Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Eph. 3:21).
The simple subject and predicate of this sentence is, “to God be the glory.” But Paul adds layers of meaningful modifiers.
Paul addresses his prayer to Him who “is able.” This is actually the verb form of the Greek word dunamis, or “power.” Our English word “dynamite” comes from this word.
God’s power is not limited in any way. The God who was able to save Jonah in the belly of the sea monster can do amazing things. The God who was able to stop the Sun’s march across the sky to assist Joshua’s victory can do big things. The God who created the Universe with no more exertion than speaking possesses the power to answer our feeble prayers.
It’s not enough to say that God is all-powerful. He is powerful:
To do what we ask
To do what we ask or think
To do all that we ask or think
God invites us to “cast all your anxiety upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). What point are our requests if we don’t believe God has the power to answer? He can provide anything we can find words to describe, and even things that our minds and hearts fail to express in words. Not just some of it; all of it.
Paul doesn’t stop there. God is powerful:
To do beyond all that we ask or think
To do abundantly beyond all that we ask or think
To do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think
God’s power exceeds our ability to make requests. He provides more than we are aware of, more than we can imagine. As an infant does not appreciate all that his parents provide, a child of God hardly suspects all that God gives. Jesus reminds us that God knows what we need before we ask (Matt. 6:8). Again, not just a smidge more, but exceedingly, abundantly, graciously, amazingly, hugely beyond!
This suggests that we ask too little. Of course, we should always leave room for the will of God, as Jesus did (Matt. 6:10, 26:42). We should always pray with right motives (James 4:3–4). We should always conduct ourselves as a child of God so that He will not close His ears to our prayers (Isa. 59:1–3). But we put too many limits on the power of God. Our vision is sometimes too small to move mountains (Matt. 21:21–22).
Would you feel comfortable praying these prayers?: For a terminal sickness to be healed. For a baby to be born to someone who has been trying for years. For deep-seated family strife to be replaced with love. For 100 visitors to attend the next service. For one conversion every month.
If not, why not? Are they too impolite? Too audacious? Do we catch ourselves saying, “one conversion a month is too hard; let’s ask God for one conversion a year. That’s reasonable.” Wait! What part of “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” do we not understand? The limitation is not upon God’s power; it is upon our willingness to ask and believe!
That Works Within Us
But perhaps there is a reason we don’t ask. Perhaps we suspect that God will answer our bold prayers, but it means that we are going to have to be involved in bringing them to pass. And that concern—spoken or subconscious—is the reason for our reluctance to ask. Indeed, this brings us to the rest of the verse. God is powerful to do “…according to the power that works within us … in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.”
It’s God’s power, but it works “within us.” In fact, God’s power is even more plainly seen in the church than in creation, for He took just six days to create the earth, while He took centuries to plan, reveal, carry out, and secure redemption. God didn’t break a sweat when making the world, but He agonized in sweat and blood and tears to save our souls.
God’s power works within us. God can’t give wisdom, purity, strength, or forgiveness to those who don’t want wisdom, purity, strength, or forgiveness. We don’t pray for wisdom because that means our Bibles will be open on our laps. We don’t pray for purity because we don’t want to repent. We don’t pray for strength because we don’t want to be asked to use it. Our unwillingness to be a part of God’s plan limits His power.
God’s power works within us as a congregation, too. What God accomplishes in this world He accomplishes mainly through the activity of His people, the church. Maybe the reason we don’t pray for more conversions is because we know that means we need to make more invitations, and help people grow. Maybe we don’t pray for more chances to speak up, because we are scared of experiencing persecution. Maybe we don’t pray for stronger leadership, because we know that means we will have to submit to it.
There is effort involved in every worthwhile spiritual endeavor. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth,” and so it will forever be (1 Cor. 3:6). Can we echo Paul’s ending to his prayer: “Amen”? —John Guzzetta