Conclusion: Having A Grace-Filled Heart

Conclusion: Having A Grace-Filled Heart

You're reading EPHESIANS: LESSONS IN GRACE, by Eric Elder, featuring twenty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most grace-filled books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading EPHESIANS: LESSONS IN GRACE, by Eric Elder, featuring twenty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most grace-filled books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 6:24 

As I was writing these messages about grace, someone asked me if I had any ideas for how they could have a more grace-filled heart―a heart that would help them to appreciate others more instead of complaining, to forgive instead of holding grudges, and to love instead of being angry.

Here’s a summary of what I shared in response, taken from things I’ve learned from the book of Ephesians and other places in the Bible.  I thought you might like to read them, too, as a summary of our study together:

1) Practice continual forgiveness.  Forgiveness is the heart of the gospel, as Jesus forgave us even while we were still sinning against Him. It’s the heart of showing grace towards others as well.  As Paul said, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). By choosing to forgive others, as God has forgiven you, you’ll be well on your way towards having a grace-filled heart.

2) Fill your mind with the things of God.  Paul wrote to the Philippians: “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable―if anything is excellent or praiseworthy―think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).  By reading God’s Word daily, memorizing verses of scripture, and meditating on what you’re reading,you’ll find that God will begin to fill your mind with His thoughts, His ideas and His point of view on whatever you’re facing.  Keep filling your heart and mind with the things of God as much as possible, every day, several times throughout the day. This will pay off with huge dividends for you and for those around you, both in the short-term and in the long-term.

3) Keep asking yourself, “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD). This is a simple, but helpful reminder to try to think and act and speak as Jesus would.  It’s not just an intellectual exercise. It’s a practical way to accomplish God’s work here on the earth.  When Jesus went back to heaven, He sent His Holy Spirit to live inside us so that we could be His body―His hands, His feet, His eyes and ears and voice to those around us.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).  As a believer in Christ, God wants to work through you as if Jesus Himself were doing the work―because He is!

4) Pray at all times.  As Paul said to the Ephesians: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18).  By praying throughout the day, seeking His will and listening for His voice, you’ll be able to stay focused on what God wants at all times. It’s like walking through the day with a friend―and even better―because Jesus is a friend who knows everything!  So as you walk or sit or talk or think, keep on praying and talking to God at all times.  It’ll be both a joy to you and a practical help to those around you.

5) “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).  This practical reminder from James will help you you to spiritually “count to 10” before responding to others.  While it doesn’t say you can’t get angry, or you can’t ever say anything with which others might disagree, it does say to wait to speak until after you have listened carefully―meaning “with care” and “fully.”  When you do this, your words will simply come out better, expressing more love and grace, even when speaking things that may be hard to hear.

While having a grace-filled heart can take a lifetime, the Bible is full of practical steps that you can take right now to have an impact right away.  That’s the beauty of God’s Word!  It starts working as soon as you apply it to your life, and it keeps on working to the end.  Put it into practice today, and may God fill you with His grace as you do.

As Paul said in his closing line to the Ephesians:

“Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love” (Ephesians 6:24). 

Prayer: Father, thank You for this study of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Thank You for the wisdom that You poured into him, and thank You for preserving that wisdom in this letter so that we can learn from it even 2,000 years later.  Continue to give us a desire to learn all we can from Your Word, so that we can fill our hearts with Your grace, and then share it with others.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Lesson 18: How Gracious Is Gracious Enough?

Lesson 18: How Gracious Is Gracious Enough?

You're reading EPHESIANS: LESSONS IN GRACE, by Eric Elder, featuring twenty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most grace-filled books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading EPHESIANS: LESSONS IN GRACE, by Eric Elder, featuring twenty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most grace-filled books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 6:23-24 

As we come to the closing words of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I’d like to touch on the idea of just how  gracious we have to be in order to be “gracious enough.”  Just how much grace has God shown to us?  And how much grace does He want us to show to others?

One of my favorite quotes on this topic goes like this:

“Sometimes you have to be overly gracious in order to be gracious enough.”

When I think of that quote, I think of a woman named Jean.  Jean is a business woman from England whom we met on a missions trip a few years ago.  She helped us out shortly after that trip by coming to a retreat center we’re renovating here in Illinois called Clover Ranch.  She came to help us with some interior decorating.

But when she arrived, it became clear that the house needed much more than a coat of paint and some pretty pictures.  While she was taking a bath one day, the pipes burst in the upstairs bathroom, pouring water down into the kitchen below.  While replacing those pipes, it became clear that the wiring had to be redone as well.  We ended up gutting both the bathroom and the kitchen entirely, starting again from scratch.  Then the rain came and we realized that water was coming in around many of the old windows and they would have to be replaced before we could even think about any interior decorating.  The house was a mess and she hadn’t even gotten to start on what she initially came to do.

In spite of all of this, Jean was a trooper.  We invited her to stay in our own home during all of this, but like the loyal captain of a ship, she wanted to stay with her vessel.  She continued to live at Clover Ranch, without a functional kitchen or bathroom, except for a sink and a shower stall in the basement, and accompanied by a host of crickets and spiders and other creatures that seemed to thrive in the chaos of the reconstruction.

Through it all, Jean was not just gracious.  She was overly gracious.  She talked about how thankful she was to be out in the country, to have time to think and pray, and to be part of helping us out with this project.

While Lana and I felt bad that she had to live in such an inhospitable situation, Jean’s grace helped ease our burden.  She expressed over and over that she truly wanted to help us out.  The only reason we could even possibly believe her was that she was consistently overly gracious.  If she had just said, “It’s OK, don’t worry about it,” that would have been gracious.  But we would have still felt miserable for what was happening.  Yet because of her overflowing graciousness,  we were finally able to believe that she was sincere in her thankfulness and solid in her belief that God had placed her right where He wanted her to be for that season of her life.

Through her words and actions, Jean taught us the value of being overly gracious.  Just saying a kind word or two doesn’t always get the message across.  Sometimes we need to be overly gracious, as God has been with us, in order for others to truly believe that we’re sincere.

Like the Apostle Paul, who used the word grace a dozen times in his letter to the Ephesians, and another seventy-five times in his other letters in the New Testament, it may seem like we would never be able to talk about grace enough, to demonstrate it enough, to live it enough, or to truly express it enough so that others would be able to believe it and receive it.

But if we keep trying, if we keep sharing, if we keep expressing God’s grace to others as if God Himself was expressing His grace through us, then perhaps others would begin to believe us. Just maybe they’d begin to realize how much we love them, and how much God loves them.  Just maybe, by being “overly gracious,” we’d finally be able to be “gracious enough.”

Prayer: Father, thank You for being overly gracious with me.  Thank You for expressing Your grace to me in a way that I could believe it and receive it.  Now, Lord, help me to do the same in sharing Your grace with others.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Lesson 17: Grace Is “Others-Focused”

Lesson 17: Grace Is “Others-Focused”

You're reading EPHESIANS: LESSONS IN GRACE, by Eric Elder, featuring twenty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most grace-filled books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading EPHESIANS: LESSONS IN GRACE, by Eric Elder, featuring twenty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most grace-filled books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 6:19-22

I’m sitting today with one of the most gracious women I know.  It’s not my wife, although she’s quite gracious. And it’s not anyone particularly famous, except to her family and to those of us who know her well.

Her name is Mary Lou Schrock, and she was a lifetime friend of my Dad’s until he passed away earlier this year.  She stepped back into his life about nineteen years ago, filling a void that was left after my mom passed away.  Mary Lou has been like a second mother to me, coming to our kids’ birthday parties, spending countless hours with my Dad during days of sickness and health, and spending Christmas mornings with our family year after year.

She’s invested her life in taking care of others.  But in recent years, she’s had to let others take care of her. If she had a choice, I’m sure she’d gladly switch roles.  That’s just the kind of woman she is.  And that’s one of the things that makes her so gracious as well.  Whether she was baking a meal for someone, or helping out at the nursing home, or writing a card to send to someone who needed a lift, she was always thinking of others.

