Holy Living In An Unholy World,

Paul’s Power Prayer

By Dr. Robert Jeffress

According to Merriam-Webster, the word eccentric is “a person who behaves in odd or unusual ways.” That is, they “deviate from conventional or accepted usage or conduct especially in . . . whimsical ways.”

Whimsy is certainly a good description for Julian Ellis Morris. You’ve never heard of him, but he was a very wealthy Englishman with a mansion and chauffeured limousine. But he had a peculiar habit. He enjoyed dressing like a tramp and selling razor blades, soap, and shampoo door-to-door. When he had sold his day’s inventory, his chauffeur would pick him up and take him back to his mansion, where Morris would change into a tuxedo. He would then be chauffered to an exclusive restaurant in London for dinner. Or, if the mood struck him, his chauffeur took him to the airport where he would catch a flight to Paris for a little escargot and wine.

Some might label this behavior as “eccentric.” Others will call it plumb crazy. Perhaps. But Mr. Morris was no crazier than so many Christians I know who choose to live their lives in spiritual poverty in spite of the great riches they possess as believers in Jesus Christ. Like Julian Morris, they occasionally splurge and enjoy some of their wealth, but most of the time, they live like spiritual paupers. 

It is to those kinds of Christians that Paul addresses the letter we have in our Bible called Ephesians. This book of Ephesians is a reminder of the true wealth that is ours because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. 

The Christians in Ephesus needed to be reminded of that wealth. They lived in a city that was characterized by immorality, materialism, and hatred for Christians. The city was most famous for the Temple of Artemis or Dianna, and in the center of that temple was the Bank of Asia, filled with gold and silver.

Paul said to these Christians in Ephesus, “You too possess great treasure.” But it is not deposited in the Bank of Asia but in the Bank of Heaven. 

“What blessings are you talking about, Paul?” What could possibly be better than a bulging account at the Bank of Asia? Beginning in verse 4, he tells us what God has done for every believer:

He chose us not because of anything good in us but out of His own goodness. He predestined us; that is, He marked out a wonderful plan for our lives. He adopted us into His very own family, He redeemed us out of spiritual slavery, He forgave us of all our sins, He revealed to us His plan for us in the future, and He has sealed us with the Holy Spirit so that we never have to worry about our eternal destiny. What could be better than that?

And so, the first half of Ephesians, chapters 1-3, explains these great spiritual riches that belong to every believer in Christ.

This is especially good news to those of us who, like the Christians in Ephesus, were not Jews but Gentiles. Before Christ came, we were in even a worse predicament than the Jews—we had no savior to look forward to, and we had no promises that God had made to us.

But when Christ came, those of us who were outside the perimeter of God’s blessings, just like the Gentiles who had to stand outside the Temple in the court of the Gentiles, we who were far off from God have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).

This message, by the way, was not popular among the Jews, Paul says in Ephesians 3:1. In fact, it was the preaching of this truth that Gentiles can experience God’s spiritual blessings, that caused Paul to land in Jail, as we saw in the first 13 verses of chapter three.  

In verse 13, Paul says, “But don’t lose heart—that is the biblical phrase for depression.” Don’t get discouraged over my situation—it is for your benefit that I have preached this message.

And that leads to Paul’s second prayer found in this letter. I agree with Warren Wiersbe; the first prayer, found in Ephesians 1:15–23, emphasizes “enlightenment,” but the second prayer, in Ephesians 3:14–21, emphasizes “enablement.” 

Wiersbe writes, “It is not so much a matter of knowing as being—laying our hands on what God has for us and by faith making it a vital part of our lives. Paul was saying, ‘I want you to get your hands on your wealth, realize how vast it is, and start using it.’”

Now, let’s turn our attention to this second prayer. Paul begins verse 14 with the words “For this reason.” Remember what I said last time? Whenever you read a phrase like this, you should ask yourself, “For what reason.” This is a phrase, like the word “therefore,” that sends you back into the preceding section.

I read this week a number of commentators who have different ideas of what this phrase relates to. What is it that motivated Paul to pray at this point? Was it his imprisonment? That is what Calvin thought. Was it because of the truth that Paul had just explained that Gentiles and Jews are one in Christ? That is what John Stott says. Was it because Paul sensed the Ephesians were discouraged that caused Paul to pray for them? That is what another respected pastor thinks.

Personally, however, I believe that the phrase “for this reason” refers to everything Paul has written so far. Paul is coming to the end of the first half of this letter, and as he draws to a close, he is saying, “As I consider all of the riches that God has bestowed on us through Christ, I cannot help but pray that God would open your eyes so that you might experience four very specific things in your life.” In this prayer, we find a summary of what God wants every one of us to experience in day-to-day life because of the riches he has poured out upon us.

God doesn’t want us to live like Julian Morris—the man who had great wealth but rarely enjoyed it. He wants us to continually experience four aspects of our wealth every day.

But before we look at the four things God wants us to experience, let’s look at how Paul begins his prayer: The prelude.

