In the short book of Ephesians heaven is mentioned nine times. J.I. Packer says that it is this phrase, which can also be translated in the heavenlies, that sets Ephesians apart from other letters of Paul. He defines what Paul was referring to in this phrase to mean the spiritual environment in which we live. This environment is, first of all, invisible (things that cannot be expected to be seen by vision) and, secondly, transformative (the effect of living out the promises of the Christian life). The Gospel which testified to the truth of God’s Work, Christ’s work and the work of the Holy Spirit is the power for the vitality of the transformation that takes place in our spiritual environment.
Paul describes the reality of the heavenly places and its effect on our spiritual lives in Ephesians 6:12.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Of course this lesson takes on greater significance for me as I have become more aware of the spiritual connection to heavenly places after the death of my beloved husband. I live aware of the spiritual environment more today than ever. As I am open to the wonders of heavenly places exposed in the other eight passages in Ephesians, I must not ignore that there are forces against me when I focus on living out heaven’s plan for my life. The invisible and transforming spiritual environment has a lot of blessings but also contains forces of evil that will exist until that day when Jesus casts Satan out completely.
I wear a prayer rope bracelet that my husband brought me from Mount Athos. I first brought one to him after I discovered them in a bookstore at a Greek Orthodox Monastery in Israel. He found a prettier green one to bring back to me from Greece. The shopkeeper in Israel told me that when the knots are tied there are nine crosses that make each knot. The nine crosses represent the nine angels mentioned in the Bible, including the devil, since when you are working for the kingdom you are working against the devil. When I think of what is going on during my prayers from the perspective of Ephesians, I realize that there are invisible and transformative realities above, below and all around the prayers I pray. My prayer rope bracelet also clues me into a true spiritual reality. When it comes to the heavenly places from the perspective of a Christian, we are well equipped with invisible and transforming presence; and the spiritual environment also has evil forces with which to contend.
The monks tie knots into prayer ropes with differing number of knots to aid in prayer. My bracelet is tied with very thin thread, but there are larger ones that are better for prayer use. You hold the rope; and as you advance each knot, it helps you count how many times you pray the breath prayer, “God, have mercy on me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). This simple prayer, prayed over and over, has huge effects in spiritual lives. As my feeble prayers enter heavenly places, they collide with invisible and transforming forces that work together to carry out God’s will. Of course there is an enemy working against my prayers, deceiving me from considering the blessings of heaven that are present in my living right now on earth.
As I become more aware of the heavenly places, the place that I live and breathe and have my being expands beyond the issues I face in this time and space. I have the resources of heavenly places to help me live in this earthly place in a way that is most pleasing to my Father in heaven.