Summary: Paul prays for power, not for specific situations but for the power to know the enormity of the love of God.
I wonder if you remember that time in the 80s when there were a string of books published with the idea of power in the title. Here are some examples: Power Evangelism, Power Preaching, How to Release God’s Healing Power Through Prayer, Hidden Power of Speaking in Tongues, Confronting Powerless Christianity, Seven Power Principles for Pastors and Prophets. If you can’t remember them, you might remember that at about the same time women’s coats and dresses began to appear with built in shoulder pads, to create what was known as ’Power Dressing’. I wonder how many of the women here still have some of those dresses or jackets in their wardrobes.
The idea was that if you dressed the part you might begin to be perceived as powerful; that changing your dress style might change the perception of women as weak and timid creatures who didn’t know how to get on in a man’s world.
But it was also part of a general movement in our culture to self-actualisation, to empowering the individual and in a sense parts of the Christian world took up those same ideas in looking for God’s power to be present in the ministry of the individual Christian.
Now I have to say that Paul regularly prays for power, either for himself or for his readers. We saw that last week as he prayed that we might know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe. And again here in our passage today, he prays that God "may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit." So the question I want to start with today is this: What is the nature and purpose of the power that God makes available to those who believe in him?
The nature of God’s power for the believer.
Notice that he prays that you may be strengthened with power "in the inner being." So what does that mean?
In 2 Cor 4:16-18 Paul writes about the struggle he and other Christians experience in their daily life: "We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. (NRSV)" His experience is that his outer body is wearing away, worn down by the persecution and opposition he faces every day. But his inner being, that is, what’s left when the outer being has worn away completely, is being renewed, refreshed, rebuilt.
Now I don’t know about you but even though I’ve never suffered any real persecution, I know what Paul means about the outer body wearing away, in my case, as I get older. I went to the doctor last year because I was having a bit of trouble with my knees and I wondered if there was something he could do for me. So he sent me off to have an MRI done and when the results came back he smiled at me and said "You’ve got osteo-arthritis." Well, thanks a lot! So much for having an MRI. I don’t really want to know that! I’m supposed to be fit and healthy and here he is telling me I’m slowly cracking up! But we have to face it don’t we? We’re all getting older. None of us can do what we used to do 10 or 15 years ago.
But does that limit our usefulness to God? Of course not! Does it limit our ability to grow on the inside; to grow in our inner being? Of course not! You probably know people, (in fact you may see some in the room today) who are cracking up physically like me, but who are giants spiritually. They may be limited in what they’re able to achieve physically; they may be totally frustrated by the fact that they can’t contribute the way they once did, but put them through a spiritual MRI and you’ll see a healthy glowing spirit driving them, bringing them closer and closer to Christ even as they grow nearer to the end of this physical life. In fact what you see is their inner being starting to shine through the thinning veneer of their outer shell.
On the other hand you may also know people who are fit and healthy, despite advanced years, but who seem to be weighed down by a spirit of dissatisfaction with their lot; who become grouchy and bitter, short tempered, spiteful, nasty gossips, as though old age is a sufficient excuse to ignore the restraints of civilised behaviour. In their case what you see is the reality of their inner being shining through the veneer of respectability they’ve created over the years, but that they no longer have the energy or the inclination to maintain.