While recently digging in my backyard, I hit the root of an oak tree with my shovel. I was puzzled by the root’s relatively large thickness because I found it lying outside the tree’s canopy above. I do expect to find roots out that far, but three inches in diameter was surprising. That oak sure has a mature root system!
It made me think about what it means for Christians to be deeply and effectively rooted in Christ. Paul used the metaphor of rootedness in his letter to the Ephesians:
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17b–19
If my oak tree root was a puzzle, Paul’s prayer is more so. He prays for the believers to grasp and to know the love of Christ even though it surpasses knowledge. How is this possible? How can we grasp the ungraspable? How can the ocean of Jesus’ love be funneled into the pint-sized container of my understanding?
Paul’s use of the rootedness metaphor offers us a clue. The “soil” of Paul’s metaphor is Christ’s love. Paul began this letter by praising God for the believers’ predestination in love (Ephesians 1:4,5). Rootedness in Christ extends far before we were born: “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight” (Ephesians 1:4). The love of God is the foundational soil where new life begins and thrives.
In verse 18, Paul continues his petition for the rooted believers. He prays for them to have power to determine the dimensions of how much Jesus loves them. So, let’s ask: Just how deep is this soil of Jesus’ love? What is the measure of its extent? Impossible to determine, you say? What is impossible with God? Nothing. Let’s ask God for the power to find out. But is there possibly more to Paul’s prayer than asking for this power? Could it be that Paul is not just asking God for something here, but that he is modeling something?
It seems to me that Paul is modeling what it looks like to pray to the God “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Paul’s petition seems paradoxical — asking for power to know the unknowable — but he wants all the believers to mature so they will begin to pray in a manner unfettered by human preconceptions about God. If God can and is willing to do “immeasurably more,” then why not ask for the power to know the unknowable?
God is able, so Paul teaches us to avoid limiting God with our imaginations because He is able to do more — immeasurably more — than we can wrap our brains around. Yes, Jesus’ love surpasses knowledge. Yes, God’s ability is immeasurable. But as we petition God we should be reminded that we are rooted as believers together in God, made tangible through His Son’s love.
This prayer about the dimensions of Jesus’ great love isn’t about mortals grabbing ahold of the eternal triune God in order to compress Him into some anthropomorphic idol that human minds can comprehend. This prayer is about the eternal God grabbing ahold of us and planting us in the saving love of Christ; it’s about teaching believers to desire everything that God desires for them; and it’s a model for how we ought to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ: “Lord, You have rooted my brother in Your love, now please give him the power to comprehend Your love; please fill him with the glory of Your fullness.”
Paul’s petition is a model for us to reorient our attitude in prayer because we, in our humanness, attempt to put God in a straightjacket. It tells me how I tend to put God in a box. No container has yet been made that can accurately be labeled “immeasurable.” Should I put limits on Christ who gave His all? Yet I do it all the time. So then, I cry along with the desperate father of Mark 9:24: “I do believe; help my unbelief.”
Where in the Scriptures do we find God limiting His love?
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth. Isaiah 53:7
Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. 1 John 3:16
Jesus willingly suffered as the Lamb of God so whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). He lovingly submitted himself to His Father’s will for that purpose. He demonstrated God’s righteousness by doing for us what we could never do for ourselves. That’s the medium of His atoning love in which the Christian’s roots thrive. That’s the brilliant sunshine of Jesus’ mercy and grace toward which we can turn our faces and confidently pray.
The next buried root I encounter is going to remind me that my roots are growing in Christ’s love and that He wants me to mature in Him to the point that I will, like Paul, pray out of God’s glorious riches (Ephesians 3:16) for the power to grasp the ungraspable, and to have my soul remodeled and enlarged, resulting in insatiable hunger for God’s fullness.
I think I know where the 18th Century pastor and hymnist Robert Robinson’s roots were planted:
Come, Thou fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace. Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet Sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy unchanging love.
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Jack Gross is a graduate of Advanced Leadership Training at Grace Polaris Church. He and his wife, Evon, came to Grace in the fall of 2008. Jack enjoys working with his hands and is employed by the facilities department at Worthington Christian Schools. He worked with the warehouse crew at Grace helping to build Living Christmas Tree sets. He has recently joined the nursing home ministry as a speaker at Friendship Village. He also enjoys the wonders of creation by tending his perennial garden. Jack and Evon have two teenage sons and have lived in Columbus all their lives.