The Prayers of Paul: Dwelling in Our Hearts


This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every family, whether spiritual or natural, takes its name: Out of his infinite glory, may He give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith…. Ephesians 3: 14-17

We ought to consider how important the heart is to the very idea of humanity—it is literally the engine that keeps our physical bodies running, it is the metaphorical seat of our emotions, and was considered the dwelling place of the soul. It is the most notable organ affected by the sympathetic nervous system in fight-or-flight mode—racing and thumping to supply more oxygen to our cells. It is capable of literally breaking from overwhelming grief in a condition known as Takusubo’s cardiomyopathy. And, it is in this particular place that Paul prays for Christ to come and dwell.

Paul uses an image to describe the purpose of our being “strengthened with power through His Holy Spirit in the inner man.” The purpose and Paul’s prayer focus is that “Christ may dwell in [our]hearts through faith.” His image is summarized in the word “dwell.”

In the Ephesians text, and elsewhere in the New Testament, dwell implies not simply being inside the house of our hearts but being at home there and being settled as a member of our family. Paul is praying that our lives would be characterized not by the fact of Jesus’ presence in our hearts, but in the reality and quality of His presence based on our openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit, His Word, and our compliance to His will and plan for our lives.

This word “dwell” carried with it additional meaning to the Jewish members of the Ephesian congregation. They probably remembered teaching from Exodus about God’s dwelling with the people of Israel. Exodus 25:8 says, “They are to make a sanctuary for me, that I may dwell in their midst.” Exodus 29:45-46 says, “I will dwell in the midst of the Israelites and will be their God.  They shall know that I, the Lord, am their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, so that I, the Lord, their God, might dwell among them.”

In the Ancient Near East, most civilizations were anxiously waiting for their gods to “come down.” They built tall edifices (Ziggurats) and stocked them with food and other valuables hoping that one day, their god would come down and be with them. This thinking is in stark contrast to the God of Israel who wanted to dwell with them. He is a personal God who wants a personal relationship with His people. In Genesis, before the Fall, he walked with Adam in the garden. In fact, the word Tabernacle means to dwell.

John’s gospel carries the theme to the New Testament. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Greek word for “dwelt” is a different Greek word than Paul uses, but it carries a similar meaning as it speaks to Jesus residing as God resides in the Tabernacle. Jesus has a deep desire to have us let him reside in our hearts and Paul’s prayer is urging believers, through faith, and knowledge of His Word, to let him permanently in our hearts.

Arthur Pink write, “The apostle prayed that the saints might have a spiritual sight of Christ, a spiritual knowledge of Him, a spiritual enjoyment of Him, so that He would be present and precious to the soul; and that can only be by the exercise of faith in Him as He is revealed in the Scriptures. The apostle prayed for their hearts to be occupied with the excellency of His person, and His love and grace, with His blood and righteousness [Arthur Walkington Pink, Gleanings from Paul Studies in the Prayers of the Apostle (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005), 169. #ad].”

As Paul points out to Peter in Galatians 2:15–21, believers in Christ we have a choice. We can choose a relationship where Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, dwells in our hearts, or we can be like Peter at that time and prefer a religion based on laws. We know from his later writings that Peter came to the conclusion as Paul—they prefer a deep indwelling relationship over laws and rituals. They prefer the strengthening of the inner man, through Christ, over any religion concerned only with outward appearances and not transformation.

Paul is teaching us how to pray for the enlargement of our spiritual eyes and ears. By appealing to the blessed Holy Spirit and to the unlimited riches available to our Father, God, we have been given the ability to have Jesus dwell not just with us, but within us.

All of this begins with faith, and so if our faith is faltering, how can we fan it into flame again?

“I believe, Lord help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24


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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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