Glory to Our God Who Exceeds All Limits (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. —Ephesians 3:20-21
May I be blunt, please? Stop misunderstanding these verses. I say this not to be mean or controlling or obnoxious, but because for years I struggled with the validity of this promise, relegating it to Paul’s enthusiasm rather than divine inspiration. My problem was, having memorized this from the New International Version, I came away from this verse thinking I had a more vivid imagination than God does.
The NIV translates Ephesians 3:20 with these words: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine . . . .” I skipped all the words before and after the word “imagine.” God would do exceedingly, abundantly above and beyond all I could imagine, and I could imagine a lot! I would ask, and I would imagine, and I would wait expectantly, but God never seemed to do even half what I could imagine. Not even a third. Not even a quarter of what I could come up with in various situations. In fact, in most cases, God did nothing that I asked or expected, but instead did something entirely different (or, as far as I could tell, nothing at all)!
I know people today who actually disregard these words in Ephesians 3 altogether because their experience does not seem to match the exuberance of the promise. Please, don’t fall into that trap. God’s Word should interpret our experience, not the other way around. And if you have fallen into that trap, may I please help you out of it?
Some people in my family, whom I love with all my heart, live daily with the effects of a genetic muscle-wasting disease. They love Jesus and live faithfully for Him, serving Him in a variety of ministry settings. For as long as I have known them they have prayed for God’s healing. They have trusted and asked and thought. Two years ago, one of them died. She entered heaven physically unhealed.
I’m not willing to make death a healer, nor am I willing to make excuses for God. While she lived, she was not healed. Sorrow forced another, closer look at Ephesians 3:20, because I had already spent years imaging what joy and witness would abound as a result of God answering our prayer for healing.
Here’s what a closer look revealed:
These verses are not primarily about me (and what I might receive) but about God and Who He is. The direction of this benediction is “to him” not “to me.” Anytime we take a promise from God and make it more about ourselves as recipients than Him as provider, we put ourselves at risk of misunderstanding and misapplying God’s Word.
I also found, when I focused on the true subject of these verses, that God exceeds any limit my situation, circumstances, or conditions might tempt me to place on Him. What we “ask or think” is not an expression of the extent of God’s power. This phrase does not set the finish line God must pass. These words express the inadequacy of our ability to fully embrace all that God is in His person and all the ability God has in His person to accomplish His will. I think of my imagination extending far. God takes one look and says, “Not far enough for me.”
The power at work within us (believers) is not the power of our imagination, or the fervency of our prayer, or the urgency of our devotion. The power at work within us is the Holy Spirit, the One Who raised Jesus from the dead. The Spirit is the Person of the Godhead at work in the world and in the church to accomplish God’s will in all He has created. The power at work within us is not our ability to please God but God’s own personal ability at work within us to please Himself!
I also came to realize that my prayer request is not the goal of the unlimited power of God extending beyond the boundaries of my imagination through the infinite working of His Holy Spirit. The goal of God is not my personal satisfaction. The goal of God is not satiating my felt need to “have.” God’s goal at which He works with unhindered, unlimited power, is His glory personally known in the world through the church and through His Son forever. God’s goal is the actualization of Habakkuk 2:14, “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
This does not mean that my need is irrelevant to God. It means that the realizing of God’s glory is most relevant to me. That I should love and desire His glory in my circumstances, and that He should use my life for His glory, is a work beyond anything I could ask or imagine. That I should treasure God’s glory and God’s purpose from the beginning to fill creation with the experiential knowledge of His glory exceeds the boundaries set by my imagination!
Ephesians 3:20-21 no longer disappoints me. I no longer avoid these words but love them. God has gone beyond the markers of human imagination to make known His glory not only through His Son, as I would expect and imagine, but through me, as one saved by grace and adopted into His church, as I, who deserves only death on account of sin, have no right to expect or imagine. Mind blowing! Imagination exploding! Wonder of wonders!
To Him be glory in the church (in me!) and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.