THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER
In the 6th chapter of Ephesians in the 18th verse
we read words which put the tremendous importance of prayer with
startling and overwhelming force:
"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and
watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all
When we stop to weigh the meaning of these words, then note the
connection in which they are found, the intelligent child of God is
driven to say,
"I must pray, pray, pray. I must put all my energy and all my heart
into prayer. Whatever else I do, I must pray."
The Revised Version is, if possible, stronger than the Authorized:
"With all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the
spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication
for all the saints."
Note the ALLS: "with ALL prayer," "at ALL seasons," "in ALL
perseverance," "for ALL the saints." Note the piling up of strong
words, "prayer," "supplication," "perseverance." Note once more the
strong expression, "watching thereunto," more literally, "being
sleepless thereunto." Paul realized the natural slothfulness of man,
and especially his natural slothfulness in prayer. How seldom we
pray things through! How often the church and the individual get
right up to the verge of a great blessing in prayer and just then
let go, get drowsy, quit. I wish that these words "being sleepless
unto prayer" might burn into our hearts. I wish the whole verse
might burn into our hearts.
But why is this constant, persistent, sleepless, overcoming prayer
- 1. First of all, BECAUSE THERE IS A DEVIL. He
is cunning, he is mighty, he never rests, he is ever plotting the
downfall of the child of God; and if the child of God relaxes in
prayer, the devil will succeed in ensnaring him.
- This is the thought of the context. The 12th
verse reads: "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood,
but against the principalities, against the powers, against the
world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of
wickedness in the heavenly places." (R.V.) Then comes the 13th
verse: "Wherefore take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be
able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to
stand." (R.V.) Next follows a description of the different parts
of the Christian's armor, which we are to put on if we are to
stand against the devil and his mighty wiles. Then Paul brings all
to a climax in the 18th verse, telling us that to all else we must
add prayer -- constant, persistent, untiring, sleepless prayer in
the Holy Spirit, or all else will go for nothing.
- 2. A second reason for this constant,
persistent, sleepless, overcoming prayer is that PRAYER IS GOD'S
APPOINTED WAY FOR OBTAINING THINGS, AND THE GREAT SECRET OF ALL
LACK IN OUR EXPERIENCE, IN OUR LIFE AND IN OUR WORK IS NEGLECT OF
- James brings this out very forcibly in the 4th
chapter and 2nd verse of his epistle: "Ye have not because ye ask
not." These words contain the secret of the poverty and
powerlessness of the average Christian -- neglect of prayer.
"Why is it," many a Christian is asking, "I make so little
progress in my Christian life?"
"Neglect of prayer," God answers. "You have not because you ask
"Why is it," many a minister is asking, "I see so little fruit
from my labors?"
Again God answers, "Neglect of prayer. You have not because you
"Why is it," many a Sunday-School teacher is asking, "that I see
so few converted in my Sunday-School class?"
Still God answers, "Neglect of prayer. You have not because you
"Why is it," both ministers and churches are asking, "that the
church of Christ makes so little headway against unbelief and
error and sin and worldliness?"
Once more we hear God answering, "Neglect of prayer. You have not
because you ask not."
- 3. The third reason for this constant,
persistent, sleepless, overcoming prayer is that THOSE MEN WHOM
GOD SET FORTH AS A PATTERN OF WHAT HE EXPECTED CHRISTIANS TO BE --
THE APOSTLES -- REGARDED PRAYER AS THE MOST IMPORTANT BUSINESS OF
- When the multiplying responsibilities of the
early church crowded in upon them, they "called the multitude of
the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should
leave the Word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look
ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy
Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But WE
WILL GIVE OURSELVES CONTINUALLY TO PRAYER and to the ministry of
the Word." It is evident from what Paul wrote to the churches and
to individuals about praying for them, that very much of his time
and strength and thought was given to prayer. (Rom. 1:9, R.V.;
Eph. 1:15,16; Col. 1:9, R.V.; 1_Thess. 3:10; 2_Tim. 1:3, R.V.)
All the mighty men of God outside the Bible have been men of
prayer. They have differed from one another in many things, but in
this they have been alike.
- 4. But there is a still weightier reason for
this constant, persistent, sleepless, overcoming prayer. It is,
PRAYER OCCUPIED A VERY PROMINENT PLACE AND PLAYED A VERY IMPORTANT
PART IN THE EARTHLY LIFE OF OUR LORD.
- Turn, for example, to Mark 1:35. We read, "And
in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out,
and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed." The
preceding day had been a very busy and exciting one, but Jesus
shortened the hours of needed sleep that He might arise early and
give Himself to more sorely needed prayer.
