The Necessity of Prayer
by E.M. Bounds


     "An obedience discovered itself in Fletcher of Madeley, which 
I wish I could describe or imitate. It produced in him a ready 
mind to embrace every cross with alacrity and pleasure. He had a 
singular love for the lambs of the flock, and applied himself with 
the greatest diligence to their instruction, for which he had a 
peculiar gift. . . . All his intercourse with me was so mingled 
with prayer and praise, that every employment, and every meal was, 
as it were, perfumed therewith." -- John Wesley.

UNDER the Mosaic law, obedience was looked upon as being "better 
than sacrifice, and to harken, than the fat of lambs." In 
Deuteronomy 5:29, Moses represents Almighty God declaring Himself 
as to this very quality in a manner which left no doubt as to the 
importance He laid upon its exercise. Referring to the waywardness 
of His people He cries:
     "O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear 
Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it might be well 
with them, and with their children after them."
     Unquestionably obedience is a high virtue, a soldier quality. 
To obey belongs, preeminently, to the soldier. It is his first and 
last lesson, and he must learn how to practice it all the time, 
without question, uncomplainingly. Obedience, moreover, is faith 
in action, and is the outflow as it is the very test of love. "He 
that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth 
     Furthermore: obedience is the conserver and the life of love.
     "If ye keep My commandments," says Jesus, "ye shall abide in 
My love, even as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in 
His love."
     What a marvellous statement of the relationship created and 
maintained by obedience! The Son of God is held in the bosom of 
the Father's love, by virtue of His obedience! And the factor 
which enables the Son of God to ever abide in His Father's love is 
revealed in His own statement, "For I do, always, those things 
that please Him."
     The gift of the Holy Spirit in full measure and in richer 
experience, depends upon loving obedience:
     "If ye love Me, keep My commandments," is the Master's word. 
"And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another 
Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever."
     Obedience to God is a condition of spiritual thrift, inward 
satisfaction, stability of heart. "If ye be willing and obedient, 
ye shall eat the fruit of the land." Obedience opens the gates of 
the Holy City, and gives access to the tree of life.
     "Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may 
have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the 
gates, into the city."
     What is obedience? It is doing God's will: it is keeping His 
commandments. How many of the commandments constitute obedience? 
To keep half of them, and to break the other half -- is that real 
obedience? To keep all the commandments but one -- is that 
obedience? On this point, James the Apostle is most explicit: 
"Whosoever shall keep the whole law," he declares, "and yet offend 
in one point, he is guilty of all."
     The spirit which prompts a man to break one commandment is 
the spirit which may move him to break them all. God's 
commandments are a unit, and to break one strikes at the principle 
which underlies and runs through the whole. He who hesitates not 
to break a single commandment, would -- it is more than probable 
-- under the same stress, and surrounded by the same 
circumstances, break them all.
     Universal obedience of the race is demanded. Nothing short of 
implicit obedience will satisfy God, and the keeping of all His 
commandments is the demonstration of it that God requires. But can 
we keep all of God's commandments? Can a man receive moral ability 
such as enables him to obey every one of them? Certainly he can. 
By every token, man can, through prayer, obtain ability to do this 
very thing.
     Does God give commandments which men cannot obey? Is He so 
arbitrary, so severe, so unloving, as to issue commandments which 
cannot be obeyed? The answer is that in all the annals of Holy 
Scripture, not a single instance is recorded of God having 
commanded any man to do a thing, which was beyond his power. Is 
God so unjust and so inconsiderate as to require of man that which 
he is unable to render? Surely not. To infer it, is to slander the 
character of God.
     Let us ponder this thought, a moment: Do earthly parents 
require of their children duties which they cannot perform? Where 
is the father who would think, even, of being so unjust, and so 
tyrannical? Is God less kind and just than faulty, earthly 
parents? Are they better and more just than a perfect God? How 
utterly foolish and untenable a thought!
     In principle, obedience to God is the same quality as 
obedience to earthly parents. It implies, in general effect, the 
giving up of one's own way, and following that of another; the 
surrendering of the will to the will of another; the submission of 
oneself to the authority and requirements of a parent. Commands, 
either from our heavenly Father or from our earthly father, are 
love-directing, and all such commands are in the best interests of 
those who are commanded. God's commands are issued neither in 
severity nor tyranny. They are always issued in love and in our 
interests, and so it behooves us to heed and obey them. In other 
words, and appraised at its lowest value -- God having issued His 
commands to us, in order to promote our good, it pays, therefore, 
to be obedient. Obedience brings its own reward. God has ordained 
it so, and since He has, even human reason can realize that He 
would never demand that which is out of our power to render.