In a way, she was very much like the Apostle Paul, who displayed a similar quality of graciousness.  From the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians until the very end, he was always “others-focused.”  I can’t imagine it was easy, though.

As a prisoner in Rome, I’m sure he could have written thousands of words talking about himself, complaining of the false accusations made against him, the unjust beatings he’d had to endure, or the hardships of life as a prisoner in the first century A.D.  But instead, he wrote thousands of words talking about them, focusing on their lives, their trials, and their relationships with God.

The only time he asked for anything for himself was at the very end of his letter.  And even then, his only request was for them to pray that he would be able to fearlessly proclaim the message of Christ to others, the very thing that landed him in prison in the first place.  He wrote:

“Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19-20). 

Paul was already on trial for proclaiming the good news about Jesus Christ, and he was awaiting a very likely death sentence for it.  Yet he called on the Ephesians to pray that God would help him to keep proclaiming the message of Christ without fear.  To the end, Even when asking for prayer for himself, Paul remained steadfastly committed to others. And God wants us to remain “others-focused” as well.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about yourself, your problems and your needs.  But it does mean that you should be thoughtful about when and how you share those needs.  You don’t want to be like the woman who said:  “Enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?”

As “others-focused” as he was, Paul knew that it was also important to let others know how he was doing, too.  So at the end of his letter, he wrote:

“Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing.  I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you” (Ephesians 6:21-22). 

Paul didn’t ignore himself and his needs completely.  But he was gracious enough to know there was an appropriate time and place to share those needs.  And God wants us to do the same.

God wants us to be people who are “others-focused” to the core, people who regularly spend time thinking about the needs of others and how to meet those needs.  He wants us to be people like Mary Lou, people who invest their lives in ways that will bless those around us.

Prayer: Father, thank You for helping me see that grace is “others-focused.” I pray that You would help me to be so focused on others that my life and my problems will fade in comparison.  Help me to be filled with Your grace to such an extent that I would gladly pour it out on others, regardless of the cost to me personally.  Let me be a good ambassador for You, and a good messenger of Your grace to those around me.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Lesson 16: Overcome Your Enemies With Grace

Lesson 16: Overcome Your Enemies With Grace

You're reading EPHESIANS: LESSONS IN GRACE, by Eric Elder, featuring twenty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most grace-filled books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading EPHESIANS: LESSONS IN GRACE, by Eric Elder, featuring twenty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most grace-filled books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 6:10-18

One of the best ways to overcome your enemies is to make them your friends.

I made a friend like this back in college.  When we were taking an English Literature class together, it seemed like we were always at odds.  I was always defending King Arthur as the hero of the books, and she was always defending Queen Guinevere.  In class, it seemed like we’d never agree on anything.

But one day we both showed up for tryouts at a college musical.  We realized we had more in common than we thought, and both of us softened up in our approach.  That softening had such an effect on our friendship, that a few years after college was over, she even agreed to sing at my wedding.

There are times when God calls you to overcome your enemies by destroying them so completely that they no longer have an effect on your life.  But there are other times when God calls you to overcome your enemies by winning them over with your love, realizing that the battle may not be against them, but against spiritual forces that may be turning them against you.

The Apostle Paul talks about these battles in his letter to the Ephesians, and the kinds of weapons that God gave them to fight these battles.  You might call these “weapons of grace,” weapons that can turn your enemies into your friends!

Listen to these words as Paul describes this spiritual “armor of God.”

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:10-18). 

The next time someone comes against you, speaks against you, or tries to overpower you, go ahead and put on your battle gear.  But instead of gearing up with all your usual defenses, try some of God’s.  To paraphrase the Apostle Paul:

Be truthful.  Be righteous.  Be eager to share the gospel of peace.  Keep up your faith.  Keep in mind that Jesus has already saved you.  Speak the truth in love.  And keep on praying, continually.

