“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better” (Eph. 1:17).
In the previous verse, the Apostle Paul says that he never ceases mentioning the Ephesian church in his prayers before God. Now he tells us more specifically what he prays for — namely, that they may know God better.
There is very much worth commenting in this verse. For example, why should Paul pray that the Ephesians know God better in the first place? Does it make sense to pray for another’s relationship with God? Doesn’t this depend on the other person? What effect can our prayers have on the behavior of others, if we grant that they are free?
There are some very important and vexing philosophical questions about this topic that would merit answering. I have written on the subject in some detail in a paper I wrote with a colleague, Jordan Wessling, about Catherine of Siena. You can read the paper here, if you want a more academic approach to the philosophical problems raised by the practice of intercessory prayer: “The Medicine which Heals the World: Praying for Salvation with Catherine of Siena.”
In brief, my belief is that it is legitimate and reasonable to pray for the spiritual lives of other persons, even if these persons are free. What we can pray for is that God do whatever lies within His power to bring the other person to salvation. Of course, only God knows the final destination of each person, but we can and should pray for all people, that they be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-6). Wouldn’t God do this anyway, whether or not we pray for it, if He is good? Perhaps. But God wants us to pray for others because He wishes that we participate in His action of saving the world. Our participation in this grand work consists in our preaching and evangelization, of course, but also in our praying. God takes our prayers and makes them a reason for doing what He does; He answers them, and in this way makes us participants and contributors to His work.
There is another point worth considering in commenting on this verse. Paul explicitly connections the knowledge of God the Father with the reception of the Holy Spirit. A person must receive the Spirit in order to know the Father of Jesus Christ. This is an important point because it emphasizes that only God can make God known. Jesus Christ also makes this point: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). Only if God comes down to us can we know something of who He is, what He is like, what His thoughts are for us.
One of the perennial temptations of human beings is to make God in their own image. They assume that God must think and be like them, or else if they are confronted with a depiction of God that doesn’t resemble themselves, that they cannot understand, then they are inclined to reject it as false. But of course God is God, regardless of what we think about the matter. And if we are to know who God is, then He must reveal Himself to us. He has to give us His Spirit so that we can understand better who He is.
Just as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, let us also pray for one another, that God give us His Spirit so we can know Him more and more!