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7. Prayer #2: A Prayer for Spiritual Empowerment (Eph. 3:14-21)

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Introduction

Someone once said: “Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger people! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.” 1

In the epistle written to the Ephesians, there are two prayers. The first prayer is “A Prayer for Spiritual Enlightenment” (1:15-23) - to know the hope of God’s calling, his rich inheritance in the saints, his great power toward us etc. This second prayer, which we are studying in this article, is “A Prayer for Spiritual Empowerment” (3:14-21).

It’s one thing to know who we are in Christ; its another thing to live like it. You can know a lot about something but never put it into practice. You can know a lot about the Bible but never put its truths into effect. You can know the truths of Eph. 1-3 but not live in the good of them. Head knowledge isn’t good enough. We must put what we know into effect in order to be fully functional Christians.

This is a prayer based on the knowledge of God’s will. That’s why Paul begins with For this reason… (14a) – i.e. for the reasons just mentioned in chapters 1 and 2. The only way we can know God’s will, God’s purposes, and God’s plans is by reading his Word. That’s why Bible reading and prayer go together because in the Scriptures God has revealed to us his will and in prayer we ask him to carry it out.

It’s a prayer uttered in dependence on God. The Jewish practice was to stand while praying (e.g. Lk. 18:10-14), but Paul kneels: I bow my knees (14b). Kneeling displays earnestness, total concentration, submission, reverence, the lesser before the greater. You see this when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (Lk. 22:41) and Stephen at his martyrdom (Acts 7:60).

It’s a prayer addressed to the Head of the family: …to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named (14c-15). Jesus’ Father is the Father of the whole redeemed family (some in heaven and some still on earth). We derive our identity from his name and he, as the Father, meets our family’s needs. 2

It is a prayer whose answer is rooted in God’s resources: …that he would grant you according to the riches of his glory (16a). God’s riches are limitless and that’s the resource that we draw on in prayer.

The theme of this prayer is: When you pray, pray boldly – pray boldly for progress in spirituality, for deepened understanding, and for growth in godliness. How bold are your prayers? Are you bold enough to ask God to answer your prayers in accordance with his glorious riches?

In 1540, Luther’s good friend and assistant, Friedrich Myconius, became sick and was expected to die very soon. From his death bed he wrote Luther a farewell letter. When Luther received the letter, he immediately sent back this reply: “I command thee in the name of God to live because I still have need of thee in the work of reforming the church…The Lord will never let me hear that thou art dead, but will permit thee to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will, and may my will be done, because I seek only to glorify the name of God.” That seems bold to our ears, but God apparently honoured the prayer. Although Myconius had already lost the ability to speak when Luther’s reply came, he soon recovered and lived six more years and died two months after Luther himself. 3

Don’t be brash in prayer but be bold, conscious of God’s will and God’s glorious riches. Perhaps you lack boldness because you lack comprehension of God’s riches, you don’t trust his resources, or you’re more focused on your own resources than his spiritual riches. Let’s learn to live as heirs of God’s unfathomable riches.

The story is told of a certain rich English eccentric named Julian Elis Morris liked to dress like a tramp and sell razor blades, soap, and shampoo door-to-door. After a day’s work he would return to his beautiful mansion, put on formal attire and have his chauffeur drive him to an exclusive restaurant in his limousine. Sometimes he would catch a flight to Paris and spend the evening there. Many Christians live something like Mr. Morris, spending their day-to-day lives in apparent spiritual poverty and only occasionally enjoying God’s vast riches. It’s tragic to go around in the tattered rags of our own inadequacy when we could be living sumptuously in the superabundance of God’s unspeakable riches.4 Pray that God would enable you to live according to the spiritual wealth that he dispenses on your behalf in Christ.

So, when you pray…

I. Ask For Progress In Spirituality (16b-17a)

Spirituality has been defined as “one’s connectedness with God.” We’re talking about the need for a deep, abiding, personal, day-by-day relationship with God - walking in step with the Spirit, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, living in an attitude of prayer, conscious of God’s presence.

