How to Pray with Power

Ephesians 3:14-21

July 16, 2000 | Brian Bill

How many of you need a prayer support group this morning?  We make it harder than it needs to be, don’t we?

As we continue in our series called, Prayer Passages, let’s summarize what we’ve learned so far from our study in Luke 11, 2 Chronicles 7 and Daniel 9:

  1. Biblical praying should always begin with an acknowledgment of who God is. He is our Holy Father, who is in command of His kingdom.  Our prayers should be centered on His glory, not ours.
  2. As we contemplate God’s splendor, we’ll be aware of our own sinfulness. God desires that we humble ourselves, confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, and turn from our wicked ways.
  3. Our prayers should be bold and spontaneous, not trite and routine. God longs for us to come boldly and without hesitation into His presence and to lay our requests out before Him.
  4. God not only loves to hear His children pray, He often chooses to work in tandem with our prayers. As we learned last week, sometimes God delays His plans until His people begin to pray.


Please turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 3:14-21.  Follow along with me as I read this great prayer passage from the New Living Translation.

Before we jump into interpreting this text and looking for some points of application, let’s begin by making a few observations.  By the way, one of the best ways to study the Bible is to follow these three steps:

  • What does it say?  That’s observation.
  • What does it mean?  That’s interpretation.
  • What does it mean to me?  That’s application.

Let me make just a few observations that will help us understand this passage better.  

1. Paul’s mind wandered when He prayed. 

That’s good news, isn’t it?  My mind roams all over the place when I pray!  Take a look at 3:1: “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…” It sounds like he’s getting ready to pray and then he spends the next 12 verses talking about the beauty and mystery of the church.  When we come to 3:14, he finally returns to his prayer.

2. This prayer is Trinitarian. 

All three members of the Trinity are referred to in Paul’s prayer.  Verse 14: “I kneel before the Father…”  Verse 16: “I pray that out of His glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through His Spirit…” And in verse 17: “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts…” The most common way to pray in the Bible is to address prayers to the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit.  However, it’s certainly appropriate to address Jesus and the Holy Spirit when we pray.

3. This prayer is focused on our inner person, not on our bodies. 

So many of our prayers have to do with our health and physical needs.  Paul is concerned more with how we’re doing on the inside.  In fact, all of Paul’s prison prayers (those prayers he recorded while in prison,) deal with the believer’s spiritual condition, not the physical.  There is certainly nothing wrong with praying for physical health – we’re going to focus on this next Sunday, but Paul’s primary concern is internal, not external.

4. Paul’s emotions are fully engaged. 

The Apostle did not try to just pray with his mind – he threw his heart into his prayers.  He didn’t try the Serenity Prayer or just thoughtlessly repeat God’s name.  I picture Paul praying with fervency and a sense of urgency.

5. This prayer is focused on the need for power. 

The word “power” or “strengthen” is used four different times.  This is the second prayer recorded in Ephesians.  The first one is found in Ephesians 1:15-23 where Paul’s concern is for enlightenment so that we might know God’s power.  Here in chapter 3, he prays for empowerment so that we might use the divine power available to us.

I was greatly helped in my preparation for this message by Warren Wiersbe’s outline of Ephesians 3.  He suggests that this prayer can be broken down into three parts:

  1. The Invocation (14-15)
  2. The Petition (16-19)
  3. The Benediction (20-21)

The Invocation

Let’s begin by looking at Paul’s invocation in verses 14-15.  The first thing we notice is his posture: “I kneel.”  Can you imagine what this must have been like for the Roman soldier who was chained to Paul?  The Bible never commands us to pray using a certain position, although the most common way to pray was to stand up.  

When Paul says that he kneels, the direct translation from the Greek is, “I bend my knee before the Father.”  This is an act of humble petition.  Think about your own posture in prayer for a minute.  You may use several different positions.  You may sit and pray while you’re reading your Bible.  You may stand and pray.  But there are times when out of desperation or because of a circumstance, that we feel compelled to fall on our knees in an earnest prayer of intercession.  That’s what Paul was doing here.

Paul refers to God as Father 42 different times in his letters.  There is no other description used as frequently.  This phrase denotes intimacy, and is the same word used by Jesus most often when He prayed.  Paul says that the “whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name” from God the Father.  As Creator, God is the Father of everyone; but as Savior, He is only the Father of those who believe.  Notice that some of God’s family is already “in heaven” and some of us are still on “earth.”

The Petition

Verse 16 begins with the phrase, “I pray that…”  This now introduces us to the petition part of the prayer, of which there are four specific requests.  Wiersbe suggests that these are not isolated, individual petitions but rather are like four parts to a telescope.  One request leads into the next one, and so on.  Paul prays that our inner beings may have spiritual strength, which will, in turn, lead to a deeper experience with Christ.  This deeper experience will enable us to comprehend God’s great love, which will result in being “filled to the measure of the fullness of God.”  So then, Paul is praying for strength, depth, comprehension, and fullness.

