A habit of hearty private prayer is one of the most satisfactory that can be named. A person may preach from false motives. A person may write books, and make fine speeches, and seem diligent in good works — and yet be a Judas Iscariot! But a person seldom goes into their closet and pours out their soul before God in secret, unless they are in earnest.
I know that much may go on in a person’s mind before they are brought to pray. They may have many convictions, desires, wishes, feelings, intentions, resolutions, hopes, and fears. But all these things are very uncertain evidences. They are to be found in ungodly people, and often come to nothing. In many a case they are not more lasting than the morning cloud, and dew that passes away. A real hearty prayer, moving from a broken and contrite spirit, is worth all these things put together.
I know that the Holy Spirit, who calls sinners from their evil ways, does in many instances lead them by very slow degrees to acquaintance with Christ. But the eye of man can only judge by what it sees. I cannot call anyone justified — until they believe. I dare not say that anyone sincerely believes — until they pray. I cannot understand a dumb faith. The first act of faith will be to speak to God. Faith is to the soul — what life is to the body. Prayer is to faith — what breath is to the body. How a person can live and not breathe — is past my comprehension; and how a person can believe and not pray — is past my comprehension too! Never be surprised if you hear ministers of the gospel dwelling much on the importance of prayer.
This is the point they want to bring to you. They want to know that you pray. Your views of doctrine may be correct. Your love of Protestantism may be warm and unmistakable. But still this may be nothing more than head knowledge and party spirit. They want to know whether you are actually acquainted with the throne of grace, and whether you can speak to God as well as speak about God.
Adapted from J.C. Ryle, A Call to Prayer