IN "A CALL TO PRAYER," the fourth chapter of his book Practical Religion, J.C. Ryle asserts: "Prayer is the most important subject in practical religion." He states that all other matters of religion are secondary to prayer. Now I must admit the first time I read that, I questioned how he could possibly elevate this one aspect above all others. Then I read on and realized that he says this because he correctly understands that prayer is "absolutely needful to man's salvation." How can a man receive salvation? He must ask for it. Ryle rightly understands that the Scripture teaches that we are saved by grace, but also recognizes that this grace is employed through the instrument of faith, given by God, but put into action by the individual. Saving faith, then, requires that we confess our sin before the Lord, turn from it in repentance, and ask for His saving grace and favor.
Prayer is the beginning of the Christian life, and friends, prayer should characterize the life of the Christian. Yet I wonder how much time professing Christians really spend in prayer. One survey I saw showed that Christians spend an average of five to seven minutes a day in prayer and that includes the prayers said at meal time. Another survey shows less than one minute. What sad statistics! Prayer is the avenue by which we as creatures are enabled to enter the presence of the King of kings, and are able to bring our requests and praises to Him. Yet, how little we take advantage of such a privilege.
Further on in this chapter on prayer, Ryle points out a number of things which should induce us to pray, not the least of which is that Christ has made a way by which we can enter into the very throne room of God. As we go before God in prayer, we know that we have one who is our Advocate: Jesus Christ, who is our great mediator. He is the way - and the only way - by which we can enter the presence of the Lord. For by nature we are enemies of God, justly deserving His wrath and displeasure. But Christ, the Son of God, through His perfect life and through the shedding of His blood, has made atonement for our sin. By faith in Christ and His work on the cross to save us from our sins, we have the privilege and the ability to enter into the very presence of God. We also have the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness, when we do not know how to pray as we ought. Do we need any other inducement than that? If you are in Christ, you have received every reason to pray!
Prayer is the means by which we commune and fellowship with the very God who created the heavens and the earth. He delights to hear our prayers, and in many places in the Scripture, we are commanded to pray. In I Thessalonians chapter five, a passage which looks forward to the coming of Christ and on that basis gives a number of imperative commands, it says, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for You." "Pray without ceasing" means that we take every opportunity throughout the day to pray. When we bring our requests to God we do so with thanksgiving. Philippians 4:6 says, "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." We thank Him in the good circumstances as well as the difficult ones knowing that "for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) We may not, and usually do not, know what is going to happen in the future, nor do we see how He is going to work out or circumstances. But we know that if we are His, then His promise is faithful and true. When you enter into His presence with thanksgiving, making your requests known, Philippians 4:7 declares what the consequence will be: "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." If you belong to Christ, you have no reason to neglect prayer!
But when you pray, pray believing in His promises, His power, His purposes that are being worked out in your circumstances. James reminds us, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." (James 1:5-8) When we are abiding in Christ, we ask according to His will and purpose, and He grants that which is in accord with His will. What a blessing to know that if we are in Christ we can enter into the presence of God, making our requests known in faith, according to His will and purpose, and He will grant our requests. We have every reason to pray! Why on earth would we overlook such a blessing?
What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.