Paul’s Greatest Prayer

Ephesians 3

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
March 2019

We are studying the Book of Ephesians.  We come today to one of the most important prayers in the entire Bible.  It is found in Ephesians 3:14-20.  This passage is amazing.  This prayer can change your life.  It is Paul’s great prayer for the church and for the believer.

It is one of the most amazing passages in the Bible.  These are prayers that we should pray for ourselves.  This prayer is not just the prayer of some great Christian.  It is the prayer of an apostle and this prayer is inspired. It is an inspired prayer.  It is perhaps Paul’s greatest prayer.

We may think of Paul as a great Christian, a great missionary, a great theologian, a great writer of Scripture (he wrote more books of Scripture than any other apostle) but he was also a great man of prayer and we can learn from his example.

His example is perhaps a rebuke to many in the church today who do not take prayer very seriously.  Many Christians do not pray regularly.  Many churches do not even have prayer meetings.  If they do, only a handful of people show up.  How do you rate your prayer life?

This is Paul’s second prayer in the Book of Ephesians.  His first prayer was in Ephesians 1:15-23.  Both of these prayers are relatively short.  They are not long.  You do not have to pray four hours a day to have a good prayer life.  You can have intense passionate prayers that are short and to the point.

Paul’s actual prayer is only four verses long.  It goes from Ephesian 3:16-19.  These are four powerful verses. This prayer involves the entire Trinity.  Paul knelt before the FATHER (Ephesians 3:14).  He prayed that he would strengthen us with power though HIS SPIRIT (Ephesians 3:16).  He prayed that CHRIST would dwell in our hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17).

It ends with a doxology.  It ends with praise.  Sometimes we begin our prayers with praise.  Paul ended this one with praise.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20 NIV).  This doxology contains one of the most incredible promises in the entire Bible on prayer.

Paul prays here to the Father.  He is  the Father of Jesus (Ephesians 1:3).  He is the Father of believers (Ephesians 1:2). He is also the Father of everyone.  For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name (Ephesians 3:14 NIV).  Ephesians 4:6 says, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (NIV).  He is the Creator of everyone.

Paul prays to the Father on his knees.  He said, “For this reason I kneel before the Father” (Ephesians 3:14 NIV).  If you want to pray like an apostle, you have to get on your knees, face on the ground.  Of course, it is not wrong to pray standing or sitting.  You can pray other ways, but your most intense passionate prayers should be on your knees.

It shows humility.  It shows brokenness.  It shows dependence upon God.  That was the way Jesus prayer in his most intense hour of prayer the night before he was crucified when He sweat great drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:41).  What does he pray for?  The answer is a little surprising.

Paul’s prayer is a little different from prayers in the church today, especially the American church.  This is not a prayer for material blessings.  It is not a prayer for prosperity.  Paul does not pray for the members of this church to be in great health or to make more money.

It is not wrong to pray for physical or financial needs but the emphasis in Paul’s prayer is on spiritual needs, our greatest needs.  Most of our prayers focus on material things or physical problems.  It is not wrong to pray for physical things.  God is able to meet those needs as well. He is able to do more than we ask or think but our greatest needs are spiritual and we almost never pray for them.

Lets look at what Paul did pray for here.  He had four prayer requests.  These are all things that we should pray for ourselves.  One man said t hat he prayed this prayer regularly and it changed his life.  let’s look at these four requests.

Four Amazing Prayer Requests

1. A Prayer for Spiritual Strength

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being (Ephesians 3:16 NIV)

All of us need spiritual strength.  We need to be strengthened on the inside at the core of our being.  Paul does not pray for physical strength.  He prays for spiritual strength.  He prays that God will strengthen them in the inner man.  The Bible is more interested in the inner man or inner person.  God is more interested in what is on the inside.  He looks on the heart.  We are more interested in the outside.  We are more interested in appearance (I Samuel 16:7).

That is what we concentrate on.  We do all kinds of things to build up the outer man.  We watch what we eat.  We go on the Daniel plan.  We go on diets.  We go to the gym.  We exercise.  We lift weights and try to build up our muscles.

None of these are necessarily wrong.  Paul said that “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (I Timothy 4:8 NIV). It has some value but our focus should be on spiritual training, not physical training.  The same principle applies to women.  Notice what Peter said to women.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (I Peter 3:3-4 NIV)

The Pharisees focused on the outer man.  Jesus said that they were really good at cleaning the outside of a cup or dish but not the inside of it (Matthew 23:25-26).  They were caught up with externals.  Paul compared the outer man and the inner man.  He said, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (II Corinthians 4:16 NIV).

That is interesting.  Paul was getting older.  He knew what it was like to no longer be in his twenties.  All kinds of changes in the body take place with aging.  Paul knew about this from experience but even as his physical body was wearing out and breaking down, his inward man was being renewed day by day.  While the outside of the body gets weaker as you age, the inside can get stronger every day.  It can be renewed day by day.  That is an encouragement as you get older.

