Why Pray


The Command and Benefits of Prayer

It is hard work. It is not natural. It requires faith and patience and time. And it sometimes seems pointless. These are some of the reasons we, as Christians, don’t pray. Yet, faithful pastors and fellow Christians urge us to pray. With such compelling reasons against prayer, it is not surprising that many of us respond to their encouragement: “why?” Why pray when we hardly have time to get our work done for the day? Why pray when it doesn’t seem to accomplish anything? Why pray when God is sovereign over everything? The simple answer is, God commands it. But God gives several reasons for commanding us to pray: our benefit, to accomplish his will, and for his glory.

The Bible is replete with commands to pray. We are told to pray continually (1 Thess. 5:17). and faithfully (1 Thess. 5:17, Rom. 12:12). We are to pray like the widow: persistently (Luke 18:1-7). We are to “devote [o]urselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2). We are to pray prayers of praise and thanksgiving (Ps. 148, 107:1). We are to confess our sins to the Lord and present our requests before him (Matt. 6:11-12). While our primary supplications ought to be for God to be glorified and for his will to be done, God commands us also to pray for healing, spiritual growth, daily food, even our enemies (Matt. 5:44, James 5:16, 2 Chron. 7:14, Matt. 6:9-13, 5:44). It is irrefutable that God requires we pray—about everything. Martin Luther says it well: “as is the business of tailors to make clothes and cobblers to make shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray.” And it is the business of a Christian to pray because it greatly aids our sanctification.   

The Westminster Shorter Catechism 88 asks: “What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?” In other words, what are the common, everyday ways God uses to grow us in grace and give us a saving knowledge of Christ? The answer is, “his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for salvation” (emphasis mine). According to the confessions, one of the primary ways God has ordained for us to know Christ (Acts 2:21) and to experience more of the fruits of salvation is prayer. No one can be a Christian without prayer and no Christian can grow without prayer. Prayer is central to our spiritual growth. Or put negatively, “If we neglect prayer, we will not really know much about the Word of God or the sacraments—at least not much that will bear true and abiding fruit in our lives or in the lives of those to whom we minister.”1 Bible reading alone will not grow us in a knowledge of and love for God; we must also pray. Partaking of the sacraments are not enough to equip us to fight growth-stunting sin and deceptive Satan; we must also pray. For, prayer is—as John Bunyan so aptly observed—a “shield to the soul . . . and a scourge for Satan.” It is a personal and direct communication with the source of all truth. It is a significant means of growing us closer to the Vine. Without prayer, a Christian will surely wither. As Charles Spurgeon wrote, “as well could you expect a plant to grow without air and water as to expect your heart to grow without prayer and faith.” God desires we grow, so he commands us to pray. For prayer unites us more and more to him—the source of life—in part by opening our eyes to God’s sovereignty and our dependence.

God’s Sovereignty and Prayer

God is sovereign over all the affairs of men. “Nothing escapes God’s notice; nothing oversteps the boundaries of His power. God is authoritative in all things.”2 Nothing shows us this more clearly than prayer. However, many people ask, “If God is sovereign, then why pray?” We pray because God is sovereign. If the outcome of events depended even partially on us, the natural response would be, work harder and worry more (and if all else fails, try prayer). As it is, God orders and ordains all things (Ps. 115:3, Prov. 19:21, Eph. 1:11, Rom. 8:28). He alone has power to shape events. Realizing this changes our understanding of and attitude toward prayer. Prayer is pleading with the only one able to change things. It is the foundation, rather than the afterthought of our every action, wish, desire. And the exciting thing is the more we pray, the more we are made aware of God’s sovereignly wrought and wonderous works. And the really astonishing thing is that God chooses to use our prayers as one of the ways he accomplishes His will in the world.

God predestined every person who would come to saving faith. Yet he uses us as secondary means to point people to saving faith. In the same way, God often chooses to use our prayers to accomplish his foreordained will. To be clear, God does not need our prayers. He is fully capable of working his will in the world without our meager prayers. Additionally, our prayers never change God or force him to do something. If we were capable of coercing God, we would have power over him, making him in some sense lower than us and thus not God. That said, prayer does change things. In the words of R.C. Sproul, “the mind of God does not change for God does not change. Things change, and they change according to His sovereign will, which he exercises through secondary means and secondary activities.

