A Godly Man is a Praying Man

By Thomas Watson; excerpted with minor editing from The Godly Man’s Picture,—

Drawn with a Scripture Pencil, or Some Characteristic Marks of a Man who is Going to Heaven
(BOT, 1992 [666]), 87-96 [Sect. 12 of chap 4, "Showing the Characteristics of a Godly Man"]

This is in the text, "Everyone that is godly [shall] pray unto thee" (Ps 32:6). As soon as grace is poured in, prayer is poured out: "but I give myself unto prayer" (Ps 109:4). In the Hebrew it is, "but I prayer." Prayer and I are all one. Prayer is the soul’s traffic with heaven. God comes down to us by his Spirit, and we go up to him by prayer. Caligula placed his images in the Capitol whispering in Jupiter’s ear; prayer whispers in God’s ear. A godly man cannot live without prayer. A man cannot live unless he takes his breath, nor can the soul, unless it breathes forth its desires to God. As soon as the babe of grace is born, it cries; no sooner was Paul converted then "behold, he prayeth" (Acts 9:11). No doubt he prayed before, being a Pharisee, but it was either superficially or superstitiously. But when the work of grace had been done in his soul, behold, now he prays. A godly man is on the mount of prayer every day; he begins the day with prayer; before he opens his shop, he opens his heart to God. We burn sweet perfumes in our houses; a godly man’s house is "a house of perfume"; he airs it with the incense of prayer; he engages in no business without seeking God. Scipio never entered the Senate House without first ascending the Capitol, where he did his devotions. A godly man consults God in everything; he asks his leave and his blessing. The Greeks asked counsel at their oracles; so a godly man enquires at the divine oracle (Gen 24:12; 1 Sam 23:3,4). A true saint continually shoots up his heart to heaven by sacred ejaculations.


Is prayer a sign of a godly man? May not a hypocrite pray eloquently and with seeming devotion?


He may: "they seek me daily" (Isa 58:2). But a hypocrite does not pray "in the Spirit" (Eph 6:18). A man may have the gift of prayer, and not have the spirit of prayer.


How shall we know that we have the spirit of prayer?


When the prayer which we make is spiritual.


What is it to make a spiritual prayer?


a. When we pray with knowledge. Under the law, Aaron was to "light the lamps" when he burned the incense on the altar (Ex 30:7). Incense typified prayer, and the lighting of the lamps typified knowledge. When the incense of prayer burns, the lamp of knowledge must be lit: "I will pray with understanding" (1 Cor 14:15). We must know the majesty and holiness of God, so that we may be deeply affected with reverence when we come before him. We must put up such petitions as are exactly adequate and agreeable to God’s will. "Be not rash with thy mouth, to utter any thing before God" (Ecc 5:2). The Lord would not have the blind offered to him (Mal 1:8). How can we pray with affection when we do not pray with judgement? The Papists pray in an unknown tongue. Christ may reply to them as he did to the mother of Zebedee’s children, "Ye know not what ye ask" (Mt 20:22). He that prays he knows not what, shall be heard he knows not when.

b. A spiritual prayer is when the heart and spirit pray; there are not only words but desires. It is excellent when a man can say, "Lord, my heart prays." Hannah "prayed in her heart" (1 Sam 1:13). The sound of a trumpet comes from within and the excellent music of prayer comes from within the heart. If the heart does not accompany duty, it is speaking, not praying.

c. A spiritual prayer is a fervent prayer: "The effectual fervent prayer… availeth much" (Jas 5:16). The heart, like the mainspring, should carry the affections in a most zealous and rapid manner; fervency is the wing of prayer by which it ascends to heaven. Prayer is expressed by sighs and groans (Rom 8:26). It is not so much the gifts of the Spirit as the groans of the Spirit which God likes. Prayer is called a "wrestling" (Gen 32:24) and a "pouring out of the soul" (1 Sam 1:15). Prayer is compared to incense (Ps 141:2). Incense without fire makes no sweet smell. Prayer without fervency is like incense without fire. Christ prayed with "strong crying and tears" (Heb 5:7); crying prayer prevails. When the heart is inflamed in prayer, a Christian is carried as it were in a fiery chariot up to heaven.

