Paul normally includes an extensive prayers at the beginning of his letters. These prayers normally include some combination of the concepts: love, faith and hope along with some form of a challenge to growth resulting in effectiveness. As you read through the Pauline epistles you quickly see that these prayers (they often accompanying thanksgiving sections) are not just habit but very thoughtful. What he gives thanks for and what he prays are specific to the situation he is writing to.
One of the anomalies in the pattern of prayer is Ephesians. Not only do most scholars believe that Ephesians was a circular letter, not just intended for the church in Ephesus but the surrounding area. But this letter includes two length prayers.
The second prayer, is what I call Paul’s impossible prayer. Â And it has challenged (exhorted) the kinds of prayers I raise to God.
Before reading this passage, ask yourself, “If I could list all I prayed for this past week–what would it reveal about what I value most?”
Paul’s prayer, a response to (“therefore”) what he has told his audience about their salvation, leads to a profound Trinitarian prayer for the strength of the Spirit (Ephesians 3:16), the indwelling of Christ (Ephesians 3:17) and the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19).
But it is not just a theological statement, it become a daily challenge when we realize the breath of the prayer.
Ephesians 3:16-17a that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant you, to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–(ESV)
Paul’s prayer begins with a request that God–according to the riches of His glory… and the strength of His power… Â This is a big prayer. Â That the God of all glory, the Creator Sustainer Owner of all, would through His mighty power and unlimited resources strengthen us. Â How much can He strengthen us?–completely. Is there anything His empowering can’t sustain us through?–no.
But this is not just a statement of a fact about God–He is all-powerful. Â As wonderful as that truth is, Paul takes this core nature of God and asks God to apply it personally. Â His prayer is not that God would be all-powerful, He is. Â His prayer is that the All-powerful will apply that power personally andÂ intimately–in our inner being.
The big prayer continues,
Ephesians 3:17b-19a that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, (ESV)
Paul wants the strengthening to have a specific focus–toÂ comprehend, to understand, to know the whole vastness (breath, length, height, depth) of Christ’s love. Â Part of what makes this an impossible prayer is that Paul prays that we would know the whole vastness of Christ’s love which “surpasses knowledge.” Â He wants us to know something that goes beyond our knowledge and understanding. Â But is not contrary to knowledge or dismisses knowledge.
Paul’s prayer is that we would have an experiential knowledge, a personal experiential intimate understanding of how much Christ loves us! Â Not just a realization of the fact of Christ’s love, but to fully personally, intimately appreciate the complete nature of Christ’s self-giving love.
All consuming result
The result of this prayer is that
Ephesians 3:19b that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (ESV)
Again, the impossible prayer, ends with another big request–that we finite creatures be fill with the fullness of the infinite God.
The prayer is that as we are strengthened by the All-power personally and as we become intimatelyÂ acquaintedÂ with the comprehensive love of Christ that we might be totallyÂ consumed by the the infinite God.
Impossible or the picture of spiritual maturity?
This passage first challenges me to want a great connection, understanding and a more intimate relationship with God.
Second, the passage challenges my puny, small, weak, selfish, self-focus, concrete time-bound prayers. Â Not that we should not prayer for those things, but the vast majority of prayers I pray and I hear prayed are so small compared to Paul’s prayer.
This has made me realize
1. That we pray to the size of our God and faith.
2. God does not fit the limitations of our expectations.
May we learn to pray in a way that honors the majesty,Â magnitudeÂ and the intimate personal nature of God.
(You can listen to a devotional discussion of this impossible prayer here.)