Ephesians 3:14 – 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.
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, forever and ever! Amen.
If you are like me, you struggle with a particularly pesky problem when it comes to your private prayer life. The problem I’m referring to is A WANDERING MIND. You see, when I pray—if I’m not very careful—my mind drifts.
To show you what I mean, let’s say I start praying for my mother. I begin to intercede on mom’s behalf—praying that she has a good day—praying for her continued health, etc. — but as I pray for her I envision the HOME where she lives—the same home I grew up in. Then I begin to picture the remnants of my late father’s LIBRARY on the second floor of that home…and I think of all the great books I’ve gotten from those shelves since dad died. Then I think of my dad’s Broadman Commentary sets. He has the old one and the new one and I have left them both untouched on his shelves thinking my brother Matt should get them. After all, he’s in ministry too so he should have his fair share of dad’s books. Then I feel a bit guilty because it hits me that I haven’t talked to Matt in a long time. I think, “I really should give Matt a call to see how my nieces are doing out there in Kansas City.” Then I think, “You know, it would be fun to take a trip out that way. We could see that big arch in St. Louis that symbolizes the gateway to the West.” Then I remember the time Sue and I were in the St. Louis airport years ago on the way back from a conference that was held in San Diego. We had a long layover and were going to use it to take the train to see the Gateway Arch but couldn’t because all the National Parks were shut down due to a governmental budget crunch. Then I “wake up” from my mental meanderings and realize I stopped praying for my mom a long time ago!
How many of you can relate? How many of you struggle with a mind that wanders when you pray? If you raised your hand, don’t be too hard on yourself. It sometimes happens to even the most mature Christ-followers—and I’m definitely NOT referring to myself when I say that. I’m talking about the APOSTLE PAUL—because he apparently had this particular “prayer problem.”
In fact, there’s a great example of Paul’s mental wanderings right here in Ephesians. I mean, we can see that Paul began to dictate a prayer in verse one of chapter 3….only to be sidetracked by his thoughts about the mystery of the church in verses 2-13—the text Kevin preached on last week. Paul comes back to this prayer in verse 14. Look at verse 1 and you’ll see what I mean. Paul says, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of CHRIST JESUS for the sake of you Gentiles…” Then, thinking about Jesus leads him to stop his prayer long enough to talk about the mystery of the Gospel. He does this for 12 verses—after which he comes back to his prayer and says, “…For this reason I kneel before the Father.” Now to be sure Paul’s mental wanderings are much more spiritually mature than my own. In fact, God inspired his meanderings such that they are full of Scriptural truth we need to hear. But it’s still kind of comforting to know that even Paul’s mind wandered when he prayed.
In any case, the prayer Paul RESTARTS here in verses 14-21 brings us to a TRANSITION of sorts. The first part of this circular letter has to do with THEOLOGY—and by the way, this is how Paul usually structured his letters. In the first part of his epistles he talks about the great DOCTRINES of the church—like Who God is and Who Christ is…or he writes about salvation and what that means. Here in the first part of EPHESIANS—among other things—Paul has spent a great deal of time talking about another very important doctrine—the doctrine of the church.
But as he does in almost every one of his letters, at this point Paul moves from that kind of DOCTRINAL talk to more PRACTICAL talk. Now, don’t get me wrong, doctrine is extremely important. After all, we can only know how to LIVE right when we know how to THINK right. This principle is what Jesus was getting at in Matthew 12:34 when He said, “Out of the abundance of the HEART the MOUTH speaks.” The fact is, right LIVING comes as a direct result of right THINKING. But the reverse is not necessarily true. Right thinking doesn’t always RESULT in right living. I mean, sometimes our theology can be right on, but it doesn’t translate over to the way we live our lives. As someone once said, “Your theology can be as straight as a gun barrel and just as empty.” So, we can’t JUST focus on the theology—nor can we limit our focus to practical application. We need both! As Jim Drake, puts it, “If we just focus on the lifestyle and forget the theology, we’ll become legalists. On the other hand if we just focus on the theology and forget the lifestyle, we’ll become liberals.” So, Paul wisely included teachings on both theology AND lifestyle in his letters.
The thing that is interesting to me is that here in Ephesians he BEGAN both his section on theology and his section of lifestyle with a PRAYER. If you remember back to the second sermon I did in this “walk” we are taking through Ephesians—we covered Paul’s FIRST prayer in chapter 1 verses 15-23. In that prayer Paul asked that the eyes of his readers might be opened to the THEOLOGICAL truths God wanted to show them. Paul prayed that they might be enlightened as to Who Christ is and what He did for them. After he prayed that prayer, Paul went on to talk about the theological basis of all that. He also talked about the theological fact that in Christ we are no longer Jew nor Gentile but one new race.
