Ephesians 3:20-21
Beyond All That We Ask or Think

Susanna Annesley was born on January 20, 1669 and was the youngest of her 25 siblings!  Her father was the Rev. Dr. Samuel Annesley and was later referred to as the St. Paul of the Nonconformists who stood against the “unbiblical practices of slumbering national church.”[1] To give you some sense of the kind of Christian home Susanna was born into, the Annesley home was visited by some of the spiritual giants of their day, such as Richard Baxter, John Owen, and Thomas Manton.  Susanna said of her childhood: “I will tell you what rule I observed… when I was young and too much addicted to childish diversions, which was this – never to spend more time in mere recreation in one day than I spent in private religious devotions.”[2] 


It has been said of Susanna that her knowledge of the Bible was superior to that of many of the pastors of her day and her love for and devotion to God was reflected in her time in the Bible and prayer.  On November 12, 1688, Susanna married Samuel Wesley who had become an Anglican priest.  Together the Wesley’s had at least 17 children (some believe they had 19 children), and of those children, only 10 survived infancy; one child was crippled, and another did not learn to speak until he was six years old.  


If 10 mouths to feed and children to clothe was not enough for both parents, Samuel Wesley was a poor steward and manager of money, not a very good husband to Susanna, and was frequently away from home for long periods.  I read that during her lifetime as both a mother and a wife, Susanna was sick often, there was little money for food, and debt plagued their family and household because of Samuel’s poor management of money.  Samuel was once thrown into debtor’s prison because their debt was so high.  Twice the homes they lived in throughout their marriage were destroyed by fire along with much of what they owned. Someone slit their cow’s udders so they wouldn’t have milk, killed their dog, and burned their flax field.[3]


Susanna had little time between her duties as a mother, the need to work their gardens, milk their cows, educate their children, and manage their home, all with little help.  However, she managed to spend about two hours a day praying because she believed in the God of Ephesians 3:20-21.  Because it was nearly impossible to find a quiet place to pray, she used her apron and told her children that when they saw her head covered with her apron, they were not permitted to disturb her because she was praying. 


Of Samuel and Susanna’s ten surviving children, God would use John and Charles profoundly to reach the lost and impact the world they lived in—mostly due to the foundation of the Word of God laid by their mother and the prayers prayed on their behalf.  John Wesley would grow to become a great evangelist whom God used to preach to nearly one million people in his lifetime.  Charles would be used by God to write over 9,000 hymns, of which many are still sung in our churches today.[4]  One of those hymns is a favorite of mine: “And Can It Be, That I Should Gain.”  Consider three of its five verses:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior's blood
Died He for me, who caused His pain
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me?


He left His Father's throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam's helpless race
Tic mercy all, immense and free
For O my God, it found out me!
Amazing love! How can it be,

That Thou, my God, should die for me?


No condemnation now I dread
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine
Alive in Him, my living Head
And clothed in righteousness divine
Bold I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown, through Christ my own
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou my God, should die for me?


Now, like a well-aged, perfectly seasoned steak cooked by a master chef, Ephesians 3:20-21 is before us, and every bit of these two verses is meant to be savored.  So, let’s savor one of the great doxological statements in the Bible: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. 


This statement in Ephesians 3:20-21 is in response to what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do in the life of the one He has chosen, redeemed, and secured as His child.  Paul has brought us to the threshold of where our understanding and imagination can go, that we who were once “dead in our offences and sins” (2:1), can “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled to all the fullness of God” (3:19).  In his sermon on this same passage, James Montgomery Boice wrote in response: 


This is beyond comprehension; we cannot even begin to imagine how we can be filled with God’s own fullness. We stand on the edge of the infinite. And yet, Paul is still not satisfied. He has prayed that God will do something we cannot even imagine; and now, having exhausted his ability to speak and write along that line, he bursts out in praise to God who, he says, “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (v. 20).[5] 


So, what are these verses teaching us?  What hope do they provide you?  I believe that the answer is profound yet simple.


God is Working All Things Out for Our Good

How is God working all things out for our good and how do we know He is working all things out for our good?  Well, let me begin by answering how we know that He is working all things out for our good.  For starters, our God can work all things out for our good! 


Paul begins verse 20 with six simple words: “Now to Him who is able…”.  God is able because He is not an idol.  The Greek word used for “do” is poieō, which means “to do, make, cause, or appoint.”  In other words, God is not like the stuff or gods that people worship; He can do what they cannot!  He is not made with hands or created through any person’s imagination.   He is God! The God who is able is He who declares of Himself:

“Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My plan will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a distant country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, I will certainly do it.”


“Listen to Me, you stubborn-minded, who are far from righteousness. ‘I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off; and My salvation will not delay. And I will grant salvation in Zion, and My glory for Israel.’” (Isaiah 46:9–13)


God alone is able to choose, redeem, and keep any He wills for the purpose of lavishing His rich mercy, great love, and all-sufficient grace upon any that He “grants salvation.”  God chooses, redeems, and keeps because He will accomplish all His good pleasure (Isa. 46:10b). 


