This post is for those of us who pray; to us, weak and failing believers in Christ Jesus our God, Savior and Lord, though sinful still who nevertheless pray.
Here are words of exhortation on the essence of prayer. Words, in my opinion, that are so scarcely brought to bear to Christians in this day and age. If prayer is such an essential thing, such a precious thing, should we not speak more if it? Should we not strive to learn more of it? Should we not be encouraged to do more of it?
Ah, instead the opposite is encouraged in these times of Christian pagan relativism. Prayers are turned into wishing wells by some, by others it is turned to glorified mantras. Oh, dear friend, if we would pray, let us pray aright!
“…Men ought always to Pray.”—Jesus, Luke 18:1
“I will that men pray everywhere.”—Paul, 1 Timothy 2:8
I have a question to offer you. It is contained in three words,
DO YOU PRAY?
The question is one that none but you can answer. Whether you attend public worship or not, your minister knows. Whether you have family prayers or not your relations know. But whether you pray in private or not, is a matter between yourself and God.
I beseech you in all affections to attend to the subject I bring before you. Do not say that my question is too close. If your heart is right in the sight of God, there is nothing in it to make you afraid.
Do not turn off my question by replying that you say your prayers. It is one thing to say your prayers and another to pray. Do not tell me that my question is unnecessary. Listen to me for a few minutes, and I will show you good reason for asking it.
And now it is high time for me to bring this tract to an end. I trust I have brought before you things that will be seriously considered. I heartily pray God that this consideration may be blessed to your soul.
3. Let me speak, lastly, TO THOSE WHO DO PRAY.
I trust that some who read this tract know well what prayer is, and have the Spirit of adoption. To all such, I offer a few words of brotherly counsel and exhortation. The incense offered in the tabernacle was ordered to be made in a particular way. Not every kind of incense would do. Let us remember this, and be careful about the matter and manner of our prayers.
Brethren who pray, if I know anything of a Christian’s heart, you are often sick of your own prayers. You never enter into the apostle’s words, “When I would do good, evil is present with me.” so thoroughly as you sometimes do upon your knees. You can understand David’s words, “I hate vain thoughts.” You can sympathize with that poor converted Hottentot who was overheard praying, “Lord, deliver me from all my enemies, and above all, from that bad man-myself.”
There are few children of God who do not often find the season of prayer a season of conflict. The devil has special wrath against us when he sees us on our knees. Yet, I believe that prayers which cost us no trouble, should be regarded with great suspicion. I believe we are very poor judges of the goodness of our prayers, and that the prayer which pleases us least, often pleases God most. Suffer me then, as a companion in the Christian warfare, to offer a few words of exhortation. One thing, at least, we all feel: we must pray. We cannot give it up. We must go on.
I commend then to your attention, the importance of reverence and humility in prayer.
Let us never forget what we are, and what a solemn thing it is to speak with God. Let us beware of rushing into his presence with carelessness and levity. Let us say to ourselves: “I am on holy ground. This is no other than the gate of heaven. If I do not mean what I say, I am trifling with God. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”
Let us keep in mind the words of Solomon, “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thy heart be hasty to utter anything before God; for God is in heaven, and thou on earth” (Ecclesiastes 5:2). When Abraham spoke to God, he said, “I am dust and ashes.” When Jacob spoke to God, he said, “I am vile.” Let us do likewise.
I commend to you the importance of praying spiritually.
I mean by that, that we should labour always to have the direct help of the Spirit in our prayers, and beware above all things of formality. There is nothing so spiritual that it may become a form, and this is especially true of private prayer. We may insensibly get into the habit of using the fittest possible words, and offering the most scriptural petitions, and yet do it all by rote without feeling it, and walk daily round an old beaten path.
I desire to touch this point with caution and delicacy. I know that there are certain things we daily want, and that there is nothing necessarily formal in asking for these things in the same words. The world, the devil, and our hearts, are daily the same. Of necessity we must daily go over old ground. But this I say, we must be very careful on this point. If the skeleton and outline of our prayers be by habit almost form, let us strive that the clothing and filling up of our prayers, be as far as possible of the Spirit.
As to praying of a book in our private devotions, it is a habit I cannot praise. If we can tell our doctors the state of our bodies without a book, we ought to be able to tell the state of our souls to God. I have no objection to a person using crutches when they are first recovering from a broken limb. It is better to use crutches, than not to walk at all. But if I saw them all their life on crutches, I should not think it matter for congratulation. I should like to see them strong enough to throw their crutches away.
I commend to you the importance of making prayer a regular business of life.
I might say something of the value of regular times in the day for prayer. God is a God of order. The hours for morning and evening sacrifice in the Jewish temple were not fixed as they were without a meaning. Disorder is eminently one of the fruits of sin. But I would not bring any under bondage.
