Why Is Prayer Necessary for Us? (HC LD 45, Q/A 116-119)

Imagine that you’re doing some project around the house, and your neighbor comes by and asks, “Do you need a hand with that?” How kind. But you quickly respond, “No, I think I got it. Thanks, though.” Why do we oftentimes decline a helping hand? Well, we feel like we have things under control. We got it. We don’t really need the help, so why inconvenience our neighbor if we’ve got it under control. Now, if things weren’t going well, if we were sweating, struggling, and maybe swearing, we’d take the offer because we were well aware of our need.

How is your prayer life? Mine is struggling. I’ve struggled with prayer throughout my life. When we struggle with prayer, could it be that we assume things are going well and we don’t really need God’s help? Might we ask for little because we think you need little? It’s easier to pray when we are aware of our needs.

Psalm 50:14–15 says, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” We pray when we’re thankful. We pray when we’re in trouble. We pray when we need God’s grace and Spirit. We pray because God has promised to deliver us that we glorify Him. Are you aware that you need God’s help?

Heidelberg 116 asks, “Why is prayer necessary for Christians?” That’s a good question. Why is prayer necessary for us? Could it be that we are weak and needy? Heidelberg 116 answers:

Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us. Moreover, God will give His grace and the Holy Spirit only to those who constantly and with heartfelt longing ask Him for these gifts and thank Him for them.

The Heidelberg Catechism slots prayer in the gratitude section. Prayer is a vital part of our Spirit-prompted obedience to God. God saves us in order for us to commune with Him. Our Father commands us to offer Him sacrifices of thankfulness, and we will if we are truly thankful. Ungrateful people don’t take time to thank God for His rich blessings.

But notice the second part of 116: “Moreover, God will give His grace and the Holy Spirit only to those who constantly and with heartfelt longing ask Him for these gifts and thank Him for them.” That’s really important to understand.

You and I are body and soul. We have physical and spiritual needs. We should pray for our physical needs like sicknesses, material necessities, and the like. However, we should also pray for our spiritual needs. We should ask God to help us with our impatience, anger, resentment, lust, discontentment, fear, anxiety, worry, pride, and the like. And to ask for help in these areas we need to be aware of our need for help. God’s law points out problem areas in our hearts, the areas where we do not love God and our neighbors as we ought. Are you becoming more and more aware of your sin? If so, that’s an awareness of your need for God’s grace and Spirit. Physical needs are often easy to detect, but sometimes spiritual needs are more difficult to see. Sometimes we don’t want to see them. Oftentimes, other people see them in us.

So, why pray? Well, because we see our deep need and long for God to show up and work in our problem areas. Self-righteousness is the enemy of prayer. Self-righteousness says, “I’m doing pretty well here, and I don’t need God’s help that much.” Prayerlessness is simply expressing to God, “No, I think I got it. Thanks, though.” Prayerfulness is simply expressing to God, “Yes, please help me. I need your help.” Are you constantly asking God for help because you feel your need for His help?

I find Heidelberg 116 really helpful because it does more than challenge us to ask God for help. It also challenges us to thank God for giving us help. So, when we pray, we pray with full expectation that God will give us what we ask.

We must constantly ask Him. We must ask Him with heartfelt longing to receive His grace and Spirit. We must want it. But we must also thank Him for His grace and Spirit. If we pray to thank Him, it assumes we have received what we asked for. Right? We thank our heavenly Father for what we have received.

Let’s apply this. So you are angry with someone. You can’t seem to forgive them. Whenever you think about them, you remember the hurt, and you get angry. There is your need. So you pray: “Father, I’m angry. I need Your help. Grant me the grace to forgive this person. May Your powerful Spirit fill my heart with love instead of anger.” You know your need. You’re asking God for help. But prayer goes further. It doesn’t stop with asking; it goes on to thanking.

Consider James 1:5–8. James said:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Okay, so if we know we need God’s help, and we ask God, but when asking we do not actually believe God will give us help, we should not expect to receive it. And I think we do this. We ask, but we don’t actually expect to receive. Why do we do that? Well, we’re weak. We doubt. We don’t always believe God’s promises. So, we need to be aware that our prayers must be filled with true faith, with confidence that our God loves us and will give us what we ask. One way we can practice this true faith is to quickly thank God for providing us His grace and Spirit. We should ask and then move into expressing our thankfulness.

Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Giving thanks to God forces us to acknowledge that God does indeed give us what we ask. Giving thanks builds our confidence in God’s goodness.

So, do you pray in faith or do you doubt that God will come through? I often doubt. We should confess the sin of doubt, and ask God to strengthen our faith, and then thank God for strengthening our faith. Our Father is good. He loves to give us good things. We ought not to pray selfishly for God to gratify our depraved desires, but we also ought to expect Him to give us what we need to love Him and others.

Do you realize your great physical and spiritual needs? I hope so. May God continue to show them to you. Do you expect God to give you what you need? I hope so. May God fill your heart with confidence and thankfulness as you pray, so that your faith is strengthened and you can be heartened that God loves you and will provide. Whatever you need, dear one, your Father is ready to give. Ask Him. Thank Him. And delight in the love of your Father.

Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021), 64-65. 

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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