Why it is so essential that we learn to GRASP the love of God


embraceOne of the most beautiful prayers in the whole Bible can be found in Ephesians 3.14-21:

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every 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 Lord’s people, 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. 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.

In the last post I shared that this is not just how the Apostle Paul prayed for the believers in 1st century Ephesus – I think this is exactly how he would pray for you and I today as well. He longed for every person to know and experience the love of God. He desired that every person would filled to the measure of the all the fullness of God.

The other thing I love about this prayer is that it is almost exclusively about what God does for us.

Here’s why I think that’s so important. Most of us get turned upside down when it comes to prayer. We see it as a chore, or as a mandatory religious duty, or as a strict regiment that we have to stick to in hopes of getting God to bless us.

The problem is that the minute we see prayer as any of those things we have already begun to lose capacity for a powerful interaction with God. Its so easy to place the primary amount focus on myself in prayer – what I am supposed to do, how I am supposed to say it, etc. But the power vanishes when I become the center of the experience.

That is one of the reasons I love this prayer so much. Paul provides such a needed reminder that prayer is not primarily about what I am supposed to do – it is about us connecting to what God is already doing. Prayer is about connecting to God’s love, and God’s heart, and God’s character. Prayer is about getting in sync with God’s will and God’s direction.

In this famous and important prayer, the overwhelming emphasis is on who God is and what God wants to do when we come into his presence. Only one thing is asked of us, though even that is qualified by this first reality. Here is the one thing Paul prays that we would do as we step into the presence of God:

“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…” (v17-18)

Before getting to the part we do, Paul again reminds us of the identity of God, and what God’s role is in prayer. Paul prays that we would be rooted and established in love. I have meditated on both of these lately, and reflected on what those two images say about God:

Rooted – This reminds me that when it comes to prayer, God is the Master Gardener and I am the flower. A flower can’t do much to make itself come alive and bloom and become beautiful – it is nearly 100% dependent on outside forces. We are not the ones who create and cultivate the environment in which we meet God in an intimate way. God is the one who does that. God is the Gardener, and God is the one who roots us in the soil that brings us to life. Without God rooting us in the love of Christ, we are never going to go anywhere in prayer.

Established – I have been thinking of this word in architectural terms, which helps bring a slightly different nuance to that of the Master Gardener. If we are too truly know the love of Christ, as Paul prays we will, then the Master Architect has to place us and establish us properly. Maybe that points to knowing that we are truly children of God, and that we belong in God’s home. Maybe that points to knowing that we are truly heirs of the King, and that we belong in God’s royal palace. But whatever it means, it points to something powerful. God doesn’t expect us to find our way into that love – God is the one who orchestrates the conditions.

So if that’s all true, then what is it that we are supposed to do?

That’s where this unusual word “grasp” comes into play. Look at the verse again:

“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…” (v17-18)

That word speaks for itself even in English. But when I studied commentaries on this passage, I discovered that original Greek word was quite unusual. The Greek word is katalambanō, and it is a surprising choice for a passage on prayer. In common usage the word had an almost violent ring to it – this was the word that was typically used if you wrestled someone to the ground or sacked a city.

Trying to make sense of how it could be understood here, one Bible dictionary proposed three potential definitions:

  1. To lay hold of so as to make one’s own
  2. To seize; take possession of
  3. To detect or catch

I love all three of those descriptions, and I have used them regularly in my own devotional life recently. Paul’s prayer is that God would do what God does, and that in response we would grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.

He’s obviously trying to make a significant point here. It’s as if he’s saying that God’s power is already available to us, but we don’t know how to fully tap into it. That God’s strength is already undergirding us, but we don’t know how to safely rest in it.  That God’s love is already right there, but that we don’t always know how to grab onto it.

So what I’ve been doing is simply repeating a personalized version of that prayer:

“God I pray that you would root and establish me in you love… that I 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 then, just to get to the essence of what are being invited to, I pray it over and over again swapping out “grasp” with the variety of synonyms that this Bible dictionary provides.

I pray that I can lay hold of the love of Christ as if to make it my own

I pray that I will be able to seize the love of Christ, and to take possession of it.

I pray that I will detect the love of Christ – that I will have the ability to see the unseen, and to internalize that which is not always natural for me to effectively grab onto.

This has been a powerful truth, and a powerful practice for me. I hope it helps you as well – that together we can grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.

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