In the midst of his letter to the Ephesians, in the third chapter, the Apostle Paul lifts up a mighty prayer for himself and for the people reading his letter, that they might have strength and full comprehension of God’s immense power and love.
Then at the end comes the clincher, a verse many are familiar seeing on coffee cups, T-shirts, and inspirational signs: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within 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).
But why is this verse so popular and motivating for so many? Is it merely reflective of Paul’s exuberant enthusiasm, or is the verse itself the key to a deeper truth?
How is God able to do exceedingly more?
What Does it Mean That God Is Able to Do Exceedingly More?
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written in Greek, and according to Strong’s Greek Concordance, the English version translates roughly as, “To the One being able above all things to do exceedingly that we ask or think, according to the power working with us.”
Paul selected the words dynamenō, which translates as “Him who is able,” and hyperekperissou, which translates as “all things to do exceedingly above what we ask.” The root word of hyperekperissou is huper, which means beyond, as in beyond all scope or comprehension. And the root of dynamenō is dunamai, meaning to be able and to have the power.
Here, Paul is basically praising the power of God, who is able to do things beyond our scope of comprehension.
How Is God Able to Do Exceedingly More?
One of God’s special names is El Shaddai, which means God Almighty or God Is Able. God refers to Himself as El Shaddai in Genesis 17:1, when He appears to Abraham — then called Abram — and identifies Himself, inviting the man to walk before Him “faithfully and be blameless.”
This name, God Almighty/God Is Able, is used many, many times throughout Scripture and seems to sum up the essence of God, who truly can do all things.
For, as we are told, at the beginning of the Bible, throughout its pages, and at the end in Revelation, God is Lord of all creation, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (Revelation 21:6).
God can do anything He wants to do — anything. He is far bigger than we can ever imagine, and we cannot begin to understand His nature or His size. God is beyond gender and beyond our knowledge.
Because of this, we can look back at numerous examples in the Bible and see how He does massive, incomprehensible things.
More than a mere statement of what God can do for us, the notion that God is “able to do exceedingly more” is better thought as a statement of faith and praise for God Almighty, words that honor His essence and ability.
For as God reminds the prophet, Isaiah, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
What Are Some Examples of God Doing Exceedingly More Than We Can Imagine?
Scripture is peppered with examples of God doing far more than our expectations. For instance, God promised Abraham that He would make his descendants “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17).
Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was old and barren, so they decided Abraham would father these descendants through Sarah’s slave, Hagar, but that was not God’s plan.
God then did “exceedingly more” than Abraham or Sarah could imagine by opening Sarah’s womb in her old age and allowing them to have a son, Isaac, from whom Jacob and David and ultimately Jesus came.
When Isaac’s son, Jacob, fled fearing the wrath of his brother, whose inheritance he’d stolen, God appeared to him at a place Jacob named Bethel. Jacob asked only for food and clothing for his protection on the long journey (Genesis 28:20).
But again, God did “exceedingly more,” and when Jacob returned to Bethel many years later, he did so as a man of great wealth, with wives and children and much prosperity (Genesis 35).
Years later, when Moses led God’s people out of Egypt toward the Promised Land, the Egyptians caught up with them on the banks of a great sea, and the people were terrified.
They prayed for God’s help, and again, God did exceedingly more, actually parting the Red Sea so the people could walk to safety, and then releasing those waters upon the Egyptians who followed, so God’s people were safe.
The list continues: God shut the mouths of lions, so they did not devour His prophet Daniel when the man was thrown into a pit of predators (Daniel 6:22).
God turned five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food for 5,000 (Matthew 14:13-21).
What Does Knowledge of This Truth Teach Us Today?
Knowing God can do exceedingly more than we can imagine encourages us to go to God with great faith, knowing that God can do anything God wishes according to His mercy, grace, love, and will.
God does this out of His own power, the work of His Holy Spirit working through us as people of faith, not out of our own fervency or good deeds. No matter how big or unlikely something is, God can do it.
This is something Jesus talks about in Matthew 17:20 when He says, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Later, when Jesus talks about the weakness of the flesh in Matthew 26:41, His words apply not just to our weakness when it comes to sliding toward temptation. He’s also talking about the power of God as Holy Spirit: alone, apart from God, we are weak, but the Holy Spirit is alive and strong and can do all.
Paul mentions this in another of his much-loved verses, from Philippians 4:13, when he says, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
These are much the same thoughts expressed in Ephesians 1:19b-21 when Paul talks about God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
The important thing to remember is that God doesn’t do our bidding. God is God, almighty and infinite, and His plan is perfect. God as Holy Spirit lives within those of us who believe, and through the power of His Holy Spirit works mighty miracles — yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever.
Rest and have peace in that beautiful truth.
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Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.