on 23 April 2014
How do you feel about reading a book on prayer? Part of me feels that’s the last thing I need: another excuse to get me off doing the one thing I seem to avoid: praying.
But when I dipped into this pocket-size offering by Michael Reeves, formerly of UCCF, now ‘theologian-at-large’ (a pretty cool title) at WEST, I was altogether refreshed and thankful for the privilege I have of speaking to my Father God. In short, I was eager to pray.
Reeves begins by laying his cards on the table early. He believes there is a prayerlessness prevalent in evangelical culture, and he wants that to change, and longs for this book to be something of a “tonic” to kick-start refreshed prayer lives.
Reeves’ diagnosis of the problem is interesting. He thinks one of the key reasons we go wrong is because we think of prayer as another “thing” to do, which inevitably leads us to go down the road of searching for ‘prayer techniques’. Instead Reeves holds up John Calvin’s definition of prayer as “the chief exercise of faith” (Institutes III, 20). If this definition is fair (and it’s one that Jonathan Edwards echoed), and Reeves comes back to it again and again, then consequently prayerlessness is actually faithlessness, or as Reeves puts it, “practical atheism”.
That said, Reeves is careful to say that it’s not that our prayer life dictates whether or not we’re really Christians. But our prayer life does reveal “how much you really want communion with God and how much you really depend on him.” It doesn’t determine our identity, but it does indicate how much of a “spiritual baby” we might be. Therefore, Reeves challenges, if you think you’re wonderful, take a look at your prayer life.
This might all sound a bit depressing, but Reeves knows where he’s going. Indeed, there are a few backhanded encouragements before we get there: firstly, we should expect prayer to be a struggle, for we’re creatures who are naturally lacking in faith; secondly, even someone like Martin Luther, whose legend often comes wrapped in hagiographical descriptions of mammoth prayer sessions, actually really struggled with prayerlessness. Prayerlessness is not a new problem, ultimately it’s a sinful human problem.
But that’s all well and good (or not, as the case may be), but are we simply being left to languish in our prayerlessness? Reeves’ ‘solution’, if I can call it that, is that we understand that if prayer is an expression of faith, the way to grow in it is to grow in faith. He cites Romans 10:17: “faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”. In other words, “faith – and so prayer – is birthed by the gospel”. As we set before ourselves Jesus Christ, then prayer will follow as the articulation of the Christian’s heart response.
So for the bulk of this short book that’s what Reeves seeks to do. When we wonder at Jesus, then we see the privilege of prayer. Part of that is seeing prayer as something Jesus did, and so loving the gospel means we “learn to enjoy what Jesus has always enjoyed”. Crucially and wonderfully this involves praying to God as our Father, for as Jesus teaches his disciples to pray “Our Father in Heaven”, he is simultaneously showing us the relationship He has always enjoyed whilst also sharing it with us. Reeves uses the startling phrase, “pray as if it were through Jesus’ mouth”, which seems a breathtaking way of describing the privilege we have of calling God Father.
Reeves then addresses the subject of when we pray, encouraging a mindset that expresses the privilege of prayer “at all times”. After all, the whole day is already God’s, so we don’t need to try and ‘fit’ God into each day. Reeves is not against set times of prayers and devotion, but he is certainly arguing for a perspective that sees all of life flowing out of our communion with our Father.
The later chapters quickly cover quite a bit of ground, touching on prayer as a sign of dependence (also about Christlikeness, for the Son was dependent on the Father), the precious role of the Holy Spirit in our prayers (“we can be real with our father, accepting our weakness, and simply stammer out our hearts”), God’s work to shape us in our prayer lives so we echo and share “God’s life and purpose”, as well as prayer as an evidence of unity. The lasting taste in the mouth is that praying to our Father God is a delight.
‘Enjoy your Prayer Life’ is worth getting your hands on. It’s definitely a ‘does-what-it-says-on-the-tin’ book. The bonus is that it’s also really short - many of the ‘chapters’ are only a couple of pages – but that means I was much more likely to read it, and it also meant I was more quickly left to actually pray.