There are many reasons why Christians often struggle to pray. Perhaps it is because prayer is hard work, or we fail to believe what the Bible says about prayer. It could be the result of a host of other reasons: biblical illiteracy, busyness, a lack of discipline, a lust for ease, worldliness, carnality, and the list goes on. Although there are many reasons why we find it challenging to pray, we must understand that prayerlessness for the Christian is an oxymoron. The fact of the matter is that Christians pray (Rom. 8:15, 12:12; Eph. 6:18; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:7).
J.C. Ryle wrote, “Not praying is a clear proof that a man is not yet a true Christian. He cannot really feel his sins. He cannot love God. He cannot feel himself a debtor to Christ. He cannot long after holiness. He cannot desire heaven. He has yet to be born again. He has yet to be made anew creature. He may boast confidently of election, grace, faith, hope, and knowledge, and deceive ignorant people. But you may rest assured it is all vain talk if he does not pray.”
Not only is it true that Christians pray, but it is also true that Christians need to be encouraged to pray. This article aims not to guilt readers into praying more, but rather to encourage them to pray. Taking the Sermon on the Mount as the premier lesson on prayer (Matt. 6:5-13), in what follows are seven reasons inferred from Jesus for why Christians must pray.
One issue that must be addressed when embarking on a study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is whether or not this sermon applies to the Church. It is clear that the primary audience in the narrative was Israel, but the wider audience of readers includes the Church. As Vlach keenly observes, “The sermon is a required ethic for all who believe in Jesus and are citizens of the coming kingdom.” Therefore, believers would do well to heed the principles given by our Lord in this sermon and for our purpose, what He taught about prayer.
Seven Reasons Why Christians Must Pray
Christians must pray because it is a great privilege (Matt. 6:5-8).
Jesus begins His teaching on prayer by exposing the phony prayers of hypocrites. The word hypocrite originally referred to an actor that wore a mask. It came to describe someone pretending to be somebody or something they were not. When hypocrites pray, they pretend to be seeking the Lord, but what they are doing is seeking people’s praise. Authentic prayer always seeks the right audience. This is why Jesus instructed His hearers to pray in secret (Matt. 6:7). In these verses, Jesus calls God “Father” three times. This emphasizes His gentleness and the intimacy that He has with His followers. It is stunning to think that God the Father loves all those who are in Christ just as He loves His Son (Jn. 17:23). It is worth considering what a privilege it is to be given access to the Father through prayer. Such reflection raises several related questions: Do you want to enjoy intimacy with Him? Do you appreciate His tender care? If the answer is yes, then Christian, you must pray.
Christians must pray to cultivate humility and dependence upon the Lord (Matt. 6:9a).
Before Jesus teaches His disciples what they should pray about, He begins by instructing them to whom they should direct their prayers. He says, “Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9a). To call God Father emphasizes his care and intimacy as stated above. But to say that He is “in heaven” is to emphasize His sovereignty and transcendence. As the Psalmist says, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). When we pray, we must always begin by remembering that God is sovereign overall. Starting our prayers this way puts all other petitions in their place. As we recognize that our Father is in heaven and that He does what every He pleases, praying then has the effect of making us humble before God and dependent on Him for everything.
Christians must pray if God is going to be the supreme focus of their lives (Matt. 6:9b-13).
After our Lord taught his audience where to pray and to whom, He proceeded to teach them what to pray. Here we must note not only the content itself but also the specific order of the petitions. Jesus begins with the petition, “hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). This is a prayer for God to be magnified in every area of life. People often order the priorities of their lives by saying things like, “God comes first in my life, then my family, and then in my career.” But this is not how the Christian ought to think. God is to be given the first place in everything. God is first in my life, God is first in my family, and God is first in my career. This is why when speaking of Christ as the head of the Church, the Apostle Paul says that Jesus is “to have the first place in everything” (Col. 1:18). Beginning prayer this way reminds the believer that what is most important is God’s glory. Christian, do you desire for Him to be your supreme focus? Do you long to give Jesus the first place in everything? If the answer is yes, then Christian, you must pray.