2. A Prayer for Christ to Dwell in your Heart

So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17 NIV)

This is the only passage in the NT which talks about Christ dwelling in our hearts but it raises an interesting question.  Why would Paul pray for Christ to dwell in the hearts of these believers?  They were already saved.  They were already saints (Ephesians 1:1).  Christ was already in their hearts, so why did he need to pray for this?  This is not a prayer for salvation but for sanctification.  Paul is not praying that they would be converted.

The word dwell means not just to live but to be at home at.  It is very possible for Christ to be in your heart but not at home there.  If you are true believer, Jesus indwells you, but does He feel at home there.  Does He feels comfortable?  Does He have access to every room and closet or do you lock off certain rooms and say that “you can’t go in that room?”[2]

Do you give him unrestricted access to your life or do you say, “He can come in, but He is not in charge of my marriage and He is not in charge of what I do with my free time or the kind of things I watch?”  Christ indwells every person who is saved, but this does not necessarily mean He is in control of the person’s life.  Is Jesus Lord of your life?  Does He control every aspect of your life or only parts of it?

3. A Prayer to Know the Love of Christ

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:17-19 NIV)

This is not a prayer that we would love Christ more.  It is a prayer that we would know His incredible love for us.  Every believer knows that Jesus loves them.  Paul wants us to know the extent of His love.  He wants us not just to know the love of God but to know how BIG it is.  Paul wants us to know how high, how wide, how deep and how long this love is.  D. L. Moody once said that if people just believed the three words “God is love,” the entire world would be converted within twenty-four hours.

How can they know a love that surpasses knowledge?  That sounds like a paradox.  How can you know something that is beyond knowing?  Paul is not saying that you cannot know this love but that you can’t know it fully.  You can never exhaust it.  This love surpasses knowledge.

Dimensions of Christ’s Love

We live in three dimensions.  Space is three dimensional (length, width and height).  Some have concluded from this verse that God’s love is not 3D.  It is 4D.  It sounds good but actually, this love is in three dimensions.


The depth and height are part of the same dimension – one goes up and one goes down.  One of the dimensions is just split into two parts.[4]  What is the height, depth, length and breadth of Christ’s love?  We do not know for sure but we can speculate.

1) The Breadth

The breadth is how wide His love is.  How wide is his love?  It is as wide as humanity.  God’s love extends to all people.  It extends to Jew and Gentile.  God did not just love the Jew.  He loved Gentiles.  We love certain types of people, but not others.  The Bible says, “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16).  He loves white people.  He loves black people.  He loves brown and yellow people.

2) The Length

God’s love is long.  It started before we were born and it goes on forever.  We were predestinated in love before the world even began.  He loved us before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5).  God’s love lasts long. It lasts as long as eternity. It keeps going and going.  It never stops. God says in the OT, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3 ESV).  This love is eternal.  God’s love never fails (I Corinthians 13:8).  It never stops.  Jesus loves us to the end (John 13:1).  Nothing can separate you from it (Romans 8:38-39).

3) The Depth

How deep does this love go? God so loved that world that he gave his only Son.  That shows the depth of God’s love.  He sacrificed his own Son for us out of love.  The cross shows the depth of God’s love.  Jesus was willing to leave the glory of heaven and come to earth, go through pain, suffering, humiliation and death because of his love for us.  He went to Hell on our behalf.

There is another way that we the depth of God’s love.  It extends to the worst person on the planet.  It extends to those who are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) and are children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:3).  His love for us is deep.  We love people who are good and decent.  God loves people who are bad and who not even deserve to be loved.  God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NIV).  No one is too wicked or to depraved to receive this love.

4) The Height

This love is high.  It comes from heaven.  God is love (I John 4:8) and love comes from God (I John 4:7).  How high is God’s love?  It is high enough to take people to heaven.  This love takes us to the presence of God.  This love raised us up to sit in the heavenlies far above all principalities and powers (Ephesians 1:21-22).  He raised us up and seated us in the heavenlies with Christ (Ephesians 2:6).

4. A Prayer to be Filled with God’s Fullness

We now come to the climax of the prayer.  It is the last thing that Paul prays for.  It is a prayer for God’s fullness.  This is something that all of us need.  We need to be filled with the fullness of God, not filled with the world or filled with self or filled with sin but filled with God.  Paul does not pray that we would just be filled with God; he prays that we would be filled with the FULLNESS of God.

He does not pray that we would just be filled with the fullness of God; he prays that we would be filled with ALL of the fullness of God.  That should be the goal of your life.  it is a bold prayer.  D. Martin Lloyd Jones says that there is not a more staggering statement in Scripture than this.