> Turn again to Luke 6:12, where we read, "And it came to pass in
those days that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued
all night in prayer to God." Our Savior found it necessary on
occasion to take a whole night for prayer.
> The words "pray" and "prayer" are used at least twenty-five
times in connection with our Lord in the brief record of His life
in the four Gospels, and His praying is mentioned in places where
the words are not used. Evidently prayer took much of the time and
strength of Jesus, and a man or woman who does not spend much time
in prayer, cannot properly be called a follower of Jesus Christ.
- 5. There is another reason for constant,
persistent, sleepless, overcoming prayer that seems if possible
even more forcible than this, namely, PRAYING IS THE MOST
IMPORTANT PART OF THE PRESENT MINISTRY OF OUR RISEN LORD.
- Christ's ministry did not close with His death.
His atoning work was finished then, but when He rose and ascended
to the right hand of the Father, He entered upon other work for us
just as important in its place as His atoning work. It cannot be
divorced from His atoning work; it rests upon that as its basis,
but it is necessary to our complete salvation.
What that great present work is, by which He carries our salvation
on to completeness, we read in Heb. 7:25, "Wherefore He is able
also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him,
seeing HE EVER LIVETH TO MAKE INTERCESSION FOR THEM." This verse
tells us that Jesus is able to save us unto the uttermost, not
merely FROM the uttermost, but UNTO the uttermost, unto entire
completeness, absolute perfection, because He not merely died, but
because He also "ever liveth." The verse also tells us for what
purpose He now lives, "TO MAKE INTERCESSION FOR US," to pray.
Praying is the principal thing He is doing in these days. It is by
His prayers that He is saving us.
The same thought is found in Paul's remarkable, triumphant
challenge in Rom. 8:34 -- "Who is he that shall condemn? It is
Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead,
who is at the right hand of God, WHO ALSO MAKETH INTERCESSION FOR
> If we then are to have fellowship with Jesus Christ in His
present work, we must spend much time in prayer; we must give
ourselves to earnest, constant, persistent, sleepless, overcoming
prayer. I know of nothing that has so impressed me with a sense of
the importance of praying at all seasons, being much and
constantly in prayer, as the thought that that is the principal
occupation at present of my risen Lord. I want to have fellowship
with Him, and to that end I have asked the Father that whatever
else He may make me, to make me at all events an intercessor, to
make me a man who knows how to pray, and who spends much time in
This ministry of intercession is a glorious and a mighty ministry,
and we can all have part in it. The man or the woman who is shut
away from the public meeting by sickness can have part in it; the
busy mother; the woman who has to take in washing for a living can
have part -- she can mingle prayers for the saints, and for her
pastor, and for the unsaved, and for foreign missionaries, with
the soap and water as she bends over the washtub, and not do the
washing any more poorly on that account; the hard driven man of
business can have part in it, praying as he hurries from duty to
duty. But of course we must, if we would maintain this spirit of
constant prayer, take time -- and take plenty of it -- when we
shall shut ourselves up in the secret place alone with God for
nothing but prayer.
- 6. The sixth reason for constant, persistent,
sleepless, overcoming prayer is that PRAYER IS THE MEANS THAT GOD
HAS APPOINTED FOR OUR RECEIVING MERCY, AND OBTAINING GRACE TO HELP
IN TIME OF NEED.
- Heb. 4:16 is one of the simplest and sweetest
verses in the Bible, -- "Let us therefore come boldly unto the
throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help
in time of need." These words make it very plain that God has
appointed a way by which we shall seek and obtain mercy and grace.
That way is prayer; bold, confident, outspoken approach to the
throne of grace, the most holy place of God's presence, where our
sympathizing High Priest, Jesus Christ, has entered in our behalf.
(Verses 14, 15.)
Mercy is what we need, grace is what we must have, or all our life
and effort will end in complete failure. Prayer is the way to get
them. There is infinite grace at our disposal, and we make it ours
experimentally by prayer. Oh, if we only realized the fullness of
God's grace, that is ours for the asking, its height and depth and
length and breadth, I am sure that we would spend more time in
prayer. The measure of our appropriation of grace is determined by
the measure of our prayers.
Who is there that does not feel that he needs more grace? Then ask
for it. Be constant and persistent in your asking. Be importunate
and untiring in your asking. God delights to have us "shameless"
beggars in this direction; for it shows our faith in Him, and He
is mightily pleased with faith. Because of our "shamelessness" He
will rise and give us as much as we need (Luke 11:8). What little
streams of mercy and grace most of us know, when we might know
rivers overflowing their banks!
