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prayer

1 year 6 months ago
As is the case with so many Christians I speak to, my theology of prayer is much stronger than my practice of prayer. I know so much of what the Bible says about the privilege, priority and practice of prayer, yet struggle mightily to pray fervently and consistently. Putting that theology into practice remains a daily battle.

For this reason I make books on prayer a regular part of my reading diet. While I have read enough books on the subject that I do not always find new ground, I always benefit from an author’s excitement and always learn from his experiences. Reading a book on prayer renews my confidence in prayer and sparks a renewed desire to do the hard work of praying.

I first encountered H.B. Charles Jr. through his blog and quickly became a regular reader. I have since benefited from many of his articles and especially those that deal with preaching. In a recent post he mentioned the publication of a new book, his first book, and I quickly grabbed a copy. It Happens After Prayer is (obviously) a book on prayer. Another book on prayer. It is one I enjoyed. In fact, I sat down on my day off to read a chapter or two and a few hours later had read to the end, pausing only to throw together a quick lunch.

The book’s great strength is in drawing upon the passages in Scripture that show God’s people praying. Charles throws down a major challenge right from the earliest pages:

Prayer is our Christian duty. It is an expression of submission to God and dependence upon Him. For that matter, prayer is arguably the most objective measurement of our dependence upon God. Think of it this way. The things you pray about are the things you trust God to handle. The things you neglect to pray about are the things you trust you can handle on your own.

If this is true, and I believe it is, he has just exposed a lot of self-dependence in me. Not only that, but where I continually slip into the mode of viewing prayer as a duty, a necessity, Charles allowed me to see it again as a privilege and an honor.

Only a good and wise and sovereign God like ours would make prayer a duty and a privilege at the same time. Let me say that again. Prayer is a privilege. It is not a burdensome duty. It is a wonderful privilege. Even though Scripture commands us to pray, we should not view prayer as something we have to do. We should view is as something we get to do.

Charles looks at some of the perplexing questions that surround prayer. Questions like why we should even bother praying. “‘Why should I pray?’ you ask. Answer: Prayer works! More accurately, God works when we pray. When we work, we work. When we pray, God works.” He looks at unanswered prayer and shows that prayer is effective even when it doesn’t work quite the way we want it to; not one of the Christian’s prayers is unheard or ignored. “God is a wise Father who sometimes refuses what you want to give you what you need.” He addresses the way I can sometimes approach God in this too-busy always-on world saying, “Prayer is not a scheduled appointment with a busy executive. It is quality time with a loving Father.”

He answers common objections to prayer and also subtly chips away at the always-dangerous prosperity theology that shifts the focus of prayer from God’s good purposes to my self-centered desires. This is a book that succeeds on the macro level but one that succeeds equally on the small scale, in quotable lines and thought-provoking paragraphs.

There are a few areas where I wish the book was stronger. Most importantly, it would have benefited from another round of editing to tighten up some of the ideas and to catch a few typos. For a book published by Moody Publishers, or one of Moody’s imprints at least, it is unusually rough in places and especially as it progresses; the best of the book comes early. There are a couple of places where an application does not flow naturally out of the text, Charles’ use of Jeremiah 29:11 being a prime example. It is a wonderful passage, but one that demands attention to context. Finally, I would have liked stronger illustrations. Many of the illustrations are a little too generic, as if they are drawn from a book of sermon illustrations rather than from the author’s own life and experiences. None of these undo the book’s strengths, but addressing them would have allowed this to be a stronger and more consistent work.

Nevertheless, It Happens After Prayer was a timely book for me. It has renewed my confidence in prayer and challenged me to continue to dedicate myself to it. The fact that I read the book in a sitting on my day off speaks to its value in my life. If I apply even a small part of its wisdom I will be a more faithful husband, father, pastor and friend. I will “Pray when I feel like it. Pray when I don’t feel like it. Pray until I feel like it.” I echo Ray Pritchard who, in the book’s foreword, writes, “I can’t think of a higher compliment than to say that a book on prayer made me want to pray.”

It Happens After Prayer is available at Amazon.