How is that even possible?  God is infinite.  We are finite.  Solomon said that the heavens cannot contain God (I Kings 8:27), how could we possibly be filled with all of the fullness of God?  In Colossians, the one who is filled with the fullness of God is Jesus (Colossians 2:9). In Him the fullness of God dwells in bodily form.

It doesn’t mean that we become God in His essence.  Someone gave this example.  It is like a wine bottle in the ocean. You take the cork out of the bottle and throw it in the ocean.  Eventually, it fills up with water and the bottle is completely full of ocean. The bottle is in the ocean, and the ocean is in the bottle. The ocean contains the bottle, but the bottle contains only a little bit of the ocean. It is an imperfect analogy.

What does it mean to be filled with all the fullness of God?  D.A. Carson says that this is Paul’s way of praying that these Christians be spiritually mature, to be all that God wants you to be.[5]  It means you are filled up with God.  It means you are filled of His presence, filled with His power, filled with His glory, filled with His light, filled with His love, filled with His Word, filled with His Spirit.  That does not describe every Christian. It only describes some Christians.

The Doxology

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV)

Paul ends his prayer with a doxology.  It ends with praise to God.  To Him be glory in the church forever. Paul gives us the ultimate purpose of the church.  The primary purpose of the church is to give glory to God, not to save souls.  Your primarily purpose on this earth is to glorify God.  Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 NIV).  For all eternity, the church will be a demonstration of God’s love and grace.

How Big is Your God?

We will close by thinking about Ephesians 3:20. It is a powerful verse.  Many consider it their favorite verse in the Bible.  This verse raises the question, “How big is your God?”  Let’s look at what Paul says and see how it applies to us.  Paul says ten things here.  These ten things form a pyramid and they show us the incredible power of God.  We have no idea how powerful God is.

Paul’s Pyramid of Praise


Able to do

Able to do what we ask

Able to do what we think

Able to do what we ask or think

Able to do all that we ask or think

Able to do above all that we ask or think

Able to do abundantly above all that we ask or think

Able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think

1) God is ABLE

Many question the ability of God and ask the question, Is God able?  We might have doubts.  Many times we have not because we ask not (James 4:2) and we do not ask because we do not believe that God is even able.  The situation is too difficult.  Jews facing the Red Sea with armies behind them and may thought God was not able.  Sarah wanting to have a child long after she was too old to have children and thought God was not able to give her one.

Here we find that He is.  With God, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).  Before Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego were thrown in the fiery furnace, they said that God is ABLE to deliver them.  They thought He would deliver them but they said even if he doesn’t, we still will not worship the image of gold (Daniel 3:17-18).

2) God is able TO DO things.

God is able to do things for us.  He is able to do things in our life.  What is He able to do?

3) God is able to do WHATEVER WE ASK

Any request you have, God can answer immediately.  God has the power to give you every single request. He is able to kill giants.  He is able to solve the biggest problem in your life or meet your greatest need right now.  God can do more than you can pray.

You CANNOT pray for more than He can do but God can do much more than answer all of your prayers.  You can’t ask God for too much.  It is IMPOSSIBLE to ask God for too much.

4) God is able to do whatever we THINK

God is able, not just to answer whatever you pray, he is able to do whatever you think about but do not even pray.  You cannot even imagine more than He can do.  His capacity for giving exceeds His people’s capacity for asking or even imagining.

That does NOT mean that God always gives us whatever we ask or imagine.  Some of our requests are wrong.  God is not like a parent who pampers their children and gives them whatever they want, even if it is bad for them.  God has power behind your wildest dreams but that is not all He can do.

5) God is able to do what we ask AND think

God is able to do both things.  It is no problem for Him but that is not all He can do.

6) God is able to do ALL that we ask or think

He is not able to do some of it or most of it.  He is able to do all of it.

7) God is able to do ABOVE ALL that we ask or think

God is able to do MORE than we ask or think.  How much more is He able to do?

8) God is able to do ABUNDANTLY above all we ask or think

God is able to do, not just a little above what we ask or think but way more than we ask or think.

9) God is able to do EXCEEDINGLY abundantly above all that we ask or think

Here Paul uses a super-superlative.  It is a picture, not just of abundance but of superabundance, not just more but infinitely more.  In fact, he invents a Greek word here to say this (ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ).

10) He does this according to the power that works in us

We have all kinds of power inside us that we are not aware of.  We have His supernatural power living inside us.  We have the entire Trinity living inside us.  We are indwelt by the Holy spirit.  Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  We have Jesus living inside us.  We have the father living inside us.  Jesus said, ” Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23 NIV).

Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Rich (Ephesians): Gaining the Things That Money Can’t Buy (The BE Series Commentary), p. 93. David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.




[5] D.A. Carson, Praying with Paul, p. 172

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