The prayer of His people is one of the means God uses to bring things to pass in this world.”3 For example, consider Elijah, of whom James writes: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth” (James 5:17). Elijah’s prayers did not change God, but God used his prayers to accomplish his predetermined purposes in the same way that he uses the prayers of a righteous man for healing or repentance (see James 5:13-16). Though this is a mystery, we can know that our prayers are never wasted. Rather, “prayer in accordance with his will is effective.”4 So though we don’t understand how, God surely uses our prayers to accomplish his purposes (one of which is our own sanctification). What an incentive to pray!5

Let me be clear that God uses our prayers to accomplish his will, not ours. I am not advocating for the false teaching that if we pray with enough faith God will give us whatever we ask, be it health or a Ferrari. Though Jesus promises that whatever we ask in faith we will receive (Matt. 21:22), elsewhere the Bible makes clear the “whatever we ask” has qualifications. The apostle John states that whatever we ask according to God’s will, we will receive (1 John 5:4-15). Jesus taught his disciples to pray “your will be done” (Matt. 6:10b). Jesus himself prayed this very thing in his most frightful hour: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36, emphasis mine). The Bible teaches us that we cannot strong arm God, forcing him to give us whatever we may think we need. But he will give us whatever we ask if it is in line with his will.

How Prayer Humbles Us and Glorifies God

When we realize this truth that God can do anything, yet only does what he wills, it both humbles and comforts us by showing us our dependence on God. We are not the arbiters of our fate. We cannot guarantee even the necessities of life. We rely wholly on God to provide us with food, health, safety (not to mention our every spiritual need; see, for example, 1 Chron. 29:16; Deut. 29:5; Matt. 6:26-27). There should be an en dash between 26 and 27.). No amount of storing up in barns can guarantee another day of life (Luke 12:18-20). No level of planning is enough to prepare for every possible scenario. The more we pray, the more God reveals the truth of his provision and our dependence to us which weans us from worldly pursuits. For when we start praying for our daily bread, the less we believe we are the ones supplying it. Or when we pray for healing, we realize we are not in charge of our well-being. If God were not infinitely loving and good, these kinds of realizations would terrify us rather than comfort us. But the Bible teaches otherwise.

God promises that he will do whatever is best for us (Rom. 8:28). As a good Father, he is both able and delighted to give good gifts to his children (Matt. 7:11, see also Ps. 34:10)—the best gift being himself. In this we find comfort. The one person able to do anything, is the very person who loves us most and wants to give us what is best for us (even if that requires suffering). Prayer trains us to see these truths more clearly. When we understand this we can see why Calvin wrote: “it is very important for us to call upon him…that our hearts may be fired with a zealous and burning desire ever to seek, love, and serve him, while we become accustomed in every need to flee to him as to a sacred anchor[And] that we be prepared to receive his benefits with true gratitude of heart and thanksgiving, benefits that our prayer reminds us come from his hand.” In short, we ought to pray because it is a source of comfort, humbles us and directs our hearts to glorify God.

The primary reason God commands us to pray is because it brings him glory. Our purpose in life is to glorify God (WSC 1). When, through prayer, we gratefully extol God, it brings him glory. When we acknowledge his sovereignty, goodness, generosity, etc., it brings him glory. When we declare our own sinfulness in the face of God’s holiness, it glorifies God. In short, the very act of prayer glorifies God. For prayer means everything described above, “an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” (WSC 98). In other words, prayer is by definition a humbling of ourselves and glorifying of God. What better way than prayer to prepare for heaven where we will forever praise and glorify God?

Prayer is difficult, unnatural, and sometimes seems pointless. While it is hard work, it is necessary and fruitful. God commands us to pray for our good and his glory. Prayer trains us to see both God and ourselves aright. Doing so leads us to praise him in our prayers even as we acknowledge our sinfulness and dependence on him. Many Christians before us understood this necessity and blessing of prayer. Paul often talked of praying continually for the churches (Rom. 1:8–10, 1 Cor. 4, Eph. 1:15–16). To Martin Luther, prayer was central and foundational to all we do.6 Monica, Augustine’s mother, prayed continually for the salvation of her son (Confessions 3.11). My hope is that with an understanding of why we ought to pray, we too will embrace prayer like these men and women of the faith.


1 Bruce Hollister, “Prayer: Our Highest Privilege,” New Horizons, June 2021, (accessed June 27, 2022).

2 R. C. Sproul, “If God is Sovereign, Why Pray?”, April 22, 2020,

learn/articles/if-god-sovereign-why-pray (accessed June 27, 2022).

3 R. C. Sproul, “Does Prayer Change God’s Mind?”, May 12, 2021,

articles/does-prayer-change-gods-mind (accessed June 27, 2022).

4 Shane Lems, “The Repentance of God: Ex. 32:14,” New Horizons, December 2009, (accessed July 1, 2022).

5 R. C. Sproul, 5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2008), 47–49.

6 John Piper, “Martin Luther: Lessons from His Life and Labor” (lecture, Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, Minnesota, 1996), (accessed June 27, 2022).

Mrs. Elisabeth Bloechl is a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Hammond WI, is a wife and mom of three.