5 years 6 months ago
Any time I write a review of a book dealing with prayer I feel the need to point out that bookstore shelves are already groaning under the weight of such books. There are hundreds, thousands probably, of books on prayer. A new one is going to need to be good—very good—to supplant the excellent resources already available. Paul Miller, perhaps a bit reluctantly, takes on this challenge in his new book A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. I was drawn to this book by David Powlison’s Foreword in which he gives it his highest recommendation and says, “A Praying Life will bring a living, vibrant reality to your prayers. Take it to heart.” And what Christian does not want to learn to pray better? What Christian would claim that his prayers are as powerful as ever he would want them to be? The vast number of books on this subject testifies to the Christians’ desire to pray more and to pray better.

A Praying Life is the fruit of the prayer seminars that Miller has led scores of times over the years. And in the structure, in what it teaches, it has the practical, real-life feel of a seminar. The meat of the book is family stories—not dramatic tales, but just small vignettes of daily life and survival. These stories do not only offer that personal touch that takes the book out of the abstract, but they also provide a measure of cohesion, tying chapter-to-chapter and part-to-part.

The book begins with a brief reflection on why Christians struggle so much with prayer. Miller says rightly, I’m sure, that many people fail to pray properly because they are pursuing prayer rather than God. Ironically, they make prayer their focus instead of focusing on the one to whom they are praying. Prayer becomes an end in itself rather than the means to relationship with God. No wonder, then, that we struggle! “Consequently, prayer is not the center of this book. Getting to know a person, God, is the center.” Another source of the frustration that many people feel when they reflect on their prayer lives comes from working on this discipline in the abstract, separated from the rest of life. This is why Miller advocates a praying life, a life of prayer and not just small moments of prayer. This is something that needs to be learned over time and that needs to be nurtured. “A praying life isn’t something you accomplish in a year. It is a journey of a lifetime.”

Miller teaches prayer in thirty-two (!) chapters divided into five parts. In the first part, he writes about praying like a child, writing about the childlike trust and wonder that so moved Jesus and caused him to use children as an example to his disciples. Miller wants readers to learn to talk with their Father, to learn to love spending time with their Father, to learn to be helpless as children are before their father and to learn to cry “Abba” continually just as Jesus did. In Part 2 he encourages readers to “trust again,” to put aside the cynicism that is endemic to our culture. This cynicism is a large part of what keeps us from enjoying God and trusting him in prayer. Part 3 is dedicated to learning how to petition God, to ask for things in prayer and to do so with confidence. He shows why we find it so hard to ask and teaches the grounds by which we can ask. He then looks at God’s promises regarding daily bread and “your kingdom come” along with Jesus’ extravagant promises that “whatever you ask in my name, I will do.” The fourth part is about living in the Father’s story, about seeing prayer as part of the grand story God is weaving into the lives of his people. The fifth and final part, “Praying in Real Life,” is the most practical part of the book, teaching real-life praying through journaling, using prayer cards, and so on. This is the small bit of practical application that follows a lot of good teaching.

A Praying Life is a very quotable book that offers many excellent lines, sentences, reflections. Here is just a single example of one that caught my attention. Miller asks, “How would you love someone without prayer? I mean, what would it look like if you loved someone but couldn’t pray for that person? It was a puzzle to me. I couldn’t figure out what it would look like. Love without being able to pray feels depressing and frustrating, like trying to tie a knot with gloves on. I would be powerless to do the other person any real good. People are far too complicated; the world is far too evil; and my own heart is too off center to be able to love adequately without praying. I need Jesus.”

From the earliest chapters to the last, the book is full of good teaching. Miller says very little that is not immediately supported by Scripture and, even in a book that is full of stories of his family, is able to keep himself out of the limelight. This is a book foremost about God—the God who asks his people to come to him and to come with him in confidence that he hears and answers prayer. He offers constant challenges to first understand prayer properly and then to pray, knowing that God desires that his people pray.

