God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). What does it mean that God is able, and are there other places in the Bible that reinforce this statement?
Almost every translation of the Bible features the word “able” for Ephesians 3:20. The God’s Word Translation is one of a handful, which says, “He can do.” If one were to define “able,” “can do” would be the definition, so there is no change of nuance.
The same is true with Hebrews 7:25 which says, “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.”
In other words, there is no deep or hidden meaning when Jesus, Paul, or another writer in the Bible speaks of God being able.
Strong’s Concordance indicates that the Greek dunamai means “to be able, to have power” and is used in statements such as “I am powerful” or “I am able, I can.”
God Is Able to Do What?
Is there anything outside of the Lord’s power to accomplish? Ephesians 3:20 reminds the reader that God can “do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”
There is nothing of which we ask God that he is not capable, and yet our imaginations cannot conceive of the extent of his power and ability. Our prayers are small compared with his power.
The Lord can “save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him,” says Hebrews 7:25. The Greek for “uttermost,” “pantelés” means “all complete, entire,” which tells us that God is able to save believers for eternity and that salvation is a finished work.
The Lord is able “to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24). His power works within his people to make them righteous.
Christians will sin, but when we are presented to the Father, his own work through Jesus has cleansed us, made us ready to approach the throne. Not only will we be ready, but we will be filled with joy through his generous work as well.
Richard L. Strauss in “God is Able” insightfully explained that “power is something with which we are all familiar. We can grasp its significance. At least we think we can until we come to God. Then suddenly our minds are boggled.”
We simply cannot fathom this level of power. All around us we see evidence of human power to invent amazing machines and build structures over 2,000 feet tall.
We defy gravity by flying to far-flung destinations and defeat diseases by prescribing newly invented drugs. But the power, creativity, and purpose of God is even greater. It is not represented by a machine or a pill.
“God possesses infinite, complete, and perfect power. […] None of us can make that claim. Our capabilities are limited. But God is able to do everything He wills.”
Furthermore, if God makes a promise, he will keep it because he is faithful, and nothing can stop him. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19).
Some Examples of What God Is Able to Do
Physical manifestations of power are immediate and obvious, but often transient too. When one difficulty is overcome — such as cancer or economic difficulty — another one comes along. God’s greater power operates at an eternal level.
The Lord is able to transform angry people into peaceful ones; sad people into content believers; despairing individuals into his own hopeful children who are confident that they are part of a bigger and better story.
The Father can “make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
This sufficiency is not money or other resources but God’s grace, and his power here is focused on fulfilling his plans by his power through his people.
That plan is to spread the gospel and bring fame to the beautiful name of Jesus Christ. Believers are given the gift of salvation by that same grace. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through [Jesus] since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
As Jesus said, though, if the Lord wanted to raise children from stones he could (Luke 3:8).
At times, God chooses to demonstrate his glory in visibly obvious ways by healing a person of sickness: Cancer, seizures, stroke, heart attack, etc.
Sometimes, the Lord allows one’s financial worries to be lifted; finds an apartment for the homeless believer; connects compatible partners in a blessed marriage. Many times, Jesus healed followers who were blind, lame, and he even raised the dead.
By What Power?
Paul writes to the Ephesians that the Father can do all things by the power that is already working inside of them — the Holy Spirit. Is this power different from God’s power? By no means — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One.
Paul’s point is that the work is not done by us because we are not powerful in our own right. He is also saying that the power is a promised inheritance to all who believe in Jesus for Salvation.
Believers receive the Holy Spirit; unbelievers do not. God might heal an unbeliever, but this is by his grace and mercy, to glorify himself, to please himself, and potentially to draw the lost to himself.
Believers also come to understand that physical demonstrations of omnipotence are not as valuable as the internal changes, which produce fruit, and which strengthen one’s character. As a result of spiritual transformation, believers ask new things of God.
As Paul says in Romans 5, suffering can eventually turn to hope when one stops demanding that God use his power to change circumstances. His power is obvious when one sees with new eyes.
He Can, But That Does Not Mean He Will
God could move a mountain if he wanted to, but only if it served his purposes to do so. Often, God appears impotent to the sinfully impatient or spiritually blind because the temporal problems in our lives are not solved and our desires are not met.
A marriage breaks up. A disease spreads, disables, or kills. Poverty persists. Maybe the request is to lose weight, find a better job, or even to find the car keys. The Father is both able and caring, so we have to trust. If he decides not to reveal the keys, provide a spouse, or end profound suffering, he knows the reason.
“In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). God welcomes our prayers and encourages us, through his word, to believe that he is listening.
The result of these prayers is that the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). Access is guaranteed; spiritual protection is promised; results that we can understand are not promised.
Have You Asked?
“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly” (James 4:2-3). Certainly, some prayers are good and right. We want our children to recover from illness; we do not want to be thrown out of our homes because there is no work.
Yet, God wants to do a more powerful work than merely changing circumstances — he wants to and can change hearts. The best result of prayer is that we would experience the presence of the living God; his “yes” is secondary.
For the Bible reader who thinks Paul is making light of suffering when he talks about a “light momentary affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17), “Paul isn’t trying to minimize your affliction; he’s trying to maximize your perspective,” says Mitch Chase.
God is able to do that, and as our perspective is increased, we will see more and more of what he has already accomplished.
For further reading:
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/luliiaPilipeichenko
Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.