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Prayer Is the Soul's Sincere Desire

Representative Text

1 Prayer is the soul's sincere desire,
uttered or unexpressed;
the motion of a hidden fire
that trembles in the breast.

2 Prayer is the simplest form of speech
that infant lips can try,
prayer the sublimest strains that reach
the Majesty on high.

3 Prayer is the Christian's vital breath,
the Christian's native air,
his watchword at the gates of death:
he enters heaven with prayer.

4 Prayer is the contrite sinner's voice,
returning from his ways;
while angels in their songs rejoice,
and cry, 'Behold, he prays!

5 The saints in prayer appear as one,
in word and deed and mind;
while with the Father and the Son
sweet fellowship they find.

6 Nor prayer is made on earth alone:
the Holy Spirit pleads,
and Jesus on the eternal throne
for sinners intercedes.

7 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!

Source: Ancient and Modern: hymns and songs for refreshing worship #767

Author: James Montgomery

James Montgomery (b. Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, 1771; d. Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, 1854), the son of Moravian parents who died on a West Indies mission field while he was in boarding school, Montgomery inherited a strong religious bent, a passion for missions, and an independent mind. He was editor of the Sheffield Iris (1796-1827), a newspaper that sometimes espoused radical causes. Montgomery was imprisoned briefly when he printed a song that celebrated the fall of the Bastille and again when he described a riot in Sheffield that reflected unfavorably on a military commander. He also protested against slavery, the lot of boy chimney sweeps, and lotteries. Associated with Christians of various persuasions, Montgomery supported missio… Go to person page >


Prayer is the soul's sincere desire. J. Montgomery. [Prayer.] This hymn was written in 1818, at the request of the Rev. E. Bickersteth, for his Treatise on Prayer. It was first printed in 1818, together with three other hymns by Montgomery on Prayer ("Thou, God, art a consuming fire," "Lord, teach us how to pray aright," and "What shall we ask of God in prayer?"), on a broadsheet, for use in the Sunday Schools of Sheffield (Wincobank Hall Library). In 1819 it was published simultaneously in Bickersteth's Treatise on Prayerand the eighth edition of Cotterill's SelectionsNo. 278. Cotterill's text is that of the broadsheet, whilst Bickersteth's is slightly different, as in stanza v. 1. 4, "And cry 'Behold’" &c, changed to "And say 'Behold,' " &c, and stanza vi., which reads in each: —

"In prayer on earth the saints are one,
In word, and deed, and mind;
When with the Father and His Son
Sweet fellowship they find."


"The saints in prayer appear as one,
In word, and deed, and mind,
When, with the Father, and the Son,
Their fellowship they find."

In his Christian Psalmist, 1825, No. 480, Montgomery repeated the text as in Bickersteth, with the change in st. vii. 1. 4 of "For sinners intercedes," into "For mourners intercedes.” In his private copy of the Christian Psalmist Montgomery marked st. iv. and v. to be transposed in case of a reprint, and this was carried into effect in his Original Hymns, 1853, No. 62. The altered line, st vii. line 4, is also restored to read "For sinners intercedes." In addition to the extensive use of the hymn in its full form, it is also abbreviated. Sometimes the abbreviated texts begin with the first stanza, and at other times with "Prayer is the Christian's vital breath," or with ”Prayer is the contrite sinner's voice.”

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)



LAMBETH (Schulthes)

This tune has been mis-attributed to various other composers, but is clearly the work of the above-named composer.

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The Book of Common Praise: being the hymn book of The Church of England in Canada (revised 1938) #438b
The Cyber Hymnal #5649
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Methodist Tune Book: a collection of tunes adapted to the Methodist Hymn book #72
The United Methodist Hymnal #492
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Instances (1 - 26 of 26)

Ambassador Hymnal #195


Ancient and Modern #767


Celebrating Grace Hymnal #391

Church Hymnal, Fifth Edition #625

Church Hymnal, Mennonite #222

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Church Hymnary (4th ed.) #546

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Common Praise #561

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Complete Mission Praise #567

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Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #387

Hymnal #572

Hymns and Psalms #557a

Hymns and Psalms #557b

Hymns for Today's Church (2nd ed.) #372


Hymns of Glory, Songs of Praise #546

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Moravian Book of Worship #749

Singing the Faith #529


Small Church Music #4046

The Baptist Hymnal #396


The Cyber Hymnal #5649

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The New Century Hymnal #508

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The New English Hymnal #442


The Song Book of the Salvation Army #625

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The United Methodist Hymnal #492

The United Methodist Hymnal Music Supplement II #31


The United Methodist Hymnal Music Supplement II #32

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The Worshiping Church #620

Include 761 pre-1979 instances
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