Well, in our passage for this morning—where he begins to talk in more PRACTICAL terms—Paul prays a SECOND time and this one is quite a bit different than the first. This time, instead of praying that they would understand the THEOLOGY he was teaching, he prays that as individuals and as the church…we would all have the ABILITY to follow through with Christ’s commands…the ability to LIVE out our theology in day to day life. Warren Weirsbe describes it like this: “In Paul’s first prayer the emphasis is on ENLIGHTENMENT but in this prayer the emphasis is on ENABLEMENT.” Well putt Warren! This time Paul prays that his readers will be up to the task—he prays they will be able to LIVE as God wants them to live.
I’m reminded of the old story about a boy who fell into a barrel of sweet molasses. As he was going under, he prayed, “Lord, make my tongue equal to the opportunity.” This is what Paul wanted for his readers—which includes you and me. He wants us to be equal to the opportunities God places before us.
This morning, as we STUDY Paul’s second Ephesian prayer, I want each of us to remember that we can’t do the works God requires us to do on our own. No—we need God’s help. Yes—we CAN do all things—but only THROUGH CHRIST Who strengthens us—ENABLES us. To show US how to pray for that kind of ENABLING, we’re going to look to Paul’s example here in Ephesians. If we do we’ll see three requirements of what Jim Drake refers to as “…a working man’s prayer…” …things in Paul’s prayer that we must imitate if we want the strength to do all the work God calls us to do…and I am indebted to Jim Drake, pastor of Brushfork Baptist Church for this outline.
(1) The first requirement of this kind of enabling prayer is the right POSTURE.
Look at verses 14 and 15 where Paul says, “For this reason I KNEEL before the Father, from Whom His whole family in Heaven and on earth derives its name.” This tells us that Paul got on his knees to pray at times—and I can’t help but wonder how Paul’s prayer posture impacted the Roman soldier he was chained to 24 hours a day! What did this soldier think every time he had to give Paul enough slack to get down on his KNEES to talk to God? In any case, this part of Paul’s prayer should remind us that whenever we pray—we must have the right posture.
This week I read the story of a teen-age boy who went into CVS to buy three boxes of chocolate. He picked out a small box, a medium-sized box, and a really large box. When he went to pay for his purchases the man behind the counter was curious and asked the boy, “Why three different-sized boxes?” The boy answered him, “There is this really beautiful girl and I have been talking for a few weeks. She’s invited me over to dinner tonight to meet her parents. After dinner, we’re going out. Here’s the plan: if she lets me hold her hand, she gets the small box of candy. If she lets me kiss her on the cheek, she gets the medium-sized box. But, if she lets me plant one on her lips, she gets the big box.” Then he paid for the candy and left. Later that evening, as he sat down to dinner with his girlfriend and her parents, this teenaged boy asked if he could say the blessing. He bowed his head and folded his hands in front of his face and prayed and prayed and prayed. It was the longest blessing ever. When he finished, his girlfriend leaned over and said, “You never told me you were such a religious person.” He leaned back and said, “You never told me your father works behind the counter at CVS.”
That boy might have had good PHYSICAL posture in his prayer, but he certainly didn’t have good MENTAL posture. Paul on the other hand embraced the correct prayer posture—or attitude. As verse 14 says, he got down on his knees before God. Now—does that mean the only right way to pray is on your knees? No—of course not. God doesn’t require a particular physical position for us to approach His throne in prayer. We can be standing up, sitting down, kneeling, or laying prostrate before Him. Our eyes can be open or closed. We can pray out loud or silently.
Our PHYSICAL posture isn’t really important—it’s our MENTAL posture that matters. But sometimes, our physical posture can help us GET IN the right mental posture. It can help us get our attitude right as pray. Kneeling like Paul was doing or falling on our face before God in prayer—physical postures like this can remind us who is serving Who…and in that way it gets us in the right posture to talk to God—God Who enables us to do His will.
I remember attending the Promise Keeper Rally that was held on the mall back in 1997. Several of us from Redland actually got on the Rock Creek trail and rode our bikes down there instead of fighting the traffic. Ask Hugh Faulconer to tell you his bike riding story from that day! Now—I don’t know if a million men showed up on the mall that day or not—but I do know there were men everywhere. As you can see in this picture, there were men packed onto the mall stretching from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial…and over-flowing onto all the side streets in between.
