Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of articles on the theme, “Being Lifted Up In Christ as Catholic Men.”
“I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).
A Character Formed by Love. As moving as the descriptions were in the previous article of Biblical men and women who were transformed by God, there is, however, another dimension to being lifted up by the Lord that is even more inspiring and hopeful. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians gives us an idea of the more immediate senses that we have when we feel God’s presence. They are the feelings and the convictions we experience as we are absorbed in prayer and filled with the love of God. But the other dimension has to do with the long-term effects that happen to us as we develop the habit of turning to Jesus and letting him lift us up every day. These effects go beyond the immediate senses and reach deeper into our hearts. They have to do with the way our character is shaped by our regular encounters with the Lord and his power.
In one letter, Paul describes this godly character as the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23). He lists nine key characteristics of people whose experiences of being lifted up have taught them to “live by the Spirit” (5:16). These characteristics include such traits as peace, kindness, gentleness, patience, and self-control. And, as you might expect, they are all reflections of Jesus’ own character.
In another letter, Paul gives a more poetic—and a fuller—description of our new character by talking all about the love that we encounter when we are lifted up by the Lord. This love, which is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, changes our character as it teaches us how to live in a new way (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). Drawing from an early Christian hymn, Paul paints a picture with words that have been treasured by believers for centuries.
This love, Paul tells us, is patient and kind. It is not jealous, pompous, inflated, or rude. It “rejoices with the truth,” and it is marked by faith, hope, and endurance. And, most importantly, “Love never fails.” Don’t these words describe the kind of character we all want for ourselves? Don’t we all want to display the fruit of the Spirit?
The Longing of Our Hearts. Why do these words move us? What is it about Paul’s description of godly love that makes it stick in our memories? More than anything, it’s the way these words describe the desires of our own hearts. God made us for love. He created us with the capacity to become like him, to mirror his patience, kindness, and compassion.
The only reason we find these qualities elusive is because we are fallen and sinful. If there were no sin in the world, there would be no obstacles to being lifted up and transformed by the Lord. But because of sin, we find it difficult. Because of sin, we all long for something that seems at times just outside of our grasp. We sense that we should be like this, but experience tells us that our own efforts at self-improvement fall short. We can make some progress on our own, but we know we have so much farther to go.
This is why Jesus came to earth and died on the cross. He came to put our sin to death. He came to remove the obstacles so that he could lift us up and make us into a new creation. It is also precisely why he gave us the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who comes to live in us and teach us how to lift up our hearts to the Lord. For he knows that it is only as we choose to lift up our hearts to him that he can draw us to himself and bring us into his presence.
Lift Up the Lord. Jesus promised that when he is lifted up from the earth, he would draw all people to himself (John 12:32). On Good Friday, he was lifted up—on the cross that overcame our sin. At the Ascension, he was lifted up to heaven, where he now sits in glory. So why haven’t we all been drawn to Jesus? Why is there still sin, suffering, and fear in the world?
I can’t pretend to answer this mystery completely. But we can say that while Jesus was indeed lifted up on the cross, and while he was indeed lifted up at the Ascension, there is still one more “lifting up” that has to happen. Jesus is waiting for each of us to lift him up in our own hearts. He is waiting for us to turn to him, acknowledge him as our Savior, and exalt him for rescuing us from sin. He is waiting for us to gaze upon his cross with gratitude and honor, elevating him in our hearts.
Day after day, Jesus wants to raise us up to his presence. Day after day, he wants to form us into his image a little bit more. He has so many gifts that he wants to give us. He has so much grace that he wants to pour out on us. All he is waiting for is us.
(Joe Difato is the publisher of “The Word Among Us” devotional magazine. To contact him, go to his website at www.joedifato.com. Many thanks to The Word Among Us (http://www.wau.org/) for allowing us to use his articles from their August issue. Used with permission.)
Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
1. If you are in a men’s group take some time at the beginning of your meeting to pray for one another using St. Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 3:14-19.
2. What steps can you take to open yourself more: 1) “to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self,” 2) “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;” and 3) “that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God”?
3. The article says that to experience the “long term” effects of Paul’s prayer requires us to “develop the habit of turning to Jesus and letting him lift us up every day. These effects go beyond the immediate senses and reach deeper into our hearts. They have to do with the way our character is shaped by our regular encounters with the Lord and his power.” Why is this so?
4. Paul describes the nine fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. These are all reflections of Jesus’ own character. How well are you doing in manifesting these “fruits” to others? Which one do you struggle the most with and how can you overcome these struggles?
5. We are all familiar with the “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. How well are you doing in reflecting this love to others, especially those in your family?
6. The article issues this important challenge to each of us as Catholic men: “Jesus is waiting for each of us to lift him up in our own hearts. He is waiting for us to turn to him, acknowledge him as our Savior, and exalt him for rescuing us from sin. He is waiting for us to gaze upon his cross with gratitude and honor, elevating him in our hearts.” Are you prepared to do this right now and become that new creation made in the image and likeness of Christ? If not, why not? If so, take a few moments to make that deeper commitment of your life to Jesus Christ.
(The discussion questions were created by Maurice Blumberg, a Trustee of the National Fellowship of Catholic Men (http://www.catholicmensresources.org/), and currently the Director of Partner Relations for Partners in Evangelism, (http://www2.wau.org/partners/), a Ministry of The Word Among Us to the Military and Prisoners. Maurice can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)