Christians must pray to join in on what God is doing on the earth (Matt. 6:10).
Here, Jesus tells the disciples to pray for the Father’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Much ink has been spilled regarding the will of God and our prayers. For our purpose, it is sufficient to say that the believer’s prayers do change things on earth. MacArthur points out that a “lack of faithful prayer inhibits His will being done. In God’s wise and gracious plan, prayer is essential to the proper working of His divine will on earth.” Do you desire to be a part of what God is doing in the world? Then you must pray! Oh, the unfathomable privilege to be a part of what God is doing around the world! Just think that right now, you can join with God in what He is doing in Africa, China, India, America, Peru, and every other place in the world! Oh, the privilege of prayer!
Christians must pray because their physical lives are fragile (Matt. 6:11).
At this point in the sermon, Jesus tells the disciples that they must pray for their physical needs. “Give us this day our daily bread.” This prayer implies several truths about our physical lives and God. First, it means that our physical lives are fragile because we need food daily. Second, we are dependent upon God to sustain our physical existence (Col. 1:17). Third, our physical bodies are valuable to God, and fourth, God takes care of His fragile creatures (Matt. 10:29-31). Knowing that God is the one who provides for our physical needs should drive Christians to pray. Christian, you must pray because your life is fragile and sustained by His gracious providential provision.
Christians must pray if they are to enjoy intimacy with God (Matt. 6:12).
It is essential to note the context here. Jesus’ instruction to pray and ask for forgiveness is given to those who already know God as their Father. This is not a prayer asking for salvific forgiveness; instead, it is a prayer asking for paternal forgiveness. All those who are in Christ have been justified, but we have not yet reached sinless perfection. In this verse, our sin is described as debt. This is a word picture that helps us understand what happens to our relationship with God when we sin as believers. We must pray and ask God to forgive us or send away the debt we owe lest there be anything between Him and us. Because we sin daily, we need to regularly confess our sin to Him if we are to enjoy continued intimacy. Jesus goes on to say that we must not expect His forgiveness if we are unwilling to forgive those who have sinned against us. Christian, do you desire a closer walk with the Lord? What sin do you need to ask Him to forgive? Have you withheld forgiveness from others but expect God to forgive your transgressions? Christian, you must forgive those who have sinned against you and then pray to the Lord for His forgiveness. It is then that you will experience a renewed intimacy with your heavenly Father.
Christians must pray if they are to have victory over sin (Matt. 6:13).
In closing His teaching on prayer, Jesus tells us that we need to pray and ask for God to guide us away from those places and situations that tempt us. Indeed, this final point has become the most relevant in my fourteen years of pastoral ministry. It has been my observation that sin and prayerlessness go hand in hand. I have often asked people that confess egregious sin if they had regular times of prayer, and the answer is always no. Are you struggling with sin and find yourself tempted? If so, you must pray now but not only now. Just as a soldier trains for a battle far before war comes, so too we must pray to be delivered before we find ourselves tempted.
There are many more reasons from Scripture why Christians must pray, but simply knowing the importance of prayer is not enough; it must develop into a personal discipline of action. It’s one thing to read about God and speak about God, but it is an entirely different thing to speak to God.
Editors Note: This article first appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of the Voice magazine, www.ifca.org. Used with permission.
 J.C. Ryle, A Call to Prayer (1867; repr., Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013), 6.
 See Michael J. Vlach, He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God (Silverton, OR: Lampton Press, 2017), 299-313.
 Ibid., 301.
 All Bible references in this article are to the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition (NASB) (La Habra, CA: Foundation Publications, 1995).
 John F. MacArthur Jr., Matthew, vol. 1, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), 383.
 J.C. Ryle, A Call to Prayer (1867; repr., Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013), 7.