Prayer can be a challenge, even for the most religious. Am I using the right words? Are my prayers connecting with God? Are they reflections of my beliefs? Pastors–who some might look to as experts on prayer–also can wrestle with this foundational practice, as three new books illustrate.
Max Lucado, bestselling author (When God Whispers Your Name) and pastor of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Tex., admits to being a “recovering prayer wimp.” Says Lucado, “When I pray, I think of a thousand things I need to do, but I forget to do the one thing I set out to do: pray.” As he struggled to deepen his prayer life, Lucado realized he wasn’t alone, that a lot of people think they aren’t good at praying. In Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer (Thomas Nelson, Oct.), Lucado studies all the prayers in the Bible and distills their essence into one that is easy to remember and pocket-sized: “Father, you are good. I need help. They need help. Thank you. In Jesus’ name, amen.” Through this very simple prayer, Lucado says he discovered that God wants to be in conversation with us, and all we need to do is be willing and ready. The “Pocket Prayer” has become a cherished friend, he says, and has turned his time of prayer into a time of power.
While Lucado’s “Pocket Prayer” might work for many, others still seek the right words, or simply wonder what people mean when they say “I’ll pray for you.” In Prayers for People Who Say They Can’t Pray (Abingdon, Nov.), Donna Schaper (Sabbath Keeping), senior minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City, teaches believers, wannabe believers, and unbelievers how to remove obstacles to prayer, showing that honest prayer doesn’t require belief, trust, a proper form, or the perfect words. “My congregation is about one-third Baptist, one-third UCC [United Church of Christ], and one-third agnostics, Jews, and other religious traditions,” she says. Working in such a post-denominational setting, Schaper has written a book of prayers aimed at engaging the heart and the head, creating a place to pause and reflect in the midst of a hyperactive society. Original prayers in the book include those to be said while commuting; for the great recession to recede; for a broken heart; and during the “hatching, matching, dispatching” of family life. In one prayer Schaper implores, “Let every red light become a signal to pray. And let me not care if someone honks at me for slowing them down on the way to their heart attack. Let me be glad I’m not going where they’re going. Amen.” Says Schaper, “Prayer is pause, and in the midst of that pause we often search for God.”
When Timothy Keller set out to find a meaningful book on Christian prayer to give someone who wanted to understand the practice, he couldn’t find one he felt combined its theological, experiential, and methodological aspects, says Brian Tart, president and publisher of Dutton and Keller’s longtime editor. So Keller– author (The Reason for God) and founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City–wrote Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton Nov.). He explores in depth the processes of desiring, understanding, learning, deepening, and just doing prayer. For Keller, prayer is about both awe and intimacy; it is both a conversation and an encounter with God. By looking at prayers in the Bible and in the Christian tradition, Keller finds that conversation and encounter important not only as a way to understand God, but also to discover one’s self. He writes, “Prayer is the only entry way into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change—the reordering of our lives…Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life. We must learn to pray; we have to.”
SOURCE: Publishers Weekly
Henry L. Carrigan Jr.