Paul makes these requests not according to our ability to receive, but according to God’s ability to give.  In other words, Paul does not want us to experience a portion of God, but to experience the limitless supply of God Himself.  Out of God’s “glorious riches,” He will give and give and give.  There is more in God’s endowment fund than we can ever use – and we are beneficiaries of His riches.

1. Strength. 

The first request is for God to give power and strength to the very core of our being through the Holy Spirit.  The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is evidence that we are saved as Romans 8:9 makes clear: “…If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” But the power of the Holy Spirit is what Paul is praying for.  Someone has said that if God took the Holy Spirit out of this world, most of what we Christians are doing would go right on – and nobody would know the difference!

The word translated, power is the Greek word dunamei, from which we get the words dynamic and dynamite.  Do you ever feel spiritually weak?  I know I do.  Many of us seek strength through friends or family members.  We often wait until there is no one left to talk to before we turn to the Lord.  

only the Holy Spirit can strengthen our spirits

Friends, only the Holy Spirit can strengthen our spirits.  He is the one who refreshes, revitalizes and empowers us.  And He does it on the inside where God dwells and works.  Even though our bodies grow weaker, our inner being can grow stronger. 2 Corinthians 4:16 says, “Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”  As our bodies grow old and frail our spirits can grow strong in the Lord.

2. Depth. 

As the Holy Spirit empowers us, we are then able to go deeper in our walk with Christ.  We see this in verse 17: “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love…”

Paul uses three pictures to convey the idea of spiritual depth and our fellowship with Christ when he chooses these three verbs: “dwell,” “rooted,” and “established.”  

God wants us more than just merely saved.  Paul’s prayer is that Christ would dwell in our hearts.  This word is a compound form of two Greek words, “kata” (down) and “oikos” (house).  It literally means, “to settle down and feel at home.”  Jesus wants to be more than just a guest in our lives; He is the owner, or ruler.  Christ wants our home to become His home.

Robert Munger wrote a fascinating booklet entitled “My Heart Christ’s Home,” in which he pictures the Christian life as a house.  Jesus comes into the house and goes from room to room.  He goes into the library of the mind and begins to clean up the trash found there.  He replaces it with His Word.  He enters the dining room of the appetite and finds many sinful desires listed on a worldly menu.  He replaces things like materialism, pride, envy and lust with humility, love and purity.  When he finally comes to the closet, the owner of the house hesitates to open the door to all his dark and secret sins.  He can’t bear to have Jesus look inside.  But Jesus does come inside – only after He’s invited – and cleans it up.  Jesus then settles down and feels at home.

Do you have some rooms in your life that you haven’t allowed Jesus into?  Let Him to come into every area of your life and do some cleaning with his penetrating holiness and matchless grace.  Jesus dwells in our hearts through faith.  Our faith in Him means that we invite Him to do some housecleaning.  We put our faith in Him so that He can do the needed renovations in our life.

The verb rooted is from the plant world.  Just as a tree must have roots down deep into the soil if it is to have both nourishment and stability, so too we as believers must have our spiritual roots deep into the love of God.  Psalm 1 tells us that we can become like living trees, if our root system is healthy.   The word established is an architectural term that is translated “grounded” in some versions.  It refers to the foundation of a building.  Paul is mixing his metaphors here in order to communicate the importance of going deep with God.

And so, we are to have deep roots and a firm foundation.  Are your roots as wide as your branches?  Is your foundation as deep as your life is tall?  God longs for us to be anchored deeply to His love.

In Paul’s petition, he prays for strength.  He prays for depth.  His third request is for comprehension.  We see this in verse 18 and the first part of verse 19.

3. Comprehension. 

The NIV uses the word “grasp” which literally means to “be made strong to comprehend.”  If we were talking about a joke, we might say, “Do you get it?”  When Louis Armstrong was asked to explain jazz, he said, “Man if I’ve got to explain it, you ain’t got it!” Paul prays that believers “get it,” that we comprehend the enormity of Christ’s love.  And, he wants “all the saints” to take hold of this divine love.  This is not referring to super spiritual people who have died, but to believers who have been set apart for Christ.  In the New Testament, the word, “saint” is a synonym for a Christian.

Verse 18 continues by laying out four dimensions of God’s love.   How do you measure the immeasurable?  How wide is it?  It’s immense.  It reaches to all people, nations, sins, needs, cares, and situations.  How long is it?  It existed before time; it will never end and is unconditional.  How high is God’s love?  It’s high enough to take those who are saved to heaven.  And, how deep is the love of God?  It’s deep enough to rescue the worst sinner – from the “uttermost to the guttermost.”