- 7. The next reason for constant, persistent,
sleepless, overcoming prayer is that PRAYER IN THE NAME OF JESUS
CHRIST IS THE WAY JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF HAS APPOINTED FOR HIS
DISCIPLES TO OBTAIN FULLNESS OF JOY.
- He states this simply and beautifully in John
16:24, "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name; ask, and ye
shall receive, that your joy may be fulfilled." "Made full" is the
way the Revised Version reads. Who is there that does not wish his
joy filled full? Well, the way to have it filled full is by
praying in the name of Jesus. We all know people whose joy is
filled full, indeed, it is just running over, is shining from
their eyes, bubbling out of their very lips, and running off their
finger tips when they shake hands with you. Coming in contact with
them is like coming in contact with an electrical machine charged
with gladness. Now people of that sort are always people that
spend much time in prayer.
> Why is it that prayer in the name of Christ brings such fullness
of joy? In part, because we get what we ask. But that is not the
only reason, nor the greatest. It makes God real. When we ask
something definite of God, and He gives it, how real God becomes!
He is right there! It is blessed to have a God who is real, and
not merely an idea. I remember how once I was taken suddenly and
seriously sick all alone in my study. I dropped upon my knees and
cried to God for help. Instantly all pain left me -- I was
perfectly well. It seemed as if God stood right there, and had put
out His hand and touched me. The joy of the healing was not so
great as the joy of meeting God.
There is no greater joy on earth or in heaven, than communion with
God, and prayer in the name of Jesus brings us into communion with
Him. The Psalmist was surely not speaking only of future
blessedness, but also of present blessedness when he said, "In Thy
presence is fullness of joy." (Ps. 16.11.) O the unutterable joy
of those moments when in our prayers we really press into the
presence of God!
Does some one say. "I have never known any such joy as that in
Do you take enough leisure for prayer to actually get into God's
presence? Do you really give yourself up to prayer in the time
which you do take?
- 8. The eighth reason for constant, persistent,
sleepless, overcoming prayer is that PRAYER, IN EVERY CARE AND
ANXIETY AND NEED OF LIFE, WITH THANKSGIVING, IS THE MEANS THAT GOD
HAS APPOINTED FOR OBTAINING FREEDOM FROM ALL ANXIETY, AND THE
PEACE OF GOD WHICH PASSETH ALL UNDERSTANDING.
- "Be careful for nothing," says Paul, "but in
everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your
requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God which
passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds
through Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:6,7.) To many this seems at the
first glance, the picture of a life that is beautiful, but beyond
the reach of ordinary mortals; not so at all. The verse tells us
how the life is attainable by every child of God: "Be careful for
nothing," or as the Revised Version reads, "In nothing be
anxious." The remainder of the verse tells us how, and it is very
simple: "But in everything by prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." What could
be plainer or more simple than that? Just keep in constant touch
with God, and when any trouble or vexation, great or small, comes
up, speak to Him about it, never forgetting to return thanks for
what He has already done. What will the result be? "The peace of
God which passeth all understanding shall guard your hearts and
your thoughts in Christ Jesus." (R.V.)
> That is glorious, and as simple as it is glorious! Thank God,
many are trying it. Don't you know any one who is always serene?
Perhaps he is a very stormy man by his natural make-up, but
troubles and conflicts and reverses and bereavements may sweep
around him, and the peace of God which passeth all understanding
guards his heart and his thoughts in Christ Jesus.
We all know such persons. How do they manage it?
Just by prayer, that is all. Those persons who know the deep peace
of God, the unfathomable peace that passeth all understanding, are
always men and women of much prayer.
> Some of us let the hurry of our lives crowd prayer out, and what
a waste of time and energy and nerve force there is by the
constant worry! One night of prayer will save us from many nights
of insomnia. Time spent in prayer is not wasted, but time invested
at big interest.
- 9. The ninth reason for constant, persistent,
sleepless, overcoming prayer is that PRAYER IS THE METHOD THAT GOD
HIMSELF HAS APPOINTED FOR OUR OBTAINING THE HOLY SPIRIT.
- Upon this point the Bible is very plain. Jesus
says, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto
your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the
Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?" (Luke 11:13.) Men are telling
us in these days, very good men too, "You must not pray for the
Holy Spirit," but what are they going to do with the plain
statement of Jesus Christ, "How much more will your heavenly
Father give the Holy Spirit TO THEM THAT ASK HIM?"
