One of my regular prayers is the one written in Ephesians 3:16–19. Having reminded the Ephesian church that they were a divinely created household, Paul immediately begins to tell them that “for this reason” (3:1) he prayed for them. Though he interrupts himself mid-sentence, he returns to this thought in v. 14.
Essentially Paul prayed that these believers would together experience the surpassing love of Jesus, resulting in their church knowing something of the fullness of God. It is a prayer for their spiritual encouragement and maturity. He wanted them to experience Jesus together. I frequently pray these verses for our church. I frequently pray them for myself.
Life is often hard. Life can leave me feeling harassed. Life often confronts me with my failures. Life can leave me bleeding and hurting. At these times, I am reminded of my need to experience Jesus. Though I have lots of intellectual knowledge about Jesus, it leaves me empty if I don’t have him. Exegetical and expositional truth about Jesus is essential for spiritual health, but it is not sufficient. Experiential knowledge of the Lord Jesus is just as important. Neither of these can stand alone; both are necessary. Head and heart must be connected toand by him. I think that this was Paul’s prayerful point. It’s increasingly my prayerful passion.
What is it like to “comprehend with all the saints and to know the surpassing love of Christ”? Paul tells us that it is like experiencing the “fullness of God” (v. 19). That is, to know the love of Christ experientially results in the church’s growth in godliness. The answer to such a prayer will be seen in a maturing congregation that is increasingly devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ, resulting in increasing conformity to his character. Paul will develop this theme later (4:11–16) but the seed is sown here on his knees.
As our church, individually and corporately, experiences more and more of the love of our Lord Jesus, we will desire less and less of the desires of the flesh and the self-centred and destructive course of this world (Ephesians 2:1–3). The more that we appreciate the love of Jesus for us, his bride, the greater our affection for him will expand. Such experiential love will be expressed to one another.
Though Paul’s prayer has an individual aspect, his major focus was on a corporate answer. He desired for the entire church to experience more and more of the love of Christ and hence more and more of the fulness of God. Further, he fully expected that God could answer such a prayer. His closing words point us to his confidence in what the triune God could do for them: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (3:20–21). And all God’s people should say, “Amen!”
Since this is literally an inspired prayer, we have confidence that God will answer. He always answers prayers that are in accordance with his will (1 John 5:14–15). As Paul reminds us, as extraordinary as this request is, God is “able to do” it. So let’s all be praying it. And let’s each of us be willing to be an answer to it. Let me explain and then illustrate.
First, and this cannot be emphasised this too much, this is a prayer that each church member should be praying. Please, for the church’s sake, for your sake, and most importantly for Jesus’ sake, pray the request of Ephesians 3:16–19. With Paul, “bow your knees before the Father,” humbling yourself before him and, with hope, pour out your desire for every member of Brackenhurst Baptist Church to “comprehend” together and to “know” together “the surpassing love of Christ.” Pray that, as a congregation, we will experience the assurance of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ in a powerful-personal way. Pray that we will be so overwhelmed by the love of Jesus Christ for us—as demonstrated by his serving life, his sacrificial death, and his intercessory ministry at the right hand of the Father—that the things of the world will (to borrow from the songwriter) “grow strangely dim.” Pray that, as a congregation, we will be so assured of Jesus’ love for us that fear will be “cast out” (1 John 4:18). Pray that our local church will so know the love of Christ that love for one another and showing grace to one another will be our default. Forgiveness thrives where the love of Jesus is remembered. It dries up when his love is forgotten.
Don Carson spoke of Paul’s recorded prayers as prayers for a “spiritual reformation.” Oh how we need ongoing reformation! Doctrinally, our biblical reformation has come a long way. Yet, devotionally and dispositionally, we have a long way to go.
In the providence of God, COVID-19 has been a means of revealing weaknesses in our church and weaknesses in us. But God reveals in order to heal. Meaningfully and believingly praying this this prayer is a means towards such health.
Think about this. If our hearts align with the desire of this prayer, and if we faithfully pray accordingly, then love will abound in our congregation. Forgiveness will flow. Kindness and sacrifice and serving will abound. Gossip and backbiting and self-centredness will be foreign because the fullness of God will leave no room for such behaviour. Oh God, hear our prayers!
But, second, not only must we pray this prayer, we also must be willing to be an answer to this prayer. We must be committed to being the expression of the love of Jesus to others. We must be committed to being a channel of the love of Christ and hence the fullness of God. We must be committed to serving the body that Jesus loves. By doing so, the love of Christ is made tangible to one another rather than remaining merely theoretical.
God can and will answer the prayer of Ephesians 3:16–19 in any number of ways. But I suspect that, most often, he answers this prayer through church members loving church members with the love of Christ. In this way we come to “comprehend” and to “know” the surpassing love of Christ. Let me illustrate.
Recently, experiencing what I can only describe as crushing darkness, I pleaded with the Lord to make me to know of his surpassing love. He answered with two WhatsApp messages.
Three church members sent me words of encouragement, having no idea what I was going through. Their messages were a combination of kind and instructive words. I immediately sensed the love Jesus for me. They made the love of our Lord tangible and experiential. I experienced Jesus, an answer to my prayer, through others expressing Jesus to me.
Brothers and sisters, please heed this call to pray in accordance with Ephesians 3:16–19. Make this inspired request for the experience of Jesus your passion. And then express the experiential love of Christ to others. When you do, you will find that you are often an answer to your own prayers.