The early Christians spoke of the love of Christ as demonstrated on the Cross.  The Cross touched the earth, pointed to heaven, and is stretched out in both directions.  How much does He love you?  Look at the Cross and you’ll know.

The beginning part of verse 19 seems like a contradiction.  How can we know the love of God that is beyond knowing?  How do we know the unknowable?  Humanly speaking, we can’t.  This kind of knowledge is not intellectual, but divine – it comes with salvation.  Paul is praying not that we know the love we have for Jesus, but that we would know the love of Jesus.  When we contemplate His love, it will overwhelm us and blow us away.  The only way to really understand it is by experiencing it for ourselves.  If you don’t understand God’s love this morning, it may be because you haven’t personally tasted it yet.

4. Fullness. 

Paul’s fourth petition is for believers to experience fullness.  We see this in the last part of verse 19: “that you may be filled to the measure with all the fullness of God.”  How do you contain the uncontainable?  This is an amazing thought.  As believers we have been created to be the containers of God.  He desires to pour His life into ours and fill us until we’re full.

“Filled” comes from a word that means, “to be overflowing, like a cup that is running over.”  It means total dominance, to come to the place in your life where you are totally overwhelmed by God’s presence.  It means giving everything to God and leaving nothing of your self.

We tend to measure ourselves against other people.  Paul tells us that the measure is Christ.  When we have reached His fullness, then we will have reached the limit.  In one sense, we are already full in Christ.  Positionally, we are already complete in Him, but practically, we need to live it out by having strength, depth, and comprehension.  The resources are there – we just need to start using them.  

Do you experience the fullness of God on a regular basis?  That’s what Paul prays for believers.  If you don’t live with this kind of fullness, try praying this prayer for yourself and for others.  Are you willing to say to the Lord, “Lord, fill me up so that my life is all you and none of me?”  I often want some of the Lord and some of me.

Think of an empty cup.  How do you get all the air out of it?  There’s only one way – by filling it with something else.  How do we remove the weakness, the sin, and the junk from our lives?  By being filled with the fullness of God.


We come now to the last two verses of our text.  After contemplating the thrill of experiencing God’s power, plumbing the depths of God’s love, trying to grasp all that He has for us, and striving to be filled with the fullness of God Himself, Paul bursts forth into a glorious doxology of praise.  

These four petitions can very easily seem beyond our reach.  And they are unless God intervenes.  In this beautiful benediction, Paul uses every word possible to convey the vastness of God’s power that is available to us today.

Let’s look at what God is able to do in verse 20:

  • He is able.  There is nothing that God cannot do.
  • He is able to do.  God is not idle or asleep, but active in our lives.
  • He is able to do immeasurably more. His expectations are higher than our requests.
  • He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask. He listens to our prayers.
  • He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. God reads our thoughts.
  • He is able to do this according to His power that is at work within us. God does all this through the power that is already in us.

The phrase translated “immeasurably more” is the same word for the abundant grace of God in Romans 5:20: “…But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”  It literally means, “Superabundantly, with more added to that.”  That’s like saying more than more than.  God has enough power to do immeasurably more than we can ask or think with more added to that.

Verse 21 shows us that the glory of God is displayed in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Paul sees the church as the means by which much glory can be given to God.  In other words, as we utilize the power given to us, God receives the glory.

That leads to a question, doesn’t it?  Why are we as Christians so often deficient?  What is keeping us from experiencing this kind of power?  Why do we have so many power outages?

We either don’t care or we think we can do it all in our strength

There are really only two answers to that question.

  1. Either our theology is wrong and God is not able to do what He says;
  2. Or, our theology is right, but we short-circuit the process.

Obviously, the problem is with us, not with God.  We are not tapping into the power He has made available to us.  We either don’t care or we think we can do it all in our strength.

Action Steps

Let me give you three action steps this morning.

  1. Pray this prayer for yourself on regular basis.  Take this text, insert your name and pray it every day for a week.  Ask God to change your inner person, and pray less for your physical needs.
  2. Pray this prayer for other people.  Put their names in the prayer and ask God to grant them strength, depth, comprehension, and fullness.
  3. Think of an impossible situation right now.  Is there something you are facing that seems way beyond hope?  Make a decision to trust God to do immeasurably more than all you can ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within you.  


A little girl turned to her mother after church and said, “Mommy, the pastor’s sermon was confusing today.”  

The mother asked, “Why is that, honey?”  

The little girl answered, “Well, he said that God is bigger than we are.  Is that true?”  

“Yes, that’s true,” the mother replied.

“He also said that God lives within us.  Is that true, too?”

Again the mother replied, “Yes, that’s true.”

“Well,” said the little girl, “If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn’t He show through?”

Good question.  Does God show through in your life?  

Benediction: Read Ephesians 3:14-21 in New Living Translation.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?