Inspired by Possibilities Far Beyond Ourselves
How much can God do? The answer is more – ‘immeasurably’ more than we can ask, and more than we can even imagine. The Greek word for immeasurably was one of the Apostle Paul’s ‘coined super-superlatives.’ It is the highest form of comparison imaginable and could be translated here as ‘infinitely more than.’ It states simply that there are no limits to what God can do. In a composite expression of seven stages, Paul forcefully stated God’s ability to answer prayer (see Ephesians 3:14-21):
- He is able to do or to work, for he is neither idle, nor inactive, nor dead
- He is able to do what we ask, for he hears and answers prayer.
- He is able to do what we ask or think, for he reads our thoughts, and sometimes we imagine things for which we dare not and therefore do not ask.
- He is able to do all that we ask or think, for he knows it all and can perform it all.
- He is able to do more … than all that we ask or think, for his expectations are higher than ours.
- He is able to do much more, or more abundantly, than all that we ask or think, for he does not give his grace by calculated measure.
- He is able to do very much more, far more abundantly, than all that we ask or think for he is a God of super-abundance.[i]
The infinite ability of God to work beyond our prayers, thoughts and dreams is by the power at work within us, within us individually and within us as a people. It is the power of the resurrection, the power which raised Christ from the dead, enthroned him in the heavenlies, and then raised and enthroned us there with him. That is the power which is at work within the Christian and the church. To God be the glory.
What will you ask God to do for you? For children of all ages, Christmas is the asking time of the year. While we may not be asking for ‘mutant ninja turbo-blasters’ or ‘Diamond Dancing Barbies,’ we adults still have our ‘asks.’ The adult requests are more in the form of secure jobs, incomes adequate to pay for the turbo-blasters, good health, diplomas, peaceable families, and a world without war. There is no reproach in the apostle’s words for asking. We come to a Father who is able to do what we ask, and invites us to come to him.
But, did you notice, the apostle does not limit the Father’s care or ability to what we ask? There is too much of our humanity in our requests for them to govern God’s responses. Because we are human our requests are feeble and finite. We want dessert when we need meat, success when we need humility, and safety when we need godly courage – or Christlike sacrifice. We ask within the limits of human vision, but he is able to do more. He sees into eternity what is needful for our soul and for the souls of those whom our lives will touch across geography and across generations; and, seeing this, he is able to do more than we ask.
In a remarkable story of God’s amazing grace, Bryan Chapell recounts the story of Mary Nelson, a childless woman. In 1983 Mary was working in her garden in St. Louis, praying while she worked. She asked God to help not only in her grief for the absence of children in her life, but also in her bitter awareness of women who could have children but choose to abort them. The absence of a child in her home created such a longing for life in her heart that Mary asked God, there in the garden, to help her give life to children in whatever way he would lead. Nine months later, Mary ‘gave birth’ to the first Pregnancy Resource Center in St. Louis, and since that time literally thousands of children have been spared due to the prayers and labors of Mary Nelson and others who have followed her. She, who once asked to be a life-giving mother to one, has become a life-saving mother to thousands.[ii]
Our God is able to do immeasurably above what we ask. I know to ask only what I think is good for my immediate family; he knows what is good for my children’s children, and what will bring multitudes into his Kingdom from places I cannot name or imagine.
Yet the ways of our Lord cannot be limited to what we ask, because his wisdom and power – and, therefore his intentions – are beyond our imagination. His loving surpasses our requests and even our imagination. ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Cor. 2:9; Isa. 64:4). For those in Christ, T. S. Eliot says, ‘the impossible union of spheres of existence is actual. Here the past and future are conquered, and reconciled.’
Don’t miss this week as we conclude our series on stewardship with ‘Inspired by possibilities beyond ourselves’ from Ephesians 3:14-21. For the sake of your family, your church, and your community, you will want to be present as we are challenged by Paul to pray big prayers.
By His Grace and For His Glory,
[i] John Stott, God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 139-40. Emphases and numbering, mine.
[ii] Bryan Chapell, Ephesians, Reformed Expository Commentary (New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2009), 169-70.