     Obedience is love, fulfilling every command, love expressing 
itself. Obedience, therefore, is not a hard demand made upon us, 
any more than is the service a husband renders his wife, or a wife 
renders her husband. Love delights to obey, and please whom it 
loves. There are no hardships in love. There may be exactions, but 
no irk. There are no impossible tasks for love.
     With what simplicity and in what a matter-of-fact way does 
the Apostle John say: "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, 
because we keep His commandments, and do those things which are 
pleasing in His sight."
     This is obedience, running ahead of all and every command. It 
is love, obeying by anticipation. They greatly err, and even sin, 
who declare that men are bound to commit iniquity, either because 
of environment, or heredity, or tendency. God's commands are not 
grievous. Their ways are ways of pleasantness, and their paths 
peace. The task which falls to obedience is not a hard one. "For 
My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."
     Far be it from our heavenly Father, to demand impossibilities 
of His children. It is possible to please Him in all things, for 
He is not hard to please. He is neither a hard master, nor an 
austere lord, "taking up that which he lays not down, and reaping 
that which he did not sow." Thank God, it is possible for every 
child of God, to please his heavenly Father! It is really much 
easier to please Him than to please men. Moreover, we may know 
when we please Him. This is the witness of the Spirit -- the 
inward Divine assurance, given to all the children of God that 
they are doing their Father's will, and that their ways are well-
pleasing in His sight.
     God's commandments are righteous and founded in justice and 
wisdom. "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and 
just and good." "Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints." 
God's commandments, then, can be obeyed by all who seek supplies 
of grace which enable them to obey. These commandments must be 
obeyed. God's government is at stake. God's children are under 
obligation to obey Him; disobedience cannot be permitted. The 
spirit of rebellion is the very essence of sin. It is repudiation 
of God's authority, which God cannot tolerate. He never has done 
so, and a declaration of His attitude was part of the reason the 
Son of the Highest was made manifest among men:
     "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through 
the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful 
flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the 
righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not 
after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
     If any should complain that humanity, under the fall, is too 
weak and helpless to obey these high commands of God, the reply is 
in order that, through the atonement of Christ, man is enabled to 
obey. The Atonement is God's Enabling Act. That which God works in 
us, in regeneration and through the agency of the Holy Spirit, 
bestows enabling grace sufficient for all that is required of us, 
under the Atonement. This grace is furnished without measure, in 
answer to prayer. So that, while God commands, He, at the same 
time, stands pledged to give us all necessary strength of will and 
grace of soul to meet His demands. This being true, man is without 
excuse for his disobedience and eminently censurable for refusing, 
or failing, to secure requisite grace, whereby he may serve the 
Lord with reverence, and with godly fear.
     There is one important consideration those who declare it to 
be impossible to keep God's commandments strangely overlook, and 
that is the vital truth, which declares that through prayer and 
faith, man's nature is changed, and made partaker of the Divine 
nature; that there is taken out of him all reluctance to obey God, 
and that his natural inability to keep God's commandments, growing 
out of his fallen and helpless state, is gloriously removed. By 
this radical change which is wrought in his moral nature, a man 
receives power to obey God in every way, and to yield full and 
glad allegiance. Then he can say, "I delight to do Thy will, O my 
God." Not only is the rebellion incident to the natural man 
removed, but a heart which gladly obeys God's Word, blessedly 
     If it be claimed, that the unrenewed man, with all the 
disabilities of the Fall upon him, cannot obey God, there will be 
no denial. But to declare that, after one is renewed by the Holy 
Spirit, has received a new nature, and become a child of the King, 
he cannot obey God, is to assume a ridiculous attitude, and to 
display, moreover, a lamentable ignorance of the work and 
implications of the Atonement.
     Implicit and perfect obedience is the state to which the man 
of prayer is called. "Lifting up holy hands, without wrath and 
doubting," is the condition of obedient praying. Here inward 
fidelity and love, together with outward cleanness are put down as 
concomitants of acceptable praying.
     John gives the reason for answered prayer in the passage 
previously quoted: "And whatsoever we ask we receive of Him 
because we keep His commandments and do those things which are 
pleasing in His sight."
     Seeing that the keeping of God's commandments is here set 
forth as the reason why He answers prayer, it is to be reasonably 
assumed that we can keep God's commandments, can do those things 
which are pleasing to Him. Would God make the keeping of His 
commandments a condition of effectual prayer, think you, if He 
knew we could not keep His statutes? Surely, surely not!
     Obedience can ask with boldness at the Throne of grace, and 
those who exercise it are the only ones who can ask, after that 
fashion. The disobedient folk are timid in their approach and 
hesitant in their supplication. They are halted by reason of their 
wrong-doing. The requesting yet obedient child comes into the 
presence of his father with confidence and boldness. His very 
consciousness of obedience gives him courage and frees him from 
the dread born of disobedience.