I do want to point out what I consider a weakness in the book, and it has to do with some of the people Miller quotes. Those who have read other books on prayer may well see that Miller is indebted to the mystics; he has clearly derived at least a portion of his theology and practice of prayer from them. At times there is a certainly mystical quality in what he teaches. We can begin to see the source of this in the several times he quotes Thomas Merton. Now I do know that many people quote Merton as an authority on prayer; I have not read his books on prayer so cannot comment. However, necessarily, as a Roman Catholic Trappist monk, Merton’s theology will get worse the closer he gets to the cross. Hence I think an author would wish to quote him only with the utmost care. My concern with Miller’s book is that he may lead people to investigate Merton and read there not only what Merton wrote on prayer but also what he wrote on other subjects. Thus there is good reason to be just a little bit cautious here. This mystical emphasis on prayer runs as an undercurrent through the book, not destroying it but at times, I feel, detracting from it.

Leave aside that concern, I still do not hesitate to recommend A Praying Life. Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is Miller’s unrelenting emphasis that prayer cannot be an add-on to the Christian life; it cannot be supplemental but must always be instrumental. This book will equip you to understand prayer properly and, on that firm foundation, to commit yourself to it, with confidence that God is willing and able to hear and answer your prayers.

7 years 6 months ago

This is the third article in a series that discusses that tendency Christians have to put God in a box. In the first article (link) we saw that we tend to feel insecure about God unless we have contained Him within a box in our minds and then saw that God has revealed Himself to us in a way that is incomplete, but which we can understand. God’s revelation of Himself provides a framework within which we can understand Him. While incomplete, this framework is accurate and trustworthy. In the second article (link) we examined how we can allow our doctrine to put God in a box through our ignorance, through our imaginations and by making theology and end in itself.

Today we will look at Christian piety and how it can lead us to put God in a box.

Piety is the desire and willingness to live out what we believe—to live in light of our faith. Any religion can and does encourage piety in its adherents. There are pious Muslims, pious Hindus and pious Christians. The difference between Christians and adherents to other religions is that Christians are indwelt by the Spirit of God, who enables us to live in ways that are consistent with the Scripture and are pleasing to God. This process of sanctification (becoming holy) is a necessary component to the Christian walk and is the very basis of Christian piety. The Spirit gives us both the ability and the desire to live in a way that is pleasing to God; to perform our religious duties for His sake and in His power.

But just as something as wondrous and pure as doctrine can lead us to box God, in the same way we can box God through our piety. Today we’ll look at three ways that we are prone to do this.

Boxing God When I Know That I Know

We put God in a box when we “know that we know” what God can or will not do. This is a popular phrase in evangelical circles and one that people often use to convince others that they are secure in God’s will or understand exactly how God works. In the first article of this series we looked at verses of Scripture written by the prophet Isaiah. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). We need to keep in mind that what God has revealed of Himself in Scripture is true. We can know with certainty from Scripture, for example, that God can and will not sin. Were God to sin, He would disprove His own existence and Divinity. Were God to send a flood to destroy the entire world, He would contradict a clear and absolute promise. God is entirely rational and trustworthy. So what the Scriptures plainly teach, we can believe with confidence.

But too often we limit our belief in what God can or will do in areas far beyond those He has expressly told us. We need to be careful when we say “God wouldn’t do that” or “God doesn’t act like that in the world today.” If God did miracles in days past, He can do so today. If He healed the sick and raised the dead, He has proven that He can and will act in that way. For us to flatly deny that He acts in that way today is to deny Him an ability that is His. He may choose not to act like that in our day or even in our culture, but we need to be careful with what we state He will never do (or what He will always do).

Some of the most shocking verses in the Bible come from Mark 11:23, where Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” Do we really believe this, or have we filed it away as metaphor or exaggeration? A similar passage is 1 John 5:14-15 which reads “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” God places no limits on His own ability to act in and through us. But often we impose those limits in Him.

Boxing God by Knowing the Unknowable

We put God in a box when we believe we know exactly why things happen the way they do. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). The starting point of Reformed doctrine is often taught to be the depravity of man, but it really needs to begin and end with God’s sovereignty. God is overwhelmingly sovereign in this world, so that there is nothing that happens that is beyond his knowledge and control. When calamity strikes, God not only knows about it, but has in some way ordained that it should happen (yet in a way that does not make Him the author of evil). As the Shorter Catechism tells us, “The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass” (Question and Answer 7). Somehow, mysteriously, everything that happens brings glory to God. God has necessarily withheld from us why many things happen. Why the tsunami of 2004 had to take so many lives and destroy so many families, we do not know. And we do not know why God allowed and decreed that thousands of lives would be lost on September 11. But God does. We need to rest in our knowledge of His foreknowledge and sovereignty.

