I have multiple aims in this post. First, I want to review D. A. Carson’s book by the same title (Baker, 1992, 230 pages). Second, I want to introduce our 9:30 equipping hour curriculum focus for the first quarter of the New Year. The two go hand-in-hand as you will quickly see.
At first glance of the title, you wouldn’t guess the book had much to do with prayer. You have to proceed further to the subtitle for this clarification: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. This work comes from a series of sermons Dr. Carson once preached on the subject of prayer. Baker then took them and edited them into book form for the greater public.
In the preface, the author lays out this lament:
I doubt if there is any Christian who has not sometimes found it difficult to pray. In itself this is neither surprising, nor depressing; it is not surprising, because we are still pilgrims with many lessons to learn; it is not depressing, because struggling with such matters is part of the way we learn.
What is both surprising and depressing is the sheer prayerlessness that characterizes so much of the Western church. It is surprising, because it is out of step with the Bible that portrays what Christian living should be; it is depressing because it frequently coexists with abounding Christian activity that somehow seems hollow, frivolous, and superficial. Scarcely less disturbing is the enthusiastic praying in some circles that overflows with emotional release but is utterly uncontrolled by any thoughtful reflection on the prayers of Scripture (p. 9).
Carson, as would I, admits that he is part of what he condemns. Who hasn’t struggled with the means of grace called prayer in terms of pursuing it with the passion and consistency Scripture commends to us? This makes his aim in writing all the more attractive to me – to work through several of Paul’s prayers in such a way that we hear God speak to us today, and to find strength and direction to improve our praying (pp. 9-10).
After a relatively brief introduction where Dr. Carson presents his case for this lack of prayer constituting the most urgent need of the church, he brings twelve chapters on the subject of prayer. In all he examines seven of Paul’s prayers including 2 Thess. 1:1-12, 1 Thess. 3:9-13, Col. 1:9-14, Phil. 1:9-11, Eph. 1:15-23, 3:14-21, and Rom. 15:14-33.
Interspersed among the soundly exegetical and practical studies of these prayers are topic headings like Lessons from the School of Prayer, Praying for Others, Excuses for Not Praying, and Praying to a Sovereign God. Only in the last chapter on Rom. 15, Prayer for Ministry, did I feel a bit cheated by a more cursory treatment of the biblical text and its ramifications for those of us in vocational ministry than I would have hoped.
Otherwise, and I have read the book in its entirety, this is by far one of the most helpful resources on prayer I have ever encountered. Given the fact that one of our core values at OGC is intercessory prayer and that, to my knowledge, we’ve not given ourselves to an equipping hour yet on this immensely important subject, our leadership team has decided to make this a church-wide emphasis for adults in the first quarter of 2010. We have purchased fifty copies of this paperback book which are available at our resource table in the narthex throughout December. The cost is $13 or whatever you can afford. If you can help someone else in need purchase a book by an extra contribution to the cause, that would be much appreciated.
We will take one chapter per week over the thirteen weeks utilizing the discussion questions at the end of each chapter. We will also do some workshop praying along the way, so we can practice what we are learning. To start we will meet in the fellowship hall. If the crowd proves too big, a problem I would love to have, we’ll move over to the sanctuary. I will take the point on facilitating the discussion, but I am certain that we will do some smaller group work as well to encourage wider levels of participation.
I urge you to get your copy soon and begin to read Dr. Carson’s work so that you might experience what The Banner of Truth wrote on the back cover – the reader is guided, gently yet persuasively, towards a reformation in personal dealings with God.