Chuck Holton led our bike-riding group of Redlanders. We ended up at the foot of the Washington Monument—and it was a great rally—powerful music—inspiring speakers. For me it was moving just to see that great throng of men and know I wasn’t alone in my desire to follow Jesus. Men of every nationality stretched almost as far as my eyes could see!
Well, at one point during the day I had to answer nature’s call and the Porta-johns had long lines so I walked up to the Museum of Natural History to use their facilities. When I came out my eyes beheld a powerful sight and my ears picked up a powerful sound. All along the mall there were men lying face down on the ground and as I reverently made my way back to our group I could hear them praying. These tens of thousands of men were praying for our nation…for the church…for a lost and dying world. And they showed that their mental attitude was right by their posture—the posture of humbly prostrating themselves before God. That posture showed they were bowing their hearts and wills to the Lord of Lords. It was a very moving moment for me. I won’t ever forget it.
Well, sometimes physical posture like this HELPS, but, as I said, it’s not a REQUIREMENT. No, the thing that is absolutely necessary is having the right MENTAL posture. As I said, that boy who bought those three boxes of candy had his head bowed and his eyes closed. He had his hands folded and probably used the best King’s English in his prayer—but he had the wrong mental posture—the wrong ATTITUDE. The only reason he was praying so fervently was to keep from having to face his girlfriend’s angry father. But we can read and see that PAUL’S mental posture was correct. Like all those promise keepers, he recognized Who it was he was praying to. He humbly acknowledged that he was a sinner addressing the Holy Creator of the universe.
Let’s stop and ask ourselves—could the reason our prayer life is less impacting on our day-to-day life than it should be…could it have anything to do with the fact that when we pray, we are too casual about it? Are we too non-challant about our prayers? Of course—we can come before His throne boldly—but I wonder—do we ever abuse this privilege? Do we treat it with the awe and reverence it deserves? And again, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we always have to fall prostrate before the Lord when we pray. There are times of quick prayers. There are times of very informal prayers. The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing, so of course we aren’t always formal in our conversations with God. But I think the quick prayers and the informal prayers and the “without ceasing” prayers are set up and made meaningful by the more intimate and formal seasons of prayer. When we start the day with a quiet time—alone with God and His Word, humbling ourselves before Him…when we pray with this RIGHT attitudinal posture..it sets the stage for all the other communications with Him throughout the day. In any case it is important that we have the right posture of prayer if we are to get the strength we need to join God in His work.
(2) The second requirement for a “working-man’s prayer” is the right PETITION.
Look at verse 17 where Paul says, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in LOVE, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the LOVE of Christ, and to know this LOVE that surpasses knowledge.” Now—why should THIS be part of a working-man’s prayer? Why do we need a better grasp on the LOVE of Christ if we are to work for and with God? What does Paul mean when he prays that we would be ROOTED and ESTABLISHED in it? Well, “rooted” is an agricultural term and this tells us that to do God’s work, requires that the very root structure of our life—the source of our strength, stability, and sustenance—must be the love of God. Knowing that He loves us with an everlasting love—THAT knowledge is what we should be rooted in…nourished by. Like deep roots, an awareness of God’s love is what keeps us grounded.
And, “established” is an architectural term that “builds” on this principle. This Greek word referred to the FOUNDATION of a building—which is vitally important if you want a building to stand….especially a tall one. Weirsbe writes, “In the first two churches I pastored, we were privileged to construct two new buildings, and in both projects it seemed we would never get out of the ground. In my second building program, we had to spend several thousand dollars taking soil tests because we were building over an old lake bed. For weeks, the men were laying out and pouring the footings. One day I complained to the architect, and he replied, ‘Pastor, the most important part of this building is the foundation. If you don’t go DEEP, you can’t go HIGH.’”
The same thing can be said of our spiritual lives. We can’t go high…we can’t “build” anything significant for the kingdom of God…we can’t DO the works He calls us to do…unless we go deep with Jesus…building an ever-closer…deeper love relationship with Him in our innermost being.
So basically, Paul is praying for us to have a FOUNDATIONAL understanding of God’s great love—a foundational knowledge of His love that is like a deep root system in that it FEEDS and stabilizes everything we do. The fact is, when we begin to comprehend the love that God has for us—it is indeed a stabilizing force. That love is something we can cling to amidst the storms of life. If we are “rooted and established” in it, nothing will knock us down.
You see if we BELIEVE God loves us, then we will know that anything He allows to come our way is prompted by that love. We’ll believe that even the bad things—are somehow good for us—we’ll believe that as Sarah Groves sings, even in the tough times of life “God withholds no good thing from us.”
