Prayer as the Chief Part of the Thankfulness that God Requires of Us (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 116)

heidcat2__03083.1480713175Why should we as Christians pray? Why is it necessary for us – why do we need to pray? No doubt there may be any number of good answers to that question. We pray because we are needy people (Psalm 70:5; Matthew 6:8). We pray because God gives good gifts to His children who pray (Matthew 7:11). We also pray because we are commanded to do so in the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

The Heidelberg Catechism concludes with an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer (Q/A 116-129). And in introducing the Lord’s prayer, it teaches us that the primary reason (although certainly not the only reason) that believers need to pray is that it is the main way that we express our gratitude to God for our salvation in Jesus Christ:

Q.116. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?A. Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us; 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.

Again, notice that the first reason for prayer given here in Q/A 116 is gratitude. That says a lot about both the motive for prayer as well as its very nature. This fits in well with the entire 3rd section of the catechism (Q/A 86-129), which is all primarily about how we are to show our gratitude to God for our salvation. (See Q/A 2.) Gratitude is to be our primary motive for obedience to God’s commandments (Q/A 86-115) and for prayer (Q/A 116-129).

It is no coincidence that giving thanks and prayer are linked together in Scripture. Here are just a handful of examples:

  • “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5 ESV)
  • “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6 ESV)
  • “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 ESV)

And if you add to that the dozens of times that the Psalms speak of giving thanks to the LORD (e.g. Psalm 7:17; 9:1; 30:4; 33:2, etc.), the list gets even longer. After all, in a sense, many of the Psalms are both songs and prayers.

You can’t really give thanks without praying. (To give thanks to God is to pray!) And you probably won’t persevere very long in prayer if your heart is not filled with gratitude to God for all of the blessings that He has bestowed on You in Jesus Christ. No wonder the Heidelberg Catechism calls prayer “the chief [i.e. the most important] part of the thankfulness God requires of us” (Q/A 116).

In addition to that (and then only secondarily to giving thanks to God), the catechism goes on to teach us that we are also to pray “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.”

This is a direct connection to the previous question (Q/A 115), which says that the strict preaching of the ten commandments should more and more reveal our sinful nature to us, so that we seek forgiveness of sin and the righteousness in Christ alone (i.e. justification), as well as so that we might “constantly endeavor and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we may become more and more conformable to the image of God” (i.e. sanctification & growth in grace).

This should be a much more common theme and request in our prayers than it tends to be. We should sincerely and continually ask God for His grace and His Holy Spirit, and give Him thanks for them, for without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

How much different might our prayer lives be as believers in Christ if we were to view prayer not merely as a duty to be performed, nor even as a means to an end, but first and foremost as “the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us” – as the primary way that we express our gratitude to our Heavenly Father for His saving grace and kindness toward us in Christ!


  1. Hi Andy, thanks for fleshing this out. I wonder how many Christians would answer the way that this question does. It’s really an interesting way to look at prayer. This question really hit me a couple of months ago as I was going through the catechism. I wanted to ponder it more. This post helped.

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