When we determine why things have happened, we place God in a box, believing that we can know the unknowable and that we can understand what He has not given us to understand. Soon after the tsunami I heard Christian leaders suggesting that the tsunami was sent to punish people in areas of the world where Christians are undergoing particularly harsh persecution. But we do not know this. After September 11, vocal Christian leaders decreed that the events of that day were sent as a punishment for America’s moral decay. But we do not know that either. God has hidden that knowledge from us, and we should not place Him in a box by making up in our minds why these things have come to pass. We need only look to Job’s friends to see the danger and the folly of declaring the hidden things. Perhaps in eternity God will reveal these things to us and make the reasons clear. Perhaps not. In either way, this is His world and He is free to act in it as He sees fit. Rather than boxing God as the one who sends calamity to punish evil, we need to understand Him as the one who controls the world, yet dispenses knowledge only as He sees fit.

Boxing God By a Faith/Values Split

We put God in a box when we separate our piety from our every day lives. We live in a society which makes it easy to claim to be a Christian, but also makes it too easy to separate our faith from our everyday lives. Nancy Pearcey, in her book Total Truth, says that Christianity is in “cultural captivity.” She shows how far too many Christians have succumbed to society’s belief that there are two spheres in society, the private and the public. The private sphere is awash in moral relativism. Religion is to be kept in the private sphere and is considered a subjective choice, not an objective reality. This is the sphere of values. Conversely, the public sphere is the dwelling place of facts — that which is objective and can be proven scientifically. The public sphere, the sphere of facts, is objective and binding on everyone.

Far too many Christians see the world in this way. We see this often in the words and the faith of politicians. They constantly claim to be Christians, yet are always careful to separate their faith from the decisions they make in ruling the nations. They claim to hold Christians beliefs but also claim that these beliefs have no real bearing on the way they act as politicians. Privately they are Christians but publicly they are not. Sadly, this is in no way unique as it is probably safe to say that the majority of those who claim to be Christians hold similar beliefs. In Total Truth Pearcey writes about a woman she met who claimed to be a Christian, yet worked at a Planned Parenthood clinic (which, sadly, was staffed by many other Christians). She did not see the clear conflict between her values and her job — she had compartmentalized God in the values sphere while her job was part of the objective, facts sphere.

When we view the world through this lens we have placed God in a box (or a sphere — I’m beginning to mix my metaphors). We have practically, though in all likelihood unknowingly, defined our faith as a private, subjective belief. We have boxed God as One who is important to us privately, yet has little impact on our daily lives. We need to understand that we cannot and must not separate our piety from our doctrine. We must always live what we believe, at home, in church and in the workplace.

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I made it clear in the last article that the Bible does not contain God. Rather, the Bible contains and restrains us. This is as important to note in our piety as in our doctrine. We must live lives that are consistently pleasing to God, never placing limits on His ability to act in a way that is consistent with His revelation of Himself. At the same time, we must maintain a piety that reaches every corner of our lives, for His grace and in His power.

In our next article we will look at how we place God in a box Transformationally.

7 years 6 months ago

A couple of years ago I got thinking about the idea of putting God in a box. This is a charge people often level at conservative Christians and Reformed folk in particular. It is not unusual for us to hear that we seem to feel that we have got God figured out, stuffed and mounted on the wall. And to some extent this may be true. I began to write about this and soon came up with a short series of posts. I’ve been thinking about this again recently and wanted to take the opportunity to revisit this series, tear it apart and try to do it again. So over the next few days I want to talk about our propensity to put God in a box, see how this is happened and what we can do to escape this temptation. I hope you’ll find the series both interesting and useful.

