Have you ever been tempted to lose heart? Even the most optimistic among us go through seasons of difficulty or disappointment that derail our sense of direction. Experiences like this cause us to lose courage and hope about our outlook in general and what it takes to move forward — whether in a relationship, workplace, or ministry. So how do we recover our bearing when life’s challenges knock the wind out of sails?
Halfway through his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul speaks to an issue that the Gentile believers of his day were losing heart about. The amazing grace of God was, as Paul loudly proclaimed, powerful enough to both save us from our old lives of sin and death as well as save us from our broken relationships of prejudice and disunity (Eph. 2:1-18). But preaching this good news and actually experiencing this good news can be worlds apart. The unity within Christ’s body that the Gentile converts hoped to enjoy was not only being resisted but actively rejected by Jewish believers. Just ask Paul who was imprisoned because of his bold proclamation of this uniting grace (Eph. 3:1, 13).
No wonder the Ephesians were losing heart! Whenever there’s resistance around us, it often generates uncertainty within us. When what we hopefully expect turns out to be far from reality, we become timid at best and bitter at worst. Whatever the challenging situation we find ourselves in, especially when it relates to things we know to be God’s plan/purpose, difficulties are deflating.
Responding to Resistance
How then should we respond to things that rock our boat, things that cause us to lose heart? For some of us, our default is to retreat altogether. For others, we revert to retaliation or forceful imposition of our will. But what if there’s another route besides the fight or flight dichotomy of choices?
When Paul encourages believers in Ephesus and in every generation to not lose heart in Ephesians 3:13, I believe he goes on to show us a practical example of how to do just that. In the face of discouragement, I would submit that, like Paul, we can set our hearts to prayer (Eph. 3:14) — not as a last ditch effort, but as our primary weapon.
When tempted to lose heart, we ought to bow our knees to the Father in earnest prayer, prevailing prayer, desperate reaching out after God.
And in the prayer that follows (Eph. 3:16-21), I find 3 specific petitions we can bring before God when our faith falters.
Strength in the inner man — obtaining overcoming victory of heart
Christ to dwell in the heart — seeking more than one-time victory but an abiding, enduring relationship with Jesus
A grasp of the full dimensions of Christ’s love — asking that our present obstacle become an opportunity to experience new depths of God’s love.
Of course, so much more could be said about the full meaning of these three petitions and how each of these address unique dynamics that discouraging circumstances tend to stir up in our lives. But for now, let me ask you this: Did you notice a common thread in the petitions? Take a look again at what it is Paul pleads with God for in the face of hope-deflating circumstances.
When Paul sets to pray for those losing courage, he doesn’t pray for a change in their hardships, but a change in their heart.
Think about that.
What do your prayers usually sound like in times of challenge or crisis? I’ll be honest, they don’t sound like Paul’s prayer. They’re more like help-me, trouble-shooting prayers. But Paul’s example shows me there’s something better, something higher to set my mind on in prayer. Whatever we’re losing heart about (healing, crisis, temptations, relationships, ministry), what needs changing is not so much our circumstances and fortunes, not what’s happening to us or around us, but what’s happening within us.
If we’re losing heart today, why not make Paul’s prayer our own? And may the One who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think (v. 20) fill us with all the fullness of God (v. 19) — the very opposite of losing heart!