I wonder what God thinks of our prayers. We tell Him that we “pray for so-and-so” but we don’t actually ask for anything. We ask God to “bless someone” even though God blesses us every day with life, provision and guidance. We ask God to “be with” people even though God in His omnipresence is always with us. We struggle to find the right words for prayer.
Fortunately, God understands our hearts even when our words don’t always make a lot of sense. We are comforted by the fact that the Holy Spirit prays for us in groans too deep for words.
This morning, however, we look at one of the most majestic and most quoted prayers in the Bible. We find this prayer at the end of Ephesians chapter 3. In this prayer Paul eloquently and specifically prays for you and me.
Paul tells us that he kneels before the Father. In our mind this is a common posture for prayer. However, Jews tended to stand as they prayed (think about images you’ve seen at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem). Consequently, to kneel in prayer was a sign of unusual passion or intensity.
In the Greek text the word “that” is found three times. (It is used more often in English as a help in translating). The three uses of the Greek word “hina” I believe reveal three specific requests of Paul.
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
That we Know the Inner Strength of God’s Spirit
This strength that Paul asks for us is not a strength that we “muster up”. It is a strength that comes from the power of God’s Spirit. And the purpose of this power is not so we can have “a happy life” but to make it possible for “Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith”. Perhaps this raises a question: Doesn’t Christ already dwell in the heart of every believer by faith? Isn’t that what happens when we become a child of God?
In chapter 1 we were taught that we are given the Holy Spirit that serves as a deposit which “guarantees our inheritance”. So, yes, in one sense, Christ already dwells in our heart by faith. But Paul is asking for something more.
The heart was thought of as the center of thought and emotions. Think of it like Paul praying that the Holy Spirit will work so powerfully in our life that Christ takes up residence in the control center of our lives.
Think about it. The word “dwell” can mean different things. Suppose someone told you that a friend was “staying with them at their home”. That could mean several different things.
- They may be staying with them for the day
- They may spend the night
- They might vacation there for a week
- They might stay for a longer time as they navigate through some kind of crisis
- Or they might move their furniture in, share the costs of the home, and call your home their home
The word that Paul uses here is more like the last word. He pray that the Lord will “settle in” and get comfortable in your life.
Robert Boyd Munger wrote a classic little book called “My Heart, Christ’s Home”. It is a great little book imagines our “heart” as a home. Christ enters the home and room by room seeks to have that room surrendered to Him (for example the study stands for the place where the imaginations and thoughts of the mind reside; the dining room is the place of our appetites and desires . . . ). This examination of the Heart extends even to the closet that is kept under lock and key (that part of us that we don’t want to surrender or have anyone see). The little booklet is a parable about what it means to let Christ become more and more fully the Lord of our lives.
This is what Paul is after. He prays that Christ might become more than a “part” of our lives. He asks that we might give Him control of every element of our lives. Paul knows firsthand that our joy increases in proportion to the parts of our lives that we surrender.
That Our Life Would Be Anchored in Love and Discover the True Greatness of God’s Love.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.
Paul intentionally mixes his metaphors here. He uses the metaphor of a tree to ask that we be “rooted” in love. Then he changes the metaphor to construction when he says we should be “established in love”. This word refers to a foundation of a home. Paul uses these two images to emphasize that he is praying that the love of God would become the core of our strength, the foundation of our lives, and the most accurate expression of who we are.
In 1 Corinthians 13 we are given a description of the kind of love that should govern our lives. In Galatians 5:22 we are told about the fruit (or evidence) or the Spirit in our lives. Christian character is described like this, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
The late Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse suggested that love was listed first because it was the foundational expression of God’s touch in our life. He wrote,
“Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Long-suffering is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Goodness is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins.”
Paul prays that we might be governed by love in order that we will begin “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge”
There are some things you cannot understand until you have experienced it yourself.
- You can’t understand what it is like to have a child until you have one
- You can’t understand what it is like to be married until you have been married
- You can’t understand what it is like to lose someone close to you until you have suffered a great loss.
- You can’t understand the discomfort of surgery or other treatments until you have had surgery or one of those treatments.
Paul prays that we would learn to live in Christ’s love because as we do this we will be able to better understand the depth of that love. John Stott wrote,
the love of Christ is ‘broad’ enough to encompass all mankind . . ‘long’ enough to last for eternity, ‘deep’ enough to reach the most degraded sinner, and ‘high’ enough to exalt him to heaven.
Obviously, if this love “surpasses knowledge” we will never fully grasp the full extent of God’s love. We can probe the depths of God’s love for our entire life and never fully comprehend its greatness. That is the point.
As we act in love we begin to get a taste of the love that God has for us. James Boice tells a great story,
In the last century, when Napoleon’s armies opened a prison that had been used by the Spanish Inquisition they found the remains of a prisoner who had been incarcerated for his faith. The dungeon was underground. The body had long since decayed. Only a chain fastened around an anklebone cried out his confinement. But this prisoner, long since dead, had left a witness. On the wall of his small, dismal cell this faithful soldier of Christ had scratched a rough cross with four words surrounding it in Spanish. Above the cross was the Spanish word for “height.” Below it was the word for “depth.” To the left the word “width.” To the right, the word “length.” Clearly this prisoner wanted to testify to the surpassing greatness of the love of Christ, perceived even in his suffering.
