Why Do God’s People Pray?

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

- 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18

The third major section of the Heidelberg Catechism (questions and answers 92–129) falls under the heading of gratitude. This follows the catechism’s discussion of salvation, reflecting the biblical teaching that our good works of thankfulness follow our redemption and do not merit it (Eph. 2:8–10). Yesterday we finished the portion of this third section that defines how we obey God’s law, particularly the Ten Commandments, to thank Christ for His work. Today we begin our look at the catechism’s summary of Scripture’s teaching on prayer.

As we will see, the catechism uses the Lord’s Prayer as a basic guide to how we are to pray. In question and answer 116, however, the catechism looks at why we pray. “Why do Christians need to pray?” is a fitting question for several reasons. After all, does not God’s full and complete sovereignty over all things mean that He does not need us to accomplish His purposes? If He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11) and none of His plans can be thwarted (Job 42:2), why would our prayers be important? Is He not going to succeed anyway?

Obviously, God does not need us to pray. The Lord of heaven and earth is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything” (Acts 17:24–25). The Almighty does not need us to accomplish His purposes. Nevertheless, God has appointed His people to play a key role in the outworking of His purposes. He has ordained that He will work through the prayers of His people, which prayers He has also ordained. We are told to pray for His kingdom to come (Matt. 6:10) because He has determined to advance His kingdom as His people ask for the fullness of His blessed reign. He has ordained every prayer His church offers, as well as His response, giving us an important place in His redemptive plan.

We also pray, today’s passage indicates, as a way to thank the Lord for His salvation. God works all things together for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory (Rom. 8:28), which means that in some sense, everything that happens to us is ordained to further the outworking of our salvation in our sanctification. In prayer, we thank Him that He is working all things to complete our redemption in conforming us to Christ. This is God’s will in Christ Jesus for us (1 Thess. 5:16–18).

Coram Deo

Giving thanks in all circumstances does not mean that we become thrilled with the prospect of pain. Instead, it means thanking the Lord for how He uses our greatest joys and deepest hurts to make us more like Jesus. Regular prayer that thanks God in all things is the means by which we give thanks in all circumstances. Let us endeavor every day to thank the Lord for His goodness to us and the ways He uses all things for our ultimate benefit.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 50:23
Jonah 3
Matthew 21:18–22
1 Timothy 2:1–2

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