Review: Persistent Prayer By Guy Richard (Blessings Of The Faith Series)

“If you want to almost-instantly humble any Christian, ask him about his prayer life,” or so the maxim goes. Prayer is one of those practices of the Christian life which every Christian will affirm in importance; in practice, however, many will struggle to evidence its high premium.

Written by Guy Richard, who serves as the executive director and associate professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Persistent Prayer is part of the “Blessings of the Faith” series from P&R Publishing. “Blessings of the Faith” is a collection of short and accessible treatments on some of the distinctives of Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Readable in one sitting, these books are useful introductions, perhaps for a new Christian or to a layperson new to Reformed theology.

Prayer is not an aspect of Christian devotion unique or peculiar to the Reformed tradition. After all, all kinds of Christians pray. Is there really a need then for another book on prayer? Considering studies show that 67% of self-identified Christian men pray “seldom/never,” and 70% of one subset of Christians prayed “seldom/never,” there certainly is.1 It seems that further prompts and encouragements to the Christian discipline of prayer are still essential.

Richard’s volume, however, approaches the issue from a slightly different angle: How many Christians understand prayer as a blessing—something overflowing with benefits for the believer—and not merely a discipline or a duty (though it is both of those things as well)? In his introduction, Richard notes how much of his own understanding of prayer as a blessing stems from his experience shepherding his congregation in Gulfport, Mississippi in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina. Fresh out of seminary and still months before he had intended to take up the work there, Katrina hit and devastated that community and his congregation. The building was destroyed, and numerous church members lost practically everything. Gas was scarce and for a time it was impossible to get basic supplies from the grocery store. This catastrophe drove Richard and his congregation to prayer—to utter dependence on the Lord in their desperation. And, mercy of mercies, God heard their prayers, and they were blessed to see their prayers answered in real time.

I love the way Richard describes the blessing of prayer:

That is one of the great blessings of prayer. You and I get to see God work, and when we do, our faith is strengthened and our resolve to pray is increased. To be sure, God doesn’t need our prayers. As the sovereign God of the universe, he is able to do all things at all times all by himself. But he stoops down to use our prayers as means to accomplish his perfect purposes. You and I, therefore, have the tremendous privilege of being coworkers with the God of the universe when we pray. And that is a blessing indeed. (p. 15)

Through the lens of prayer as blessing, Richard aims in the rest of the book to show how crucial prayer is for the Christian life. Prayer is “indispensable because of what it is, because of what it does, and because of how necessary it is in the Christian life” (17).

In his first chapter, “The Nature of Prayer,” Richard culls from numerous Scripture passages in both the Old and New Testament (in particular, the Psalms) to illustrate the constituent parts and actions involved in prayer. He makes use of a wonderful definition of prayer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism 98: “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”

He writes that prayer is an expression of the Christian’s heart, one of pleading with, communing with, and experiencing spiritual intimacy with the Lord of all creation—prayer is a kind of “relationship glue” (24). Drawing from the imagery of Scripture and historical examples such as Samuel Rutherford, he highlights a kind of parallel (though it is not a one-to-one correspondence) between the intimacy that a husband and wife enjoy in marriage and the intimacy that believer and Lord enjoy through communion in prayer. Prayer, according to Richard, involves a sense of our need, and it may require preparation on the part of the believer. Although prayer certainly involves pleading our case and bringing our needs before the Lord, that is not to the exclusion of praise. This is an important reminder in our day when so many Christian prayers seem to default exclusively to the realm of presenting requests to God (for very real needs and trying situations)—a pious act that Richard is in no way seeking to denigrate or discourage. Prayer, however, is more than simply bringing needs and troubles to the Lord and asking for his intervention. It also involves praising the Lord for who he is, confession of sin, and giving God thanks (prayers of joy and gratitude) for how he has answered prayers and the countless ways he has shown mercy and grace to his people (one thinks of the famous prayer structure acronym ACTS—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication). Moreover, prayer is indeed persistent. It involves “giving God no rest” (36) so to speak, as exemplified in Jesus’ admonition from Luke 11 where he exhorts his disciples to continue “asking and seeking and knocking.” In all of these sections, Richard collates numerous biblical examples and scriptural citations to bolster and demonstrate his argument for the richness of prayer.

The second chapter is titled, “Prayer Works,” by which Richard means that prayer accomplishes what it is intended to do—it is successful. Richard is keen to guide believers through the challenging experiences when it seems that our prayers go unanswered or our requests go unfulfilled. Do these instances mean that prayer is impotent or that God is not true? Certainly not. He cites the numerous scriptural examples where the Lord Jesus commands his people to pray, as well as other scriptural instructions for prayer, such as the famous ones found in James 1 and James 5. He walks the reader through the Bible’s instructions and qualifications for prayer, namely:

  • That our prayers be made in the name of Jesus—and what that means
  • That our prayers need to be according to God‘s will
  • That we must be on guard against selfish motives and desires
  • That we must be aware that, as the Scripture says, our persistent and unrepentant sin may, in fact, prevent our prayers from being answered

