Prayer is one of God’s most gracious gifts. In prayer our weary souls are transported from our darkened valleys onto the plains of our heavenly home. It allows unworthy sinners like us to come before the ruler of the universe and call him, “Father.” In His presence we can bring our smallest need or our deepest fear, and He listens while all of the resources of heaven are ready to burst into action when He responds. Prayer is one of God’s most powerful gifts!
And yet we often use prayer for the most mundane of task. Like using a sledge hammer to drive tacks into corkboard we use the strength of prayer for our bodily comforts and earthly concerns. How much more do we need God’s power to strengthen our faith and advance His Kingdom?
At the most pivotal point in his letter to the Ephesians Paul pauses to offer a prayer for their spiritual growth (Eph. 3:14-21). Paul longs to see the church deepened in faith and energized for service, and he knows they cannot do it on their own. God’s church needs God’s help to grow spiritually. That help comes in response to prayer.
A prayer for spiritual growth is especially appropriate at this point in Ephesians for three reasons.
First, the glorious work of God revealed in the first three chapters demands our most fervent faith. We were dead sinners who are saved by the grace of God. We were estranged foreigners who are made citizens of heaven. Yes, we want to grow so that we may glorify our God.
Secondly, we need to grow spiritually in view of the responsibilities God sets before us. The last three chapters of Ephesians contain some of the most challenging commands anywhere. How can we walk worthy without God’s help?
Finally, the immediate context provides another reason for the prayer. Paul asks the Ephesian church “not to lose heart” because of his trials (Eph. 3:13). Life’s trials provide ample reason to call out for God’s help. Not just to relieve us from pain, but to elevate our faith.
Thankfully, our need for God’s help is matched by God’s desire and ability to give it.
The One who hears our prayer is our “Father,” whose faithfulness to us was demonstrated in “our Lord Jesus Christ,” and who’s boundless love is seen in the redeemed family, both living and dead, who wear His glorious name (4:15). God is more than willing to hear our prayer. We need not be afraid to ask.
He does not ration out the answers a drop at time. No, from the deep reservoir of His power He gives “according to the riches of His glory” (4:16). If Bill Gates gives you something out of his riches, he could give you five dollars. But, if Bill Gates gives you something in accordance to his riches, you will have more than enough! Similarly, God has more than enough resources to meet our need. We need not be afraid to ask.
Pray For Your Spiritual Growth
Paul asks God to help the church deepen their faith and strengthen their service. But, this will require three things only God can provide.
You Need God’s Power. Paul prays that God “may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (4:16). If we are going to live worthy of our calling and face the trials before us, we need God’s power. The Hebrew writer put it this way to his struggling readers, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). How many times have we relied on that precious promise?
Yes, we need God’s help in times of trial (James 1:2-8). We need His power to open doors and make us bold (Col. 4:2-4). We need His power to deliver us from circumstances which are beyond our strength to endure (2 Cor. 1:8-11). If we are going to grow in faith and be useful for God’s purpose we need to pray, “God, help us!” We cannot do it without Him.
Could it be that our spiritual timidity is the result of a lack of prayer? Why not ask the Lord of Hosts to help you defeat that sin? Ask your gracious Father to help you serve as you should. Ask the God of salvation to help you advance His kingdom. Then see if you don’t grow spiritually.
You Need God’s Love. What feeds our growth and builds our faith is love! So we pray that we might “be rooted and grounded in love” (4:17b). The love we seek is not some sentimental feeling. It is the love that is possessed and expressed by God. It is the kind of love that prompted God to develop the plan described in Ephesians 1 – 3, and it’s the kind of love that will be required to obey the demands found in Ephesians 4 – 6.
Our ability to grow in love is boundless, because the love of God “surpasses knowledge.” Paul tries to capture the vastness of God’s love by speaking of its “width and length and depth and height” (3:18) as being beyond calculation. “It seems to me legitimate to say that the love of Christ is “broad” enough to encompass all mankind, “long” enough to last for eternity, “deep” enough to reach the most degraded sinner, and “high” enough to exalt him to heaven” (John Stott, The Message of Ephesians, IVP, p. 137).
We cannot grow in faith without the love of God. It is the pattern that teaches which way to go. It is the fuel that speeds us on our way. Pray for greater understanding of His love.
You Need God’s Character. The goal of our prayers is not our personal comfort or the advancement of our reputations. It is that God’s character might be developed in us, and His glory might be seen through us. As Paul put it, pray “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (4:19, also 4:17a). In other words, “Father, help me so that Your character might be fully formed in me.” That’s the kind of prayer that leads to spiritual growth.
Have Some Confidence
Paul ends as he began by reminding us that God is able to answer our prayers, and He is worthy of our lives.
With a list of seven words Paul shows God is more than able to make us sufficient for His work. He “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think,” (4:20). The next time you doubt you can make it, pray through this verse, pausing at each word to contemplate its meaning, then you’ll discover a “power that works in” you (4:20).
However, prayer is ultimately about God’s glory, “to Him be glory in the church” (4:21). The purpose of my spiritual growth is that His glory might be seen in me and my world. Our God is worthy of a prayer like that. Will you pray for spiritual growth today? You need it. The church needs it. God deserves it.
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14)
Extra Material On Prayer & Ephesians 3:14-21
A Poem about Prayer
Nearly 200 years ago James Montgomery penned these powerful words about prayer. Even after so many years it is hard to find words that so powerfully capture the multitude blessings of prayer.