And, by the way, it does indeed take the POWER of God for fallen beings like you and me to even BEGIN to comprehend the extent of His great love. We need God’s help to grasp it’s dimensions for it is indeed a limitless love. Let me take a few minutes to use Scripture to try and describe it. God’s love is WIDE! It is wide enough to embrace the whole world—every human that has ever been born or ever will be born! Do you remember Jesus’ description of it in John 3:16? He said, “For God so loved THE WORLD…that He sent His only Son!” That’s how WIDE it is. It’s wide enough to embrace all people! God’s love is LONG! It is long enough to last forever. 1st Corinthians 13:8 says it “…never fails.” You and I may fail. We may sin…but God still keeps on loving us! His love is LONG-suffering! His love is HIGH. It is a love that is HIGH enough to take us all the way to Heaven. In John 14 Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many rooms; I am going there to prepare a place for you. I will come back and take you to be with Me that you may be where I am.” God’s love is DEEP. It is DEEP enough to motivate Jesus to reach out to the lowest sinner. Romans 5 says, “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own [GREAT] love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
I for one think we see the SIZE of God’s love summarized best in Romans 8 where Paul writes:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ…I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation….will be able to separate us—UPROOT US—from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And if you need a WORD PICTURE to be more rooted or established in God’s love—all you need to is look at THE CROSS for it a symbol that easily reminds us of the height, depth, breadth, and width of God’s great love. I say this because in my mind those cross-beams are perpendicular lines that extend four different directions into eternity. They literally point to the height, depth, width, and length of God’s love for you and me.
In the 19th 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 walls of his small, dismal cell this faithful solder 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. I’m sure that love STABILIZED and STRENGTHENED this poor man as he lived out his life in that dark prison cell.
So—to review—Paul’s example shows that when we pray for God’s enabling we must have the right posture…the right petition…
(3) Finally he says we need the right POWER.
Look at verse 16. Paul writes, “I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being…” And then listen to verses 20 and 21, “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, to Him be glory in the church…and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.”
Now—believe it or not, prayer is NOT a rare thing in our society. I say this because of a survey that George Barna did recently. That survey indicated that only 43% of the people in the U. S. attend church. But, while only 43% attended church, over 83% said they had PRAYED in the past week. I thought one of the most interesting statistics in this study was the one that said 39% of the people who call themselves atheists or agnostics said THEY prayed to God during the past week. So, prayer isn’t as RARE as you might think. Almost EVERYBODY prays. Apparently, God hard-wired us to pray. It’s just that many people don’t know Who they’re praying to. I say this because if 83% of the people in America were praying to the God of the Bible—if 83% of our population were in a regular conversation with God—we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.
Well, here in these verses, Paul is reminding us that people who pray correctly address their petitions to our ALL-POWERFUL God. Keep in mind that Paul has just spent the first couple of chapters explaining Who God is and what He’s done for us. At this point in his letter he’s reminding us that God is omnipotent—all powerful—so powerful He can do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. In fact, I think of these last two verses in our text as sort of a tower of PRAISE. Paul begins with a simple assertion: GOD IS ABLE. That in itself would give us security. God is able! But Paul went further. God is able…TO PROVIDE EVERYTHING WE ASK HIM FOR. Wouldn’t you agree that this a sufficient expression of the adequacy of God? But Paul went further and higher still. He said that God is not only able to provide that for which we ASK…but also He can supply anything we even THINK about. All the dreams which ever pass through our minds…all the things we have thought of accomplishing for God in our wildest imagination…God is able to do even THOSE things. God is able to supply everything we need! He’s able to respond to everything we ask…and to provide everything we have ever THOUGHT about. What a picture! And at this point I feel like I’m doing one of those info-mercials because I need to say: BUT THERE’S MORE! Paul said God is not only able to do those things—He is also able to go BEYOND all of those things. Can you sense Paul’s EXCITEMENT in all this? If you can’t let me help by saying that I have learned that when Paul gets excited he does one of two things. He either goes off on a praise tangent, or he makes up new words. And he must have REALLY been excited when he wrote this letter because he does BOTH. He just did the former and at this point he does the LATTER. You see, the word that we translate, “exceedingly abundantly above” is a word that Paul just kind of made up.
Have you ever been around kids when they get really excited? They try to squeeze as many words into one breath as possible. And when they do that, they tend to make up new words. Well, that’s what Paul did here. He got so excited talking about God’s goodness and love and power that he squished three words together to invent a brand new word. He took the word that means “giving abundantly” or “abounding in giving” and he put the word for “over and above” in front of it.
