Great men of God have always been men of prayer.
It is mentioned several times that Moses prayed to God in different times of need. It is interesting that this great leader of God’s people was often found to be praying for the needs of others rather than for himself.
David was a man of prayer. Many of his Psalms were extended prayers, covering a wide range of subjects. He also taught people to pray – to depend on God to be their helper and provider.
Although He was the unique Son of God who enjoyed a special kind of relationship – an eternal relationship – with the Father, Jesus was often found in prayer. Prior to His temptation He prayed and fasted in the wilderness. Sometimes He went to a place where He could be alone and at other times he prayed with His disciples and others present. He taught His disciples to pray.
Of all the great men of the Bible who believed in and utilized the avenue of prayer to communicate with God, none were greater examples than the apostle Paul. From the time Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus – when he prayed for three days and nights – and throughout his ministry, he prayed often and earnestly. One of the things I have always found striking about Paul’s praying is that in his writing he frequently scatters prayers. Often several times in the same epistle he does this. Here is one such example which gives us insight into what he believed God would do in answer to prayer. He prays the Father…
“…that according to the riches of his glory [the Father] may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19ESV).
Paul obviously believed in a big God. A God who was willing to lavish gifts upon us weak, stumbling, beggars of human beings “according to the riches of his glory.” He was confident that He would give them/us whatever He deems appropriate to their/our need.
That theme of God’s riches recurs throughout Paul’s writings, and according to what he has written, God desires to give us full access to the riches of His grace. The apostle speaks of the “immeasurable riches of his grace” (Ephesians 2:7). These riches he has “lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight” (Ephesians 1:8). With this understanding we should not hesitate to come before our Heavenly Father with our petitions and prayers for whatever we need. We need not fear that God will be reluctant to answer our prayers. He has gifts to give and give again. Abundantly. Unstintingly. Unhesitatingly.
But do we know what we need to ask for? So many times we, like the worldly beings we are, ask wrongly – as James said, “…to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). Look at the above text and see what Paul prayed for the Ephesian saints. He prays God to grant them to be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” They already had the Spirit within themselves (Acts 2:38). By this means they were given the assurance of God’s purpose for themselves being fulfilled because the abiding Spirit was their guarantee of receiving their inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Reformation Study Bible says, “This is some of Paul’s most pointed language about the work of the Holy Spirit within individuals.” The Spirit within the individual is a tremendous source of strength. To deny this is to forfeit a vital resource for successful living and vibrant service.
This indwelling of the Spirit is equated by the apostle with Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith. This is obviously the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to the apostles before his departure. He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). When the Lord dwells in our hearts, we become “rooted and grounded in love.” Like a tree reaching down into the earth, drawing water and nutrients from the soil, growing and flourishing in the life we obtain from him, we are sustained and transformed by that love into his likeness.
Through that relationship the believer obtains strength through the Spirit within himself – the strength to “comprehend,”(to take in the meaning, nature, or importance of; grasp), “what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” The knowledge the believer receives is more than an intellectual acquisition of facts. One may have a knowledge of the evidence for existence of Christ to the point he acknowledges him as an historical figure, but have no comprehension of the dimensions of his love for his creation and for us as his people. Our need is to know the meaning of his coming, his life, his sacrifice, his Lordship and the hope he offers us. It is to have an experiential knowledge of Jesus as the truth – truth in its absolute form – truth that is behind all that exists.
Paul describes this knowledge of the love of Christ in terms of four dimensions – “breadth and length and height and depth” – or perhaps more accurately, four directions. In the thinking of the apostle, the love of our Lord is beyond measure. It is limitless. There is no mathematical measure to describe it. It is like looking at the universe – no matter in which direction we “look” in our efforts to comprehend it, there is no end to it. As one writer said, “Paul was simply attempting to describe the incomprehensible extent of God’s love.” To meditate on the limitless love of our Lord will continually fill our mind with thoughts of him. As the subject of his love is incomprehensible, so there will be no end of our contemplation of him.
The end result for which Paul is praying for these Christians is “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” When our minds are filled with thoughts of God we will allow him to control our actions. When our thoughts and actions are controlled by God we will, by contemplating him, be transformed into his image. So, Paul’s prayer can be seen as an appeal to God to accomplish his work in the lives of these believers – the work of transformation into the kind of beings he always intended us to be.
This idea ties in with and describes the process begun when we first become his children. Paul spoke of that beginning this way… “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Just as the newly formed creation was supposed to be extended and developed by its human caretakers in cooperation with God, so we as his “new creation” must grow and develop, yielding ourselves to the formative hand of the all wise, all loving Heavenly Father.