d. A spiritual prayer is such as comes from a broken heart: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit" (Ps 51:17). The incense was to be beaten to typify the breaking of the heart in prayer. It is not the voluble tongue but the melting heart which God accepts. "Oh," says a Christian, "I cannot pray like others." As Moses said to the Lord, "I am not eloquent". But can you weep and sigh? Does your soul melt out at your eyes? God accepts broken expressions when they come from broken hearts. I have read of a plant that bears no fruit, but it weeps forth a kind of gum which is very costly. So, though you do not flourish with those gifts and expressions like others, yet if you can weep forth tears from a contrite heart, these are exceedingly precious to God, and he will put them in his bottle. Jacob wept in prayer and had "power over the angel" (Hos 12:4)

e. A spiritual prayer is a believing prayer: "whatever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" (Mt 21:22). The reason why so many prayers suffer shipwreck is because they split against the rock of unbelief. Praying without faith is shooting without bullets. When faith takes prayer by the hand, then we draw near to God. We should come to God in prayer like the leper: "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean" (Mt 8:2). It is a disparagement to deity to have such a whisper in the heart, that "God’s ear is heavy and cannot hear" (Isa 59:1). What is said of the people of Israel may be applied to prayer – "They could not enter in because of unbelief" (Heb 3:19).

f. A spiritual prayer is a holy prayer: "Wherefore lift up pure hands" (1 Tim 2:8). Prayer must be offered on the altar of a pure heart. Sin lived in makes the heart hard and God’s ear deaf. Sin stops the mouth of prayer. It does what the thief does to the traveller – puts a gag in his mouth so that he cannot speak. Sin poisons and infests prayer. A wicked man’s prayer is sick of the plague, and will God come near him? The lodestone loses its virtue when it is spread with garlic; so does prayer when it is polluted with sin. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Ps 66:18). It is foolish to pray against sin and then to sin against prayer. A spiritual prayer, like the spirits of wine, must be refined and taken off the lees and dregs of sin: "that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness" (Mal 3:3). If the heart is holy, this altar will sanctify the gift.

g. A spiritual prayer is a humble prayer: "Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble" (Ps 10:17). Prayer is the asking of an alms, which requires humility: "the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner" (Lk 18:13). God’s incomprehensible glory may even amaze us and strike a holy consternation into us when we approach near to him: "O my God, I blush to lift up my face to thee" (Ezra 9:6). It is comely to see a poor nothing lie prostrate at the feet of its Maker. "Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes" (Gen 18:27). The lower the heart descends, the higher the prayer ascends.

h. A spiritual prayer is when we pray in the name of Christ. To pray in the name of Christ is not only to name Christ in prayer, but to pray in the hope and confidence of Christ’s mediation. As a child claims his estate in the right of his father who purchased it, so we come for mercy in the name of Christ, who has purchased it for us in his blood. Unless we pray thus, we do not pray at all; no, we rather provoke God. As it was with Uzziah, when he wanted to offer incense without a priest, God was angry and struck him with leprosy (2 Chr 26:16-19). So when we do not come in Christ’s name in prayer, we offer up incense without a priest, and what can we expect but to meet with wrath?

i. A spiritual prayer is when we pray out of love to prayer. A wicked man may pray, but he does not love prayer. "Will he delight himself in the Almighty?" (Job 27:10). A godly man is carried on the wings of delight. He is never so well as when he is praying. He is not forced with fear but fired with love. "I will make them joyful in my house of prayer" (Isa 56:7).

j. A spiritual prayer is when we have spiritual goals in prayer. There is a vast difference between a spiritual prayer and a carnal desire. The goals of a hypocrite are secular and carnal. He looks asquint in prayer. It is not the sense of his spiritual needs that moves him but rather lust. "Ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (Jas 4:3). The sinner prays more for food than for grace. This, God does not interpret as praying but as howling: "They howled upon their beds; they assemble for corn and wine" (Hos 7:14). "Give me only riches" (Ovid).

Prayers which lack a good aim lack a good answer. A godly man has spiritual goals in prayer. He sends out his prayer as a merchant sends out his ship, so that he may have large returns of spiritual blessings. His design in prayer is that his heart may be more holy and that he may have more communion with God. A godly man engages in the trade of prayer so that he may increase the stock of grace.

h. A spiritual prayer is accompanied with the use of means. There must be works as well as prayer. When Hezekiah was sick he did not only pray for recovery, but he laid "a lump of figs to the boil" (Is 38:21). Thus it is in the case of the soul when we pray against sin and avoid temptations. When we pray for grace and use opportunities to the full, this is laying a fig on the boil which will make us recover. To pray for holiness and neglect the means is like winding up the clock and taking off the weights.

k. A spiritual prayer is that which leaves a spiritual mood behind upon the heart. A Christian is better after prayer. He has gained more strength over sin, as a man by exercise gets strength. The heart after prayer keeps a tincture of holiness, as the vessel favours and relishes the wine that is put into it. Having been with God on the mount, Moses’ face shone. So, having been on the mount of prayer, our graces shine and our lives shine. This is the sign of a godly man – he prays in the Spirit. This is the right kind of praying. The gift of prayer is ordinary, like culinary fire. But spiritual prayer is more rare and excellent, like elemental fire which comes from heaven.

