Our corporate and private prayer times are often what I have heard termed, “organ recitals.” We pray for Aunt Lizzy’s heart, the next door neighbor’s failing kidneys, etc. These are necessary and good prayers. I know that I am thankful for people who specifically pray for me and my loved ones. However, I was reflecting lately upon some of the great prayers of Scripture. I think of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. It is a prayer that expects much and is grand in scope; almost to the point that we want to dismiss it as poetic language.
If we don’t do that with Jesus’ prayer in John 17, we tend to with Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3.. Paul says that he prays for the Ephesian church that they “being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).
It is grand prayer. In the Greek, these four dimensions are governed by one article and are regarded as a unity. They are a totality, which is meant to evoke the immensity of the love of Christ. What Paul is saying is that all the expanse of creation cannot contain this love. If Christ’s love was measurable its height would exceed the heavens, its depth would penetrate the deepest seas, its breadth would span the universe, its length would be unending.
If that wasn’t enough, Paul takes it one step further. He says this love is so infinite that it “surpasses knowledge.” It can’t even be quantified by our minds. And yet he wants them to “know” it. He is in essence praying that they know something which seems unreachable. It is a “big prayer.”
Is Paul just being poetic? Does he truly believe that this love that surpasses knowledge can be known by the Ephesians? Notice what follows Paul’s prayer: “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, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Paul is saying, “I can pray this prayer that you would know a love that surpasses knowledge, because we have a God who is able to do even more than we can think or ask.”
Pray the incredibly important particular prayers for people and the Kingdom. Pray for healed bodies, restful nights, and even parking places. But also pray the big prayers; these prayers which seem so general and grand in scope that they stand to be accused of being poetic “pie in the sky” mutterings. Though they may be grand, they are not just poetic “pie in the sky” mutterings, because we have a God who is able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).