These are God’s weapons of grace, weapons that you can use to defend yourselves, and disarm your opponents, oftentimes with a greater impact than physical weapons could have.

It was through Jesus’ love and grace that He turned you from being His enemy to being His friend (see Romans 5:10 and John 15:15).  So it shouldn’t be surprising that God wants you to use these same weapons to overcome your enemies, making them your friends as well.  It may not happen overnight, but over time you may just find their hearts softening towards you, as the real enemy, the power of darkness, has to flee when the light turns on.

Remember that your battle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces in the heavenly realm.  In a spiritual battle, you need spiritual armor, which is much softer and more gracious than physical armor, but in the end, is much stronger and more powerful.

Put on your spiritual armor today.  Clothe yourself with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, God’s Word and prayer.  Let God’s love flow through you to those around you and watch what happens.

Prayer: Father, thank You for reminding me that the battles I face aren’t always against an enemy I can see, but against spiritual forces in the heavenly realm.  Help me to put on my spiritual armor of love and grace today so that I can overcome those who are against me―and even make them my friends.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Lesson 15: Submit To One Another ~ Part 3

Lesson 15: Submit To One Another ~ Part 3

You're reading EPHESIANS: LESSONS IN GRACE, by Eric Elder, featuring twenty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most grace-filled books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading EPHESIANS: LESSONS IN GRACE, by Eric Elder, featuring twenty inspiring devotionals based on one of the most grace-filled books in the Bible. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 6:5-9

When Paul encouraged the Ephesians to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21), he gave them three practical examples for how to do this:  one for husbands and wives, one for parent and children, and one for masters and slaves.

While the terms “masters” and “slaves” may not apply to many people today, the terms “employers” and “employees” certainly do.  And Paul’s words to the Ephesians are just as fitting for these types of working relationships, too.  Listen to Paul’s words, and see how they might apply to you today:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.  Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.  Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. 

“And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him” (Ephesians 6:5-9). 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a fair share of bosses in my lifetime.  Some of which I had great respect for, and others of which I had very little respect for.  But as I look at Paul’s words, he never said anything about whether or not a master was worthy of respect, but that we were to treat them with respect, obeying them just as we would obey Christ.

I know from experience just how hard that can be.  But I also know from experience just how beneficial that can be, often doing more for my working relationships than I could have imagined.

In one instance, I had a boss who didn’t like me from day one―and he let me know it.  He had heard I was some kind of go-getter and he wasn’t about to let me go anywhere. Things went from bad to worse.

One day he asked me to do yet one more thing that I felt was about to push me over the edge. It wasn’t immoral or unethical―he simply asked me to fill out a survey that the company had distributed, asking employees to fill it out voluntarily and anonymously.  But since I was out of town when the survey was distributed, he sent me a copy and told me I had to fill mine out and fax it back to him by the following day.

I took issue with his request, since it was supposed to be voluntary and anonymous.  By mandating that I fill it out, and then fax it back with my phone number right there on the fax, it would violate both of those conditions.

But after making my case, he still held onto his position, and I held onto mine.  Late that night, Paul’s words to the Ephesians came back to me, to “obey your earthly masters with respect and fear…just as you would obey Christ.”  Even though I disagreed with his approach, I filled out the survey and faxed it back to him so it would be on his desk in the morning.

Our whole relationship turned around that day.  My boss became my biggest champion from that day forward and for the rest of my career at that company.  It was a lesson that proved once more than God’s words spoken through Paul were true, that God really will “reward everyone for whatever good he does.”   And it was a lesson that helped me when I later became an employer myself―and a husband and a father.

Submitting to one another really does work!  It demonstrates a graciousness on your part, and can make your relationships flow better all around―whether they’re between husbands and wives, parents and children, or “masters and slaves.”  Don’t miss out on the reward God has for you!  Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ!

Prayer: Father, thanks for the reminder to submit to to those with whom I work, whether I work for them or they work for me.  Help me to be gracious in my relationships with each person in the workplace, so that Your blessings would flow to us and through us.  Help me in all my relationships to submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.