Prayer Is The Soul’s Sincere Desire
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
unuttered or expressed;
the motion of a hidden fire
that trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
the falling of a tear
the upward glancing of an eye,
when none but God is near.
Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice,
returning from his ways,
while angels in their songs rejoice
and cry, “Behold, he prays!”
The saints in prayer appear as one
in word, in deed, and mind,
while with the Father and the Son
sweet fellowship they find.
No prayer is made by man alone
the Holy Spirit pleads,
and Jesus, on th’eternal throne,
for sinners intercedes.
Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
the Christian’s native air,
his watchword at the gates of death;
he enters heaven with prayer.
O thou, by whom we come to God,
the Life, the Truth, the Way;
the path of prayer thyself hast trod:
Lord, teach us how to pray!
How God Gives Power
The text says that God “strengthens us with power through His Spirit in the inner man.” Unfortunately we often get so caught up in trying to explain the method by which God gives us power that we overlook our need for His power. Nevertheless, the many false views about the Holy Spirit cause us to consider what role He has in providing power for our inner man.
- First, it should be noted that this text does not talk about how the Holy Spirit strengthens the believer. It simply states that He does. So we must be very careful not to read into this text what is not there.
- Secondly, we should note that it is possible to resist and grieve the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51; Eph. 4:30). We should not expect the Holy Spirit to overwhelm our wills to force our righteous choice. From the beginning God has allowed man to make his own choices.
- Thirdly, God chooses to speak to believers today only through His Word. Those who believe the Holy Spirit strengthens them through an inner voice, or an inner feeling, take this verse beyond its scope and find no support for such an idea in the New Testament.
- Fourthly, all agree that the Holy Spirit does strengthen the believer through His Word. The revelation of the Word is a key work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament (1 Cor. 2:11-16). Now, the Holy Spirit is different from the word, in the same way as a soldier is different from his sword. However, the “sword of the Spirit” is “the Word of God” (Eph. 6:17). The Word of God is the tool the Spirit uses to defend the believer and cause him to stand (Eph. 6:10). It seems very possible that the way we are “strengthened with power through His Spirit” (3:16) is by what “has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (3:5). I mean, just read Ephesians 1-3 and see if you don’t feel like you can tackle the world! The Holy Spirit revealed those truths to our inner man and it makes us strong.
- Fifth, God does promise to help His people in response to prayer (see Matt. 6:9-13; 2 Cor. 1:8-11; Col. 4:2-3; Heb. 4:16; Jude 24-25). This is sometimes called the “providential work of God.” The mechanism by which God does this work is not often spelled out. However, Ephesians 3:16 seems to indicate that one way God answers prayer is “through His Spirit.” How He does that is not revealed and we must be very careful about our speculations. In this regard note that earlier Paul prayed for the Ephesians to understand “the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Eph. 1:19). In that context the Holy Spirit’s role is not emphasized, rather the source of the power was attributed to God and is like the power He used to raise Jesus from the dead (yet, consider Rom. 8:11).
(For a further study about the role of the Holy Spirit in strengthening the saint you might consider the book, “Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon” by Robert Harkrider, pg. 36-38)
The Holy Spirit In The Book of Ephesians:
1. Sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:12-13)
2. Access by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:18)
3. Dwelling of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2:19-22)
4. Revelation by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:5)
5. Strengthened by the Spirit (Eph. 3:16-17)
6. Unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3-4)
7. Grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30)
8. Filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18)
9. Sword of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6:17)
10. Supplication in the Holy Spirit (Eph. 6:18)
The Godhead And Prayer
It is often noted that each member of the godhead is mentioned in Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21. There seems to be some organization in how they are mentioned.
A – Father God
B – of our Lord Jesus Christ
[God’s ability, “according to His riches”]
[God’s glory, “His glory”]
God would grant you
A’ – God
B’ – by Christ Jesus
[God’s ability, “able to do…”]
[God’s glory, “to Him be glory”]
1. God fully cares for us. Each member of the godhead is involved in hearing and answering our prayer (See, Matt. 6:9, “Our Father;” Rom. 8:25; Eph. 6:18, “the Holy Spirit;” 1 John 2:1, “An Advocate, … Jesus Christ”)
2. God is fully able to help us. The prayer is bracketed by statements of God’s ability.
3. God is worthy of our lives. The prayer is also bracketed by mentions of God’s glory.
Prayer and the Word of God
There is a powerful principle about prayer that is found in the opening phrase of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14, “For this reason.” This takes the student back to the truths Paul made known as a minister of the mystery of God. In this we learn a vital connection between prayer and the revelation of God. The basis of Paul’s prayer was his knowledge of God’s purposes. You see, we have no authority to pray for anything which God has not revealed to be His will. That’s why Bible reading and prayer should always go together. It is in Scripture that God has disclosed His will, and it is in prayer that we ask Him to do it.
I can’t imagine it being any other way. For, whenever I get into God’s word I find things that challenge me, and I know I can’t do it by myself, I need some help—and I’m driven to God. When I get into God’s word it exposes my sins, my faults, and I see myself as I really am, and it hurts, I need forgiveness—and I’m driven to God. When I look into God’s word, and I see how good, how powerful, how wise, how gracious God is, and I need to praise Him—and I’m driven to God.