As I am thinking about prayer lately, both personally and for an upcoming sermon series, I went to the local Christian bookshop to find some books. I was looking both for more technical books and the kind of books I could recommend to others.
There was no shortage of choices; the section on prayer was made up of several hundred books. But the more I looked through them the angrier and more disappointed I became. Most of the books on prayer could hardly be called Christian at all. They encouraged specific techniques, disciplines, styles yet had very little Biblical basis to them. Surely if we want to know the best way to pray, and what prayer is, we need to use the Bible! God reveals himself to us through His Word, and we are not left to try to find a great technique or borrow from other sources in coming up with a better understanding of prayer.
The Bible’s emphasis when it comes to prayer is not technique or discipline or style. You will find little direct instruction on length of time to pray (other than shorter is better than longer!). God, in His great kindness, has given us a great many examples and much direct instruction on prayer in the Bible. And “You Can Pray” by Tim Chester captures this instruction well, explaining things clearly and giving helpful and realistic advice for helping with prayer.
I strongly recommend this book if you want to understand prayer rightly and actually pray more. I was encouraged to pray through reading this book, which is the best recommendation for a book on prayer! “You Can Pray” emphasizes God’s grace and not our works, unlike so many books on prayer which just give practical technique advice. The last thing we want to do is to make prayer into some kind of work we impress God with or force God to act with.
To get a feel for the flavor of this book, let me quote some here for you:
Perhaps this morning you found a moment to pray. What happened in that moment? Perhaps you tried to find a quiet spot, but you could still hear the children shouting. You tried to focus on God, but you kept circling back to the problems of your day. You tried to say something, but it sounded rather pathetic. After a couple of minutes your mind had wandered. You gave it another go. You prayed for a couple of friends and asked God to bless the mission of your church. Maybe you weren’t sure what to do next. So, feeling a little guilty, you gave up.
All of this may be true, but it is not the whole truth or even the main truth. This is what was really happening in that moment. The Lord of the universe looked on you and saw his child. He thought of His Son. He remembered his death. And so he welcomed you into his presence. You may have been sitting on your sofa, but as you prayed, you stepped into the courts of heaven to stand before the Ancient of Days. You may have felt your sin, but the Father saw only the righteousness of his Son. You may have felt the inadequacy of your prayers, but in your faltering words the Father heard the echo of his Son. All your confused and selfish motives were purged by the blood of Jesus so that your prayers were transfigured into the most beautiful liturgy. As you spoke, the Father’s heart filled with joy.
I found this book theologically strong, dealing with a range of key passages on prayer. It is also very practical, with chapters such as “I’ve got more enjoyable things to do” and “I’ve got more urgent things to do”. It has a section explaining why prayer matters even though God is sovereign.
Prayer is a wonderful gift from God, one we should use often and grow to appreciate more. This book, at under 180 pages, is a good place to start to help encourage your prayer life.