The Necessity of Prayer
by E.M. Bounds


     "General Charles James Gordon, the hero of Khartum, was a 
truly Christian soldier. Shut up in the Sudanese town he gallantly 
held out for one year, but, finally, was overcome and slain. On 
his memorial in Westminster Abbey are these words, 'He gave his 
money to the poor; his sympathy to the sorrowing; his life to his 
country and his soul to God.'" -- Homer W. Hodge.

PRAYER governs conduct and conduct makes character. Conduct, is 
what we do; character, is what we are. Conduct is the outward 
life. Character is the life unseen, hidden within, yet evidenced 
by that which is seen. Conduct is external, seen from without; 
character is internal -- operating within. In the economy of grace 
conduct is the offspring of character. Character is the state of 
the heart, conduct its outward expression. Character is the root 
of the tree, conduct, the fruit it bears.
     Prayer is related to all the gifts of grace. To character and 
conduct its relation is that of a helper. Prayer helps to 
establish character and fashion conduct, and both for their 
successful continuance depend on prayer. There may be a certain 
degree of moral character and conduct independent of prayer, but 
there cannot be anything like distinctive religious character and 
Christian conduct without it. Prayer helps, where all other aids 
fail. The more we pray, the better we are, the purer and better 
our lives.
     The very end and purpose of the atoning work of Christ is to 
create religious character and to make Christian conduct.
     "Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all 
iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of 
good works."
     In Christ's teaching, it is not simply works of charity and 
deeds of mercy upon which He insists, but inward spiritual 
character. This much is demanded, and nothing short of it, will 
     In the study of Paul's Epistles, there is one thing which 
stands out, clearly and unmistakably -- the insistence on holiness 
of heart, and righteousness of life. Paul does not seek, so much, 
to promote what is termed "personal work," nor is the leading 
theme of his letters deeds of charity. It is the condition of the 
human heart and the blamelessness of the personal life, which form 
the burden of the writings of St. Paul.
     Elsewhere in the Scriptures, too, it is character and conduct 
which are made preeminent. The Christian religion deals with men 
who are devoid of spiritual character, and unholy in life, and 
aims so to change them, that they become holy in heart and 
righteous in life. It aims to change bad men into good men; it 
deals with inward badness, and works to change it into inward 
goodness. And it is just here where prayer enters and demonstrates 
its wonderful efficacy and fruit. Prayer drives toward this 
specific end. In fact, without prayer, no such supernatural change 
in moral character, can ever be effected. For the change from 
badness to goodness is not wrought "by works of righteousness 
which we have done," but according to God's mercy, which saves us 
"by the washing of regeneration." And this marvellous change is 
brought to pass through earnest, persistent, faithful prayer. Any 
alleged form of Christianity, which does not effect this change in 
the hearts of men, is a delusion and a snare.
     The office of prayer is to change the character and conduct 
of men, and in countless instances, has been wrought by prayer. At 
this point, prayer, by its credentials, has proved its divinity. 
And just as it is the office of prayer to effect this, so it is 
the prime work of the Church to take hold of evil men and make 
them good. Its mission is to change human nature, to change 
character, influence behaviour, to revolutionize conduct. The 
Church is presumed to be righteous, and should be engaged in 
turning men to righteousness. The Church is God's manufactory on 
earth, and its primary duty is to create and foster righteousness 
of character. This is its very first business. Primarily, its work 
is not to acquire members, nor amass numbers, nor aim at money-
getting, nor engage in deeds of charity and works of mercy, but to 
produce righteousness of character, and purity of the outward 
     A product reflects and partakes of the character of the 
manufactory which makes it. A righteous Church with a righteous 
purpose makes righteous men. Prayer produces cleanliness of heart 
and purity of life. It can produce nothing else. Unrighteous 
conduct is born of prayerlessness; the two go hand-in-hand. Prayer 
and sinning cannot keep company with each other. One, or the 
other, must, of necessity, stop. Get men to pray, and they will 
quit sinning, because prayer creates a distaste for sinning, and 
so works upon the heart, that evil-doing becomes repugnant, and 
the entire nature lifted to a reverent contemplation of high and 
holy things.
     Prayer is based on character. What we are with God gauges our 
influence with Him. It was the inner character, not the outward 
seeming, of such men as Abraham, Job, David, Moses and all others, 
who had such great influence with God in the days of old. And, 
today, it is not so much our words, as what we really are, which 
weighs with God. Conduct affects character, of course, and counts 
for much in our praying. At the same time, character affects 
conduct to a far greater extent, and has a superior influence over 
prayer. Our inner life not only gives colour to our praying, but 
body, as well. Bad living means bad praying and, in the end, no 
praying at all. We pray feebly because we live feebly. The stream 
of prayer cannot rise higher than the fountain of living. The 
force of the inner chamber is made up of the energy which flows 
from the confluent streams of living. And the weakness of living 
grows out of the shallowness and shoddiness of character.
     Feebleness of living reflects its debility and langour in the 
praying hours. We simply cannot talk to God, strongly, intimately, 
and confidently unless we are living for Him, faithfully and 
truly. The prayer-closet cannot become sanctified unto God, when 
the life is alien to His precepts and purpose. We must learn this 
lesson well -- that righteous character and Christlike conduct 
give us a peculiar and preferential standing in prayer before God. 