My family used to own a beautiful cottage in the woods near one of the most picturesque villages in Ontario. This village was once a center of commerce along the Rideau Lake system - a series of canals and both natural and artificial lakes that span the 200 kilometers between the cities of Kingston and Ottawa. The canal system was built in the early part of the nineteenth century to provide a quick avenue of travel should hostilities once again break out between the United States and Canada. Today it stands as a part of this nation’s history and as a peaceful and beautiful vacation destination.

This village, named Chaffey’s Locks after Samuel Chaffey, one of its first inhabitants, now has a population of only a hundred people. Yet it was once a bustling town centered around a series of rapids flowing between two lakes. Because of the thirteen foot difference in elevation between the lakes, a dam and a lock had to be built in this town. The dam held back the water and created a fast-flowing series of rapids that provided the energy to run Chaffey’s mills. Farmers from miles around came to the town to use these mills, and it grew, quickly becoming one of the most important towns along the Rideau. Though Chaffey died of malaria only seven years after founding these mills, by the time of his death his milling complex consisted of grist, carding and saw mills and a distillery. The town was prospering.

The importance of the town was inseparable from the dam. It was this dam that held back the water, confining it and then allowing it to be released with the power to drive the mills. Without the dam the town would have been no more important than any of the other villages dotting the length of the system of lakes and canals.

Most Christians, whether they will admit it or not, have dammed God in much this way. We have erected barriers around Him, seeking to constrain Him within a system of theology. We often seem to think that the tighter we box Him in, the greater the power we will be able to bring to bear when we release Him. In the same way that water, when placed under enough pressure can drive the wheel of a mill, or can even cut through steel, so we believe that God is at His most powerful when He is most constrained within a system of theology.

In this article series I would like to examine some of the ways we have put God in a box and suggest ways we can free ourselves from this box. It is worth noting that while I suggest we are the ones who put God in a box, we are also the ones who need to be freed. That is simply because we may put God in a box in our minds, but this in no way affects His character or His ability to act. God cannot be bound except in our minds.

Before we begin, we need to reconcile God’s revelation of Himself with our ability to understand Him. In other words, has God put Himself in a box? God has given us knowledge of Himself, both through Creation and through the Scriptures. But the Bible is clear that this is not complete knowledge — it is only and exactly what we need to know about Him. He told us no more than we need and no less than He considered beneficial. Whenever we study God, we need to acknowledge that He defines the limits of our study. James White writes, “If we wish to know God truly, we must be willing to allow Him to reveal to us what He wants us to know, and He must be free as to how He wants to reveal it. He has given us a treasure trove of truth about Him, but He has not deemed it proper to reveal everything there is to know (if such is even possible). We dare not go beyond the boundaries He has set in His Word” (James White, The Forgotten Trinity, page 34). As Francis Schaeffer pointed out, God has given us true knowledge but of Himself, but not exhaustive knowledge. God is the one who sets the limits as to what we can know and how much we can know.

Thus while God reveals Himself most fully through the Scriptures, this does not place Him in a box. He gives us His Word so that we can know and understand Him, but only so far as finite humans can understand an infinite God. “He defies our categories and our feeble attempts to comprehend Him. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t be God” (The Forgotten Trinity, page 42). God is not contained in Scripture — He is merely revealed in part and in a way we can understand.

There is a difficulty inherent in attempting to define what is indefinable. The barrier is language. How can a finite mode of communication such as words, do justice to what is infinite? In truth, it cannot. Words cannot adequately express who God is and how He works. Humans communicate by means of examples. We compare one thing to another and compile a database in our minds of like objects. Many years ago I used to work at a Starbucks and people would often ask me what the different types of coffee tasted like. To answer I would try to determine whether the person often drank high quality coffee or if he usually drank coffee from the local donut store. If he was accustomed to donut shop coffee, I might say “this coffee tastes like a very strong cup of Tim Horton’s coffee.” Of course there may be other varieties of coffee that taste more like this new one than Tim Horton’s, but those flavors have not yet been inputted into his database. As he continued to visit the store and as his knowledge of coffee increased I was able to provide more concise and more accurate descriptions based on closer comparisons. “It has a lighter, smoother taste than the flavor you drank last time you were here.” Or “this coffee has a strong, earthly flavor much like the Sumatra.” In either case I still use only use comparisons but I can draw more accurate comparisons because his frame of reference has increased.

