Ephesians 3: 20-21
Have you heard the term, “Think outside the box”? It is in response to becoming used to doing something or thinking about concepts in a certain way. One becomes comfortable in doing the same things the same way each time such that one’s actions or thinking become boxed in to always doing it that way. To “think outside the box,” then, is to take actions or think in a way that you aren’t used to – hopefully, to do so in a positive, productive manner. God is like that. He tends to think and act beyond anything that we can even conceive of as we muddle about in our “boxes.” The apostle Paul says it this way in Ephesians:
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work with us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” [Ephesians 3: 20-21. NIV]
One of the jobs I had was as an Incapacity Social Worker at the Department of Social and Health Services in Washington State, USA. I evaluated applicants who were applying for a special state program that assisted people who said they were unable to work due to a physical or mental limitation. If the applicant were approved, this program would provide them with medical assistance. I then had to obtain medical and psychological evidence to determine if they were incapacitated enough to keep them from working for at least three months. I determined if a person was ABLE to work. In contrast, one wonders what capabilities does God have?
God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” Let’s look back to the Hebrew people living in Egypt around 1400 B.C.E. The Hebrew people (Israelites) lived in Egypt for 430 years. Most of that time, they had a good life and prospered. However, a new Pharaoh came into power, and subjected the people to a life of slavery and servitude. This is never pleasant, so the people cried out to God for deliverance:
“During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant [his agreement] with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.” [Exodus 2: 23-25. NIV]
They wanted to leave Egypt and return to the land of their ancestors in Canaan. Now then, suppose you were in their place. You believed in God. You believed he answers prayer. How would you hope God would answer your prayer?
Possible scenario 1: Pharaoh would say, “I don’t need your help anymore. Why don’t you just go on home? You can take the shortest way there, and you’ll be in your land of Canaan fairly soon.” Wouldn’t that be nice if that’s how God answered their prayers? How easy that would be.
However, God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” “Immeasurable”: this is a rare phrase that translates, “far more abundantly.” It can be easily translated “infinitely more” or “immeasurably more” as it is in the verse quoted above. So what did the Israelites end up with in answer to their prayers? Well, it wasn’t as neat, simple and compact as they were hoping. But God was able to accomplish a special purpose with them.
Scenario 2: (what actually happened): God sent an eighty-year-old shepherd who had been raised in Pharaoh’s house years before but was now tending sheep in the desert. Through him, God caused Egypt to suffer through all kinds of plagues. When the people left, they were led by God represented by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. They butted up against a body of water in their flight from Egypt with Egyptian chariots coming after them. God parted the waters of this sea to let the people pass, then let the waters collapse on the chariots that were chasing them. In the desert, they were hungry, and God sent a substance called Manna to feed them. They were thirsty and God provided water. Plus the people wandered in the desert for forty years. Pretty spectacular. However, God had a purpose through all this as he demonstrated his power.
Who could have imagined it all this? I wouldn’t have. But as a result of going through Scenario 2, God solidified these loosely connected Hebrews into a nation of people. And they certainly experienced the power of God. Even today, over 3,400 years after the Exodus occurred, the delivery of the people from Egypt is still recited at the observance of Passover as they share in a “seder” meal.
There is a phrase from the Old Testament scriptures of the Bible that would apply to our everyday lives: “Is God’s arm too short?” In other words, is God able to do what he determines he needs to do? Of course. How is God able? It’s according to (or in proportion to) his power that is at work within us.
Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” [John 14: 12-14. NIV]
Jesus also said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” [John 15: 16. NIV]
When the Bible speaks of “Jesus name,” it isn’t just a verbal close to our prayers: “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” To ask in Jesus’ name is to ask according to his will and who he is. We ask according to what God wants to see happen. I explain God’s name further in “The Lord’s Prayer: What’s In a Name?” on my blog posted August 18, 2020.
[I’m going to wrap up this part now, and I’ll finish the thought with the next blog entry. Don’t give up being safe during this COVID-19 pandemic that I’m sure you are so sick of by now. I know I am. May God bless you this day as you read this.]
Categories: How Can the Bible Relate to Us Today?