1. Paul’s Prelude (Ephesians 3:14-15)

Can you picture the scene of Paul in chains, kneeling before God? As Paul knelt, perhaps it caused the Roman guard to kneel.  

Is our posture important in praying? In one sense, no. In Genesis 18, Abraham stood before the Lord when he pleaded for Sodom and Gomorrah. Today, if you go to Jerusalem you’ll see faithful Jews standing and rocking back and forth before the Western (Wailing) Wall in prayer. David sat before the Lord when he prayed about the building of the Temple in I Chronicles 17. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus fell on his face and prayed before the Lord, according to Matthew 26. It’s not our body’s posture but our heart that is important when we pray. We can pray anytime: when we’re driving, when we are in a meeting, or when we are sitting in the classroom. 

Nevertheless, I do think there is something valuable about kneeling before God. The physical act of kneeling reminds us of our position before God. He is our Sovereign, and we are His subjects. In the New Testament, kneeling was an outward expression of inward fervency. Luke notes in his account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane that the Lord “withdrew from [the disciples] . . . and knelt down and began to pray” (Luke 22:41). While in that kneeling position, Jesus “being in agony . . . was praying very fervently” (Luke 22:44). The idea is that kneeling not only reminds us our position before the sovereign God, it also suggests an intimate face-to-face connection with the Father.

Even though Paul was shackled by chains, when he knelt to pray, his heart was free to soar to the heights of heaven. In Luke 18:1, Jesus told his disciples a parable, a story to show them that they should pray at all times and not lose heart or become discouraged. 

I don’t know about you, but when I am in the middle of a storm in life, I want to do everything BUT pray. I don’t have time to pray—I’ve got to solve the mess I’m in. But Jesus said it is during these storms that we must pray, and when we do, something amazing happens. Our depression and despair dissipate; it evaporates. The greatest antidote to despair is prayer.

2. Paul’s Petition (Ephesians 3:16-19

Here, he prays to the Father in Heaven that we would experience four specific aspects of our spiritual wealth. These are not isolated requests but interconnected, like chain links. The first leads to the second, the second leads to the third, and the third leads to the fourth. 

Four Aspects of Our Spiritual Wealth

  1. God’s Power (Ephesians 3:16)
  2. God’s Presence (Ephesians 3:17a)
  3. God’s Love (Ephesians 3:17b-18)
  4. God’s Fullness (Ephesians 3:19)

3. Paul’s Postlude (Ephesians 3:20-21)

This postlude is really a doxology—a hymn of praise, giving glory to God. Coming at the halfway point, these two verses represent the climax of the epistle. Notice what Paul says about God.

  • He Is Able to Do

The word do “poieo” means to accomplish to perform, to bring about. The reason Paul prayed was very simply because he was convinced that God had the power to answer his prayers. Are you convinced of that? Do you believe that God is able? Until you are convinced that prayer is the nerve that moves the hand of an omnipotent God, you will never get serious about prayer.

  • He Is Able to Do What We Ask or Imagine

Sometimes, when we pray, we have the assurance that we are praying according to God’s will. When we pray for power in presenting the gospel, when we pray for the reconciliation of relationships, when we pray for the return of a friend or child who has wandered away from the faith, we know we are praying according to God’s will.

Other times, though, we are not so sure if what we are praying is in God’s will, and so we are timid, or sometimes we don’t even approach God with our request. We just think about it.

Now, don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. James said, “You have not because you ask you or you ask with the wrong motives.” We need to pray. But aren’t you glad that sometimes God gives us things we don’t ask for?

  • He Is Able to Do More Than We Ask or Imagine

“Exceeding abundantly above.” Not only is God able to do what we ask or just imagine. He is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine. In fact, Paul is so enthused about God’s power and grace that he makes up a superlative to describe his power.

This made-up Greek word is translated as “exceedingly abundantly beyond.” Here’s the Jeffress Paraphrase–“God’s Power is absolutely over the top. ” That is what he is saying here. God is able to do so much more than we could imagine.

As my old pastor, Dr. Criswell, used to ask. “Just how able is God? Look at the sun, 93,000,000 miles away, so large and powerful that all the planets in our solar system could fall into it. Is the sun, with all of its energy, capable of illuminating this room? Or look at the mighty Mississippi River. Is there enough water in that river to satisfy the thirst of a single man or a woman? It is the same with God’s power in our life.”

Can we ever ask God for too much? Is there anything too hard for him to do? Not only is he able to do what we ask, but far more than we could ever imagine. 

Who would have ever thought to ask God to take on human form and come and die for our sins? Who would have dared ask God not only to forgive us but to adopt us into His family and give us everything He has given to His son, Jesus Christ? Why, even the prodigal son only had the courage to ask his father to take him as a hired slave.

Who would ever have thought to ask God to take our bodies once they die and raise them and change them into immortal and incorruptible bodies that will never grow sick or never die? And yet, God says that He marks the spot where our bodies die; He marks the dust, the atoms, the particles, and one day, He will raise them up.

Is there anything too hard for God? No! And that is why Paul closes his prayer with these words: “To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”


Full Passage: Ephesians 3:14-21