Prayer for Power – Ephesians 3, 14-21
February 18, 2007
Every time we finish the Lord’s Prayer we say “For thine is the Kingdom the POWER and the glory ( or the modern version of the same phrase). Today we are thinking about prayer for human beings, for us, to be endowed with that power, using a passage from Ephesians 3 as our guide.
Is it wise for us to pray for power? After all, Christians have not been notably good at using power ( or at least they have not been any better at exercising it than people who don’t claim to be Christians ). Christians have used power to persecute, torture and kill people, including other Christians, who think differently from themselves. They have used power to conquer and enslave people and have destroyed cultures in the process. Christians have used power to accumulate wealth, land and resources for themselves. Christians have used power to exclude certain groups at different times from full participation in society and in the church.
However, as the Ephesians passage makes clear, what we are talking about is not power as the world understands it. The writer ( who may be Paul, but is probably not) prays that the Ephesians may be mightily strengthened in their inner being with power through the Holy Spirit. This makes it clear that what we are talking about is not physical power or economic or political power, but spiritual strength. The writer then goes on to expand on what this inner strengthening will mean – that Christ will make his home in our hearts ( kardia, which in Jewish understanding meant not just the seat of emotion, but the centre of our being which controls will and thinking as well); and that we will become, as Christ was, rooted and grounded in love. Just to emphasise the second point , the writer uses metaphors from both the natural world (roots) and the world of human activity (foundations), to show how deeply the power to love is to become part of us. And this is not a passing thing – the word used for ‘dwell’ katoikeo – means to make a permanent home in – so we are praying for the whole of our being, every aspect of our lives to grow from, to be built on the foundations of Christ’s love.
The second difference from the way the world understands power is illustrated when the writer describes the purpose of our being strengthened with God’s power. It is not for worldly gain. It is not even to make us seem more impressive in the eyes of the world. It is so that we may have the power to grasp the immensity of God – as the passage puts it, the breadth and length and height and depth. No one aspect of God is specified in the original Greek – so are we talking about God’s wisdom, God’s creative power, the scope of salvation? The most obvious answer, and the one most translators have plumped for is God’s love, because it is the love of Christ that the passage goes on to speak of next – but what the writer is praying we may have is the fullest possible understanding that a human may have of the nature of God. This nature is far beyond all normal human understanding – so what we receive we can only receive through grace. And the purpose of this supernatural gift is so that they ( and we) may truly be filled with the fullness of God.
To be filled with the fullness ( pleroma in Greek) of God is just another way of asking that we are filled with Christ. Colossians 1.19 says of Christ “In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”. So in praying for God’s power to be granted to the Ephesians, the writer is praying for them to become more and more Christ like, in every aspect of their lives.
What does this mean for us, if we should pray this prayer for ourselves?
It means we are asking for the power to surrender more and more of our being and our lives to Christ, the power to become more humble, the power to endure more suffering, the power to face persecution and death without giving in to despair or hate. It is an awesome prospect, and something which we have to undertake as a daily exercise.
It is easy to say that we have already surrendered our lives to God. But have we really done so? The prayer asks that Christ will dwell in our hearts through faith. Faith is a term that implies an agreement between two people – it implies trust. And that is how Christ comes to us – he will not go where he is not invited, he will not force his presence on us. We have to allow Christ in.
If we think of ourselves and our lives as a home, which parts of it do we invite Christ into? Is he invited in as an honoured guest – but only allowed into the parlour, kept clean and beautifully furnished to impress the outside world – but only used on Sundays? Or is he invited in as a member of the family, the universal family that takes its name from God the Father, as one of us, and allowed to root around in all the other rooms of the house – the bathroom, the bedroom, the play room, the study, the shed where we do what we really enjoy, in the attic or cellar where all the rubbish in our lives is stored? Is everything really open to him, or do we still keep some doors in the house locked against him?
When we ask Christ into our lives, this prayer reminds us, we have to invite him into every aspect of our lives. So, it demands that we examine our lives, and ask ourselves “ Is that part of my life filled with Christ?” Take a moment to consider – Is my family life, the way I treat my spouse, my parents, my children, grounded and rooted in Christ? Is my work life filled with the fullness of God? Does my worship always reflect the glory of God? Is Christ there when I shop? In my leisure activities? When I drive? When I compete?
The first disciples believed that Jesus was the Christ because they observed that every aspect of his life was governed by the Spirit of God, the Spirit of love. He was so different from any human being they had previously encountered, that they spoke of him as a new creation, a new Adam – as one who is made in the image of God, as God created us to be. The power for which Ephesians prays is the power to surrender ourselves to God as completely as Jesus did, so that we may be filled with the fullness of God, as he was.
It is only when we surrender ourselves that completely that the power of God is able to work within us, to enable us to do the great things that Jesus did, to love the unlovable, to endure the unendurable, to live a life of a quality that cannot be ended by physical death. We cannot achieve that in our own strength. We can only achieve it through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is identical with Christ and contains the fullness of God.
Only as that new creation, with every aspect of our lives governed by the love of God, which passes all understanding, will we in the Church give glory to God though all that we do, as Christ gave glory to the Father in all that he did.
How do we surrender ourselves so completely? We do it through prayer – through self-examination, through confessions, through inviting Christ into every aspect of our lives to heal what is wrong and to inspire what is right. Evelyn Underhill tells us “Prayer is being delicately luminous with the Love of God, in which we live and move and have our being. There is a mighty movement of the Divine generosity running right through the spiritual world, using as its agents the loving and surrendered souls of human beings.”
May we pray today and every day the prayer of Ephesians 3, that we may surrender ourselves so completely to God, that he may use us to build his kingdom in ways far beyond anything that we can ask or imagine.
Maranatha – Come Lord Jesus.