But that still wasn’t descriptive enough for Paul. He had to add one more word. It’s the word that we get the prefix “hyper” from. Basically, Paul is stringing a whole bunch of words together to try and describe the indescribable. He’s excitedly saying, “Try and imagine all the things that God can do—well—He can do MORE—SO MUCH MORE—that it will blow your mind!”
And the truly mind-blowing thing about this is the fact that our ALL-POWERFUL God will put that mind-blowing power at our disposal—enabling us to do His will—whatever it may be.
I mean, whatever we need to do His will, He is more than more than able to provide it. Whatever we are called to do, God is able to help us accomplish. Whatever task we have before us, God will empower us to complete it. Whatever we dream for our church and our lives—God is able to help us realize those dreams. God is able!
Can you think of some Biblical characters who would agree with Paul here? I can! Think of Abraham! When God called him he was a pagan living in Ur of the Chaldeas. God told him that He would make him into a great nation and that He would bless him and that He would make him to be a source of blessing for others. Well, I don’t think Abraham could have understood at that point what that meant…really. It was beyond his wildest dreams. In time I think he came to see that the blessing to others would come through the Messiah—but I think at the beginning he just thought about having large family and eventually maybe a nation. But…if you were to ask Abe TODAY, “Is God able?” Abe would say, “Yes, God is certainly able to do more than we can ever imagine or ask.”
Think of Moses! God told Moses that He was going to cause Pharaoh to let the people of Israel leave Egypt where they had been slaves for four centuries. Could Moses have possibly anticipated the full extent of the plagues God brought on Egypt? Could he have guessed that God would use him to lead the people to the promised land? In his wildest dreams would he have thought that God would give him the first five books of the Bible? I don’t think so—but today if you were to ask him, I think he would AMEN Paul..and say, “Yes, God is able to do far more than you think!”
What about your life? Is there some WORK God is calling you to do but it’s beyond your ability? It may be too much for you—but it’s NEVER too much for God! Maybe you dream that your marriage could be better than it is. You have tried your best and have failed. You’ve come to believe a great marriage is just a pipe dream. It’s not a pipe dream to God! He is ABLE! Maybe you struggle with some emotional or physical burden. You’ve tried to deal with it on your own but try as hard as you might—you have failed. I don’t care what it is you are facing: anxiety, grief, depression—God is ABLE to help you beat it. Perhaps there is some task you dream of accomplishing—something that would help a lot of needy people but it’s just to big to be anything more than a dream. It’s not too big for God. He is ABLE—and if it is His will—HE WILL EMPOWER YOU TO DO IT.
You know, the wonderful thing is that when we pray with the right posture and the right petition…and for the right power—and then see our prayers answered…in great marriages or great tasks or whatever…GOD IS GLORIFIED! As Paul says here in verse 21 and as Jesus said in the sermon on the mount, when we allow God to enable us to do good works…people see God in us and want to know God as we do!
A little girl turned to her mother after church and said, “Mommy, the pastor’s sermon was confusing to me.” The mother asked, “Why is that, honey?” The little girl answered, “Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. Is that true?” “Yes, that’s true,” the mother replied.“He also said that God lives within us. Is that true, too?” Again the mother replied, “Yes, that’s true.” “Well,” said the little girl, “If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn’t He show through?” The answer is YES—God will show through when we do things in HIS POWER! I guess the question you and I need to ask ourselves is this: “Does God show through in my life?”
I want us to close with a time for you to pray “a working man’s prayer.” First, I want you to get in the right posture. If that means getting on your knees or laying prostrate in the aisle…do it. Just make sure your attitude is correct. Make sure you know you are a sinner praying to the one and only God…HOLY…ALL-POWERFUL…ALL-KNOWING…ETERNAL. Now—ask God to help you be more rooted more established in the knowledge that HE LOVES YOU. Ask Him to make that awareness part of your mind set. And now humbly ask Him to empower you to do the good work that He has placed on your mind and heart whatever it may be. In a moment I’ll close our time of prayer.
We are in awe that You would love sinners like us—love us so much that You would send Your only Son to die our death. I humbly ask that You would further “root” each of us in this knowledge of the height, depth, width, and length of Your great love. Give us a ‘LOVE-CONFIDENCE’ God. Use each of us to do things that could only be done in Your power. Use our lives to bring You glory…Use the things we do for You to draw others to Jesus. I ask this in His name…AMEN”
As we stand and sing I invite you to respond publically as God leads. Come and profess your faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Come and ask to join this church. Come and share something you have been praying about…but come as God leads.