May 22, 1994

POWER UNLIMITED

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

Today I’m going to talk about something so marvelous, so magnificent, and so mysterious that I find myself almost at a loss for words.  It is so astonishing, so utterly overwhelming, that even as I begin, I know that what I say is going to be pitifully inadequate.  But trusting in a Power infinitely greater than my own, I’m going to move ahead anyway.

I want to hold before you a prayer inspired by God and recorded in the Bible, a prayer that carries us to the limits of what our minds can conceive and beyond, a prayer that opens up possibilities we hardly dare to dream of.  Before I say any more about it, I invite you first just to listen to this prayer of St. Paul, found in Ephesians 3:14-21.  Paul says,

I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.

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, forever and ever!  Amen.

What a prayer!

Paul begins by speaking to God as the ultimate Father, the head of a family that spans heaven and earth:  a family that includes girls and boys, men and women of every color living on every continent;  a family that includes a multitude of people from the past who now live in the glory of heaven;  a family that includes angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim.  What a family, and what a Father!  Paul ends his prayer by praising God as the Almighty, the one who holds power unlimited, whose might boggles the mind, and who can do infinitely more than we can even imagine.  If the greatness of a prayer is measured by the greatness of Who it addresses, then this prayer is great indeed.

And this prayer is great, not only in how it addresses God but in what it asks of God.  Paul doesn’t ask for this or that or some other thing.  He asks for nothing less than God himself.  He asks that this God of power will move right into the inner lives of ordinary people.  He prays that Christ will make himself at home in their hearts, that they will know firsthand the boundless love of Christ, and that they will be filled to overflowing with God’s fullness.  If the greatness of a prayer is measured by the greatness of what it asks for, I can’t imagine one greater than this–a prayer that people will actually be possessed by God!

And Paul isn’t praying that God will do this only for a select, super-elite group of spiritual giants.  He’s praying for just plain Christians.  This prayer is part of a letter that was sent to the entire church of Ephesus, and it was circulated to other churches in the region as well.

The people in these churches were down-to-earth, ordinary people, overworked, and often tired.  They weren’t off in a seminary or monastery.  They were in the day-to-day grind.  Many were poor and uneducated.  Some were slaves, bogged down in the most demeaning work.

What’s more, these people were a long way from perfect.  Just read a little further in the letter to the Ephesians, and you find that Paul has to remind them not to lie, not to lose their temper, not to steal, not to gossip, not to bicker or get in fistfights, not to be sexually loose, not to be greedy, not to talk dirty, not to get drunk, and so forth.  Any group of people that needed all these reminders was obviously far from perfect.  They were Christians, but they were still tempted to forget their new identity, and they still had plenty of room for improvement.

And yet the apostle prays that each and every one of them will be completely possessed by Christ, that they will experience God in ways that words can’t fully describe.  Just think of it!  Ordinary, imperfect people like this, being given the power to have the living Christ at home in them, the love of Christ surrounding them, and the fullness of God flooding their entire being.  If it could happen to them, it can also happen to people like you and me.

This isn’t something we can bring about by ourselves, of course.  It’s up to God.  Only his power can make it happen.  That’s why Paul says, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:16).  It doesn’t depend on our resources but on God’s riches.  The human spirit can’t do it, but the Holy Spirit can.  These days more and more people are talking about spirituality.  Well, this is Spirituality with a capital S–the Spirit of God himself.

Each year Christians observe Pentecost Sunday.  We remember the day when God poured out his Spirit on the first followers of Jesus, and we celebrate what that event means for us today.  We rejoice that the Holy Spirit, mighty as he is, stoops to our weakness and gives us the power and capacity to be possessed by Christ and his love. How we need God’s Spirit!  Any talk about spirituality is empty without him.  The Holy Spirit isn’t a vague power that lies hidden in every person, that we can find just by looking deep inside ourselves.  The Holy Spirit is a person, the third person of the Holy Trinity, along with God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son.  Having the Spirit isn’t a matter of being in touch with ourselves, but of being in touch with God.

Left to ourselves, we are completely out of touch with God, dead in sin, dominated by our own desires.  But in Christ Jesus, God has brought spiritual life to the human race.  Only in Christ, through faith in his death and resurrection and exaltation, can we have a share in this life.  The prayer I read from Ephesians 3 seeks the deepest fellowship and friendship with Christ through the Holy Spirit, but before this deep fellowship becomes real, faith must be present.  That’s the starting point.