This process works quite well. Or it does until we attempt to define something that is truly unique. Much of God’s revelation of Himself, even the portion of it that He has given to us, is truly unique. There is nothing we can use to adequately compare with God’s omnipresence or with the Trinity, to provide only two examples. And so our language limits us from true understanding. (For more on this, see chapter 2 of The Forgotten Trinity).

Thus we need a spirit of humility as we approach the Word of God, knowing that it tells us many things about God, but not everything. And while we can truly know God, we cannot know Him fully. We would do well to keep several passages in mind. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Again, we must remember that while what He has revealed of Himself is entirely truthful, it is by no means complete. In Psalm 131 David affirms that there are some things that He can never understand. “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” David’s response is important. “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” David is at peace, resting in his understanding that God does have full knowledge and that He is fully in control, even of those things we do not understand. This leads him to exhort his people to “hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” David’s understanding of his own limitations leads him to worship the One who knows all.

It may be helpful to view God’s revelation of Himself as the framework that defines the edges to a box. God has revealed Himself to us within this framework. While what He has told us is surely truthful, it may not be complete. When God tells us within Scripture that “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) we can have confidence that He means it. He will never leave nor forsake those who believe in Him. When Scripture assures us that God is not the author of sin, we know that the words are true and that God is in no way culpable for the sin in the world. And when we read “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) we can have confidence that God does mean “all things.” He does not send us purposeless calamity. These things that God tells us He will not or cannot do serve as a framework around which we can understand Him. The fact is, if God did not provide us with a framework within which we can understand Him, we would be unable to comprehend Him in any way. To repeat an important point — God is not contained in Scripture — He is merely revealed in a way we can understand.

I would now like to move on to show how we are prone to place God in a box. Within the Reformed tradition there are three major emphases that have flourished in the past. I believe they provide a helpful framework through which we can understand the ways we box God.

The first emphasis is the doctrinalist. This emphasizes adherence to doctrine and theology as taught in the Bible and in the creeds and confessions of the church.

The second emphasis is the pietist. This emphasizes God’s work in one’s daily life and a close, personal walk with God.

The third emphasis is the transformationalist. This emphasizes the importance of relating the message of the Bible to the world.

These three emphasizes may overlap to some extent, and there is a sense in which we are making false distinctions, yet they provide a helpful breakdown. We will examine each of these three in further articles.

8 years 6 days ago
“As a husband, I know it is my responsibility to pray for my wife. Often, though, I do not know the words to use, and I end up feeling that my prayers for her could be more effective. From marriage counseling and pastoral experience, I have met many men who share the same concern. The average Christian man does not know how to pray for his wife. Unfortunately, when we do not know how to pray, we end up not praying at all.”

Because of this concern, Mark Weathers, co-pastor at Providence Presbyterian Church in Concord, North Carolina, decided to write a book—a 31-day study guide—to help men learn to pray for their wives. How To Pray For Your Wife follows through the well-known words of the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs, providing 31 brief meditations and prayer suggestions.

Weathers considers this book an “interactive prayer journal.” Each day’s entry features three things: the author’s translation of the original Hebrew words; his explanation pointing out significant details about the text and how they point to Christ and the covenant; and supplication—starting points for your own prayers. There are blank spaces provided for husbands to write their own thoughts and prayers. The book also features a short study guide designed to help pastors and teachers in their teachings on marriage.

On the whole I found the meditations and prayers quite helpful. I opted not to make this into a 31-day read, but may well do that in the future. The meditations are nearly always grounded in Scripture and the prayers were often very helpful in pinpointing exactly what it is I should pray for on my wife’s behalf. The book was beneficial to me even though I did not read it in the way it was intended. Though there were a couple of small missteps where the author quotes Brother Lawrence or Henri Nouwen rather than focusing on Scripture, the majority of the text is focused on the Bible.

Leslie, who writes reviews for Discerning Reader says rightly that “All Christian husbands and wives will enjoy and benefit from How to Pray for Your Wife. Encouraging and thought provoking, it will deepen a husband’s prayers for his wife. The study guide included at the end may prove helpful to pastors who frequently counsel couples. Young men desiring excellent wives may also profit from this book.” I would gladly recommend this book to any husband who desires to pray for his wife more earnestly and more effectively.

