14 For this cause, I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that you may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be strengthened to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to him be the glory in the assembly and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
In this passage, we see Paul praying for those who enjoyed his ministry, and sharing his prayer with them. In understanding this prayer, we need to ask several questions. It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that all prayers in Scripture are there for imitation, unfortunately that route brings people to pray for wealth and feel God endorses their greed because someone read I Chronicles. It could bring another to feel that God endorses curses, for there are many who pray for God's wrath to fall upon their enemies.
If we are to understand this prayer, we need to consider that this is a letter. Paul shared his prayer, because he wanted those who received the letter to know the prayer... but, does he share because he encourages them to pray the same, or because he is trying to tell them something. If the latter, what is he trying to tell?
One thing we notice if we read Paul is that he wrote out, or mentioned his prayers in nearly all of the letters. One gets the impression that for Paul, prayer was nearly synonymous with breathing. He thanked God, and prayed for God's grace and mercy again and again. He prayed for the general, and at times for the specific.
Paul not only mentioned his own prayers, but mentioned others who prayed, and asked those he wrote to pray as well. One could say that even if none of these prayers are an example -- the prominence of prayer is an example. Paul tells the Thessalonians to "Pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17), and he told the Philippians to pray and not worry. (Philippians 4:6) Paul behaves the same as he recommends by praying to God instead of worrying.
Contents of this prayer
Prayer TO God who
Calls every family on Earth
When looking at various translations, one sees some disagreement on which preposition to choose. I understand this part to mean that Christ calls all people -- as I render the Greek into English as follows: "Each descendant in heaven and on earth is called by him".
Paul is praying to a God with a mission as broad as his own, to bring Salvation, and a new identity of Christ to the whole world -- every people -- one might not be going to far to say that as God is willing that none should perish, that the mission is to every person.
The one with more than we can ask or think.
It is deeply tempting to believe that "God helps those who help themselves" We quote this all the time, but we forget that this is not the doctrine of the gospel. In truth, we seek God's help because we cannot help ourselves. God helps, because God is able to help.
We use a Latin word, Omnipotent, to describe God's power. Rene Descartes described this power somewhat better than the word itself by suggesting that a person imagine the greatest most powerful being he could. The true omnipotent God has power even greater than what can be imagined. Paul addresses God using the same metaphor later described by Descartes. God is more than we can ask for, or imagine.
Prayer for the people
That you may be Strengthened
It seems sane to consider that when Paul prays that God give the readers strength, that he does not wish them to rely on their own strength but God's strength. Paul has wrote extensively explaining that man is in no way good enough but needs God's grace. Paul does not tell the people to "be stronger" but calls on God to give them strength.
That Christ may dwell in your heart
For many of us, this is basic Christianity. Children speak of Christ in their heart -- though, we often find this basic idea difficult as well... how is it that Christ dwells in our heart?
I will speculate that this metaphor is strongly related to all suggestions that our lives are connected with Christ. Whether conflict, or success, or failings, our lives have been connected with Christ... whether Christ "dwells in our hearts" because he is always in our thoughts, and we pray just as we breathe", or if this is something deeper and more mystical... Paul's prayer is that we are tied more and more closely with Christ.
Be rooted and grounded in love
Paul also prays that we become rooted in love. In Ephesians, Paul explains how Salvation is among other things the healing of human relationships. Paul prays that God will grant the readers a solid love -- to keep their feet steady you may say... or love solid as the ground under our feet. This standard is stated over and over again from Christ, throughout Church history.
breadth, length, height, and depth
Some of us may notice Paul is using physical dimensions when calling us to understand. It is pure speculation to point this out -- but, I count four words of dimension -- while our senses recognize only three. Paul prays that God gives us understanding... beyond what we have. Some of us see more clearly than others, but it takes special revelation to understand what is beyond our senses.
Paul prays that we will understand Christ's love that "surpasses all understanding". With our minds, we can reason that the whole of Christ's life and death on this earth are a testament of His love. The choice to give his own name and reputation to replace the one we earned for ourself is a testament of his love. Many people focus on the details of the cross -- as the whole of life of Christ seems to much to understand. We focus on salvation from hell, as we cannot comprehend salvation from a life of focusing on ourselves instead of Christ. If Christ roots us in love for one another, and he has killed conflict between men on the cross - this is part of Christ's love for us. We spend a lifetime understanding this love... and it is deep enough for a lifetime of epiphanies.
That you may be filled with all the fullness of God
Paul also prays we may be filled with "all the fullness of God" Paul's prayer is something that is definitely a continuous process. No matter how much we grow, there is more fullness to fill us.
Place of prayer in letter
I notice this prayer follows Paul telling about a new identity in Christ, then that we cannot do it on our own but need God's help.... and then, about how Christ changes and redeems human relationships conquering conflict. Paul prays that the people know, and understand the things that makes these changes possible. He prays that they experience the grace that only God can give. Paul prays that people are given the very grace he teaches -- and that the understand the implications of living in this grace.
One thing about Paul is that he keeps saying the same thing. Like the previous chapters, there is little I can say about this other than our lives change as our thoughts and attitudes change. In the thoughtful passages before -- and this rather heavy prayer, we do not see behaviors, but attitudes. We must learn, and love better.
Paul prays, and we would not be amiss in following his example and praying for these same things. Part of the change in attitude is recognizing our dependence on God. If I were to suggest a practical recommendation -- it would be to pray for the same things Paul prayed for -- that we would understand better, that we would live in love, and that Christ would always be in our hearts.