And here too, the Holy Spirit is the one who makes it happen.  He creates faith.  He shakes us out of our complacency and convicts us of our sin and our need for forgiveness.  He shines through our ignorance and convinces us of the truth of Christ.  He brings us from death to life.  He creates true faith, and when that faith is established, he makes us aware of his presence and seals our certainty that we belong to God.

We saw earlier that Paul was praying for ordinary, imperfect people, but at the same time, we need to remember that he was praying for Christian people, people who had already put their faith in Christ, who had been sealed with the Spirit.  Earlier in Ephesians, Paul writes, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.  Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13).  It was only because these people were already Christians that Paul could go on to pray that they would experience God in all his fullness.

Fellowship with Christ is impossible unless there is first faith in Christ.  So if you don’t already have such a faith, I pray that even now God’s Spirit will show you your need and move you to trust in Christ.  Once he brings you to that point, you’ll be ready for fellowship with Christ.  You won’t be wondering what all of this is like.  You’ll start to experience it.

It’s one thing to read a love story, or to hear what other people say about love.  It’s quite another actually to love and be loved:  to see it in each other’s eyes, to tell each other, “I love you,” to hold each other in a tender embrace, to enjoy giving each other gifts and doing things to make each other happy–this experience of love registers in your mind, of course, but it also warms your heart and grips your whole being.

That’s how it is with faith.  It’s one thing to know what the Bible says about God, and that’s very important.  But it’s another thing to hear the Bible as God’s love message to you personally.  “True faith is not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true;  it is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 21).

Once you have that knowledge and assurance, you can join the rest of God’s people in seeking to be totally possessed by Christ.  In Ephesians 3, Paul says, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16).

When we talk about power unlimited, it’s tempting to want this power, not to strengthen our inner being, but to improve our outer circumstances.  “Prosperity preachers” tell people to trust God’s power to give them a new car, or a better job, or a miraculous healing.  But Paul prays that God’s power will be applied first of all to the inner person.  You can be so busy praying for God to change your finances, to change your family, to change your health, that you never ask him to change you.

Did you ever think that maybe your biggest problem isn’t that you have too many troubles but that you have too little inner strength?  Instead of asking God to make your situation easier, maybe you should be asking him to make your inner person stronger.

Paul once said, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).  In another place he wrote, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13).  Paul had inner strength, and he wanted other Christians to have it as well.

But coping with difficulties isn’t the only reason we need inner strength.  The main reason we need this power, says Ephesians 3, is so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.  If I am to be a home for the Lord Jesus Christ himself, I need constant reinforcement and remodeling.  Just as a house needs floors that are strong enough to bear the weight of people and beds and heavy furniture, so my heart needs the strength to bear the infinite weight of Christ living in me.  Only his Spirit can give me that capacity and power.

The Christ who lives in heaven lives also in me, through faith.  And my prayer is that he will be flood my whole being with a vivid awareness of him, that he will completely possess me and form me in his likeness.  Hudson Taylor, a great Christian of a past generation, had a prayer which he said every day:

Lord Jesus, make Thyself to me

A living, bright Reality;

More present to faith’s vision keen

Than any outward object seen;

More dear, more intimately nigh

Than e’en the sweetest earthly tie.

It’s one thing to look at a picture of a beach.  It’s quite another to actually be there:  to gaze in awe at the seemingly endless expanse of water, to breathe in the air, to hear the splashing and crashing of waves and the piercing cries of seagulls, to feel the hot sun on your back and the warm sand between your toes, and then to plunge in and swim about in that vast and refreshing coolness.

Likewise, faith in Christ isn’t just a matter of looking but of living–living and experiencing the love and peace and joy of the Christ who lives in us.  When Christ comes to us through his Word and by his Spirit, it is not abstract or theoretical, but real and dynamic and glorious.  He dwells in our hearts through this living faith.

This isn’t just a one-time experience but an ongoing relationship.  When two people get married, they share the same home right away.  But if it’s a healthy marriage, the longer they’re together, the more they’re at home with each other.  Moving into a home may be a one-time event, but feeling at home together is a growing, lifelong process.  In the same way, when we come to faith in Christ, we know then and there that he has moved into our hearts.  But that’s not the end of the matter.  With each passing day, Christ makes himself more and more at home in us, and we become more and more attuned to him.  Each day we pray for this anew.