Because God is able, He can do “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.”  God is not like the compromising parent in the grocery store that will offer or give whatever the child wants just so he/she can get the child to shut up.  God gives His children what is good for them and what they need.  Sometimes what we want lines up with what He knows that we need, but there are times that what we are convinced we need is not what we need at all because it ultimately may not even be good for us.  However, if we are surrendering ourselves to God’s will (vv. 14-15), if we are desiring a dependance upon the Holy Spirit (vv. 16-17a), and we are walking in union with Christ (vv. 17-19), then what you think you need will begin to line up with what God knows you need.  That is not all though, for the thing you do not know you need to ask for, God knows, and He is, “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think…”


Listen, when your thinking begins to line up with the heart of what God wants for you, you will find yourself asking for the very thing God desires for you.  This is what Jesus said would happen if you abide (remain) in Him: “If you remain in Me, and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).  When you surrender to the will of God, when you are depending on the promised Holy Spirit to guide you, and when you are taking in the life of Jesus so that His life will be reflected through your life, what you ask or wish for will begin to line up with what God knows you really need, and what you need most is the thing that God has called you into. 


The power that is working within us, is what made your salvation, redemption, and regeneration possible.  It is the power of the Holy Spirit who provides a resurrecting and miracle working power that Jesus promised to each of His follower.  Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will be our Helper who will be with His people forever (John 14:16-31), will guide His people into all truth (16:5-15), and will empower His people to accomplish Christ’s mission to redeem the nations (Acts 1:8).  The power that was responsible for the creation of the universe and resurrection of Jesus is the same power the indwells every true follower of Jesus to live and walk in the good works God prepared beforehand for His people to walk in (Eph. 2:10).


God is Working All Things Out for His Glory

Why is God working all things out for our good?  Why did He choose you?  Why did He redeem you through the blood of the Lamb?  Why did He seal and empower you to live a life that honors Him?  The answer is in the first five words of verse 21, “To Him be the glory…”.  The prophet Isaiah said of the glory of God: “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another” (Isa. 48:11). In Romans 11:36, God’s glory is described in His worth: “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or Who has first given to Him, that it would be paid back to him? For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:34–36).


So, “to Him be the glory” in what or who, Paul? His answer is three-fold: “in the church, in Christ Jesus, and to all generations forever and ever.”  Why on earth would we think that God would want to do anything through us?  Because He is for His glory, and because He is for His glory, He is for your good.  What is your good Christian?  Your good is that you get God!  The greatest and most loving thing God can give you is… Himself! 

For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name shall be great among the nations, and in every place frankincense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name shall be great among the nations,” says the Lord of armies.” (Mal. 1:11)


I, I alone, am the one who wipes out your wrongdoings for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isa. 43:25)


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, with which He favored us in the Beloved.” (Eph. 1:3–6)


In light of all that we have discovered and been reminded of throughout our time in Ephesians, maybe you have asked the question: “Did God go too far?”   “Did God go too far by choosing me of all people before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4)?”  “Is God the victim of a poor investment because he chose me before the foundation of the world for good works He prepared beforehand?”  I don’t know if you have ever asked questions like these, but if Ephesians 3:20-21 teaches us anything, it is this: God is not limited because He is infinitely sovereign, and because He is infinitely sovereign, He does not invest poorly.  He has redeemed you who were once dead and now has made you alive for His glory and your good!  And brothers and sisters, He is doing the same thing all over the world.  He is being glorified in the Church by what He is doing in the Church and through the Church.  He is glorified in and through the redemptive work of Christ who made our salvation possible!  He is being glorified and forever will be glorified because of Who He Is! 


God is He who, “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us…” for His glory and our good!  The more of Him you discover, the more you will trust Him to do what He alone is able to do in His time and according to His good will.  I heard someone say it this way: “The deeper our understanding of God goes, the more childlike our faith will become.”


I heard a song written by people I never heard before titled, “Christ be All.”  I must have listened to it a dozen times or more this week because it is so good!  There are two verses from that song I believe serve as a suitable way to conclude this sermon; I believe it echoes the spirit of Susanna Wesley and the longing of each of us in this room: 

How great is God?
His grandeur endless
How frail I come before His throne
I am lost in love relentless
That Christ be all, and I his own


May Christ be all, and I be nothing
His glory shines in vessels weak
May Christ be all, and I be nothing
This is my hope
Not I, but Christ in me


On golden shores of sure salvation
I will run to meet my King
Free from shame and all accusation
He'll give Himself
Nothing I'll bring
He'll give Himself
Nothing I'll bring

[1] Arthur Dicken Thomas, Jr., Knowing & Doing: “Profiles in Faith (C.S. Lewis Institute; 2003).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Sharon Glasgow, “Susanna Wesley’s Prayer Apron (Epworth Villa; May 9, 2019).
[4] Ibid.
[5] James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1988), 113–114.