His holy Word gives special emphasis to the part conduct has in 
imparting value to our praying when it declares:
     "Then shalt thou call and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt 
cry, and He shall say, Here I am; if thou take away from the midst 
of thee the yoke, the putting forth the finger, and speaking 
     The wickedness of Israel and their heinous practices were 
definitely cited by Isaiah, as the reason why God would turn His 
ears away from their prayers:
     "And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes 
from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your 
hands are full of blood."
     The same sad truth was declared by the Lord through the mouth 
of Jeremiah:
     "Therefore, pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a 
cry or prayer for them; for I will not hear them in the time that 
they cry unto Me for their trouble."
     Here, it is plainly stated, that unholy conduct is a bar to 
successful praying, just as it is clearly intimated that, in order 
to have full access to God in prayer, there must be a total 
abandonment of conscious and premeditated sin.
     We are enjoined to pray, "lifting up holy hands, without 
wrath and doubting," and must pass the time of our sojourning 
here, in a rigorous abstaining from evil if we are to retain our 
privilege of calling upon the Father. We cannot, by any process, 
divorce praying from conduct.
     "Whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His 
commandments, and do those things which are pleasing in His 
     And James declares roundly that men ask and receive not, 
because they ask amiss, and seek only the gratification of selfish 
     Our Lord's injunction, "Watch ye, and pray always," is to 
cover and guard all our conduct, so that we may come to our inner 
chamber with all its force secured by a vigilant guard kept over 
our lives.
     "And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be 
overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this 
life, and so that day come upon you unawares."
     Quite often, Christian experience founders on the rock of 
conduct. Beautiful theories are marred by ugly lives. The most 
difficult thing about piety, as it is the most impressive, is to 
be able to live it. It is the life which counts, and our praying 
suffers, as do other phases of our religious experience, from bad 
     In primitive times preachers were charged to preach by their 
lives, or not to preach at all. So, today, Christians, everywhere, 
ought to be charged to pray by their lives, or not to pray at all. 
The most effective preaching, is not that which is heard from the 
pulpit, but that which is proclaimed quietly, humbly and 
consistently; which exhibits its excellencies in the home, and in 
the community. Example preaches a far more effective sermon than 
precept. The best preaching, even in the pulpit, is that which is 
fortified by godly living, in the preacher, himself. The most 
effective work done by the pew is preceded by, and accompanied 
with, holiness of life, separation from the world, severance from 
sin. Some of the strongest appeals are made with mute lips -- by 
godly fathers and saintly mothers who, around the fireside, feared 
God, loved His cause, and daily exhibited to their children and 
others about them, the beauties and excellencies of Christian life 
and conduct.
     The best-prepared, most eloquent sermon can be marred and 
rendered ineffective, by questionable practices in the preacher. 
The most active church worker can have the labour of his hands 
vitiated by worldliness of spirit and inconsistency of life. Men 
preach by their lives, not by their words, and sermons are 
delivered, not so much in, and from a pulpit, as in tempers, 
actions, and the thousand and one incidents which crowd the 
pathway of daily life.
     Of course, the prayer of repentance is acceptable to God. He 
delights in hearing the cries of penitent sinners. But repentance 
involves not only sorrow for sin, but the turning away from wrong-
doing, and the learning to do well. A repentance which does not 
produce a change in character and conduct, is a mere sham, which 
should deceive nobody. Old things must pass away, all things must 
become new.
     Praying, which does not result in right thinking and right 
living, is a farce. We have missed the whole office of prayer if 
it fail to purge character and rectify conduct. We have failed 
entirely to apprehend the virtue of prayer, if it bring not about 
the revolutionizing of the life. In the very nature of things, we 
must quit praying, or our bad conduct. Cold, formal praying may 
exist side by side, with bad conduct, but such praying, in the 
estimation of God, is no praying at all. Our praying advances in 
power, just in so far as it rectifies the life. Growing in purity 
and devotion to God will be a more prayerful life.
     The character of the inner life is a condition of effectual 
praying. As is the life, so will the praying be. An inconsistent 
life obstructs praying and neutralizes what little praying we may 
do. Always, it is "the prayer of the righteous man which availeth 
much." Indeed, one may go further and assert, that it is only the 
prayer of the righteous which avails anything at all -- at any 
time. To have an eye to God's glory; to be possessed by an earnest 
desire to please Him in all our ways; to possess hands busy in His 
service; to have feet swift to run in the way of His commandments 
-- these give weight and influence and power to prayer, and secure 
an audience with God. The incubus of our lives often breaks the 
force of our praying, and, not unfrequently, are as doors of 
brass, in the face of prayer.
     Praying must come out of a cleansed heart and be presented 
and urged with the "lifting up of holy hands." It must be 
fortified by a life aiming, unceasingly, to obey God, to attain 
conformity to the Divine law, and to come into submission to the 
Divine will.
     Let it not be forgotten, that, while life is a condition of 
prayer, prayer is also the condition of righteous living. Prayer 
promotes righteous living, and is the one great aid to uprightness 
of heart and life. The fruit of real praying is right living. 
Praying sets him who prays to the great business of "working out 
his salvation with fear and trembling;" puts him to watching his 
temper, conversation and conduct; causes him to "walk 
circumspectly, redeeming the time;" enables him to "walk worthy of 
the vocation wherewith he is called, with all lowliness and 
meekness;" gives him a high incentive to pursue his pilgrimage 
consistently by "shunning every evil way, and walking in the