He offers an important caution against over-qualifying our prayers, noting that many commands to pray in Scripture are given simply as a plain, blunt exhortation to pray—without conditions, caveats, or qualifications. He identifies that “some of us tend so much to theological precision that we lose sight of the power of prayer” (52). Prayer works because God gives us the Holy Spirit to aid us in our prayers and in answer to our prayers. “He may not always give us exactly what we asked for, but he will never give us things that will harm us” (58). God will give his children good things, and he will not give them evil. Richard gives sensitive pastoral counsel that God will always answer the prayers of his children, though often those answers will not be the answers we had in mind. In many cases, the spiritual good will supersede the perceived physical good we yearn for:

The fact that God answers prayer means that we can pray with anticipation and expectation for what God will do in and through our prayers. No prayer is ever wasted. No prayer falls to the ground. God may not answer by giving us exactly what we have in mind, but he always answers by giving us Spiritual good things. We can pray with the expectation that our prayers really will do something good. (58)

In the third chapter, “Prayer Is Necessary,” Richard likens prayer to breathing, emphasizing the absolute necessity of prayer to the life of the Christian. He cites J.C. Ryle: “It is not absolutely needful to salvation that a man should read the Bible. . . . It is not absolutely needful that a man should hear the Public Preaching of the Gospel. . . . But the same thing cannot be said about prayer. It is absolutely needful to salvation a man should pray” (62).

Richard explains that prayer is necessary because God commands prayer. It is like spiritual breathing—indispensable for physical life. As such, prayer is a measure of our spiritual condition: genuine, sincere Christian faith manifests itself in prayer. And it is a necessary expression of the reality and sincerity of the Christian’s relationship with his God.

Richard offers a sincere pastoral warning: if one’s prayers stay “small and barely noticeable” (68) and never grow beyond such a stage, then there is a serious spiritual problem afoot, just as a person on a breathing machine evidences that person is in a seriously dangerous state of health. He argues that prayer is an expression of love toward God arising from the fact that one has received such incomprehensible love from God. Noting the reality of spiritual warfare, prayer is an absolute lifeline for the Christian’s soul in that very real spiritual battle. For all these reasons, the Christian ought to look for ways to engage in prayer. Simply put, “the fact prayer is a necessary fruit of saving faith indicates that we look for ways to grow in our fruitfulness” (76).

The fourth chapter, “Growing in Prayer,” suggests several precautions, and several ways more frequent and determined time of prayer will grow us, including: that it will warm our oft-times icy spiritual piety, afford a mutual strengthening between us and the church in her corporate spirituality, increase the church’s collective sense of spiritual encouragement, enable us to pray with greater sense of kingdom need and urgency, and that expectant, hopeful, Spirit-dependent prayer really can be used by God to “turn the world upside down” (87).

For this reviewer, the best part of these volumes in the Blessings of the Faith series are the Question-and-Answer sections at the back of each book. Richard’s Q&A section on prayer is no exception. Richard anticipates many likely and common questions regarding prayer, and he addresses numerous potential challenges that ordinary Christians regularly encounter. Examples of these topics are: “If God is sovereign, why should I pray?”, to which member of the Godhead should we pray, bodily postures to adopt while praying, learning how to pray, what is meant by the language “praying in the Spirit,” praying in tongues, fasting, written prayers, time that should be spent in prayer, sound pastoral advice regarding church prayer meetings, and more.

Whether a new Christian, a seasoned saint, or someone new to a Reformed church, all will benefit from the clear and applicable pastoral advice given to these questions, and readers will likely recognize many of their own questions and curiosities reflected in them.

This little book will serve as a useful volume for anyone seeking to reinvigorate their own prayer life, or who simply wishes to understand the Christian practice of prayer. For the new member or church visitor who wants to better grasp the Reformed understanding of prayer or might be wondering if the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition undervalues prayer compared to other Christian traditions, this book will serve as a helpful corrective. Indeed, in some circles—given the highly intellectual makeups of many Reformed churches and cerebral necessities involved in Reformed theology—it seems there may be a perennial risk of becoming “Reformed rationalists” if we are not careful. Books such as Richard’s serve as needed reminders that the Christian faith must engage mind and heart, intellect and affections, piety and practice, and that the practice of prayer is to the soul as breathing is to the body—utterly necessary.

This book is warmly recommended.


  1. Frequency of Prayer Among Christians,” Religious Landscape Study, Pew Research Center.

©Sean Morris. All Rights Reserved.

Guy Richard, Persistent Prayer, Blessings of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2021).


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Posted by Sean Morris | Thursday, February 22, 2024 | Categorized in Books, Prayer, Reviews. Sean Morris. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sean Morris

Sean was educated at Grove City College, Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS), and the University of Glasgow (Scotland). He is an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, and serves as a minister at the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, TN. He also serves as the Academic Dean of the Blue Ridge Institute for Theological Education. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Historical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sean lives in Oak Ridge with his wife, Sarah, along with their children and useless beagle.

One comment

  1. Over the years our PCA pastor has been fond of informing his congregation that he doesn’t believe in the power of prayer. He pauses briefly; one can almost hear many newcomers inwardly shouting “SHOCKING!” Then he resumes, “But I believe in the power of God, therefore I pray.”


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