The Necessity of Prayer
by E.M. Bounds


     "How glibly we talk of praying without ceasing! Yet we are 
quite apt to quit, if our prayer remained unanswered but one week 
or month! We assume that by a stroke of His arm or an action of 
His will, God will give us what we ask. It never seems to dawn on 
us, that He is the Master of nature, as of grace, and that, 
sometimes He chooses one way, and sometimes another in which to do 
His work. It takes years, sometimes, to answer a prayer and when 
it is answered, and we look backward we can see that it did. But 
God knows all the time, and it is His will that we pray, and pray, 
and still pray, and so come to know, indeed and of a truth, what 
it is to pray without ceasing." -- Anon.

OUR Lord Jesus declared that "men ought always to pray and not to 
faint," and the parable in which His words occur, was taught with 
the intention of saving men from faint-heartedness and weakness in 
prayer. Our Lord was seeking to teach that laxity must be guarded 
against, and persistence fostered and encouraged. There can be no 
two opinions regarding the importance of the exercise of this 
indispensable quality in our praying.
     Importunate prayer is a mighty movement of the soul toward 
God. It is a stirring of the deepest forces of the soul, toward 
the throne of heavenly grace. It is the ability to hold on, press 
on, and wait. Restless desire, restful patience, and strength of 
grasp are all embraced in it. It is not an incident, or a 
performance, but a passion of soul. It is not a want, half-needed, 
but a sheer necessity.
     The wrestling quality in importunate prayers does not spring 
from physical vehemence or fleshly energy. It is not an impulse of 
energy, not a mere earnestness of soul; it is an inwrought force, 
a faculty implanted and aroused by the Holy Spirit. Virtually, it 
is the intercession of the Spirit of God, in us; it is, moreover, 
"the effectual, fervent prayer, which availeth much." The Divine 
Spirit informing every element within us, with the energy of His 
own striving, is the essence of the importunity which urges our 
praying at the mercy-seat, to continue until the fire falls and 
the blessing descends. This wrestling in prayer may not be 
boisterous nor vehement, but quiet, tenacious and urgent. Silent, 
it may be, when there are no visible outlets for its mighty 
     Nothing distinguishes the children of God so clearly and 
strongly as prayer. It is the one infallible mark and test of 
being a Christian. Christian people are prayerful, the worldly-
minded, prayerless. Christians call on God; worldlings ignore God, 
and call not on His Name. But even the Christian had need to 
cultivate continual prayer. Prayer must be habitual, but much more 
than a habit. It is duty, yet one which rises far above, and goes 
beyond the ordinary implications of the term. It is the expression 
of a relation to God, a yearning for Divine communion. It is the 
outward and upward flow of the inward life toward its original 
fountain. It is an assertion of the soul's paternity, a claiming 
of the sonship, which links man to the Eternal.
     Prayer has everything to do with moulding the soul into the 
image of God, and has everything to do with enhancing and 
enlarging the measure of Divine grace. It has everything to do 
with bringing the soul into complete communion with God. It has 
everything to do with enriching, broadening and maturing the 
soul's experience of God. That man cannot possibly be called a 
Christian, who does not pray. By no possible pretext can he claim 
any right to the term, nor its implied significance. If he do not 
pray, he is a sinner, pure and simple, for prayer is the only way 
in which the soul of man can enter into fellowship and communion 
with the Source of all Christlike spirit and energy. Hence, if he 
pray not, he is not of the household of faith.
     In this study however, we turn our thought to one phase of 
prayer -- that of importunity; the pressing of our desires upon 
God with urgency and perseverance; the praying with that tenacity 
and tension which neither relaxes nor ceases until its plea is 
heard, and its cause is won.
     He who has clear views of God, and Scriptural conceptions of 
the Divine character; who appreciates his privilege of approach 
unto God; who understands his inward need of all that God has for 
him -- that man will be solicitous, outspoken and importunate. In 
Holy Writ, the duty of prayer, itself, is advocated in terms which 
are only barely stronger than those in which the necessity for its 
importunity is set forth. The praying which influences God is 
declared to be that of the fervent, effectual outpouring of a 
righteous man. That is to say, it is prayer on fire, having no 
feeble, flickering flame, no momentary flash, but shining with a 
vigorous and steady glow.
     The repeated intercessions of Abraham for the salvation of 
Sodom and Gomorrah present an early example of the necessity for, 
and benefit deriving from importunate praying. Jacob, wrestling 
all night with the angel, gives significant emphasis to the power 
of a dogged perseverance in praying, and shows how, in things 
spiritual, importunity succeeds, just as effectively as it does in 
matters relating to time and sense.
     As we have noted, elsewhere, Moses prayed forty days and 
forty nights, seeking to stay the wrath of God against Israel, and 
his example and success are a stimulus to present-day faith in its 
darkest hour. Elijah repeated and urged his prayer seven times ere 
the raincloud appeared above the horizon, heralding the success of 
his prayer and the victory of his faith. On one occasion Daniel 
though faint and weak, pressed his case three weeks, ere the 
answer and the blessing came.
