Sometimes, huge blessings come in the smallest of formats. With a group of other guys, I recently read through JC Ryle’s small volume, A Call To Prayer. Too small to be called a book, but much longer than what we would acceptably label a “pamphlet,” A Call to Prayer crams its limited space with nearly limitless value. Every page contains a nugget of wisdom, a kindly-offered correction, a disquieting challenge, or a poignant observation on the place and practice of prayer in the life of the Christian.
After demonstrating that prayer is critically related to a person’s salvation, a reliable sign of true conversion, a lamentably underutilized weapon in the arsenal of most believers, and a stunningly accessible endeavor that God has done all of the hard work to make possible, Ryle turns his attention to the relationship between prayer and progress in the Christian life. He argues, quite convincingly, that prayer lies at the heart of growth and effectiveness in our walk with Christ. He writes, When a person is once converted to God, his progress in holiness will be much in accordance with [his] own diligence in the use of God’s appointed means. And I assert confidently that the principle means by which most believers have become great in the church of Christ—is the habit of diligent private prayer.
If true, and I think it is, Ryle’s assertion poses quite a challenge for the modern church and the modern Christian. Christians—at least in the Western world—tend to live their lives at a breakneck pace. We pack our schedules from dawn until deep into the night, leaving very little margin for anything not already included on our Google calendar. So, we drag ourselves out of bed before the sunrise in order to start checking things off of our to-do-lists. We read our Bible, we eat, we drive, we exercise, we do our homegroup study, we work, we check our email, we put gas in the car, we go to sports practice/play practice/dance rehearsal/music lessons/test prep, we shop for groceries, we update our status to tell the world how busy we are, and then, at the end of it all, we crash into our beds for not quite as much sleep as we truly need so that the next day we can repeat it all over again.
The point of all the activity, of course, is to accomplish much. We have much to do, so we spend a lot of time doing. And, this is not an indictment of those things—many of them are good things that God can and does use for his glory. But, A Call To Prayer got me thinking about true accomplishment, true productivity, and the threat to it that my overly-crowded schedule might pose. Ironically enough, in the quest to “get things done,” we might actually be accomplishing less. At least Jesus suggests that’s the case.
In the gospel of John, Jesus tells his disciples, Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing(15:4-5). In essence, Jesus speaks to our crazed schedules and says, “If you want to really do things that matter, you had better stay connected to me.” And, not surprisingly, that connection is nurtured by healthy doses of prayer. Which takes time. Time that we likely feel is in short supply because of all else that is on our schedule.
How tragic it would be for us to spend our days and our lives in elusive pursuit of “getting things done,” while all the while stands before us the neglected opportunity of fruitfulness. If we want to be the kind of person whobears much fruit as Jesus described it, we need to be willing to abide in him, to spend time—both intentional and spontaneous, drawn out or brief—in prayer.
One of the great blessings of SBCC is the culture of prayer that marks our church body. If you desire to pray, to learn how to pray, or to grow in your prayer life, this church family takes that seriously. One can pray with a small group on Sunday mornings during the 8:45 service, with a variety of our church family at 6:45 on Tuesday mornings, as well as on days of Extraordinary Prayer. Looking for something more targeted, like praying with other moms of school-age kids or praying for missionaries and the spread of the gospel and God’s glory overseas? There are groups for that. And, there could be a hundred more.
Granted, Ryle’s suggestion has more to do with personal, private habits of prayer than corporate, collective prayer, but I have found that nothing has better influenced my habits of private prayer than regularly gathering with God’s people for corporate prayer. In corporate prayer, I am encouraged, challenged, and taught in ways that inform my personal times of prayer.
Few Christians I have met would dare claim that they are uninterested in bearing fruit, in living an increasingly holy and God-glorifying life. I imagine—and hope—that the same could be said of you. To that end, then, let us answer thisCall to Prayer, by being people who pray. Let us spurn the advances of the culturally urgent and flimsy definitions of “success,” and let us choose, instead, true productivity, true fruitfulness. Let us be a people who recognize that apart from Christ we can do nothing and, therefore, abide in him through the practice of prayer. And let us see, as a result of a growing commitment to prayer, if this seemingly small thing is not, in fact, the greatest blessing available to us.