     To do God's will without demur, is the joy as it is the 
privilege of the successful praying-man. It is he who has clean 
hands and a pure heart, that can pray with confidence. In the 
Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
     "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter 
into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My 
Father which is in heaven."
     To this great deliverance may be added another:
     "If ye keep My commandments ye shall abide in My love, even 
as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in His love."
     "The Christian's trade," says Luther, "is prayer." But the 
Christian has another trade to learn, before he proceeds to learn 
the secrets of the trade of prayer. He must learn well the trade 
of perfect obedience to the Father's will. Obedience follows love, 
and prayer follows obedience. The business of real observance of 
God's commandments inseparably accompanies the business of real 
     One who has been disobedient may pray. He may pray for 
pardoning mercy and the peace of his soul. He may come to God's 
footstool with tears, with confession, with penitent heart, and 
God will hear him and answer his prayer. But this kind of praying 
does not belong to the child of God, but to the penitent sinner, 
who has no other way by which to approach God. It is the 
possession of the unjustified soul, not of him who has been saved 
and reconciled to God.
     An obedient life helps prayer. It speeds prayer to the 
throne. God cannot help hearing the prayer of an obedient child. 
He always has heard His obedient children when they have prayed. 
Unquestioning obedience counts much in the sight of God, at the 
throne of heavenly grace. It acts like the confluent tides of many 
rivers, and gives volume and fulness of flow as well as power to 
the prayer chamber. An obedient life is not simply a reformed 
life. It is not the old life primed and painted anew nor a church-
going life, nor a good veneering of activities. Neither is it an 
external conformation to the dictates of public morality. Far more 
than all this is combined in a truly obedient Christian, God-
fearing life.
     A life of full obedience; a life settled on the most intimate 
terms with God; where the will is in full conformity to God's 
will; where the outward life shows the fruit of righteousness -- 
such a life offers no bar to the inner chamber but rather, like 
Aaron and Hur, it lifts up and sustains the hands of prayer.
     If you have an earnest desire to pray well, you must learn 
how to obey well. If you have a desire to learn to pray, then you 
must have an earnest desire to learn how to do God's will. If you 
desire to pray to God, you must first have a consuming desire to 
obey Him. If you would have free access to God in prayer, then 
every obstacle in the nature of sin or disobedience, must be 
removed. God delights in the prayers of obedient children. 
Requests coming from the lips of those who delight to do His will, 
reach His ears with great celerity, and incline Him to answer them 
with promptitude and abundance. In themselves, tears are not 
meritorious. Yet they have their uses in prayer. Tears should 
baptize our place of supplication. He who has never wept 
concerning his sins, has never really prayed over his sins. Tears, 
sometimes, is a penitent's only plea. But tears are for the past, 
for the sin and the wrongdoing. There is another step and stage, 
waiting to be taken. It is that of unquestioning obedience, and 
until it is taken, prayer for blessing and continued sustenance, 
will be of no avail.
     Everywhere in Holy Scripture God is represented as 
disapproving of disobedience and condemning sin, and this is as 
true in the lives of His elect as it is in the lives of sinners. 
Nowhere does He countenance sin, or excuse disobedience. Always, 
God puts the emphasis upon obedience to His commands. Obedience to 
them brings blessing, disobedience meets with disaster. This is 
true, in the Word of God, from its beginning to its close. It is 
because of this, that the men of prayer, in Holy Writ, had such 
influence with God. Obedient men, always, have been the closest to 
God. These are they who have prayed well and have received great 
things from God, who have brought great things to pass.
     Obedience to God counts tremendously in the realm of prayer. 
This fact cannot be emphasized too much or too often. To plead for 
a religious faith which tolerates sinning, is to cut the ground 
from under the feet of effectual praying. To excuse sinning by the 
plea that obedience to God is not possible to unregenerate men, is 
to discount the character of the new birth, and to place men where 
effective praying is not possible. At one time Jesus broke out 
with a very pertinent and personal question, striking right to the 
core of disobedience, when He said: "Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, 
and do not the things I say?"
     He who would pray, must obey. He who would get anything out 
of his prayers, must be in perfect harmony with God. Prayer puts 
into those who sincerely pray a spirit of obedience, for the 
spirit of disobedience is not of God and belongs not to God's 
praying hosts.
     An obedient life is a great help to prayer. In fact, an 
obedient life is a necessity to prayer, to the sort which 
accomplishes things. The absence of an obedient life makes prayer 
an empty performance, a mere misnomer. A penitent sinner seeks 
pardon and salvation and has an answer to his prayers even with a 
life stained and debauched with sin. But God's royal intercessors 
come before Him with royal lives. Holy living promotes holy 
praying. God's intercessors "lift up holy hands," the symbols of 
righteous, obedient lives.