Why should you spend time learning how to pray? That’s a question Isaac Watts wanted to answer a few hundred years ago. Best known for his hymns, Watts was also a pastor and author of books. One of them was called, A Guide to Prayer. This is a really helpful book for anyone wanting to know more about prayer from the Bible’s point of view. It lays out a basic theology of prayer as well as many practical helps on the actual mechanics of prayer.
Below is a summary of his concluding section entitled, “Persuasive Arguments to Learn to Pray.” If interested in the reading the whole thing (which is pretty short), you can download a pdf copy of an original printing (part of his complete works), read the entire thing online for free, buy a nicely bound version by Banner of Truth.
1. Prayer is an essential part of how we maintain communication with God.
Who would not be ambitious to correspond with heaven? Who would not be willing to learn to pray? This is the language in which God has appointed the sons of Adam, who are but worms and dust, to address the king of glory, their Maker. Shall there be any among the sons of Adam that will not learn this language? Shall worms and dust refuse this honour and privilege? This is the speech which the sons of God use in talking with their heavenly Father. Shall not all the children know how to speak it? This is the manner and behaviour of a saint, and these the expressions of his lips while his soul is breathing in a divine air and stands before God. Why should not every man be acquainted with this manner of address, that he may join in practice with all the saints and have access at all times to the greatest and the best of beings. . . ?
Prayer is a sacred and appointed means to obtain all the blessings that we want, whether they relate to this life or the life to come. Shall we not know how to use the means God has appointed for our own happiness? Shall so glorious a privilege lie unused through our own neglect?
2. Prayer is an essential element of the very character and profession of Christians
Shall we profess to be followers of Christ, and not know how to speak to the Father? Are we commanded to pray always upon all occasions, to be constant and fervent in it; and shall we be contented with ignorance and incapacity to obey this command? Are we invited by the warmest exhortations and encouraged by the highest hopes to draw near to God with all our needs and sorrows; and shall we not learn to express those needs and pour out those sorrows before the Lord? Is there a way made for our access to the throne by the blood and intercession of Jesus Christ; and shall we not know how to form a prayer to be sent to heaven and spread before the throne by this glorious intercession? Is his Holy Spirit promised to teach us to pray; and shall a Christian be careless or unwilling to receive such divine teachings?
3. Prayer is a delight to God and a gift to the souls of his people
Christians, have you never felt your spirits raised from a carnal and vain temper of mind to a devout frame by a lively prayer? Have you not found your whole souls overspread with holy devotion and carried up to heaven with most abundant pleasure by the pious and regular performance of him that speaks to God in worship? And when you have been cold and indifferent to divine things, have you not felt that heavy and lifeless humour expelled by joining with the warm and stirring expressions of a person skilful in this duty? How sweet a refreshment have you found under inward burdens of mind or outward afflictions, when in broken language you have told them to your minister and he has spread them before God in such words as have expressed your whole souls and your sorrows? And you have experienced a sweet serenity and calmness of spirits; you have risen up from your knees no more sad-faced.
Have you not wished for the same gift yourselves, that you might be able upon all occasions to address the throne of grace and pour out all your hearts in this manner before your God? What a sad inconvenience it is to live in such a world as this, where we are liable daily to so many new troubles and temptations, and not be able to express them to God in prayer unless we find them written in the words of a form! And how hard it is to find any form suited to all our new needs and sorrows!
4. Prayer is offered for the honor of God who answers it
The great God esteems himself dishonoured when we do not pay him the best worship we are capable of. The work of the Lord must not be done negligently. It is highly for his honour that we be furnished with the best talents for his service and that we employ them in the best manner. This reveals to the world the inward high esteem and veneration we have for our Maker; this gives him glory in the eyes of men. But to neglect utterly this gift of prayer, to serve him daily with a few sudden thoughts with rude and improper expressions that never cost us anything but the labour of our lips, is not the way to sanctify his name among men.
5. Prayer is a gift that is easily obtained from the Spirit if we diligently seek it
Some young persons may be so unwise as to make two or three bold attempts to pray in company before they have well learned to pray in secret. And finding themselves much at a loss and bewildered in their thoughts, or confused for want of presence of mind, they have abandoned all hopes and contented themselves with saying it is impossible. And as they have tempted God by rashly venturing upon such an act of worship without any due care and preparation, so they have afterward thrown the blame of their own sloth upon God himself, saying it is a mere gift of heaven, but God has not bestowed it upon me. This is as if a youth who had just begun to read logic should attempt immediately to dispute in a public school, and finding himself baffled and confounded, should cast away his book, renounce his studies and say, I shall never learn it, it is impossible. When we seek any attainment, we must begin regularly and go on gradually toward perfection with patience and labour. Let but the rules recommended in the second chapter of this treatise for acquiring the gift of prayer be duly followed, and I do not doubt that a Christian of ordinary capacity may in time gain enough of this skill as to answer the demands of his duty and his station.
6. Prayerlessness for the Christian will result in one of three evils
First, you will drag on heavily in the work of prayer all your days, even in your private rooms and with your family, and you will be liable to so many imperfections in the performance that it will rob your own soul of a great part of the benefit and the delight of this sweet duty and give neither pleasure nor profit to those who hear you. . . . Second, If you find that you cannot carry on the constancy of this duty with tolerable satisfaction, you will give yourself up to a morning and evening form and rest in them from, year to year. Now though it may be possible for some persons to use a form without deadness and formality of spirit, still those who from mere sloth neglect to learn to pray are most likely to fall into formality and slothfulness in the use of forms, and the power of religion is lost. Third, If you have been brought up with a universal hatred of all forms of prayer and yet do not know how to pray without them, you will grow first inconstant in this duty, with every little hindrance diverting you; and at last perhaps you will leave it off entirely, and your house and your private room, too, in time will be without prayer.