Here’s a sermon I wrote on Ephesians 3:20 for Basic Pastoral Theology class:
THEME: God’s Ability
TEXT: Ephesians 3:20
If you have seen the movie Big Fish, it starts off and develops its theme around the story of the common goldfish. An aquarium isn’t complete without a goldfish, so even if you haven’t seen the film you already have an idea what a goldfish looks like: its features, its color, its size. The main character in the movie discovers – and these discoveries are true – that goldfish that are confined in small aquariums stay small. “With more space, the fish can grow double, triple, or quadruple its size.” As of April 2008, the largest goldfish ever recorded measured 19 inches and weighed over 3 lbs. Scientists believe that there are probably a few bigger goldfish, perhaps in ornamental lakes.
So what truths does the goldfish reveal to us about God and how we perceive his power? Before anything else, let us first see what the bible tells us about the ability of God and the extent of His greatness. Ephesians 3:20 reads, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us…”
I. God is able to do what we ask or think
Our God is an all-powerful God, and He is capable of doing everything that our little minds can ever ask or think of. He knows the desires of our heart and the longings of our soul even before we tell Him about them, and He is able to bring those dreams to fulfillment for those who abide in Him and delight in His Word.
In the story of Exodus, the bible says that God heard the cry of his people and saw the oppression and suffering they have experienced under the Egyptians (Exodus 3:7-9). We can see from this event that the people of Israel have been crying out to God and seeking freedom from their oppressors. God’s children longed for deliverance and desired to be free, and in God’s perfect timing, He heard their cry and sent His servant Moses to lead them out of Egypt.
Isn’t it just comforting to know that the same God who freed thousands of slaves from their bondage through an avalanche of miracles is the same God who dwells within us and among us and who is able to free us from our bondage to this corrupt world? He is the very same God we can call upon to deliver us from needless worry, from overpowering anxiety, from attachment to material possessions, from unfair and unjust treatment, from abusive relationships, from destructive addictions, and from anything else that holds us back and keeps us from serving Him completely. He is the very same God who provides us all that we need, all that we desire, and all that we hope for. It is a great comfort for us to know that when we pray, our Father in heaven is able to do for us all that we ask.
II. God is able to do above what we ask or think
Not only is God able to do what we ask or think, He can do more that all we can ask or think. Do you expect an all-powerful God to only be limited to the things our tiny human minds can grasp? Of course not. He can do far beyond what we can even imagine.
The story of how God delivered the Israelites from Egypt through the leadership of Moses is one of the stories in the bible that is fully packed and condensed with miracle upon miracle, showing the wonder and greatness of the Lord. The Israelites cried out for freedom, but God did more than just free His people. He sent plagues of frogs and flies and gnats, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and even death so that all of Egypt may know that He is God.
This very same God showers us with mercies day after day through which we are able to see and realize that with Him, we never get less than what we expect. What we can ever ask or hope for or even imagine is nothing compared to the ability of our God to give. God can answer our prayers in measures that surpass even the thoughts that are too big for words and too deep for imagination.
God did not just make a single drop of water, He made oceans of water; God did not create just one star, He made galaxies of them; God did not just make one kind of animal, He made millions of different species; God did not just install the sun, He made it to rise and set according to His timeline. In the same way God will not just give us what is good; He reserves for us only the best.
III. God is able to do abundantly above what we ask or think
In Exodus chapter 16, we read about how God sustains His people in the desert by providing them with manna from heaven in the morning and quails in the evening. These people had literally nothing to eat in that environment – the desert is not the first place to look for food when you’re hungry. However the Father supplied them with bread from heaven; not just one piece of bread but an abundance of it – for forty years!
We cannot limit the ability of God to the finite boxes of our mortal imaginations. God is bigger than our box, and He wants us to get out of that box as well. Our expectations and our imaginations will never be so great that God is not able to meet them, surpass them, and fill them to overflowing. “I’ve asked for a cupful, and the ocean remains. I’ve asked for a sunbeam, and the sun abides. My best asking fails immeasurably short of my Father’s giving,” says Dr. S. Lewis Johnson in his commentary of Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians. Isn’t it just wonderful to know that we have a God that not only gives us what is good but what is best, and not only one of the best, but an abundance of the best?
IV. God is able to do exceeding abundantly above what we ask or think
As we continue along the story of God’s act of deliverance in Exodus 13:21, the bible narrates, “The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.” Can you imagine having God himself manifest in your life in something as concrete and phenomenal as a pillar of cloud and fire? If something like that were to happen these days it would make the headline news. And if the Pacific Ocean were to miraculously divide just so people could get to the other side, well, there’d be no need for ferry boats now, would there? All these great miracles and more are tangible and unquestionable evidences that God’s powers exceed even our greatest and grandest imaginations.
Ephesians 3:20 says that He is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. And the good news for each one of us today is that the God who delivered his people from slavery, who sent plagues upon the unbelieving Egyptians, who rained manna from heaven, who guarded His people with pillars of cloud and fire and who parted the waters to prove His majesty is the very same God who dwells within you and me. The verse continues, “… according to the power that works within us.” This great God is at work within us and He can do exceedingly, abundantly, above all that we can even ask or think as long as we allow Him to work in our lives and to dwell in our hearts completely and without reservation. “Exceedingly abundantly above all,” and still, even this, is not able to describe the full extent of God’s power. For He continues to give even after we stop praying and asking, even when our wants and desires can only reach as far as our silent thoughts, there still remains an exceedingly abundant amount of untapped power “above all that we ask or think.”
And we should be glad and we should be leaping with joy that our God is not limited to what we ask or think. Because 99% of the time what we ask isn’t good for us, or isn’t good enough.
Therefore having considered the message of this verse in Ephesians, we see that we often limit God by putting Him inside a box, just like a goldfish confined to a small aquarium. But the good news is, our expectations do not limit God’s abundance because God can do it whether or not you and I think He can. The finite nature of our simple minds can never truly understand the big picture of what God can do and is actually doing in our lives, and so sometimes we will experience disappointment in prayer. God’s answers are often wiser than our requests. If He does not do what we wish, we know that it is better it should not be done. Why did God lead the Israelites into the wilderness after having delivered them from slavery? Why does God allow us to wander in the wilderness of our lives? Because He wants to take us to the Promised Land where His exceeding, bountiful blessing abounds.
As we go home today, let us try to reflect and consider these questions: Where is the wilderness in my life? Where is it that I feel hopeless, without direction, and without purpose? It could be a dead-end job, a failed marriage, rebellious children, an abusive relationship, it could be anything. Ask yourself, Could it be that I am limiting the power of God by telling Him how to get me out of my circumstance? Let us remember that it is okay to let God be God because He’s got everything figured out even if we don’t. And it’s okay to not understand, because above all that we will ever imagine can God perform exceedingly, abundantly, day after day after day.