Use 1:

Is a godly man of a praying spirit? Then this excludes from being godly:

1. Those who do not pray at all. Their houses are unhallowed houses. It is made the note of a reprobate that "he calls not upon God" (Ps 14:4). Does that poor creature who never asks for alms think that he will get any? Do those who never seek mercy from God think that they will receive it? Truly, then God should befriend them more than he did his own Son. "He offered up prayers and supplications with strong cries" (Heb 5:7). None of God’s children are tongue-tied. "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Gal 4:6). Creatures by the instinct of nature cry to God: "the young ravens which cry" (Ps 147:9). "The lions seek their meat from God" (Ps 104:21). Not to cry to God is worse than brutish.

2. Others pray, but it is seldom – like that profane atheist of whom Heylin speaks, who told God that he was no common beggar; he had never troubled him before and if he would hear him now, he would never trouble him again.

3. Others pray, but not "in the Holy Ghost" (Jude 20). They are more like parrots than weeping doves. Their hearts do not melt in prayer: they exercise their inventiveness more than their affection.

Use 2:

As you who would prove the new birth, cry "Abba, Father", so be men of prayer. Pray at least twice a day. In the temple there was the morning and evening sacrifice. Daniel prayed three times a day. No, he so loved prayer that he would not neglect prayer to save his life (Dan 6:10). Luther spent three hours every day in prayer.


But what need is there of prayer, when God has made so many promises of blessings?


Prayer is the condition annexed to the promise. Promises turn upon the hinge of prayer: "I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel" (Ez 36:37). A king promises a pardon, but it must be sued for. David had a promise that God would build him a house, but he sues for the promise by prayer (2 Sam 7:25). Christ himself had all the promises made sure to him, yet he prayed and spent whole nights in prayer.

Therefore if you would be counted godly, be given to prayer. Prayer sanctifies your mercies (1 Tim 4:5). Prayer weeds out sin and waters grace.

That I may encourage Christians and hold up their heads in prayer, as Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands (Ex 17:12), let me propound these few considerations:

1. Prayer is a seed sown in God’s ear. Other seeds sown in the ground may be picked up by the birds, but this seed (especially if watered with tears) is too precious to lose.

2. Consider the power of prayer. The apostle, having set out the whole armour of a Christian, brings in prayer as the chief part (Eph 6:18). Without this (says Zanchius), all the rest are of little value. By prayer, Moses divided the Red Sea, Joshua stopped the course of the sun and made it stand still (Josh 10:13). No, prayer made the Sun of righteousness stand still: "and Jesus stood still" (Lk 18:40). Prayer is the entrance to all blessings, spiritual and temporal. When Aurelius Antonius went against the Germans, he had in his army a regiment of Christians, who upon their earnest prayer obtained rain for the refreshment of his army and because of the power of their prayers, he called them "the thundering regiment." Prayer has a power in it to destroy the insolent enemies of the church. We read that "the two witnesses" have a flame on their lips – fire proceeds out of their mouths which devours their enemies (Rev 11:3,5). This fire is certainly to be interpreted of their prayers. David prayed, "Lord, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness" (2 Sam 15:31). This prayer made Ahithophel hang himself. Moses’ prayer against Amalek did more than Joshua’s sword. Prayer has a kind of omnipotency in it; it has raised the dead, overcome angels, cast out devils. It has influence upon God himself (Ex 32:10). Jacob’s prayer held God: "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me" (Gen 32:26). Prayer finds God free, but leaves him bound.

3. Jesus Christ prays over our prayers again. He takes the dross out and presents nothing but pure gold to his Father. Christ mingles his sweet odours with the prayers of the saints (Rev 5:8). Think of the dignity of his person – He is God; and the sweetness of His relationship – He is a Son. Oh then, what encouragement there is here for us to pray! Our prayers are put in the hands of a Mediator. Though, as they come from us, they are weak and imperfect, yet as they come from Christ, they are mighty and powerful.

4. The sweet promises which God has made to prayer: "He will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry" (Is 30:19). "Then shall ye go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And you shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jer 29:12,13); and "before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear" (Isa 65:24). These promises keep the head of prayer above water. God is bound with his own promises, as Samson was bound with his own hair.

Let us, then, close ranks and with our Saviour pray yet more earnestly (Lk 22:44). Let us be importunate suitors, and resolve with St Bernard that we will not come away from God without God. Prayer is a bomb which will make heaven’s gates fly open.


How shall we go about praying aright?


Implore the Spirit of God: "praying in the Holy Ghost" (Jude 20). The Holy Ghost both indites prayer and inflames it. God understands no other language but that of his Spirit. Pray for the Holy Ghost that you may pray in the Holy Ghost. W