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July 16, 2006
Not too long ago I began to pray that God would teach me to pray. A bit of an odd request, is it not? Obviously I already knew something about prayer if I was praying about it in the first place, but my concern was that despite my prayer habits, which are sometimes good and sometimes bad, I have often felt that I just don’t really understand what prayer is all about. When I pray I’ve often wondered just what the point is. I’ve often wished that I was better at praying and that maybe God would answer a few more of my prayers if I just learned to pray like a Spurgeon or another great preacher of days gone by whose words to God can still stir hearts even today.
I believe God answered my prayer through Bryan Chapell and his book Praying Backwards.
For many Christians, and especially those who were raised in households that emphasized prayer, the words “in Jesus name, amen!” are prayer mainstays. They close prayer and for most of us mean something along the lines of “well that’s done, open your eyes!” or “I really mean it!” Chapell premises his book on taking “in Jesus name” and placing it at the beginning of the prayer (hence “praying backwards”). This was a lesson I learned a short time ago through a wonderful article written by Jim Elliff. He taught the same - that from the beginning of our prayers we need to emphasize that we are praying in the name of Jesus, and not coming before God with a view to our own sufficiency or merit. Even if we do not verbalize the words “in Jesus name” as we begin our prayers, we need to commit never to pray a prayer that we could not pray backwards. In other words, we need to test the motives of our hearts before we begin to pour out our petitions to the Lord and ensure that we are praying prayers that honor Him and not ourselves.
Further topics Chapell writes about are praying in Jesus’ way, praying without doubting, praying in the Spirit (which I have written about recently, praying boldly, praying expectantly, praying persistently, praying in God’s will and praying in God’s wisdom.
Many books are “front-loaded” with the best chapters at the beginning of the book and the weaker ones at the back. This book has two of the strongest, most challenging chapters right near the end. There are two chapters that discuss praying within God’s will. Chapell challenges the reader to praying within two fences, the fence of righteousness and the fence of Christian prudence. Through these chapters he provides a primer not only on praying in God’s will, but also discerning His will. The fence of righteousness ensures that we are only praying for what God does not condemn in His Word. We can discern His will by asking Him for the wisdom and courage to abide by His Word, and can then move forward with confidence as we examine multiple options. If we need additional insight, God may prompt us through His Holy Spirit who is our internal witness. Chapell is careful to guard against allowing subjective feelings to become the standard of right and wrong or good and bad.
The final chapter warns against hindrances to prayer and then concludes with a thought that greatly expanded my understanding of prayer. There are those who see prayer as a dialogue, where we speak to God and He speaks to us. This is not biblical. There are those (like I did) who see prayer as a monologue, where we speak to God and He merely listens. Chapell teaches that prayer is, in reality, a dynamic monologue where it is almost as if God is speaking to Himself. “In this speaking to God, the Spirit of heaven stirs the spirit of the believer to speak to the heavenly Father. The intercession of the Son carries this prayer to the ear and heart of the Father. Then in deference to the voice of his Son with whom the believer is united, the Father lovingly responds. He causes the thoughts and inclinations fo the believer both to engage the divine will (to accomplish God’s purposes) and to inform the human will (to desire and perform God’s purposes). When we speak to God, his words in us create the world before us in which He is working” (page 177). As we work out our salvation, our hearts are transformed by the Spirit to make us more like the Son so we can desire that which is pleasing to the Father. Thus we ask for what God lays on our hearts through the work of His Spirit through the Word.
This book was such a joy to me. It removed a burden I have so often felt in prayer, that I need to say, feel or know just the right things in order to make my prayer effective. But I had never fully understood the Spirit’s role in prayer, that He intercedes in every prayer, taking my limited, far-too-human perspective, and presenting to the Father a prayer that is beyond time and space - a prayer that is formed through the Spirit’s omniscience. No wonder, then, that God can and will answer prayer! I know now that my role is not to feel the need to pray great prayers, but it is to continue to grow in godliness - for even the simplest prayers can be pure and sweet to the Father - that I may more and more resemble the Son to whom I am united.
Before I conclude I wanted to mention a couple of features in this book I found particularly helpful. Each chapter concludes with a Key Thought. Each of these key thoughts summarizes the content of the chapter in just a few sentences. This helps the reader formulate his thoughts and ensure he has retained the important points before moving to the next topic. I found this immeasurably helpful. Following each Key Thought is a prayer which puts into practice the cumulative teachings of the book to that point. This is also a very helpful feature.
Praying Backwards was an answer to prayer. The subtitle to this book is “Transform Your Prayer Life By Beginning In Jesus’ Name.” I truly feel that Chapell’s teaching, drawn directly from the Scriptures, will transform the prayer lives of many of God’s people, and for that I am most thankful. I simply cannot recommend this book enough.
Yes, I’ve run this review before. But I’m feeling really sick this afternoon so decided I’d better take it easy. Sorry. But hey, it’s good book so it’s worthy of another review.