To think in a right way about the Christian life involves changing the way we look at things normally. Our culture relies on people getting what they deserve in their wages so it is hard to get our heads round the fact that God works on the basis if grace in giving us what we don’t deserve (as Romans 6:23 will remind us at the church this Sunday). In most areas of life maturity is reflected in increasing independency from parental supervision and so on whereas Christian maturity is marked by an increasing dependency on God.
That’s the main theme of Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life. This was my “book of the year” last year- which means that one or two friends received it for Christmas. In part it is a book about prayer and in part it is autobiography as the author describes the challenges of raising a child who is autistic. This is prayer worked out in all the realities of daily life.
It is particularly strong on the idea that prayer flows out of a sense of dependency. It’s something we have considered a little bit as a church recently- our theme for the year “Not my might nor by power but by my Spirit” expresses the limits of human strength and our dependence on the power of God. “Dependency is the heartbeat of prayer,” Miller writes. “Strong Christians do pray more, but they pray more because they realize how weak they are.” He goes on to talk about the essential for prayer being a poverty of spirit- a recognition of our deep need of God’s forgiveness, strength and wisdom. I think that’s right as it applies to our individual lives and our attempts to take the Gospel to our culture. We desperately need the Lord’s help and I suspect we don’t recognize that to the extent we should preferring instead to trust our latest strategies and ideas.
Because the book is about dependence it is strong in dealing with the question of suffering and it comes with an authenticity because of the author’s experience. If a mature believer learns dependence on God it is no surprise that the Lord uses suffering as a means to that end so that we learn to cry out to Him. One of the great strengths of the book is the way it talks about our lives as a story that God is writing. He does answer our prayers though not always in the way we expect and Miller encourages us to look for the Lord’s hand in all that is happening. I found that a very helpful way to handle supposedly unanswered prayer- to see what God is doing in my life through the time of waiting. The book is strong in seeing God’s purposes as more related to our character than our circumstances and is helpful in encouraging us to pray more along those lines.
It is also a helpful book on parenting. The challenges faced by the family form the background to the book and there are helpful reflections on the broader topic. Miller notes that most Christian books on parenting don’t seem to mention prayer whereas he comments that he did most of his best parenting by prayer. Again the key here is a sense of dependency- “Unless you are convinced that you can’t change your child’s heart, you will not take prayer seriously.”
Of course books on prayer can always leave feeling you feeling inadequate about your prayer life. And yet even that sense of inadequacy calls us to depend on God afresh for help to pray. This book has helped me to learn that: I recommend it.