Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Few More Sources on Prayer

One of my latest reading interests has been prayer. Over the past month, or so, I have read and perused a handful of great books on prayer. My interest in this matter began with a decision to follow a particular pattern of prayer with my family. We began to pray through Baillie's A Diary of Private Prayer (see my earlier posts here, here and here) in the mornings. This has been a tremendously rich exercise for each of us.

Another impetus was a Prayer Challenge associated with the reading of Paul Miller's new book, A Praying Life: Connecting With God in a Distracting World (NavPress, 2009). The plan was to read this book for thirty days, to implement some of the ideas presented in the book, and to report to the readers of this blog regarding my experience with this exercise. I must admit that I reluctantly joined the challenge. I realize that there is much that I need to learn about prayer and praying, and I certainly need to be more disciplined in the practice of prayer. However, I already had a handful of books waiting to be read, and this book was supplied as a PDF which made it even more difficult for me to handle.

I decided to print off the first few chapters in very small print. After reading these pages, I felt like I had an idea of the direction Miller was taking. I went to the computer and began to scan through the rest of the book.

What I found is that the basic principles are the same as you will find in many other classic works on prayer. After speed-reading through the book, I searched through my own shelves for books on prayer and began to compare them with what I had read in Miller's A Praying Life. Some of these titles where as follows:
  • With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray (reprint, Hendrickson, 2007) - this is an excellent exposition of key passages in the NT related to Jesus praying or teaching his disciples to pray. Passages from the epistles are also included. In all, there are 31 short chapters, perfect for reading devotionaly throughout a month.
  • On Praying in the Spirit by John Bunyan (in Bunyan's 3 volume Works) - this is a classic and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. In it is Bunyan's classic definition of prayer (you can find the quote here). The Banner of Truth Trust has reprinted this work along with Bunyan's The Throne of Grace in the Puritan Paperback series: Prayer by John Bunyan. Spanish: I just found that BOT also published a small volume titled La Oración combining The Nature of True prayer, by John Bunyan, and The Answer to Prayer, by Thomas Goodwin.
  • Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels (20 Anv Rev edition, IVP, 2008) - I found this book at the local library and checked it out not knowing what to expect. It turns out that his handling of the subject was very helpful. I appreciated his pastoral approach which supplied a more theological and expositional foundation to the subject of prayer. I didn't get to finish the book, but I was helped by the portions I read. Hybels aim was to convince Christians of the necessity and joy of praying to a God who hears. He offers an introduction to the ACTS system of praying (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication), although he readily admits that one program will not fit all persons. This is one of many helpful tools for pray-ers.
  • The Contemporaries Meet the Classics on Prayer compiled by Leonard Allen (Howard Publishing, 2003) - this is another book that I found at the local library. It gathers together under 10 headings the best passages on prayer from classic works to contemporary works. Selections are included from John Bunyan, George Muller, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Andrew Murray, E. M. Bounds, C. S. Lewis, Simon Chan, Thomas Merton, Bill Hybels, Joni Eareckson Tada, Eugene Peterson , Walter Brueggemann, Richard Foster, and more. It is a fantastic volume to add to your library. The broad range of authors in one book is a treasure. This is a fantastic entry-point into the literature on prayer.
There are a handful of other book on my shelf on the subject of prayer, but these are the few I want to highlight for now. The frustration with so much to read on the subject of prayer is that you can easily read yourself out of praying. The key is to pray! When you reach for a book, hoping for a shot in the arm, it is helpful if that book provides quick, pointed, Scriptural and Spiritual motivation and encouragement. Many of the books that I have perused are drawn-out and filled with numerous anecdotes and discussions that, truly, are unnecessary. I especially liked the four books mentioned above because they obtain all of the positive characteristics I just listed.

Miller's A Praying Life is a fine book and comes highly recommended by some well-known Christian leaders. It offers another great strategy for keeping up with specific prayer request and many will find this helpful. My disappointment with the book was that the chapters were too long and overloaded with anecdotes. I realize that the anecdotes serve to show what a praying life looks like, however, I found myself hungry for the meat, the exposition, the shot-in-the-arm that prepared me to get on my knees. (Every reader is different, so read this with a grain of salt.) If you wade through the full book, you certainly will be challenged to pray, but the progression from major point to major point is very slow. The text of the book covers more than 250 pages.

The point of all of the books I read or perused is to avoid being stiff and systematic like a robot. Rather, I ought to take advantage of enjoying the intimate relationship I possess in Christ, full of frequent communication with my God and Savior. Miller makes this point well, as does Hybels.

I have tried cards in the past. I have attempted to simplify a list onto one page with columns for each day of the week and specific requests/persons to remember on each day of the week. This is the pattern that a dear, sweet friend of ours utilized for years before passing away. She was a true prayer warrior and this method worked well for her and for everyone on her list (which included my dear wife and I). Each of these approaches have been helpful, but the point is not to be a slave to a system. Nor should we be a slave to a list of pre-recorded requests. Rather, whatever system you use, it is your servant to aid you in the discipline of praying. And whenever you pray, (as Bunyan put it) let it be an affectionate pouring out of [your] heart and soul to God.

Exhortation to Prayer. (verse 2)
William Cowper
Olney Hymns

Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw,
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw;
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above.

Power of Prayer (verse 4)
John Newton
Olney Hymns

Wrestling prayer can wonders do,
Bring relief in deepest straits;
Prayer can force a passage through
Iron bars and brazen gates.