Some years ago when an address on the baptism with the Holy Spirit
was announced, a brother came to me before the address and said
with much feeling,
"Be sure and tell them not to pray for the Holy Spirit."
"I will surely not tell them that, for Jesus says, 'How much more
shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask
"Oh, yes," he replied, "but that was before Pentecost."
"How about Acts 4:31? was that before Pentecost, or after?"
"After, of course."
"'And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were
assembled together; and they were all FILLED WITH THE HOLY GHOST,
and they spake the Word of God with boldness.'"
"How about Acts 8:15? was that before Pentecost or after?"
"'Who, when they were come down PRAYED for them, that they might
receive the Holy Ghost.'"
He made no answer. What could he answer? It is plain as day in the
Word of God that before Pentecost and after, the first baptism and
the subsequent fillings with the Holy Spirit were received in
answer to definite prayer. Experience also teaches this.
Doubtless many have received the Holy Spirit the moment of their
surrender to God before there was time to pray, but how many there
are who know that their first definite baptism with the Holy
Spirit came while they were on their knees or faces before God,
alone or in company with others, and who again and again since
that have been filled with the Holy Spirit in the place of prayer!
I know this as definitely as I know that my thirst has been
quenched while I was drinking water. Early one morning in the
Chicago Avenue Church prayer room, where several hundred people
had been assembled a number of hours in prayer, the Holy Spirit
fell so manifestly, and the whole place was so filled with His
presence, that no one could speak or pray, but sobs of joy filled
the place. Men went out of that room to different parts of the
country, taking trains that very morning, and reports soon came
back of the out-pouring of God's Holy Spirit in answer to prayer.
Others went out into the city with the blessing of God upon them.
This is only one instance among many that might be cited from
If we would only spend more time in prayer, there would be more
fullness of the Spirit's power in our work. Many and many a man
who once worked unmistakably in the power of the Holy Spirit is
now filling the air with empty shoutings, and beating it with his
meaningless gesticulations, because he has let prayer be crowded
out. we must spend much time on our knees before God, if we are to
continue in the power of the Holy Spirit.
- 10. The tenth reason for constant, persistent,
sleepless, overcoming prayer is that PRAYER IS THE MEANS THAT
CHRIST HAS APPOINTED WHEREBY OUR HEARTS SHALL NOT BECOME
OVERCHARGED WITH SURFEITING AND DRUNKENNESS AND CARES OF THIS
LIFE, AND SO THE DAY OF CHRIST'S RETURN COME UPON US SUDDENLY AS A
- One of the most interesting and solemn passages
upon prayer in the Bible is along this line. (Luke 21:34-36) "Take
heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged
with surfeiting and drunkenness and cares of this life, and so
that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on
all them that dwell in the face of the whole earth. Watch ye
therefore, and PRAY ALWAYS, that ye may be accounted worthy to
escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand
before the Son of man." According to this passage there is only
one way in which we can be prepared for the coming of the Lord
when He appears, that is, through much prayer.
The coming again of Jesus Christ is a subject that is awakening
much interest and much discussion in our day; but it is one thing
to be interested in the Lord's return, and to talk about it, and
quite another thing to be prepared for it. We live in an
atmosphere that has a constant tendency to unfit us for Christ's
coming. The world tends to draw us down by its gratifications and
by its cares. There is only one way by which we can rise
triumphant above these things--by constant watching unto prayer,
that is, by sleeplessness unto prayer. "Watch" in this passage is
the same strong word used in Eph. 6:18, and "always" the same
strong phrase "in every season." The man who spends little time in
prayer, who is not steadfast and constant in prayer, will not be
ready for the Lord when He comes. But we may be ready. How? Pray!
- 11. There is one more reason for constant,
persistent, sleepless, overcoming prayer, and it is a mighty one:
BECAUSE OF WHAT PRAYER ACCOMPLISHES. Much has really been said
upon that already, but there is much also that should be added.
- (1) Prayer promotes our spiritual growth as
almost nothing else, indeed as nothing else but Bible study; and
true prayer and true Bible study go hand in hand.
It is through prayer that my sin is brought to light, my most
hidden sin. As I kneel before God and pray, "Search me, O God,
and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if
there be any wicked way in me," (Ps.139:23,24), God shoots the
penetrating rays of His light into the innermost recesses of my
heart, and the sins I never suspected are brought to view. In
answer to prayer, God washes me from mine iniquity and cleanses
me from my sin (Ps. 51:2). In answer to prayer my eyes are
opened to behold wondrous things out of God's Word (Ps. 119:18).
