Jesus told us that the greatest commandment of the law is to love God and love our neighbor. But it was Paul who taught us how to pray so we could keep it. In Ephesians 3:14-19 this is what he prayed for the Ephesians:
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, 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 all the fullness of God.”
The goal of this prayer is to have Christ dwell in our hearts (that is, to have an intimate relationship with Jesus) and then, once we’re rooted and grounded in Jesus’s love, that we’d be able to comprehend how deep and wide and high and long God’s love is, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge so that we would actually be filled with all the fullness of God. This is a prayer with the loftiest of goals, and if God answers this prayer, we’d be able to keep the greatest commandment. That’s Paul’s goal, but that’s not Paul’s prayer request.
Paul is praying for strength: strength in our souls so we can have this intimate relationship with Jesus—strength in our souls so we’ll have the capacity know God’s love. He’s asking God to stretch the capacity of our minds so we can understand the love of God that’s beyond human understanding. Yes, the goals of this prayer are amazing, but it’s really a prayer for the inner strength and power it will take to have these goals become a reality in our lives.
Why does Paul pray like this? Why doesn’t he just pray that Christ will dwell in our hearts? And that we would understand the length and breath and height and depth? And that we’d be filled with all the fulness of God?
He prays that way because if these things were to come flowing into our lives, we wouldn’t be able to handle them. Jesus in our hearts would overwhelm our hearts. Seeing the extent of God’s love would overtax our brains. And understanding what’s beyond understanding would overload our souls.
We can keep the greatest commandment only if God first loves us. But God’s love is overwhelming and we need strength in our souls to be loved by God. So, Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians—and our prayer for ourselves and others—must be for the strength that can only come to us by the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work in us. Then, and only then, will we be able to keep the greatest commandment.