This homily is adapted from J.C. Ryle’s A Call to Prayer:
Do you pray?
I ask whether you pray, because prayer is absolutely essential to a person’s salvation.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that you can do anything to earn your salvation. I am not saying that it is your prayers that will save you. Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is God who even gives you the willingness and ability to pray. But of this I am sure: nowhere does Scripture tell us that anyone can be saved without lifting up his heart in prayer and asking for it.
For instance, in our passage from Romans we are told, “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
This passage makes it clear that confessing our faith is essential to salvation. And since that faith is in His Son, to who else but God can we truly make a confession of our faith. And how else are we to confess our faith to God except in prayer? To be saved, one must lift up his voice in prayer and confess to God his faith in Jesus Christ. This is absolutely essential.
It is not essential that you read the Bible to be saved. Or even hear the public preaching of the Gospel. There are many scenarios that would prove this point. You could be deaf or blind, or both. You could be bedridden or live in a place where the Gospel is not preached. Yet we could still discover ways that the Gospel could reach you. But one thing we cannot find is a way for you to be saved without prayer.
More specifically, you cannot display your faith and lay claim to your salvation without prayer, that is, without your own prayer. There are some things you must simply do for yourself.
People can lecture, teach and preach to you all day long, but they cannot learn for you. They can also lay the most sumptuous feasts in front of you, and even be prepared to spoon it into your mouths, but they cannot eat for you. Likewise, your body and mind will wither away unless you sleep for yourself.
So it is with your soul. There is one thing your soul cannot do without, the cleansing by the blood of Jesus Christ through which you receive His righteousness. And while this will never happen without the grace of God, neither will it occur unless you yourself ask for it.
Christ explains this in chapter four of the Gospel of John when he says to the Samaritan woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10, ESV) God reveals to those He loves that they have a thirst for Him, and they respond to this knowledge by asking for the living water.
Psalm 50:15 also makes this same point. It repeats God instruction to his children; “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” Charles Spurgeon writes about a man who reads this passage: “That night he prayed for the first time in his life, and ever after there was in him a hope in God, which marked the birth of the heavenly life.”
The Apostle Paul began today’s passage by writing, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”
The people he wants to be saved are his brethren the Jews, who had been throughout their history God’s chosen people. But we learn from Paul that something had gone wrong with them, “that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”
The problem was that they pursued God, but not from a desperate desire and thirst for His righteousness. They pursued God thinking they could bring their own righteousness with them. They didn’t believe that the righteousness of Christ was necessary for their salvation. So they did not turn to God in earnest prayer. They did not call on the name of the Lord seeking His righteousness and the forgiveness of their sins. So they were not saved.
Just like Paul did for his fellow Jews, people can pray for your salvation your entire life, and indeed you should be much blessed if this is the case. But those blessings will go for naught if they do not lead to you turning to God and calling upon Him in your day of trouble. You must do it for yourself, for by nobody else it can be done. To be prayerless is to be without God, without Christ, without grace, without hope, and without heaven.
Now do you understand why I ask the question, “Do you pray?”
Let me close with a stanza from the hymn, “Tell Out My Soul” that to me is a beautiful description of what a vibrant, healthy prayer life looks like:
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord:
Unnumbered blessings, give my spirit voice;
Tender to me the promise of His word;
In God my Savior shall my heart rejoice.
May our hearts always rejoice in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. And may the rejoicing of our hearts always find expression in our prayers that never cease giving thanks to God.