I am preaching through the book of Ephesians at River City, and I was really moved by the the prayer of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3.14-21. Here he is praying for the Christ-followers in Ephesus, and it is filled with beautiful and moving imagery.
I’ve read a lot of books on prayer over the years, and I’ve discovered that this particular prayer has been a favorite throughout the centuries. Many fervent students have found this to be as moving of a prayer as anything in the Bible, and it is easy for me to see why.
As I reflected on this prayer over the past few weeks, I found myself imagining that the Apostle Paul was not just praying for believers in 1st century Ephesus, but that he was also praying for believers today. I imagined him praying for the body of believers that I am part of. I imagined him praying for me.
As I meditated on the prayer through that lens, it brought a new sense of meaning to the heart of the prayer:
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3.16-19)
Both the beginning and the end of this prayer are moving.
First, I love how it is that Paul describes the posture of God in prayer. So many of us get tripped up with prayer because of our own insecurities. We don’t know what to say, or how often to pray, or what to expect when we do. We don’t know if we are holy enough or righteous enough or theologically educated enough, and we falter. We don’t feel like we do it enough, so we feel guilty.
To get tripped up on these insecurities is to completely miss how the Bible describes prayer. The atmosphere of prayer is not created by our smooth words or eloquent prayers. It is not created by us at all. God is the one reaching out to us, and prayer is the means by which we step into that moment with God.
When Paul prays for us (at least that is how I am meditating on it right now), he is not praying that we would push the magic button to get God’s attention. Instead, he describes God. It is the God of “glorious riches” who moves towards us. And the contact is not superficial or formal. Instead, it is a God who cuts the very essence of who we are – to our “inner being.” God’s Spirit touches our spirit, and in doing so God desires to strengthen us and empower us.
I could go on and on about that – and indeed I have in my own journal entries on this. The shorthand summary is this – maybe prayer is not so much about how we approach God, but how God approaches us. Maybe prayer is less about what we say, and more about receiving what God is trying to say to us.
Maybe prayer is more about seeing what we have trouble seeing without the empowering touch of God. Maybe prayer is about the deepest parts of our inner being experiencing the renewing power of God.
And as wonderful as that all is, it still doesn’t get to what the coolest phrase of this whole prayer is. Paul finishes this part of the prayer by asking that we might be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
I am so aware of my finiteness, of my limits, of my frailty. The fact that God accepts me is already amazing, but when I read a phrase like this I can hardly wrap my mind around it. How is is that an infinite, glorious, majestic God can fill me, and fill us to the measure of all of the fullness of God?
And what does that even mean? What does it look like to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God?
I’m not sure I could even begin to answer that question, and I’m not even sure the Apostle Paul could. But because he loved words, he threw a whole bunch of them out during this prayer to give us a sense of what the fullness of God looks like as it fills us up.
Strength through his Spirit
Power in our inner being
Rooted in the love of Christ
Established in the love of Christ
Knowledge of the love of Christ
For too many of us prayer is a chore, not a joy. But when we see a vision like this – to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God – how could that possibly be a chore? How could we not long for that? We all desire to experience power, strength, vitality and love.
And maybe that’s the point of this prayer. Maybe the Apostle Paul wanted to rewire how we think of prayer. Maybe he wanted to shift the focus away from the preoccupation with what we are supposed to do, and instead place the focus on who God is and how God moves toward us.
If the Apostle Paul was alive today, and if he was able to pray directly for you, this is what I think he would pray for.
He would pray that the God of glorious riches would strengthen you with power. That his Spirit would touch the deepest parts of your inner being. That God would root and establish you in love. And that you would be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.