So, when you pray, ask for…

1. Progress In Experiencing The Spirit’s Power (16b)

…to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man (16b)

This is not the sealing of the Spirit at conversion but the experiential dimension of the Spirit’s indwelling. Many Christians never experience the strengthening of the inner man through the Spirit’s power. The inner man is the opposite of the “outer man”. The outer man is perishing, temporary, but our inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). The outer man is our physical life but the inner man is our spiritual life. Just like our physical life, our spiritual life must grow and be strengthened. We do this by letting the Holy Spirit control us (Gal. 5:25), fill us (5:18), and empower us (cf. Rom. 8:5-6, 8-9; Gal. 5:16).

Paul is praying that we may know “the strengthening of the Spirit’s inner reinforcement” (JBP translation) that we may lay hold more firmly by faith on this divine strength in our inner being.

How can you obtain and exercise this spiritual power? By feeding on the Word of God, by prayer to God, by submission to the Spirit, by spiritual discipline and exercise. There is no quick way to spiritual fitness. It requires steady discipline. You can exercise this spiritual power by letting God take control, by being ruled less by your emotions and circumstances and more by God.

So, when you pray, ask for progress in experiencing the Spirit’s power. And pray for…

2. Progress In Experiencing Christ’s Indwelling (17a)

…that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith (17a)

The strengthening by the Spirit is a parallel thought to Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9, 10; 1 Cor. 6:19) and when Christ indwells us by the Spirit (Jn. 14:16-18) he strengthens us. This is not Christ’s indwelling at salvation but in sanctification. Paul is not praying for something we already have but for the indwelling of Christ through the empowering of the Spirit that we experience by degrees throughout our Christian lives.

To dwell has the sense of being at home, settled, resident. For Christ to dwell in our hearts we must submit to the Spirit’s power. So, when you pray, ask God that Christ by his Spirit may be at home in your heart, control you, and strengthen you. For our hearts to be his home they must be cleaned up to suit him, the trash of our lives has to be put out to the garbage, our spiritual food must be pure and wholesome, our activities must meet with his approval, worldly activities must stop, and hidden sins in the closet cleaned out.

Don’t expect Jesus to be at home in your heart if it is dirty, or if it is cluttered with other guests and occupied with other things. He only settles down in a home that is cleansed from sin, filled with his Spirit, and nourished by his Word. Only there does he dwell in our hearts by faith, faith that trusts him as Saviour and submits to him as Lord. That’s where he reigns.

So, when you pray, ask for progress in spirituality. And when you pray…

II. Ask For Deeper Understanding (17b)

The only way our “connectedness with God” can be strengthened is by the Spirit’s power and through Christ’s indwelling as we have just seen (16-17). And it’s only through our connectedness with God that our understanding is deepened about the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ, the wonders of the mystery that has been revealed to us concerning the unity of the church and the love of God in Christ.

The ultimate purpose of these bold prayer requests is to deepen one’s understanding of, appreciation for, and response to Christ’s love. This, surely, must be the goal for every Christian – to obtain a deeper and deeper intellectual and experiential understanding of Christ’s love.

So, when you pray, ask for…

1. Deeper Understanding Of The Immensity Of Christ’s Love (18)

… so that you, having been rooted and grounded in love… (17b). The basis of an abiding connectedness with God is an interpersonal relationship with him and with each other, a relationship that is rooted and grounded in love. When the Spirit strengthens us and Christ indwells us, then his love anchors us. Love that is rooted and grounded does not change. It has deep roots (botanical imagery) and a firm foundation (architectural imagery). It is like a well-rooted tree and a well-built house – firmly established and enduring. Love is the deep root that gives stability and nourishment to our lives and relationships and spirituality. Love is the foundation on which our Christian lives are built. Our love must be a reflection of Christ’s love – strong, abiding, unwavering. Love is, after all, the essence of Christianity (Jn. 13:34; 1 Pet. 1:22) and the basis of our unity. We are all sealed by his Spirit, bound together in the same family, living for the same purpose, headed to the same eternal destination.

