Summary: God’s sovereignty is an incentive to prayer because it assures us that when we pray for things that accord with his will, he’ll gladly do them.
Let me ask you something. Did you notice who’s at the centre of Paul’s thinking as he begins this letter to the Ephesians? Who is it who takes centre stage in the life of the Church? Who is it that the church is entirely dependant on for their very existence?
There’s the answer in the first verse of our passage: "3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." As Paul begins his letter, as he relates his prayer for the Ephesians, it isn’t them in the viewfinder, is it? No, it’s God. And look at the God he describes: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace ... 8... With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."
This God he describes is the sovereign God of history; the centre of every thing that happens; the God who has set an eternal plan in place to be fulfilled when the time is right; who’s sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to bring about the fulfilment of that plan. And as part of that plan he’s chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world (v4). He’s revealed himself to us, his people (v9). He’s adopted us as his children (v5). He’s redeemed us through Jesus’ death on the cross (v7). Everything we’ve experienced as a Christian is the result of God’s sovereign actions in history.
In particular their faith and love are the result of God working in their hearts. And so he says "For this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers."
For what reason? A quick reading might conclude that he’s just thinking about their faith and love. But that would be to ignore all the verses that have gone before. It’d be to ignore the grand sweep of history that Paul has recounted as he introduces his prayer for them.
Notice, by the way, that his prayer for them comes in the context of worship. Look at verse 3. He begins with what’s called a doxology: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." This isn’t a prayer that arises from his theological study. Rather it arises from his desire to worship God; from his overwhelming wonder at the sovereignty of God in bringing his plans to fulfilment in the salvation, not just of the Jews, but of the Gentiles as well, so that the whole world might be brought under the rule of Jesus Christ.
Now before we look in detail at the prayer let’s stop to think about this context of God’s sovereignty. Some people would suggest that if God is sovereign then there’s no need to pray to him. After all didn’t Jesus say that the Father knows what we’re going to ask even before we ask it (Matt 6:8)? Won’t God act to carry out his plans whether or not we pray? Well, I’m not going to answer those objections in great detail today, but let me say first of all, that that quote from Jesus is in the context of teaching his disciples to pray the Lord’s prayer.
But secondly let me say that there are 2 truths taught side by side in Scripture:
God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never acts to reduce human responsibility
Human beings are responsible creatures who make choices, believe or disbelieve, obey or disobey, respond to or ignore God and are held responsible for their actions. But, again, this human responsibility never lessens God’s sovereignty.
Both truths are taught in Scripture and neither must be diminished. What’s more, what we find is that God repeatedly tells his people to pray, to ask, and is regularly seen to respond to those prayers, even on occasion changing his course of action in response.
So when Paul stops to pray in the middle of this song of praise for God’s sovereignty in action, he isn’t being inconsistent or illogical. Rather he’s responding to God’s sovereignty in the only appropriate way.