     Many nights during His earthly life did the blessed Saviour 
spend in prayer. In Gethsemane He presented the same petition, 
three times, with unabated, urgent, yet submissive importunity, 
which involved every element of His soul, and issued in tears and 
bloody sweat. His life crises were distinctly marked, his life 
victories all won, in hours of importunate prayer. And the servant 
is not greater than his Lord.
     The Parable of the Importunate Widow is a classic of 
insistent prayer. We shall do well to refresh our remembrance of 
it, at this point in our study:
     "And He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought 
always to pray, and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a 
judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man; and there was a 
widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of my 
adversary. And he would not for a while; but afterward he said 
within himself, Though I fear not God nor regard man; yet because 
this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual 
coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge 
saith. And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and 
night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you He will 
avenge them speedily."
     This parable stresses the central truth of importunate 
prayer. The widow presses her case till the unjust judge yields. 
If this parable does not teach the necessity for importunity, it 
has neither point nor instruction in it. Take this one thought 
away, and you have nothing left worth recording. Beyond all cavil, 
Christ intended it to stand as an evidence of the need that 
exists, for insistent prayer.
     We have the same teaching emphasized in the incident of the 
Syrophenician woman, who came to Jesus on behalf of her daughter. 
Here, importunity is demonstrated, not as a stark impertinence, 
but as with the persuasive habiliments of humility, sincerity, and 
fervency. We are given a glimpse of a woman's clinging faith, a 
woman's bitter grief, and a woman's spiritual insight. The Master 
went over into that Sidonian country in order that this truth 
might be mirrored for all time -- there is no plea so efficacious 
as importunate prayer, and none to which God surrenders Himself so 
fully and so freely.
     The importunity of this distressed mother, won her the 
victory, and materialized her request. Yet instead of being an 
offence to the Saviour, it drew from Him a word of wonder, and 
glad surprise. "O woman, great is thy faith! Be it unto thee, even 
as thou wilt."
     He prays not at all, who does not press his plea. Cold 
prayers have no claim on heaven, and no hearing in the courts 
above. Fire is the life of prayer, and heaven is reached by 
flaming importunity rising in an ascending scale.
     Reverting to the case of the importunate widow, we see that 
her widowhood, her friendlessness, and her weakness counted for 
nothing with the unjust judge. Importunity was everything. 
"Because this widow troubleth me," he said, "I will avenge her 
speedily, lest she weary me." Solely because the widow imposed 
upon the time and attention of the unjust judge, her case was won.
     God waits patiently as, day and night, His elect cry unto 
Him. He is moved by their requests a thousand times more than was 
this unjust judge. A limit is set to His tarrying, by the 
importunate praying of His people, and the answer richly given. 
God finds faith in His praying child -- the faith which stays and 
cries -- and He honours it by permitting its further exercise, to 
the end that it is strengthened and enriched. Then He rewards it 
by granting the burden of its plea, in plenitude and finality.
     The case of the Syrophenician woman previously referred to is 
a notable instance of successful importunity, one which is 
eminently encouraging to all who would pray successfully. It was a 
remarkable instance of insistence and perseverance to ultimate 
victory, in the face of almost insuperable obstacles and 
hindrances. But the woman surmounted them all by heroic faith and 
persistent spirit that were as remarkable as they were successful. 
Jesus had gone over into her country, "and would have no man know 
it." But she breaks through His purpose, violates His privacy, 
attracts His attention, and pours out to Him a poignant appeal of 
need and faith. Her heart was in her prayer.
     At first, Jesus appears to pay no attention to her agony, and 
ignores her cry for relief. He gives her neither eye, nor ear, nor 
word. Silence, deep and chilling, greets her impassioned cry. But 
she is not turned aside, nor disheartened. She holds on. The 
disciples, offended at her unseemly clamour, intercede for her, 
but are silenced by the Lord's declaring that the woman is 
entirely outside the scope of His mission and His ministry.
     But neither the failure of the disciples to gain her a 
hearing nor the knowledge -- despairing in its very nature -- that 
she is barred from the benefits of His mission, daunt her, and 
serve only to lend intensity and increased boldness to her 
approach to Christ. She came closer, cutting her prayer in twain, 
and falling at His feet, worshipping Him, and making her 
daughter's case her own cries, with pointed brevity -- "Lord, help 
me!" This last cry won her case; her daughter was healed in the 
self-same hour. Hopeful, urgent, and unwearied, she stays near the 
Master, insisting and praying until the answer is given. What a 
study in importunity, in earnestness, in persistence, promoted and 
propelled under conditions which would have disheartened any but 
an heroic, a constant soul.
     In these parables of importunate praying, our Lord sets 
forth, for our information and encouragement, the serious 
difficulties which stand in the way of prayer. At the same time He 
teaches that importunity conquers all untoward circumstances and 
gets to itself a victory over a whole host of hindrances. He 
teaches, moreover, that an answer to prayer is conditional upon 
the amount of faith that goes to the petition. To test this, He 
delays the answer. The superficial pray-er subsides into silence, 
when the answer is delayed. But the man of prayer hangs on, and 
on. The Lord recognizes and honours his faith, and gives him a 
rich and abundant answer to his faith-evidencing, importunate