Do you have a deep, abiding love for God and for his people? Is the love you display rooted and grounded in the power of the Spirit and the indwelling presence of Christ in your heart. Are you firmly established in love? Is it the foundation of your life? Or, is it a fickle, transient, self-indulgent love that wavers depending on how others treat you?

God’s love for us in Christ generates in us a love for one another and it drives us to, and gives us a hunger for, a deeper understanding of Christ’s love. Only those who themselves are rooted and grounded in love can possibly have any sense or knowledge of Christ’s love. That’s why the assumption is here that we are first rooted and grounded in love before we can progress to a deeper understanding of Christ’s love (19a).

…so that you (having been rooted and grounded in love) may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height - to know the love of Christ (18).

A deeper experience and understanding of Christ’s love is one that we begin to grasp along with all the saints (black and white, Jew and Gentile, men and women, slaves and free). This is not something that is limited to an esoteric, spiritually elite group of people. Rather, Christ’s love permeates all the saints so that with them we experience and extend to others the love of Christ. It is a common bond between all the saints. As a community of faith, we begin to understand something of the scope of Christ’s love, its dimensional immensity. It is wide enough to encompass the whole world, Jew and Gentile (2:11-18), regardless of race, colour, or religious background. It is long enough to choose us before the foundation of the world and to last for eternity (1:4-5). It is deep enough to meet the need of the worst sinner (2:1-3). It is high enough to encompass every spiritual blessing in heavenly places (1:3; 2:6).

The immensity and strength and eternality of Christ’s love undergirds our love. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” No! Nothing can separate is from Christ’s love. For “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).

When you pray, ask for a deeper understanding – a deeper understanding of the immensity of Christ’s love and a…

2. Deeper Understanding Of The Incomprehensibility Of Christ’s Love (19a)

so that you may be able… to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge (19a). This sounds like an oxymoron - to know the unknowable. We may comprehend it intellectually and theologically and enjoy it experientially and personally but nonetheless we cannot exhaust it because it surpasses knowledge. Just as God’s grace is exceedingly rich (2:7) and his power is exceedingly great (1:19) and his riches are unsearchable (2:8), so his love is immeasurable and incomprehensible.

Christ’s love surpasses knowledge. We can never plumb the depths or embrace the scope of Christ’s love. Eternity will not be enough for us to fathom it. Perhaps you’re reading Scripture and the love of Christ floods your soul – but there is still more to enter into because his love surpasses knowledge. Perhaps you’re struggling with sin and the love of Christ floods your soul – but there’s still more because his love surpasses knowledge. Perhaps someone gets saved and the love of Christ floods your soul – but there’s still more because his love surpasses knowledge. Perhaps you’re grieving the death of a loved one and the love of Christ floods your soul – but there’s still more because his love surpasses knowledge. That’s what it is to know the incomprehensibility of Christ’s love.

William Hendriksen expresses it this way: “The apostle prays that the addressed may concentrate so intensely and exhaustively on the immensity and glory of Christ’s love that they will come to understand that this love ever surpasses.” 5

Thirdly, when you pray…

III. Ask For Growth In Godliness (19b)

This is the ultimate result that we are striving for: …that you may be filled to all the fullness of God (19b). Do you see the progression here? The Spirit strengthens us, Christ indwells us, his love embraces us, God’s fullness grows in us. The Christian life is one of continuous progress in spirituality and growth in understanding. Just as we are growing to the “fullness of Christ” (4:13) and “being filled with the Spirit” (5:18), so we are to be filled with God himself.

