Ephesians 3:20 states: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
I’ve seen this verse used mostly (only?) when praying about physical or material needs in life. Whether it is desired success or upward mobility – in other words grandiose personal desires. Or in less self-serving or legitimate ways, such as healing from illness or relief from a troubling life situation. God can do more than we imagine, and that is true – He can! No argument there.
But we need to look at this verse in context.
Ephesians is a letter written by Paul. Its focus is on the church, and the spiritual blessings we have in Christ. There is also an emphasis on how Jews and gentiles are united into one body in the church. In chapter 3:14-21, we have a prayer and verse 20 comes at the end of this prayer, emphasizing that God can do more than we imagine.
So what is Paul praying about? Let’s see.
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
Note that the requests of this prayer are all spiritual in nature. In a commentary, it summarized that the heart of the prayer is that Christ will be the center of the believer’s life. In other words, Christ will be “at home” in our life and be the key influence in our attitudes and conduct.
This is where verse 20 comes in about God doing immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.
It is distinctly about the spiritual life.
I don’t think I have ever seen this verse used in context!
Do we earnestly pray that God will do more than we can imagine in our spiritual life? Are we praying it for ourselves, each other, and the church? Or are we just praying for physical and material needs all the time?
Of course, we can and should pray for material needs, but too often that is all we pray about to the neglect of the spiritual. May I suggest using Ephesians 3:14-21 as a model prayer?
** More thoughts here: Rethinking how we pray