It is a remarkable prayer. It is a prayer that flows on in its effect, cascading like a stream that gathers strength until it flows to the sea. It is a prayer that has been prayed in the church ever since and which we can continue to pray for ourselves and each other, because it is universal in its application. So let’s think about its different aspects...
It begins with the prayer for strengthening of the inner being. This is where the connection with God begins and without paying attention to our inner being there can be no growth in faith. We live in a culture that pays a great deal of attention to the outer being – our TVs are full of cookery shows and lifestyle programs. None of that is necessarily bad – indeed a mindful attention to outer things can take us inward. However we have to make the conscious choice to turn our gaze inwards and to attend to the action of God within us, that our inner being may be strengthened. When we do, Christ begins to make a home in us. Many spiritual writers refer to our inner world as being like a house with many rooms – indeed Teresa of Avila calls it a castle! You might like to think of your own inner being as like a house. A house has many rooms, a kitchen, a living area, a bedroom, perhaps gardens, an attic. As you mentally walk through the house that is your inner world, you might like to think about the ways in which you welcome Christ in each place. Have you perhaps left Christ standing in the hall and never invited him into the kitchen for a cuppa? Do you only entertain Christ in the best sitting room when you’ve done the vacuuming, or is Christ welcome even in your most untidy cupboard? The writer of Ephesians talks about Christ ‘dwelling’ in us, and the word used really means ‘to make oneself at home’. What a wondrous thought, that Christ wants not just to be in our house, but totally ‘at home’ in us. This is the first result of the action of the Holy Spirit, strengthening our inner being.
Once Christ is at home in us, then we begin to grow in understanding of Christ’s love – understanding indeed that Christ’s love cannot be understood! For Christ’s love is vaster than the universe itself, longer than time, higher than our imagining can take us, deeper than death. Entering into this vast, limitless love is sheer gift and from that gift flows compassion and right action in in the world. Those who have touched this love, look on others always with gentleness – we see it in the faces of the true saints. I think always of Brother Ghislain from the Taize community – his face always full of tenderness and peace.
So, once strengthened in our inner being, Christ makes a home in us, and we begin to tap the vast reservoir of God’s love. When that happens finally we can be filled ‘with all the fullness of God’. To be so filled truly is beyond our imagining and a work of grace accomplished only through prayer. Yet we can yearn and pray for that filling every day.
This prayer of Ephesians 3 is a Trinitarian prayer. It begins with the strengthening of the Holy Spirit; moves to the indwelling of Christ and the gift of Christ’s love and issues in the infilling of God as Creator. God, Creator, redeemer and Spirit is at work in us. And consequently, God is ‘able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine’. In the end it is all the work of God and not our own striving. We can offer our own little incremental drips and sprinkles of prayer and obedience, but it is God who will swell the stream to a river that cascades into the ocean of God’s love and action in the world. It is a wonderful prayer. I invite you to take it to your own prayer and pray it for yourself and for others in the coming days. Let’s begin that now, by praying together, beginning at verse 16.
by Penny Jones