Samuel I. Prime’s book The Power of Prayer gives an account of the New York revival of 1857-1858. I had not heard of that revival before I purchased the book. It was a revival of prayer, one that did not resemble many other historic revivals—a point that Prime continually reminds his readers throughout the book. God gave remarkable answers to the prayers of his people. And after reading the book, I have been convicted of my own lack of faith and frequent neglect of prayer.
While Prime does not give pointers on how to pray better, he does a good job of presenting various accounts of how a praying people witnessed America’s last national awakening. In chapter 22 of his book, he writes about the impact of tracts and pamphlets in the revival. A Call to Prayer, written by J.C. Ryle, was used by God to rouse Christians to the sacred duty of prayer. Prime presents an excerpt of that tract in his book. And I have been deeply impressed by that excerpt. Read it below.
How can you expect to be saved by an “unknown” God? And how can you know God without prayer? You know nothing of men and women in this world, unless you speak with them. You cannot know God in Christ, unless you speak to him in prayer. If you wish to be with him in heaven, you must be one of his friends on Earth. If you wish to be one of his friends on earth, you must pray.
Reader, to be prayerless is to be without God—without Christ—without grace—without hope—and without heaven. It is to be on the road to hell. Now can you wonder that I asked to question—DO YOU PRAY?
I have looked carefully over the lives of God’s saints in the Bible. I cannot find one of whose history much is told us, from Genesis to Revelation, who was not a man of prayer. I find it mentioned as a characteristic of the godly, that “they call on the Father,” that “they call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” I find it recorded as a characteristic of the wicked, that they call not upon the Lord.
I have read the lives of many eminent Christians who have been on earth since the Bible days. Some of them, I see, were rich, and some poor. Some were learned and some unlearned. Some of them were Episcopalians, and some Christians of other names. Some were Calvinists, and some Arminians. Some have loved to use a liturgy, and some to use none. But one thing, I see, they all had in common. They have all been men of prayer.
I study the reports of Missionary Societies in our own times. I see with joy that heathen men and women are receiving the gospel in various parts of the globe. There are conversions in Africa, in New Zealand, in Hindustan, in China. The people converted are naturally unlike one another in every respect. But one striking thing I observe in all the missionary stations. The converted people always pray.
Reader, I do not deny that a man may pray without heart, and without sincerity. I do not for a moment pretend to say that the mere fact of a man person praying proves everything about his soul. As in every other part of religion, so also in this, there is plenty of deception and hypocrisy.
But this I do say—that 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 a new 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.
And I say, furthermore, that of all the evidences of the real work of the Spirit, a habit of hearty private prayer, is one of the most satisfactory that can be named. A man may preach from false motives. A man may write books, and make find speeches, and seem diligent in good works, and yet be a Judas Iscariot. But the man seldom goes into his closet, and pours out his soul before God in secret, unless he is in earnest. The Lord himself has set his stamp on prayer as the best proof of a true conversion. When he sent Ananias to Saul in Damascus, he gave him no other evidence of his change of heart than this—”Behold he prayeth” (Acts 9:11).
Dear reader, do you pray?