The Lost Art of Praying

A. T. Pierson

"What is the matter with the Christian Church, that she does not make more of believing and importunate prayer in the Name of Jesus Christ?""I am deeply convinced in my own soul that the art of apostolic praying is almost a lost art in the Church of Christ.... What is the matter with the Christian Church, that she does not make more of believing and importunate prayer in the Name of Jesus Christ?"


"The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him." 

Such an assembly as this quiets and stills our hearts before the Lord. Our Saviour said, ‘They shall come from the east and from the west and from the north and from the south and shall sit down in the kingdom of God,’ and we have at last the forecast, the foretaste, and the fulfilment of those blessed words. I see before me as many nations as were represented on the day of Pentecost, and from a much wider territory. They have come from Japan, China, India, from the dark continent, from Hungary, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Germany, the United States, and Canada- what a gathering! I feel that the Holy Ghost is brooding over this assembly. We have men here as in that first great Pentecost who can stand up before us, and in as many languages as were heard on that marvellous occasion, tell us the wonderful things of God. He shall reign from sea to sea, and China, India, Japan, Persia, Arabia, Africa, America, and all Europe shall crown Him Lord of All. What shall the Church say in recognition of this mighty miracle of the nineteenth century; what new inspiration should the Church have in her marvellous march round this Jericho of heathenism? Talk about missions paying! If there had never been a harvest gathered in the nineteen centuries, you have a harvest here. Here is God’s sheaf of golden grain laid on His altar. If I had a thousand lives, I would give them all to tell this Gospel. My sorrow is that I am fifty-eight years old, but supposing I could go back thirty years and stand at twenty-eight in the midst of this gathering, I would again consecrate my life to the service of my Master. Thirty years ago we had no such gatherings as these to inspire us, we had no Student Volunteer Missionary Union, we had no such history to look back upon and from which to gather encouragement, no such opening out of an illimitable future through which to look.

My brethren, think of the aggregate of possibilities that are found on the floor of this house to-day, hundreds of college men and women from all parts of the world, determined to carry this Gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth. What an aggregate of service is represented here! What shall the Church do about it? Recognise God’s miracle, and thank Him for what He has done. Do not expect perfection, do not stand off critically and unsympathetically, as though to judge this movement by standards that cannot be applied to the best organised enterprises of mankind. If there ever was a stamp of God upon any movement among the children of men, that stamp is broadly impressed upon this one. It was begotten in prayer, nurtured and carried on in prayer.

These are days in which it seems possible that the martyrdoms of the first century may be repeated. If you are not ready for martyrdom, it is a question whether you are ready for missions. May it be with all who go out, ‘My Lord and I,’ that I may fill up that which is lacking of the sufferings of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the Church. It is men and women of martyr spirit who will welcome even death, if it be a more eloquent testimony for Jesus Christ, whom God can use mightily in all the ends of the earth.

You who belong to the churches, and you who stay at home, let me beseech you in the name of Jesus Christ to support this movement by the power of prayer: earnest, sympathetic, importunate, constant prayer. I want to say nothing which can appear to be of the nature of a tirade against the Christian Church, but I am deeply convinced in my own soul that the art of apostolic praying is almost a lost art in the Church of Christ. Think of the matchless promises which are attached to prayer. ‘If ye shall ask anything of the Father, He will give it you in My Name.’ ‘Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be fulfilled;’ and ‘Whensoever ye stand praying, forgive if you have aught against anyone, that your Father also, which is in heaven, may forgive you.’ Again,’ Whatsoever things ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them.’

What is the matter with the Christian Church, that she does not make more of believing and importunate prayer in the Name of Jesus Christ? Do you ever ask what prayer in the Name of Jesus Christ is? The Name is the character and the personality, just as my name represents me. To ask in His Name is not simply to ask for His sake, it is something grander. He has put His Name upon us, and we may ask by virtue of our identity with Him. He is my Lord, and I am His servant. To present requests in His Name is the same thing as presenting letters of introduction in the name of some other person. When you present a letter, I recognise the person who wrote the letter, and it is not irreverent for me to say, that when you pray in Jesus’ Name, not you, but He, is the suppliant. I present the request, but He makes the request, for it is my identification with Him that makes Him the mouth-piece of my supplications. Such prayer can only be offered by those who are in intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ. We can only maintain that fellowship by constancy of devotion and love and the culture of holiness. The lost art of praying must become a found art in the Church of Christ, before missions receive their new recognition in the mind of the Church, and their new expression in the activity of the Church.

