In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, making it unique among attempts to peer into the universe. As Hubble orbits the Earth, it does so above the atmosphere, which distorts and even blocks the light that reaches our planet and is what makes the stars seem to twinkle. This orbit allows Hubble to give a view of the galaxies that far surpass that of conventional telescopes on the ground that struggle with atmospheric distortion.
So 353 miles above the Earth, Hubble orbits our globe every 97 minutes (which is about five miles per second, meaning it goes across the United States in about 10 minutes). Hubble has caused the knowledge of outer space to explode, as it has captured images never seen before of newly discovered galaxies and space phenomenon. Scientists have realized what is out there is far more beautiful, complex, and grand in magnitude than they had even imagined. For instance, they discovered there are ten times more galaxies in the observable universe. Who knows what lies beyond what our telescopes can observe now? It took getting beyond earth’s atmosphere for scientists to see new things.
As the Hubble telescope is to astronomy, so is the Spirit to the heart of a Christian. That is what Paul wanted the people in the church at Ephesus, whom he loved dearly, to realize. In order for them to comprehend the magnitude of the love of Christ found in the gospel, they needed more of the Spirit’s help. Paul said he bowed his knees and prayed to the Father so that God
may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:16-19).
Our problem is that, like astronomers before Hubble, we are so earth-bound with this world’s concerns that the atmosphere around us distorts our view of God’s love. Our lusts for rusting treasures, our worries over life’s issues, our yearning for yet one more pleasure render us unable to comprehend love’s measure without the assistance of the Spirit of God. Like a telescope, we need God’s Spirit to take the enormity of God’s love and focus it down into our hearts so that we can grasp more of the measure of what Christ has done for us.
Think of it. The God who created that universe out there filled with billions and billions of galaxies, so vast that the Hubble cannot do it justice, that God wants you to know his immeasurable love. He wants your thimble-sized heart to be expanded in every direction and beyond- in breadth, in length, in height, in depth – so that you can comprehend more thoroughly his love that heaven itself could not contain, for that is why he sent Christ for you.
Yet Paul makes it clear that this love is not just knowing that God’s love is vast, like knowing that right now scientists estimate there are 7 x 1022 stars in the observable universe (and they have only just begun counting, as new telescopes and technologies will undoubtedly reveal that there are billions more galaxies still to be discovered out there). Paul prays that the church would “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” A love that surpasses knowledge is a love to be experienced, as Christ himself through his Spirit fills your soul to overflowing.
For he who made the oceans in all their vastness and beauty and power and mystery, that one desires to send fountains of blessing into your soul, rivers of living water gushing forth into your being, never-ending streams that cheer the city of God to you. He wants you to know what it means for you to be loved eternally (Eph. 1:4), to be loved particularly in adoption (Eph. 1:5), to be loved as his child (Eph. 5:1), to be loved in mercy (Eph. 2:4), to be loved in truth (Eph. 4:15), to be loved corporately (Eph. 3:18), to be loved as a bride (5:25), to be loved sacrificially (Eph. 5:2), and to be loved by one another in his family (Eph. 4:2). What love he has for his people!
If this very day you want to know why you are not enthralled with Christ and are not breathing deeply of the loving air of heaven, please know that it has nothing to do with the lack of desire on God’s side to impart that to you. It has far more to do with how deeply you are breathing, how thirstily you are drinking, how greatly you are longing, and how fervently the church is praying that you and I would experience it.
Paul here is interceding on behalf of the church because he wanted them to know Christ and his love as he did. We need to be praying for ourselves and one another that way. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “What prayer does is to fill the lungs of the soul with the oxygen of the Holy Spirit and His power.” Or as Packer states, the Spirit will come as a spotlight shining on Christ, focusing our minds and hearts solely on Him. When you read of certain giants in the faith, be it Samuel Rutherford or John Owen or Jonathan Edwards, you sense they are enthralled with Jesus and they want you to be as well. How we need more filling by God’s Spirit in our own age!
So as you pray alone or with others, certainly lift up earthly concerns regarding life’s needs or health concerns. Yet do stop there! Do not forget what the church really needs to be asking of her God. “Father, let us comprehend your incomprehensible love! Let the eternal, immortal, loving Christ dwell in the church! O God, who is love, fill us with your Spirit of love!”