Summary: Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 should be the first thing we pray for each other and ourselves - that the Holy Spirit would strengthen and empower us to understand the vast extent of the love of Christ for us, and to know that love for ourselves.
One of the new phrases dotting the political landscape of late has been the one "aspirational voters". As we come up to a State election, I’m sure we will hear that phrase many times from both sides of the political divide (which is itself a very narrow, very low outcrop of shifting sand).
That word "aspirational" means that we’re looking for something better - the next step, the higher rung, something we are reaching and hoping for. But within our political and social context, "aspirational" has been narrowly defined as meaning little more than greed. And so an "aspirational voter" is someone our politicians anticipate will vote for their party if their promises sound like they will increase our wealth more than the other parties’ promises. The polies and spin doctors hope that the dollar will win votes, or buy them. If they can promise tax cuts, or improved superannuation, or equivalent health services for less money, or cheaper education then they expect us to vote for them.
One of the problems with appealing to "aspirational voters", besides feeding and encouraging outright greed is that almost all forms of materialistic wealth conform to a phenomenon known as a "zero-sum game" - your gain is someone else’s loss. If you buy shares in a company and sell them at a profit, then your profit is being funded by the person or corporation who bought your shares. That buyer, in turn is then driven by a desire to see those shares continue to increase in value. House prices operate on the same basis.
All forms of material wealth comply with the rules of the "zero-sum game". Someone wins but only when someone else loses. That loss may not be realised yet - it may be a loss borne by our children or their children and so on.
But are there aspirations and forms of wealth that don’t meet that criterion - that aren’t "zero-sum games" but are instead "win-win" situations? Thankfully yes.
TO WHAT DO WE ASPIRE?
I’ve painted this idea of "aspirational voters" in a fairly subdued light, yet some aspirations are good. The things that drive us can be good and helpful and positive. And so let us turn our thinking from aspirational voters, to us aspirational Christians. In terms of our Christian lives and how we relate to God, what do you aspire to? And what aspirations does God have for you? And so let’s take 30 seconds to reflect on those two questions of what we aspire to as believers, and what aspirations God holds for us.
Paul presents his and God’s aspirations for the Ephesians and for us in his prayers recorded in Ephesians chapter 3 verses 14-21. These particular aspirations are the highest calling, the highest love, the highest knowledge and the highest understanding to which we can, well, aspire. As we approach the passage, we’ll tackle it from three angles. Firstly, to look at the specific things that Paul prays and the reasons why. Secondly, to look at the process or steps that are laid out in those prayers. And finally to draw some distinctions between what is our part to play and what is God’s work in these processes, and how we can cooperate with God in reaching the things He would have us aspire to.
PRAYER 1 (V 16-17A)
The first prayer of Paul starts in verse 16: "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being". That’s not a bad way to pray for anyone - including ourselves - that God’s Holy Spirit will strengthen us with power in our inner beings. Many years ago someone told me that one of the good things about having others praying for you is that you don’t have to spend so much time praying for yourself.
But the critical thing is why Paul would pray such a thing. What is the reason or the purpose of Paul’s prayer that they would be strengthened with power in their inner beings by the Holy Spirit? What sort of power is it, and what could they do with it? We get that one in verse 17 - "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." Notice two important words here - "so that". It is a cause and effect, a consequence. Jesus dwelling in our hearts through faith is a consequence of us being strengthened by the Holy Spirit.
This idea of dwelling isn’t merely a casual occupation like a holiday unit, but a case of allowing Christ to make Himself at home. As Harold Hoehner puts it, "It is an appeal to let Christ become the dominating factor in their attitudes and their conduct."
PRAYER 2 (V 17B-18)
If that’s not enough, Paul continues praying that "you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ."