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The Necessity of Prayer

Prayer is an interesting topic for Christians. It is one of those things that is almost universally understood as a good thing. It is something that we should do. But if I were to ask each person that reads this why we should pray, I would likely get a different answer from each person. The reason is that prayer is something we struggle with. We struggle with what to pray for or if we are praying rightly. We struggle with making a regular habit of prayer. We struggle even to understand what happens in prayer. In some theological systems, prayer is seen as a means of changing God's mind or that we are giving God new information that he does not have. The argument here is that if God already knows everything we need, we do not need to ask him. But this directly contradicts scripture, which teaches us that God already knows everything, including what we will ask in prayer, and we are still to ask. But this leaves us with the question of why. Why is it necessary to pray? What kind of prayer is acceptable to God? These are the questions we are going to look at today.

Question #116

After going through the Ten Commandments, the catechism comes to the important question of why prayer is necessary. In the Ten Commandments, we see what is required of us in the law as well as the reality that we are incapable of living up to that standard. In question 115, the catechism asks why we should preach them if no one can keep them and answers that preaching them is to push us to pray to God for grace. So we come back to our question, why pray?

Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us:(a) and also, because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desires continually ask them of him, and are thankful for them.(b)

The first part of our answer deals with the nature of what prayer is. Pray is, first and foremost, thankfulness to God. In the Lord's Prayer, which is an example of how to pray that we are given by Christ himself, we see some important things. First of all, the prayer consists mostly of acknowledging and giving thanks. It starts off by addressing God as our Heavenly Father, the one who has all authority, or power, in heaven and on earth. From the beginning of the prayer, we are giving thanks and acknowledging the reality of things. God is all-powerful, to do whatever he pleases in the heavens above and on the earth below. It is an acknowledgment and thankfulness for our utter dependence on him. Even when the prayer gets to the request, such as giving us our daily bread, the request is also an acknowledgment that it is God who is our provider. It is only the Lord that gives us that daily bread. Prayer is not asking for things that God does not know we need, it is asking for things that he has said he will do. We do not give him information since he has in himself all knowledge, but we ask so that we understand our dependence on the Lord. But this brings us to our second question, what is acceptable prayer?

Question #117

Here the catechism helps us understand.

First, that we from the heart pray(a) to the one true God only, who has manifested himself in his word,(b) for all things, he has commanded us to ask of him;(c) secondly, that we rightly and thoroughly know our need and misery,(d) that so we may deeply humble ourselves in the presence of his divine majesty;(e) thirdly, that we be fully persuaded that he, notwithstanding that we are unworthy of it, will, for the sake of Christ our Lord, certainly hear our prayer,(f) as he has promised us in his word.(g)

The simplest part of this is that when we pray, we are only praying to God. We do not pray to other people, regardless of how great they were. Prayer is an expression of worship, and as such, to pray to someone other than God, would be to offer worship to that person. This means that praying to Mary or the Apostles or any other person in church history is false worship. The follow-up to this statement is that the God we are praying to is a specific God. We pray to the God who has revealed himself in scripture. If we are not praying to this God, the God of scripture, then we are once again offering worship to another. The second part of our answer deals with our attitude when we pray. We do not pray in arrogance or pride but in humility and dependence. We need to know our need for him. We need to understand that apart from the Lord, nothing happens. We come boldly, knowing that the Father does indeed listen to his children, but not demanding. The last part of our answer goes deeper into the posture of our hearts. In the first two parts, we are looking at God. In the third part, we look at ourselves. We must understand that we are only made worthy of asking because we are in Christ. The Lord does not have to listen to us, and yet for the sake of Christ, he does. He hears our prayer because he has promised to do so. He has promised to hear the prayers of his adopted children.


One of the main reasons that people struggle with prayer, especially in our culture, is that we want to treat it like a vending machine. We want to treat prayer like if we say the right things at the right time, we will get the result we are looking for right now. We live in a culture that is impatient. If we turn on our phones and it does not load right away, we are frustrated. If we go to look for an answer and do not find it right away, we become angry. We want instant gratification. We want things to happen the way we want them to, and if it doesn't, then we have been wronged somehow. It is the same with prayer. If I pray for my friend to be healed, and it does not happen, I am upset and decide that prayer must not work. If I pray for understanding, and I still do not understand, then that must mean that God is not real. But we have to ask, are we really asking at that point or demanding? Are we willing to accept that God might just know better than we do? What if God has a better plan and wants to teach you something? Does that mean he is not listening? Of course not. If you ask your mom for something and she tells you no because she knows what you are asking for is not good for you, it does not mean she did not hear you. Maybe, just maybe, we could start to understand that God, who knows all, is all-wise, and all-powerful, has a better plan than we do. Maybe we should trust that the one who made the world and everything in it knows what is best for his creation. This is how we should pray. We ask for things, ask for what he has told us to ask for, and trust that the God of all creation knows what is best.

Soli Deo Gloria

Q. 116: (a) Ps. 50:14, 15. (b) Matt. 7:7, 8; Luke 11:9, 10, 13; 1 Thess. 5:17.

Q. 117: (a) John 4:24; Ps. 145:18. (b) Rev. 19:10; John 4:22–24. (c) Rom. 8:26; 1 John 5:14; James 1:5. (d) 2 Chron. 20:12. (e) Ps. 2:11; Ps. 34:19; Isa. 66:2. (f) Rom. 10:14; James 1:6. (g) John 14:13, 14; John 16:23; Dan. 9:17, 18.

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