Is there a secret to spiritual greatness?
I love reading biographies, but there are times when I feel discouraged after reading them. When I read about “spiritual giants” of the past—Luther, Edwards, Spurgeon, Augustine, and so many others—and of how God used them in their days to make the gospel known, and it becomes tempting to think they’re somehow super-Christians. That someone like me could never be like them or be used like they were.
And to some degree, that’s true. After all, God is the one who ultimately determines the degree of influence we have. But there’s something else we all have in common besides this: we’re all regular people. Yes, we’ve all been gifted differently, but we all come to the cross with the same need—the need for forgiveness. And we are all part of Christ’s family. All who believe believe in Christ have received and been entrusted with spreading the same gospel throughout the entire world.
And because of this, it means we all have access to the same “secret” of spiritual greatness: prayer.
J.C. Ryle wisely reminds us that diligent private prayer is the secret of a vibrant spiritual life, of true greatness, as opposed to the stuff we often look at. He describes it this in his short book, A Call to Prayer:
I believe that spiritual as well as natural greatness depends in a high degree on the faithful use of means within everybody’s reach. Of course I do not say we have a right to expect a miraculous grant of intellectual gifts; but I do say, that when a person is once converted to God, his progress in holiness will be much in accordance with their own diligence in the use of God’s appointed means. And I assert confidently that the principle means by which most believers have become great in the church of Christ — is the habit of diligent private prayer. Look through the lives of the brightest and best of God’s servants, whether in the Bible or not. See what is written of Moses and David and Daniel and Paul. Mark what is recorded of Luther and Bradford the Reformers. Observe what is related of the private devotions of Whitefield and Cecil and Venn and Bickersteth and McCheyne. Tell me of one of the goodly fellowship of saints and martyrs, who has not had this mark most prominently — they were men of prayer.
If there is any secret of spiritual greatness it is this—prayer. Asking the one who delights in your asking. Only the Spirit of God makes spiritually dead people live. Only the Holy Spirit can create a love of Christ in someone’s heart and a desire to please him. And only the Spirit can help us not only desire to please God, but actually please him.
“Depend on it,” Ryle encouraged, “prayer is power.”