This fullness (πληρωμα) signifies total dominance. Just as you may be filled with rage or happiness so that it dominates you, so you may be filled with the fullness of God - nothing left of self, no room for anything else, all of God.

We are to aspire to be filled to all the fullness of God, to be totally overtaken by his power and presence, his life and rule. God wants us to be fully like him. This will only be fully and finally achieved at our glorification when we will awake in his likeness (Ps. 17:15), when we will be filled with God to the full, when we will be fully like Christ who is the fullness of God. But that should be our desire even now, to grow in Christ-likeness toward that final state of perfection as we are being “transformed from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).

So, when you pray, pray boldly for progress in spirituality, deeper understanding of Christ’s love, and growth in godliness. But prayer is not all about asking. It’s also about praising. So, when you pray, be sure to always…

IV. Give Praise To God (20-21)

We have noticed some of the superlatives that Paul uses in this epistle. What a wonderful way to conclude this prayer with more superlatives. So, when you pray…

1. Give Praise To God For His Inexhaustible Power

The God whose Spirit empowers us, whose Christ indwells us, whose love anchors us, and whose fullness dominates us, is the God who is able, because he is all-powerful, his power is inexhaustible.

This leads to a wonderful, concluding doxology. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us (20).

Our God can grant these bold requests because he is able, he has the power (20a). He is able to do – he is alive and working. Our God is able to do what we ask – he hears us and answers us. Our God is able to do what we think – he knows our thoughts, our minds, even what we imagine and dream but do not ask for. Our God is able to do all that we ask or think – he knows it all and is all-powerful to carry it out. Our God is able to do beyond all that we ask or think – he grants us more than we imagine. Our God is able to do what we ask or think abundantly, according to his riches, his abundant grace. Our God is able to do far more abundantly – there are no limits to what he can do; he is a super-abundant God.

Our God grants these bold requests according to the power that works in us, the power of his Spirit who strengthens us.

2. Give Praise To God For His Inestimable Glory

The power is from God and the glory is due to him: to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (21).

Telling forth the inestimable glory of God is the universal privilege of the church. This surely should be the primary focus of our prayers – to adore God for who he is. Such praise should redound to God in the church by Christ Jesus. It is entirely because of what Jesus Christ has done for us in bestowing upon us “every spiritual blessing in heavenly places” (1:3) and in showing “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (2:7) that the church can and must render continuous praise to God to all generations forever and ever. We will never come to an end of praising him. That is our inestimable privilege now and will be throughout the ages of eternity.

Concluding Remarks

This, then, is the pattern for bold prayers. When you pray ask for progress in spirituality through the Spirit’s power in our inner being and for the indwelling of Christ in our hearts by faith. Ask for deepened understanding of Christ’s immeasurable and incomprehensible love. Ask for growth in godliness, to grow to God’s fullness and perfection. How can we possibly expect to achieve such spiritual heights? Because God works powerfully in us and for us.

This prayer is a picture of all that God wants each individual and the church as a whole to be. And what does God want the church to be? A united people who are strengthened by the Spirit, indwelled by Christ by faith, rooted and grounded in love, understanding the immeasurable love of Christ, and glorifying God for his limitless power.

The obvious challenge is this: Are we the church God wants us to be? We can only be the church he wants us to be if we pray boldly for progress in spirituality, for deepened understanding, and for growth in godliness. When you pray…pray boldly, that’s the theme of this passage. If you’re prayer life isn’t bold, why not start now by asking for these things and watch God work as he empowers your inner being with his Holy Spirit, as he opens up your understanding of the fathomless love of Christ and as he fills you with himself.

To this God all praise is due! The power is from him and the glory is due to him.


1 Phillips Brooks, Leadership, Vol. 6, no. 3.

2 Play on words: the family (πατρια) descended from the same father (πατερ).

3 Cited in John MacArthur, Ephesians, 103-104.

4 Ibid., 104.

5 William Hendriksen, Ephesians in “New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 173.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

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