Prior to his prayer for the Ephesians (3:16-19), Paul reminds them that they have confidant access to the Father. We are allowed to be bold, he says, because we are after all his children, bearing his family name. Then, just after the prayer, Paul reminds them that God is able to do immeasurably more than anything they can ask or imagine.
That's the immediate context of this prayer. Now, one of the things that the letter to the Ephesians is all about is the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ. This is a great mystery, an unheard of, unimaginable thing in its day, but Paul is saying, "Don't limit God to what you can imagine. He can do more, and he can do it better, than anything you can ever imagine. So go ahead and pray with boldness and confidence, because you are his children, and he loves you with a love that surpasses all your expectations."
One of the most valuable bloggers out there is Tim Challies, and he wrote a helpful series on this theme recently, called "Putting God in a Box." If you go to the last in the series, Recovering Awe, you'll find links to all the previous posts.
In Recovering Awe Tim writes:
It is crucial that we maintain or rediscover our awe of God. Too many of us have reduced God to a predictable formula. People complain when their jobs are too routine or that each date with their spouse feels the same as the last. In the same way we can feel that God has become part of a boring routine. When we feel this way, it is probably true that we have, in our minds, placed limits on God's character and His actions.Later in that same article, Tim elaborates on a point that is, in my opinion, quite profound:
Wow, that's good stuff. And, well, it's also Bible truth. Paul has this same truth in mind when he says that God can do immeasurably more than anything we can ever ask or imagine.
What I have come to understand is this: that we as humans we cannot be in awe of what we fully understand. We lose the mystery of what we master. It is easy to be impressed by watching wild animals in their natural habitat, but there is far less to appreciate about them when they have been caught, stuffed and mounted on the wall. To continue with the analogy we used earlier, we no longer worship the moon because we now understand it enough that we have removed its mystique. So when we place God in a box, we see Him as far less awesome than He really is. When we catch Him, stuff Him and mount Him on the wall, we reduce Him to the level of a creature that can be fully understood.
Let's begin to treat God as an awe-some God, to whom the only appropriate response is wonder, and yet a God who offers -- and this is perhaps the most wondrous part -- free, bold, and confidant access, as of a loving Father to His precious children. Awesome!