I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
When Albert Einstein was teaching at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study a graduate student approached him one day for help with choosing a topic for a doctoral dissertation. “Dr. Einstein”, the student began, “what is there left in physics for original dissertation research?” Einstein replied, “Find out about prayer. Somebody must find out about prayer.” (Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?)
Yes, Dr. Einstein, let’s find out about prayer. In these first days of a new year I am feeling the need, rather, the urgency to find out more about prayer. I ponder today’s Scripture text and realize that the power of the atom is nothing compared to the power of prayer.
The apostle Paul was known for both his devotion to prayer and his eloquence in praying. Just read Paul’s prayers and you will see that he is accustomed to asking God for big things, for extravagant blessings on behalf of others and himself. But I read Paul’s prayer in today’s Scripture and think that perhaps this time Paul has gone to far, asked God for too much. Never has one prayed such a bold, unflinching prayer as to ask that the Ephesians be filled up with all the fullness of God Himself. Paul actually prays that his readers be perfected in God’s love in all of its breadth, length, height and depth. Has Paul gone too far in such a prayer? Has he been carried away by a gust of rhetoric?
Yet, I read on and see that Paul says he has actually asked God for too little! God can, he says, give us far more than Paul has asked, for God “is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”
Notice that Paul includes himself with the “we”, acknowledging that he has not asked God for enough. God’s ability to give to us far exceeds the apostle’s asking or imagining. Above and beyond our grandest conceptions God is “able to accomplish abundantly far more…”
Sometimes words fail even the eloquent apostle Paul. And this seems to be one of those times as Paul invents a word to try and communicate God’s ability to give in response to prayer. Under the Spirit’s guidance Paul strings together Greek words to coin a new one. Paul goes literally hyper forming yet another one of his hyper words, hyper+erekperissou, translated as “abundantly far more”. Greek commentators call Paul’s newly minted word a “superlative of superlatives” as it conveys God’s ability to answer prayer as “more than, to a degree greater than, over and above.” Just as God’s ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9), so God answers our prayers in ways beyond our imaginings.
We cannot always figure out God or understand Him, but we can know that He is answering prayer abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” Even those “unanswered prayers” are God working in ways beyond our asking or imagining. But we must ask. Lord Tennyson was right, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” (Tennyson, “The Death of Arthur”)
In 1961 British scholar and Bible translator J. B. Phillips wrote a book with the provocative title Your God Is Too Small. He might well write a book today titled, Your Prayers Are Too Small.
I am one who struggles with prayer, and with prayers that are too small. The Evil One always attacks us at the jugular, not wasting time with the periphery. He knows where our power comes from. God calls us to be “co-workers” together with Him (I Corinthians 3:9; II Corinthians 6:1) in this world through prayer. “When we work we work, when we pray, God works.” (Oswald Smith, Bartlett’s Quotations) Einstein was right yet again! We need to find out about prayer!
I like to keep close at hand the following words of Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College. I hope that Kreeft’s words will be an encouragement to you as well:
I strongly suspect that if we saw all the difference even the tiniest of our prayers to God make, and all the people those little prayers were destined to affect, and all the consequences of those effects down through the centuries, we would be so paralyzed with awe at the power of prayer that we would be unable to get up off our knees for the rest of our lives. (Kreeft, Angels and Demons: What Do We Really Know about Them?)
P.U.S.H (Pray Until Something Happens),
photo by Josh Kenzer