When Christians pray to experience God’s power through his Spirit, we aren’t asking for a vague mystical experience.  We seek to encounter by faith a definite person, Jesus Christ:  to know him as he is, to love what he loves, to do what he does, to have him dwell in our hearts by faith till we are wholly and completely his.

After praying that Christ will dwell in our hearts through faith, Paul says:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.

If we had to describe God in just one word, what would it be?  LOVE!  The Bible says, “God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).  When Christ dwells in us, we are “rooted and established in love.”  Like a plant that draws nourishment from the soil, we are nourished by roots that draw from the rich soil of love.  Like a great building that depends on a strong foundation, we are established on the foundation of love.  We are rooted and established in love.

The Bible says, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5).  Love is the highest expression of the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  Not speaking in tongues, not mastering religious ideas, not a faith that works miracles and signs and wonders, not generous donations, not even heroic martyrdom, but love.  Whatever place these other things might have, love is first and foremost.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels [says Paul], but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Before we get busy trying to do all sorts of things for God, we need to put first things first.  It’s only when we are overflowing with the love of God that we accomplish anything worthwhile.  A Christian is, above all else, a person who loves.  We love God, and we love others, because God first loved us.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “The man who knows the love of Christ in his heart can do more in one hour than the busy type of man can do in a century.”

This infinite love is something we need to grasp “together with all the saints,” as Paul puts it.  A relationship with Christ is always personal, but it is never private.  God’s love is much bigger than my own experience.  I’m not the only one who has been touched by his love.  Others in the church have too, and our awareness of Christ’s love grows much richer when we hear each other’s stories, when we together share and delight in his love for all his people.

How wide is God’s love in Christ?  As wide as the world.  I sing “Jesus loves me,” but I also sing, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.”  God’s love is wide enough to embrace people of every color and nation and background and bring them together in one church.  And his love is wide enough to include the rest of creation as well.  As the Bible says, “O Lord, you preserve both man and beast.  How priceless is your unfailing love!” (Psalm 36:6-7)  “The earth is filled with your love, O Lord” (Psalm 119:64).

How long is God’s love in Christ?  It stretches from eternity past to eternity future.  God says in the Bible, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).  “From everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s love is with those who fear him” (Psalm 103:17).  “For he chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world…  In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4-5).  There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord  (Romans 8:38-39).  “His love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1).

How high is God’s love in Christ?  The Bible says, “For great is your love, higher than the heavens;  your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Psalm 57:10, cf. 36:5).  The height of God’s love lifts us unimaginably high.  Ephesians 2:6 says that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6).  God adopts us as his children, and as sons and daughters of the king, we become princes and princesses who reign with him for ever and ever (Revelation 22:5).  That is how high we soar on the wings of his love.

How deep is God’s love in Christ?  Jesus plunged all the way down to the darkest depths of sin and death and hell in order to rescue us.  His love reaches to the very lowest of the low.  “God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

The words of Scripture help us to begin to grasp the vast scope of Christ’s love, and the Holy Spirit gives us power to really know this love that surpasses all words.  The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.  If the sky was made of paper, if the ocean was made of ink, if every person was a professional writer, it would still be impossible to capture in writing the infinity of God’s love. To have Christ dwelling in us by faith, to know the love of God that surpasses knowledge, and to thus be filled with God’s fullness–if that sounds like too much to expect, too much to hope for and pray for, just remember who brings it about.  It’s not you, but the Holy Spirit of the living God, and he has power unlimited.

Sometimes when we pray, we hope that God might be able to do at least a little of what we ask.  But God can do all that we ask.  Other things we hardly dare ask;  we only imagine.  But the Lord can do all that we ask or imagine.  And we still haven’t reached the limit.  He can do more than all we ask or imagine.  And not just a little more, but immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.  He has power unlimited.

What’s more, if we belong to him, that power has already begun working within us, ordinary and imperfect though we are. The Spirit of God brings his power to bear in our hearts and lives.  It is power to house the living Christ.  It is power to know the love of Christ.  It is power to be filled with God’s fullness.  It is power unlimited.

Prayer

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, forever and ever!  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.