The Chief Part of our Thankfulness: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 45


  1. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?

Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us,1 and because God will give His grace and Holy Spirit only to those who earnestly and without ceasing ask them of Him, and render thanks unto Him for them.2

[1] Ps. 50:14–15. [2] Matt. 7:7–8; Lk. 11:9–10, 13; Matt. 13:12; *Eph. 6:18.

  1. What belongs to such prayer which is acceptable to God and which He will hear?

First, that with our whole heart1 we call only upon the one true God, who has revealed Himself to us in His Word,2 for all that He has commanded us to ask of Him;3 second, that we thoroughly know our need and misery,4 so as to humble ourselves in the presence of His divine majesty;5 third, that we be firmly assured6 that notwithstanding our unworthiness, He will, for the sake of Christ our Lord, certainly hear our prayer,7 as He has promised us in His Word.8

[1] Jn. 4:22–24. [2] Rom. 8:26; 1 Jn. 5:14. [3] Ps. 27:8. [4] 2 Chron. 20:12. [5] Ps. 2:10; 34:18; Isa. 66:2. [6] Rom. 10:14; Jas. 1:6. [7] Jn. 14:13–16; Dan. 9:17–18. [8] Matt. 7:8; Ps. 143:1; *Lk. 18:13.

  1. What has God commanded us to ask of Him?

All things necessary for soul and body,1 which Christ our Lord comprised in the prayer which He Himself taught us.

[1] Jas. 1:17. Matt. 6:33. *1 Pet. 5:7. *Phil. 4:6.


The Chief Part of our Thankfulness

When I was younger, I never really understood the purpose of thank you cards.  It seemed kind of pointless.  How would I improve someone else’s lot in life by taking the time to write a card acknowledging that they had given me something or done something for me?  I certainly enjoyed it when somebody acknowledged something I had done for them, but empathy was not my strong suit as a young man, and I did not make the obvious connection.

Giving thanks to God is tremendously important precisely because there’s nothing we can do to improve His welfare.  He doesn’t need anything from us.  But He desires to be glorified for who He is, and He made us for that purpose.  Since the cattle on a thousand hills are His, if we are to respond to what He has done for us, it can only be with thanksgiving and praise.

We are made in His image, to reflect what He is like, and the good feeling we get when someone acknowledges something nice we did for them gives us a hint into God’s desire to be glorified.  The human desire for praise is distorted by sin and easily becomes a bottomless pit of narcissistic need, but the desire to be thanked for things we have done is not of itself sinful, or else it would be sinful to send thank you cards.  It is not sinful of itself because it reflects God’s own nature.

Our thanks to others and our desire for thanks ourselves should always be limited by our creatureliness.  If I do something nice for someone else, it’s nice to be thanked for that, but all glory and credit belongs to Him, even for my own good works.  Our thankfulness to God is unlimited, for “of Him and through Him and to Him are all things.”  (Rom. 11:36)  The conclusion we should draw from that truth is the same as the one Paul does—“to whom be glory forever and ever, amen.”

Prayer is the main way we express our thankfulness to Him (q. 116), and thankfulness should occupy the bulk of our prayer.  Even when we are making petitions in prayer, it should be with this thankful heart that trusts God and acknowledges all the good that He does, past and future. Prayer is primarily about thanksgiving, not about getting what we want from God.  The thankful motivation to prayer, therefore, changes not only the percentage of time we spend in prayer asking for things but also the way we ask for things when we do—with contentment, with trust, with the assurance that even if God does not give us the specific thing we ask for, He will still do good for us.

A true prayer therefore reflects the truth of who God is and what He has done (q. 117).  It will flow out of an assurance of His goodness and His blessings in one’s life, most specifically the blessing of the salvation of Jesus Christ.  It will flow out of faith, out of belief in the gospel.  If I pray in doubt, not certain whether God will do good for me, I am calling God a liar since He has repeatedly promise to take care of His people and bless them immensely (Matt. 7:7-11, for example).  Such a prayer has no right to expect any answer though God often graciously answers anyway.  “Let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1:7)  True faith in Christ will lead us to boldly come to the throne of grace to make our petitions, knowing that we have no right to make any request of God of ourselves, but every right in Christ.

A prayer which flows out of a right knowledge of God will include petitions to God for everything we need and want since God is sovereign over all and all good things come from Him.  We should learn to put all our trust in God, not only for what happens after we die, but for every circumstance of our lives (q. 118).  He is sovereign over the weather, over our health, over our finances and everything else.  While God makes the rain to fall on the just and on the unjust, our reaction should not be complacency about the falling rain, but to thank Him and petition Him for what we need, knowing that eventually all who fail to acknowledge His blessings in thanksgiving will lose those blessings.  The rain will not continue to fall on the unjust forever, as the rich man in Luke 16:24 could tell you.

Learning to pray better is one of the chief needs of every Christian.  I find it to be the case that the more mature a Christian is, the more he or she will typically bemoan the state of his or her prayer life.  The Heidelberg does an excellent job of unpacking the subject of prayer, using the prayer which Jesus taught us as its guide, and which will occupy the remainder of the Catechism.  The subject of prayer most suitably ends the Catechism and most appropriately follows the exposition of the Law, since the natural question arising from an understanding of the Law (“How can I do that?”) is answered best by prayer.  Through prayer, God gives us every good gift, including a greater and greater conformity to the image of our Savior Jesus Christ.