When you pray, what do you tend to ask God for most often – either for yourself or for others? Perhaps it’s for some material provision, or for healing from sickness, for a new job or a promotion at work, for a marriage partner, for your children to have success in their exams, for God’s blessing over a holiday, or for his protection during travels.
These are all worthy things to pray about, of course. But it seems that much Christian prayer is focused on me and my little world, driven mainly by a desire for personal comfort, material well-being, or worldly success.
By contrast, the Apostle Paul’s prayers are marked out by being invariably other-person centred and driven by gospel priorities. True, he does also write “Pray also for me” (Ephesians 6:19) or “Pray for us, too” (Colossians 4:3), but even then his prayer requests are shaped by the gospel. So he asks people to pray for God to open a door for his preaching and for him to be given boldness and clarity in all his speaking.
Praying for power
The vast majority of Paul’s reported prayers, however, are for other believers, such as this one for Christians in Ephesus:
“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy 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 3:17-19)
Ever prayed like that for someone? Notice that in this section of his reported prayer (which begins at verse 14), Paul has one basic petition. He asks that the Ephesians “may have power.” I imagine most of us pray at times for God to move in power – to heal, to intervene in a global conflict, to direct those in authority to act justly and love mercy, to convict unbelievers, to bring relief to a city or a nation struck by disaster. Here, though, Paul, wants these Christians to have power themselves. But power for what?
Power to grasp truth
Paul wants the Ephesians, and indeed “all the Lord’s holy people” to grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ …” And in order for us to really get a hold of this truth, the Apostle knows that Christians need to “have power.” We may think that if a believer has power, this will be evident in dramatic, spectacular ways. But often God’s power manifests itself in much less obvious ways. Ways that are, nevertheless, no less supernatural, awe-inspiring and worthy of our praise and thanksgiving.
We certainly need power if we’re even to begin to comprehend the infinite, eternal dimensions of Christ’s love. The immeasurable width, length, height and depth of his love – demonstrated supremely through his sacrificial death on the cross – is a spiritual truth that can only be discerned by those who have the all-powerful Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). And without the power of the Spirit teaching and reassuring us, we’re sure to doubt his love, particularly when our faith is tested through suffering, persecution or any kind of trial.
Power to know the love of Christ
Paul’s desired outcome from this prayer for power is not that the Ephesians merely gain an intellectual understanding, or a dry cerebral knowledge of the love of Christ. No, he actually wants them “to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (italics mine).
The word translated “know” – ginṓskō – carries with it the sense of knowing particularly through personal experience or first-hand acquaintance. It’s the same word spoken by Mary to the angel in Luke 1:34, after hearing that she is to give birth to a son. “How will this be”, she asks, “since I am a virgin?” (Literally: “since I do not know – ginṓskō – a man”). The point is, Paul wants Christians to actually know the love of Christ for ourselves, personally and intimately, rather than just to know about it and affirm it as a doctrinal truth.
It’s worth asking ourselves, I think, how much do I know the all-surpassing love of Christ experientially as a daily reality? I’m all too aware that my head knowledge is not always matched by my heart knowledge. Yes, I know quite a few truths about Christ’s love, but so often these truths stay in my head and fail to impact my heart, which is the command and control centre of my life. What I need is more power. I need people who will pray for me to have power. And I need to pray for others to have power. Because without power none of us can better know the love of Christ for ourselves.
Power to be filled with all the fullness of God
Paul’s reported prayer shows great vision that brings a strong challenge to my own, often meagre and self-centred, prayer life. But he hasn’t finished yet. He has one further purpose in praying for Christians to have power. And it’s quite astounding.
We need power first so that we can grasp the truth about Christ’s love and secondly so that we can experience his love as a growing reality in our hearts. What, though, is Paul’s ultimate goal in praying this way? Well, he tells us his desire is “that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” So as he prays for power, Paul envisages Christians being completely filled with and dominated by God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We can’t truly comprehend the fullness of God, of course. It’s impossible for a human mind to grasp the full extent of his perfect, divine nature and matchless attributes; his sovereignty, majesty, wisdom, justice, love, mercy, goodness, patience, grace and so on. Well, if it’s hard to understand the fullness of God – how much more difficult to be filled with all his fullness? That, though, is Paul’s desired outcome. That we “have power” to empty ourselves in submission to the Word of God and the Spirit of God, to such an extent that God increasingly takes up residence in our inner beings, with all his fullness.
How different the church could be and how much greater our impact in the world could be, if you and I were to pray with this kind of vision. If we were to regularly ask God that we and our fellow Christians might “have power” to deeply know the love of Christ and to be filled with all the fullness of God. I wonder if perhaps our friends, family, colleagues and neighbours might start to sit up and take notice of Christians like that?