I am told that in London there is a tall building, at the top of which is a newspaper office which receives its news from Scotland by private wire. There were two young men in charge of the telegraph office: one went about London to collect local news, and on his return one night, found he could not get in, the man up in the fifth story not hearing his knocking. What did he do? He ran to a telegraph office and telegraphed to Edinburgh, ‘Wake up that fellow in the fifth story,’ and soon after, down came his companion to open the door. The quickest way to get to the man in the fifth story was by way of Edinburgh. The quickest way to get at the man next door to me, is by way of the Throne of Grace. If I understand this wonderful telegraphic circuit, I can send up my request to Him Who holds all hearts in His hands, and there will be marvellous revelations accomplished in the house next door to me. All barriers are cast aside by the power of Almighty God.

This was very strongly impressed upon me in a solitary experience of my life. I was the pastor of a great church, where I found that there was an irreconcilable feud between certain members, officers of that church. I laboured eighteen months and used every expedient I could think of, and was unable to heal the breach. Then I went to the Lord, and said with tears, ‘My God, I cannot serve Thee in this church while this feud continues; I have essayed to heal it, but it has not been healed; lay Thy Hand upon these parties, and remove them from the church, or bring them to a mutual understanding.’ From that day, not one of these disputants has been inside the walls of that church. In my despair, ‘This poor man cried unto the Lord,’ and the Lord heard him. One of the members in question had sickness in the family, which demanded his removal from the town; the other had a rise in his rent and went away; another was found involved in a defalcation [embezzlement], and was forced to leave, and now the church is a perfectly harmonious body. My quickest way was by the roundabout process of the Throne of Grace. I beseech you to support this movement by believing prayer, by importunate prayer, by individual prayer.

I beseech you also to support it by letting your children join its ranks, as volunteers for God’s work in foreign lands; not merely withholding hindrances, but joyfully consecrating them to this glorious life. I said to my beloved wife a long time ago, ‘We have seven children; shall we not give them all to God? We will not murmur, but rejoice, if He plants them in the midst of the foreign field.’ Within three weeks my daughter wrote to me, ‘I have been strangely moved to go to the mission-field, may I have your consent?’ ‘Certainly,’ I said. My second daughter wrote, ‘My heart has been stirred of late to go to the foreign field! May I go?’ We both said, ‘Certainly you may.’ One of them has been in Japan eight years with her husband, and she has four beloved children dedicated to missionary work, and the spirit of God has already been manifested in their hearts. My second daughter is labouring among the North American Indians, and I hope we shall live to see every one of the seven planted in the midst of the foreign field, doing God’s work. My friends, have you any children by whose cradles you will sit to-night? Will you not say, ‘Blessed Lord, here is my darling; take this boy or this girl for publishing Thy Word in the field, where Thou art unknown’? I know one little house in Scotland out of which there went forth three brothers and one sister of the same generation, and three grandchildren of the second generation as foreign missionaries. I suppose that little house and all its surroundings never cost in all 500. They were poor people living from hand to mouth, who had nothing else to give but their children, but God took seven missionaries out of that Scotch cottage.

Oh, my friends, I feel that I am getting to be an old man. Oh! for the consecrated spirit that shall know nothing but ‘my Lord and I,’ and the ‘I’ lost in ‘my Lord.’ My Lord’s work to be my work, my own things to be my Lord’s, my life to be in partnership with Him, my toil to be borne by His love, until at length, His everlasting bliss shall be shared by me.

A. T. Pierson, Make Jesus King: The report of the International Student's Missionary Conference, 1896, pp. 42-46