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Review - Prayer and the Voice of God
March 21, 2007
I was going to post this review on the weekend, but then John Piper messed everything up. He posted an article at the Desiring God web site that fit very well with it, so I thought I’d link to his article and then post the review. This is, without a doubt, one of the best things I’ve ever read from the pen of Dr. Piper (and I’ve read a lot). Read that and then, if you care to, read this review.
If I had to guess, I’d say that I probably have more books on prayer than on any other single topic. I do not tend to buy these books, and yet they continue to show up in the mail. The shelves of Christian bookstores are bowing under the weight of such books. My bookshelves are beginning to do the same. This tells me a few things. First, Christians are eager to learn about prayer. They know they need to pray and yet are frustrated by their attempts to do so. Second, Christians do not understand prayer as they would like to. Third, many of the books provided to questions are not providing the answers people are looking for. Though I do not read many of the books on prayer that are made available to me, because of my respect for its authors, I was still eager to read Prayer and the Voice of God.
Prayer and the Voice of God is written by Matthias Media’s Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne who earlier collaborated on Guidance and the Voice of God (my review) and Pure Sex and each of whom have written books individually. Matthias Media is a ministry based in Australia, but one that is beginning to have an impact on this side of the world (and a ministry that will, in fact, be collaborating with 9Marks to hold their first American conference later this year). I have enjoyed this ministry’s books in the past and was eager to read this new title that was published only last year. I was intrigued by the book’s title as evangelicals are prone to equate prayer and the voice of God, believing that God speaks to us as we pray. Yet these authors believe, as do I, that we do not listen to God’s voice in prayer, but listen to God’s voice in Scripture so we might learn about prayer.
The book follows a consistent and easy-to-grasp format where each of a chapter’s main points are numbered 1, 2, 3 and each of the sub-points is labeled a, b, c. This makes the flow of the book very simple to understand and allows the reader to follow along easily.
The book begins exactly where a book on prayer should—with the character of God. The authors describe five important aspects of God that stand as the foundation of Christian prayer. They are: the able God, the fatherly God, the speaking and listening God, the holy God and the merciful God. From here they answer the simple question of “Why pray?” They answer that we should pray because God allows us to, because we must, because we are commanded to and because of God’s promise that He will hear and answer them. The next chapter looks at reasons we do not pray, despite God’s commands and promises. The fifth chapter tells us how to pray, and the authors ensure the reader understands that prayer is not, as many evangelicals believe, a time to hear God’s voice, but a time to respond to His voice. They speak to the essence of prayer and do not present a step-by-step technique, emphasizing the importance of both novelty and regularity in this task. They say rightly that prayer is not a matter of technique but of relationship.
Two chapters discuss what we are to pray for and the authors identify two broad categories: the desires of God and the anxieties of life. Final chapters answer “What happens when we pray?,” discuss the fellowship of prayer and answer frequently asked questions. The book concludes with two appendices, one of which provides a summary of the book’s 1, 2, 3 a, b, c structure and the second includes a study guide for each of the chapters.
I enjoyed reading this book and learned from it. The structure was very compatible with the way my mind works and I found it a joy to read. While this book really teaches nothing knew, this is exactly its greatest strength. Rather than presenting some new or great technique for prayer, or rather than turning to strange mystical practices from deep in the church’s past, this book turns to Scripture and allows the reader to hear God’s voice there so that he might then respond to this voice with his own. Having turned to the true authority for prayer, the authors are properly able to guide the reader to the relationship and principles that will foster a strong and vibrant life of prayer. There is no trick to it. We simply need to think rightly about God, about how He communicates with us and how we communicate with Him, so that we might then act in a way that pleases and glorifies Him.
This is a good little book and one that I think would prove very useful for personal reading or for group study for the format and study guide would lend themselves well to discussion in a group setting. I am pleased to recommend it for either purpose and trust others will benefit from it as I have.
Prayer and the Voice of God
byPhillip Jensen and Tony Payne