In answer to prayer I get wisdom to know God's way (Jas. 1:5)
and strength to walk in it. As I meet God in prayer and gaze
into His face, I am changed into His own image from glory to
glory ( 2_Cor. 3:18). Each day of true prayer life finds me
liker to my glorious Lord.
John Welch, son-in-law to John Knox, was one of the most
faithful men of prayer this world ever saw. He counted that day
ill-spent in which seven or eight hours were not used alone with
God in prayer and the study of His Word. An old man speaking of
him after his death said, "He was a type of Christ."
How came he to be so like his Master?
His prayer life explains the mystery.
- (2) Prayer brings power into our work.
If we wish power for any work to which God calls us, be it
preaching, teaching, personal work, or the rearing of our
children, we can get it by earnest prayer.
A woman with a little boy who was perfectly incorrigible, once
came to me in desperation and said:
"What shall I do with him?"
I asked, "Have you ever tried prayer?"
She said that she had prayed for him, she thought. I asked if
she had made his conversion and his character a matter of
definite, expectant prayer. She replied that she had not been
definite in the matter. She began that day, and at once there
was a marked change in the child, and he grew up into Christian
How many a Sunday-school teacher has taught for months and
years, and seen no real fruit from his labors, and then has
learned the secret of intercession, and by earnest pleading with
God, has seen his scholars brought one by one to Christ! How
many a poor preacher has become a mighty man of God by casting
away his confidence in his own ability and gifts, and giving
himself up to God to wait upon Him for the power that comes from
on high! John Livingstone spent a night, with some others
likeminded, in prayer to God and religious conversation, and
when he preached next day in the Kirk of Shotts five hundred
people were converted, or dated some definite uplift in their
life to that occasion. Prayer and power are inseparable.
- (3) Prayer avails for the conversion of
others. There are few converted in this world unless in
connection with some one's prayers. I formerly thought that no
human being had anything to do with my own conversion, for I was
not converted in church or Sunday-school, or in personal
conversation with any one. I was awakened in the middle of the
night and converted. As far as I can remember I had not the
slightest thought of being converted, or of anything of that
character, when I went to bed and fell asleep; but I was
awakened in the middle of the night and converted probably
inside of five minutes. A few minutes before I was about as near
eternal perdition as one gets. I had one foot over the brink and
was trying to get the other one over. I say I thought no human
being had anything to do with it, but I had forgotten my
mother's prayers, and I afterward learned that one of my college
classmates had chosen me as one to pray for until I was saved.
Prayer often avails where everything else fails. How utterly all
of Monica's efforts and entreaties failed with her son, but her
prayers prevailed with God, and the dissolute youth became St.
Augustine, the mighty man of God. By prayer the bitterest
enemies of the Gospel have become its most valiant defenders,
the greatest scoundrels the truest sons of God, and the vilest
women the purest saints. Oh, the power of prayer to reach down,
down, down, where hope itself seems vain, and lift men and women
up, up, up into fellowship with and likeness to God. It is
simply wonderful! How little we appreciate this marvelous
- (4) Prayer brings blessings to the church.
The history of the church has always been a history of grave
difficulties to overcome. The devil hates the church and seeks
in every way to block its progress; now by false doctrine, again
by division, again by inward corruption of life. But by prayer,
a clear way can be made through everything. Prayer will root out
heresy, allay misunderstanding, sweep away jealousies and
animosities, obliterate immoralities, and bring in the full tide
of God's reviving grace. History abundantly proves this. In the
hour of darkest portent, when the case of the church, local or
universal, has seemed beyond hope, believing men and believing
women have met together and cried to God and the answer has
It was so in the days of Knox, it was so in the days of Wesley
and Whitfield, it was so in the days of Edwards and Brainerd, it
was so in the days of Finney, it was so in the days of the great
revival of 1857 in this country and of 1859 in Ireland, and it
will be so again in your day and mine. Satan has marshalled his
forces. Christian science with its false Christ-- a woman--lifts
high its head. Others making great pretensions of apostolic
methods, but covering the rankest dishonesty and hypocrisy with
these pretensions, speak with loud assurance. Christians equally
loyal to the great fundamental truths of the Gospel are
glowering at one another with a devil-sent suspicion. The world,
the flesh and the devil are holding high carnival. It is now a
dark day, BUT--now "it is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they
have made void Thy law." (Ps. 199:126). And He is getting ready
to work, and now He is listening for the voice of prayer. Will
He hear it? Will He hear it from you? Will He hear it from the
church as a body? I believe He will.