Paul prays that we might come to understand how greatly we are loved and that this love that we have been given would spill over in our relationships with each other. As much as you love your children, that is nothing compared to how much God loves you.
That We Be Filled with the Fullness of God
The last request is that we may be filled with the fullness of God. What a great prayer for our lives! Wilbur Reese wrote a thought provoking little piece,
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
— Wilbur Rees
Doesn’t this describe the way we often relate to God? We want just enough of God so that we are protected, happy, and guaranteed Heaven when we die. We don’t want so much of God that it changes the way we live or alters our priorities. We want to keep God under control.
Think about someone who owns a car who never puts more gas in his car than he thinks he will need to get to his next destination. How foolish. Such a practice puts limits on what you can do, opportunities you can take advantage of, and things you can enjoy. It fails to take into account the unexpected like getting stuck in a construction zone or being parked on a highway because of an accident. It doesn’t anticipate bad weather, or a detour? It is short-sighted.
Paul is praying that fill our lives with God’s Spirit rather than trying to get just enough of Him to get through the crisis. Rather than using a thimble to bring the power of God’s Spirit into our lives He invites us to use a fire hose!
We should be passionate to know God! We should be eager to follow His counsel. We must be willing to make time for Him in our schedules. We need to learn to trust His way over our desires and even our instincts. We need to keep working at learning how to love those whom God has brought into our lives. We have to really want a deep and abiding relationship with God. We must want it enough to make changes in our lives.
The prayer concludes with one of my all-time favorite benedictions.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Paul points out several truths: First, he reminds us that God is able to DO. God is not an abstract principle. He is not some theological construct or great “idea”. God is real. He is powerful. He is alive and active. He created us and wants to lead and direct us. He is able to DO.
We must remember that being a follower of Christ is not the same thing as having a positive mental attitude. Following Christ is about a relationship with One who can and will change our lives and our circumstances.
Second, He is able to do more than we ask. Our problem is not that we ask for too much . . . the problem is we ask for too little. We are often like a person who is starving and asks our billionaire father for 50 cents so we can buy a can of soup to keep us warm as we sleep in our box under the overpass!
The idea here is not that we should be selfish or indulgent. God will not feed our greed. He loves us too much to give us what will ultimately destroy us. However, we must remember that God can,
- Heal diseases
- Restore marriages
- Break addictions
- Equip us for great works
- Overcome the bitterness and hurt that has us in chains
- And penetrate even the hardest heart
Paul says one more thing . . . He is able to do even more than we can imagine. Let this sink in! This means that when we imagine God making great changes or turning around lives that are desperately lost; When we imagine God making sick people well, and revitalizing a stale marriage. When we imagine God bringing a revival in our land in and into even our own hearts . . . We are still thinking too small!
Paul says God can do immeasurably more. He actually creates a word here. It is a word that is a super-superlative. It would be like us saying someone is a gazillionare! It is a made up word that means someone has more money than we can conceive.
Here is the application question: In light of what we have read here, is God able to meet the biggest need in your life right now? Of course He can. He is able to meet that need and so much more.
Admittedly, God doesn’t always do what we expect. But that is not because God is unable to do what we ask. When God does not do what we want it is either because: 1) we have asked with the wrong motive (selfishly) 2) because the timing is wrong. 3) Or because in His wisdom (which is also immeasurably greater than our wisdom) He is doing something even better. In other words, we are asking for the wrong thing. God loves us enough to protect us from limited perspective!
The take home point is this: Dare to trust Him. Dare to let Him control your life. It’s risky, it’s scary, and it’s more wonderful than we can imagine.
God reaches out to us with such grace so that we might be led to glorify, love, trust and serve Him. He meets our needs so we will understand the depth of His love and enthusiastically point others to Jesus even as we fervently seek to honor Him with our lives.
As I reflect on these words I am convicted of two things: First, I am convicted by how far short I fall of what Paul has prayed for me. I am a long way from giving Christ the key to every room of my life. There are many locked doors. I continue to serve Him, not with abandon but with reservation. I may have moved past merely wanting $3.00 worth of God, but I am still not giving Him the keys or allowing Him to fill my life full. I am resistant, and maybe even a little afraid, of what God might ask from me. When I say it out loud is sounds so foolish, doesn’t it?
Heove us. He wants us to be the people He created us to be. There is no one who has more of my best interest in mind than He does. Even I don’t always have my best interest in mind . . .most of the time it is only my current interest or indulgence that I see. As I read these words I see that I have further to go and I have incentive to get there.
Second, I am convicted of how desperately I need to pray this prayer for my life . . . and for yours. Of all the things we want for our lives, none come close to meeting our deepest needs as this prayer. We don’t need more stuff . . . we don’t need a different relationship . . . we don’t need better circumstances. We need more of His presence in our lives. When we have Him . . . nothing else matters.
Paul’s prayer is wonderful. He prayed specifically and insightfully. And so, rather than stumble through our prayers not know what to say, we would be wise, if you and I want to see God truly at work in our lives, to make this prayer our own.