“Prayer is the Soul’s Sincere Desire”

"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" (Eph. 6:18)

     INTRO.: A hymn which encourages us to pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit is "Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire" (#529 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text was written by James Montgomery (1771-1854). It was produced in 1818 and was first published that year in a pamphlet with three other hymns by Montgomery for use in the Nonconformist Sunday Schools in Sheffield, England. However, it had originally been requested by Edward Bickersteth, father of hymnwriter Edward Henry Bickersteth (1825-1906), and was intended for Bickersteth’s Treatise on Prayer, published in 1819. Also in 1819 the hymn appeared in the eighth edition of the London Selection published by Thomas Cotterill (1779-1823).

     The words have been set to many melodies. One (Newcastle), used in the Broadman Hymnal of 1940, was composed by Asa Brooks Everett (1828-1875). Another (Shaddick), used in the Mennonite Hymnal of 1969, was composed in 1941 by Bates Gilbert Burt (1878-1948). Most recent books now use a tune (Campmeeting) of unknown origin identified an American folk hymn, usually in a 1935 arrangement by Robert Guy McCutchan (1877-1958). This tune was especially common among the Methodists, where it was used in nineteenth century camp meetings with several hymns by Charles Wesley (1707-1788). These include "Forever here my rest shall be," "Come, let us who in Christ believe," and especially "Father, I stretch my hands to Thee." It usually included the refrain, also attributed to Wesley, "I do believe, I now believe, That Jesus died for me, And through His blood, His precious blood, I can from sin be free."  In some older books it is also used with "Jesus, Thou Art the Sinner’s Friend" by Richard Burnham, as well as John Fawcett’s "How Precious Is the Book Divine" and Bernard Barton’s "Walk in the Light, So Thou Shalt Know."

     For Montgomery’s hymn, many older books have a tune (Lambeth) composed by William Augustus Ferdinand Schulthes, who was born on Sept. 9, 1816, at Hesse Cassel, Germany. The son of a German army officer, he was raised as a Lutheran, but in 1852 he became a Roman Catholic. This tune is dated 1871. After directing the Brompton Oratory Choir from 1852 to 1872, and teaching music at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Roehampton from 1868-1879, he died at Brois-de-Colombes near Paris on Aug. 16, 1879. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire" appeared, with the Campmeeting tune as arranged by McCutchan, in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today this same version is found in Hymns for Worship Revised (not in the original edition, although the words only were found in some previous editions, where the tune by Thomas Hasting commonly used in our books with "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds" was suggested).

     This hymn stresses the importance of prayer in the life of the Christian.

I. According to stanza 1, prayer is to come from the soul or heart of a person
"Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, Unuttered or expressed;
The motion of a hidden fire That trembles in the breast."
 A. When we pray, the words our of mouths should result from meditations in our hearts: Ps. 19:17
 B. Sometimes our prayers may be expressed but other times they may be unuttered when we do not know what we should pray for as we ought: Rom. 8:26
 C. However, in either case, true prayer will be the result of a hidden fire in the breast of the Christian: Jer. 20:9

II. According to stanza 2, prayer is communication from in sorrow to God
"Prayer is the burden of a sigh, The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye, When none but God is near."
 A. All of us have burdens in life which cause us to sigh: Ps. 55:22
 B. Situations that produce tears occur to everyone from time to time: Ps. 42:3
 C. However, the Christian can lift up his eyes to one who can help to bear His burdens and dry His tears: Ps. 121:1-2

III. According to stanza 3, prayer is to be directed toward the Majesty on high
"Prayer is the simplest form of speech That infant lips can try;
Prayer, the sublimest strains That reach the Majesty on high."
 A. Prayer is, or should be, a very simple form of speech that even children, whom Jesus wants to come to Him, can understand: Matt. 19:14
 B. Infant lips can express praise to God in prayer: Matt. 21:15-16
 C. But whether child or adult, prayer is something sublime because it is addressed to our Father who is in heaven: Matt. 6:6-13

IV. According to stanza 4, prayer is the means for the erring child of God to find pardon
"Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice, Returning from his ways;
While angels in their songs rejoice And cry, ‘Behold, he prays!’"
 A. The child of God who sins is told to repent and pray that God will forgive him: Acts 8:22
 B. Of course such a prayer must be accompanied by a returning from the ways of wrong: Rev. 2:5
 C. When this occurs, even the angels of heaven rejoice over the sinner who repents: Lk. 15:7

V. According to stanza 5, prayer is something that is vital to the Christian’s existence
"Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, The Christian’s native air,
His watchword at the gates of death: He enters heaven with prayer."
 A. Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath in that it is God’s antidote to anxiety and helps to bring peace to guard our hearts: Phil. 4:6-7
 B. Because it is the Christian’s native air, those who wish to be faithful are told to continue earnestly in prayer: Col. 4:2-3
 C. It is our watchword in both life and death, so we always need to watch and pray: Matt. 26:41

VI. According to stanza 6, prayer is made through Jesus Christ
"O Thou, by whom we come to God, The Life, the Truth, the Way,
The path of prayer Thyself hast trod: Lord, teach us how to pray."
 A. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life by whom we come to God: Jn. 14:6
 B. He Himself, while on earth, saw the need of prayer: Mk. 1:35
 C. Therefore, we should learn from Him, both by His example and by His teaching, how to pray: Lk. 11:1

     CONCL.: The hymn was originally in eight stanzas; the two omitted stanzas are as follows:
6. "The saints in prayer appear as one In word, in deed, and mind,
While with the Father and the Son Sweet fellowship they find."
7. "No prayer is made by man alone; The Holy Spirit pleads,
And Jesus, on th’eternal throne, For sinners intercedes."
Someone has said that prayer is releasing the energies of God because it is asking God to do what we cannot do ourselves. This hymn contains a number of beautiful metaphors to describe prayer–a hidden fire, vital breath, native air, a watchword. These describe in figurative language the meaning of prayer which we understand by experience but often find difficult to express in words. One of the best human definitions of this important element in the life of a Christian is that "Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire."


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