The context of this passage, in the first thirteen verses, Paul lays out his calling as an apostle to preach to the Gentiles. The church in Ephesus prays for and supports him. From verse fourteen through nineteen, he prays for them. Then he closes in verse twenty and twenty-one with a doxology, a praise to God. These are favorite verses of many believers, especially when we feel our need of God.
We can use these words to prioritize our prayers. We can ask, what was the apostle Paul praying for the Ephesians? He wants them to endure – this is apparent throughout the book. He wants them to live godly lives, to live in community with other believers. We see that in Ephesians 5 and 6.
Here, he focuses on larger, broader ideas. In verse sixteen, for example, he prays, “be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being”. He wants them to be strengthened in the inner man by the Holy Spirit. This is the mode by which he’s praying for strength. We should be encouraged to pray this way, whether for emotional strength or mental or physical strength. The Holy Spirit is our source of spiritual strength as we go about the tasks God has given us.
In addition to strength, Paul also focuses on faith and love. As we pray, we should be focusing on these themes. Paul says, I want you to have the Holy Spirit (verse 17) “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”. This is the ultimate desire for the believer. We want to be more like Christ: the person, the character, the disposition of Christ. We want Christ in us so that our reactions day in and day out is like Christ. We want a Christ-like walk, Christ-like thinking, Christ-like words, a Christ-like church.
Paul continues in verse seventeen, “that you, being rooted and grounded in love”; that we might know not only the love of the Father (verse 14), but the love of Christ (verse 19). This is a riddle, “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge”. It is spiritually discerned; not just an intellectual exercise. He desires the knowledge to grow as we meditate on it, to fill us beyond our ability to express. Then Paul ends the prayer, “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (verse 19)”.
Verse twenty and twenty one ends the passage with this encouragement that God is able to do more than we can ask or think, even these things in verses fourteen through nineteen, things which we often don’t understand: that we would be strengthened, that Christ will dwell in us and that He would be glorified amongst us, His church. So, we can come, humble and anticipating, with big ideas, to our God.