8 years 4 months ago
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.

10 years 2 months ago

For reasons I cannot quite ascertain (though I am hoping they are not prophetic), I have been thinking a lot lately about the issue of whether children who die in infancy are automatically ushered into heaven. In other words, what happens to children when they die? I have heard various answers to this question, and none have been particularly satisfying. I will admit, though, that I have never studied this topic in depth and that is something I intend to do over the next few days (or weeks or however long it takes to get a few answers).

At this point I have no answers, but I do want to give an idea as to what my thoughts are right now. I hope that in a week or two, after I have done some hard research on the matter (mostly Biblical research) I will have a more solid idea of what I believe. But first, some thoughts on the arguments I have heard in the past. Please do not think these are the only arguments or even that my summaries provide an accurate assessment of them - I merely pass along what I have been taught by various people.

Do All Children Who Die In Infancy Go To Hell?

This would seem to be the most logical argument, wouldn’t it? God tells us that the only way to be saved is through faith in Jesus Christ. If one does not have faith, he must necessarily be condemned to hell. Children are incapable of having saving faith, therefore all children who die must go to hell.

We know, though, that this is not true. As we know from the life of King David, he had confidence that he would see his son again. He had assurance that his son was in heaven, for if this were not the case, God would not have included that verse in the Bible - a verse that has given so much hope to so many grieving parents. So we know that at least one baby in history has gone to heaven. Would God save only one child in the history of the world and then taunt the rest of us with that fact? No, I’m sure He would not. This argument does stand.

The Justice Argument

Another argument people make is that God could not possibly condemn a child to hell because that child has never had an opportunity to repent. It would be unfair for God to condemn such a child.

The problem I have with this line of reasoning is that it seems to presuppose that the child, however sweet and beautiful he may be, is somehow innocent in God’s eyes. The reality, of course, is that from the moment of conception that beautiful child is a sinful child and one who deserves punishment as much as you or I. It is a hard but unavoidable truth. Adam, as our first representative sinned, and his sin has been imputed to all his descendents. Not one of us is born innocent, for we are all born with Adam’s original sin counting against us. From the very moment of conception we are condemned sinners.

I believe, then, that the justice argument fails. If God saves infants, he must do it on a basis other than justice. Justice would usher them immediately into hell.

Age of Accountability

Many people speak of an age of accountability, a time before which children are not considered accountable for their sins simply because they are incapable of expressing faith necessary for salvation. With this line of reasoning we are led to believe that a child from conception to a certain age, which will vary from child-to-child is considered “safe” from condemnation. However, once that child reaches an age of accountability, he is considered culpable for his sins and no longer has a “free ride.”

I find this argument difficult to believe, primarily because it finds little Scriptural support. But also, it seems strange that a child could lose his salvation simply because his mental capacity increases to a certain extent. Logically I just do not see how this argument remains consistent.

We Can Have No Assurance

This is the view I was taught in my younger days. We are unable to have any true assurance of where our children have gone. As believers we can have more assurance that they have gone to heaven than if we were unbelievers, but not full assurance. We are not to take comfort in a (false) belief that our child is in heaven, but are to take comfort in the indisputable fact that God is in control and that this child died as part of His plan.

Now while that assurance should be enough for us, it is a pretty tough sell. Who wants to be told that their tiny baby might be in hell? And what do you say to the children of unbelievers? At the same time, there is a type of satisfying logic with this option.

The Grace Argument The final argument I have heard is that God, in His grace, chooses to save children who die in infancy. I remain uncertain as to what the criteria for this are. For example, at what point is a child considered too old to be covered by God’s special grace?

Final Thoughts

Those are the various arguments I have heard over the past years. Honestly I do not find any of them particularly convincing, for all of them seem to have at least one gaping hole. I am seeking a consistent, Biblical perspective on this issue. Perhaps there is not one and we are simply left having to take our best guess. I prefer to think there is a satisfying, Biblical, logical answer. And I hope to find it. I will report in on my progress.

If you would like to suggest some resources that might help me, feel free to post a comment.