J. S. Ryle (1816-1900), an Anglican bishop, published a number of books of sermons and devotional literature and is perhaps best known for his expository volumes on the Gospels. He also wrote more than one hundred tracts and pamphlets on doctrinal and practical subjects which were widely circulated, both in English and foreign languages.
This brief article on prayer is a reprint of one of his tracts.
A man may reach heaven without learning, or books, or knowledge, but no man ever reached Heaven without prayer.
Prayer is the life-breath of a man’s soul. Without it we may have a name to live, and be counted Christians, but we are dead in the sight of God. The feeling that we must cry to God for mercy and peace is a mark of grace, and the habit of spreading before Him our soul’s wants is an evidence that we have the spirit of sonship.
Prayer is the appointed way to obtain the relief of our spiritual necessities. It opens the treasury and sets the fountain flowing. If we have not, it is because we ask not.
Prayer is the way to produce the outpouring of the Spirit upon our hearts. Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. He is ready to come down with all His precious gifts, renewing, sanctifying, purifying, strengthening, cheering, encouraging, enlightening, teaching, directing, guiding into all truth. But He waits to be entreated.
And here it is that men fall short so miserably. Many fall on their knees to say a form, but there are few who pray, few who cry unto God, few who call upon the Lord, few who seek as if they want to find, few who knock as if they hunger and thirst, few who wrestle, few who strive with God earnestly for an answer. Yes, few men pray. It is just one of the things assumed as a matter of course, but seldom practiced; a thing which is everybody’s business, but which hardly anybody does.. If your soul is to be saved, you must pray. If you are to resist the world, the flesh, and the devil, you must pray; it is vain to look for strength in the hour of trial if it has not been sought. You may be thrown with those who never pray, you may have to sleep in the same room with someone who never asks anything of God; still you must pray.
I know you may find great difficulties about it; difficulties about opportunities, and hours, and places. I dare not lay down too positive rules on such points as these. I leave them to your own conscience. You must be guided by circumstances. Our Lord Jesus Christ prayed on a mountain; Isaac prayed in the fields; Hezekiah turned his face to the wall as he lay upon his bed; Daniel prayed by a riverside; Peter, the apostle, on the housetop. I have heard of men praying in stables and haylofts. All that I contend is this: you must know what it is to “enter into your closet.” There must be stated times when you must speak with God face to face; you must every day have a time for prayer. You must pray.
Without this, all advice and counsel are useless. This is that piece of spiritual armor which Paul names last in his catalogue in Ephesians 6, but it is in truth first in value and importance. This is that meat which you must daily eat if you would travel safely through the wilderness of this life. It is only in this strength that you will go on toward the mount of God.
I have heard it said that the needle-grinders of Sheffield sometimes wore magnetic mouthpieces at their work to catch all the fine dust that flew around them, to prevent it from entering their lungs. Prayer is the mouthpiece you must wear continually, or else you will never work uninjured by the unhealthy atmosphere of this world. You must pray.
Be sure no time is so well spent as that which a man spends upon his knees. Make time for this, whatever your employment may be. Think of David, King of Israel —what does he say? “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (Psalm 55:17). Think of Daniel: he had all the business of a kingdom on his hands, yet he prayed three times a day. See there the secret of his safety in wicked Babylon. Think of Solomon: he began his reign with prayer for help and assistance, and hence his wonderful prosperity. Think of Nehemiah: he could find time to pray to the God of heaven, even when standing in the presence of his master, Artaxerxes. Think of the example these godly men have left you; go and do likewise. YOU MUST PRAY