Democracy is taking root in parts of the world where many of us never expected to see it. Dictators are making desperate, last-ditch stands against their own people.
Turmoil in oil-rich lands is increasing the risk of higher energy prices. Catastrophes around the world demand our attention and prayers.
I’ve seldom felt more deeply the need for prayer, and I’ve never found it more difficult to know what and how to pray.
Scripture tells us to “pray without ceasing,” and that isn’t difficult. There is no time in any day when prayer is not appropriate — and needed.
That’s why I was eager to dig into these five new books on prayer. Each is different, but like pieces of a puzzle, they fill out the picture of the Christian’s prayer life in challenging times.
The first is R.T. Kendall’s “The Lord’s Prayer: Insight and Inspiration to Draw You Close to Him.”
A short, easy-to-read book about a very short prayer, it, like the prayer, is packed with meaning.
Taking a phrase at a time, Kendall, for 25 years minister of Westminster Chapel in London, considers its implications for us, our prayer lives and our understanding of God and his will. With a foreword, three special recommendations, a preface and an introduction, I was impatient to get into the meat of the book, but it was well worth the wait.
I appreciated the focus on God, his glory and his will, as well as the focus on praying from the heart and on the inclusiveness of the prayer. I appreciate that Jesus gave us a pattern for our prayers that can be adapted to all times and circumstances.
In the chapter on “Focusing on God’s Interests,” Kendall writes, “When Jesus told us to pray, ‘Your kingdom come,’ this is asking God to actualize — that is, to let us experience — what Jesus has been talking about up to then in the Sermon on the Mount.”
He defines the kingdom as “God’s conscious presence and enabling grace … the rule of the ungrieved, unquenched Spirit in our hearts.”
Only after focusing on God and his will for us do we focus on our daily needs, first physical and then spiritual. Spiritual needs include our need to forgive and be forgiven, our need to avoid unnecessary pitfalls, to recognize and resist the evil in the world and to seek greater faith.
This book is a mature challenge by a mature Christian who has served for a lifetime and is still challenged and comforted by the Lord’s Prayer.
He concludes, “We won’t be praying the Lord’s Prayer in heaven! This prayer will have been completely answered by then. So pray it now!”
Stormie Omartian’s “The Power of a Praying Life: Finding the Freedom, Wholeness and True Success God Has for You”
lacks the focus of Kendall’s book. Into what is still a relatively short volume, Omartian packs 30 chapters. Even though prayer is part of the title, it is more about general Christian lifestyle — how to make life work.
I appreciated her goal of a praying life, “to be close to God and enjoy an ever-deepening relationship with him.” Each chapter includes a sample prayer, Scriptures and practical lists, though each is so short, the topic seldom is well developed.
Daniel Henderson’s “Transforming Prayer: How Everything Changes When You Seek God’s Face”
provides the focus and development Omartian lacks. He challenges us to go beyond our “grocery-list” prayers — bless this person, heal that — and truly connect with God, seeking his face, not just his hand in worship-based prayer.
Henderson speaks to thousands a year at conferences and weekend events devoted solely to prayer. The book is sprinkled with case histories, called “trophies of transformation,” of people whose lives have been changed by prayer.
Henderson advocates praying with an open Bible as a continuing conversation with God, allowing his attributes to motivate and direct our prayer.
He discusses things in our lives that prevent an intimate encounter with God and the transformation that would bring, suggesting that we trade our prayer lists for best-practices praying. He analyzes the content of our public prayers, contrasting them with Paul’s prayers for the churches, which involve more thanksgiving and spiritual emphasis. They are worship-based, not me-based prayers.
“Perhaps the fundamental difference between our prayer list and the prayer concerns we find in the Bible is that we pray about personal problems, while most of the biblical prayers focus on Christ’s purposes. … Pray that God would change you, not simply change things.”
Using the 4/4 pattern of song leading, he suggests prayers that first look up to God in reverence, then down in response, then inward with requests and outward with readiness for battle and finally upward again, recognizing God’s glory.
He encourages coming out of the prayer closet, or expanding that closet to make room for community, and organizing an awakening in our churches and communities through prayer.
The fourth book I read was Cindy Jacobs’ “The Power of Persistent Prayer: Praying with Greater Purpose and Passion.”
Jacobs, founder with her husband, Mike, of Generals International, works to achieve social transformation through intercession and prophetic ministry, though her definition of social transformation seems unusually limited.
Her emphasis is on effective prayer, which seems to be prayer that achieves our ends as opposed to God’s.
One quote sums up both the strengths and the weaknesses of her approach: “Prayer ushers in order out of chaos, pulls peace out of confusion and destruction, brings joy in the midst of sorrow. … Prayer — and the pulse that beats between us and God through it — is the essence of who we are as believers. Our life without prayer has no meaning, power or purpose.”
I wish she had substituted the word “God” for “prayer” rather than making it sound as if he can’t work without our working for him. I feel that more depends on God than on us.
The final book I considered was “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals”
by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro.
I am not a liturgical person. My Christianity is more simple, individual and spontaneous — what you might call “low church.” “Common Prayer” is a broad work that attempts to bridge between several different groups of believers — high church and low, male and female, multiple cultures and experiences. The emphasis is on peace, justice and service.
Out of fairness to the other volumes, I read it straight through. I plan to go back and work through it a day at a time, reading all the Scriptures as I come to them, although, according to the authors, “It’s not a book you try to pick up and read straight through. In fact, this book is not designed to be read alone. It is a book … meant to be spoken aloud and shared together in some form of community.”
I appreciate the emphasis on the diversity of the Christian experience. As our world shrinks with advances in transportation and communications, as we get to know more people from different backgrounds in our neighborhoods, workplaces and churches, it’s an emphasis we need to demonstrate Christ on a daily basis.
We need not just awareness and acceptance but love and communion with people who are different from us. It helps us know and imitate Christ and the breadth of his concern for creation. BILLIE SILVEY
is an author, editor and member of the Culver Palms Church of Christ in Los Angeles. Contact her at www.billiesilvey.com