This only I say, that it is essential to your soul’s health to make praying a part of the business of every twenty-four hours of your life. Just as you allot time to eating, sleeping, and business, so also allot time to prayer. Choose your own hours and seasons. At the very least, speak with God in the morning, before you speak with the world: and speak with God at night, after you have done with the world. But settle it in your minds, that praying is one of the great things of every day. Do not drive it into a corner. Do not give it the scraps and parings of your duty. Whatever else you make a business of, make a business of prayer.
I commend to you the importance of perseverance in prayer.
Once having begun the habit, never give it up. Your heart will sometimes say, “You will have had family prayers: what mighty harm if you leave private prayer undone?” Your body will sometimes say, “You are unwell, or sleepy, or weary; you need not pray.” Your mind will sometimes say, “You have important business to attend to to-day; cut short your prayers.” Look on all such suggestions as coming direct from Satan. They are all as good as saying, “Neglect your soul.”
I do not maintain that prayers should always be of the same length; but I do say, let no excuse make you give up prayer. Paul said, “Continue in prayer and, “Pray without ceasing.” He did not mean that people should be always on their knees, but he did mean that our prayers should be like the continual burnt-offering steadily preserved in every day; that it should be like seed-time and harvest, and summer and winter, unceasingly coming round at regular seasons; that it should be like the fire on the altar, not always consuming sacrifices, but never completely going out.
Never forget that you may tie together morning and evening devotions, by an endless chain of short ejaculatory prayers throughout the day. Even in company, or business, or in the very streets, you may be silently sending up little winged messengers to God, as Nehemiah did in the very presence of Artaxerxes. And never think that time is wasted which is given to God. A nation does not become poorer because it looses one year of working days in seven, by keeping the Sabbath. A Christian never finds he is a loser, in the long run, by persevering in prayer.
I commend to you the importance of earnestness in prayer.
It is not that a person should shout, or scream, or be very loud, in order to prove that they are in earnest. But it is desirable that we should be hearty and fervent and warm, and ask as if we were really interested in what we were doing. It is the “effectual fervent” prayer that “availeth much.”
This is the lesson that is taught us by the expressions used in Scripture about prayer. It is called, “crying, knocking, wrestling, labouring, striving.” This is the lesson taught us by scripture examples. Jacob is one. He said to the angel at Penuel, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (Genesis 32:26).
Daniel is another. Hear how he pleaded with God: “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God” (Daniel 9:19). Our Lord Jesus Christ is another. It is written of him, “In the days of his flesh, he offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears” (Hebrews 5:7).
Alas, how unlike is this to many of our supplications! How tame and lukewarm they seem by comparison. How truly might God say to many of us, “You do not really want what you pray for.” Let us try to amend this fault. Let us knock loudly at the door of grace, like Mercy in Pilgrim’s Progress, as if we must perish unless heard.
Let us settle it in our minds, that cold prayers are a sacrifice without fire. Let us remember the story of Demosthenes the great orator, when one came to him, and wanted to plead his cause. He heard him without attention, while he told his story without earnestness. The man saw this, and cried out with anxiety that it was all true. “Ah,” said Demosthenes, “I believe you now.”
I commend to you the importance of praying in faith.
We should endeavor to believe that our prayers are heard, and that if we ask things according to God’s will, we shall be answered. This is the plain command of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:24).
Faith is to prayer what the feather is to the arrow: without it prayer will not hit the mark. We should cultivate the habit of pleading promises in our prayers. We should take with us some promises, and say, “Lord, here is thine own word pledged. Do for us as thou hast said.” This was the habit of Jacob and Moses and David. The 119 th Psalm is full of things asked, “according to thy word.”
Above all, we should cultivate the habit of expecting answers to our prayers. We should do like the merchant who sends his ships to sea. We should not be satisfied, unless we see some return. Alas, there are few points on which Christians come short so much as this.
The church at Jerusalem made prayer without ceasing for Peter in prison; but when the prayer was answered, they would hardly believe it (Acts 12:15). It is a solemn saying of Robert Trail, “There is no surer mark of trifling in prayer, than when men are careless what they get in prayer.”
I offer these points for your private consideration. I do it in all humility. I know no one who needs to be reminded of them more than I do myself. But I believe them to be God’s own truth, and I desire myself and all I love to feel them more.
I want the times we live in to be praying times. I want the Christians of our day to be praying Christians. I want the church to be a praying church. My Heart’s desire and prayer in sending forth this tract is to promote a spirit of prayerfulness. I want those who never prayed yet, to arise and call upon God, and I want those who do pray, to see that they are not praying amiss.
—J. C. Ryle, A Call To Prayer