirit is a kind of down payment that God uses to seal our inheritance. He represents God’s promise—his guarantee—to give us our complete inheritance at the appropriate time. He is a foretaste, or sampling, of what life will be like in the presence of our heavenly Father. That means that the Spirit’s work in sanctifying us on earth is a taste of the perfect holiness that will be ours in heaven. It means that his power to enlighten our hearts and minds here is but a glimmer of the full light we will see in heaven. It means that his comforts in this life are just a hint of the complete and uninterrupted joy we will know when we see Jesus face-to-face.
As you experiment with this kind of prayer, don’t be discouraged if you feel that nothing is happening. Give it time, and God will answer you. Trust that he won’t give you a snake if you ask for a fish (Luke 11:11). Just persist in telling him that you want to receive everything that he has for you. Remember too that while you do have to do some work to pray in this way, it’s equally important—if not more important—to let God do his part. Come to him open and thirsty, ready to embrace everything he wants to give you.
A Personal Connection. Praying to the Father this way can fill you with a sense of peace and security. You may find comfort as God shows you that he cares for you and knows your concerns and sufferings. Your heart will soften, and you will find yourself wanting an even closer relationship with him. Even better, you won’t mind putting in the time to get to know him more!
Brothers and sisters, our Father really does love us. He wants to give good things to us and to our families. He promises that if we dwell on his blessings and his love, our lives will change. Not only will we know intellectually that our Father loves us, but we will know it in our hearts. We will experience a personal connection with him. Our hearts will be soothed as we experience his comfort and peace. You may even hear him tell you the same thing he told Jesus, “This is my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased!”