'Prayer and the Voice of God' Phillip D. Jensen & Tony Payne, Matthias Media
I am not someone who instinctively prays. I’m someone who acts not someone who prays! There have been times when I’ve attributed this to temperament and training. But really, it’s unbelief. That’s why I need to keep reading books like this one from Tony Payne and Phillip Jensen. For all of my Christian life I’ve been a fan of their work. I can’t think of a single resource of theirs that I’ve used that hasn’t benefited my Christian life. The same could be said for their book on prayer.
One of the great strengths of their books is that they’re clear and simple. This one is cast from the same die. In one sense it’s is nothing special. It simply collates and rehearses much of the useful biblical teaching that we’ve heard on prayer over the years. But that’s its value. What it offers is not new techniques but a convincing biblical presentation of what prayer is and why we should do it.
The book consists of ten Chapters spread over a little less than 200 pages. It costs £7. The chapters are short enough to be read on a tube trip up to town or accompanying a mocha latte!
In chapter 1 entitled, ‘Prayer and God’s Voice’ the authors argue that prayers is the most naturally unnatural thing for us to do. It’s natural because anyone can do it and often everyone does. It’s unnatural because it’s seeking an intervention from the supernatural. And so they define prayer as essentially 'asking God for something'.
The central premise of chapter two, ‘The God of Prayer’, is that prayer is determined by who God is. Given that God the able, willing, personal, holy and merciful God is also our Father we should have massive confidence to approach Him and ask Him for things.
The topic of why we should pray at all is tackled in chapter three, ‘Why Pray?’ We should pray because it’s very great privilege, it expresses the relationship of faith we enjoy with Him, it’s not an optional extra in the Christian life and because God has promised to hear and to act.
Why we don’t pray begins to scratch at the reasons why prayer is not the feature that it ought to be in our Christian lives. Jensen and Payne suggest that the reasons can be traced to a faulty view of God, a wrong understanding of our relationship with God and the presence of a real spiritual enemy.
The fifth chapter tells us ‘How to Pray’. The authors argue that prayer is not a time to hear God’s voice, it’s a time to respond to God’ voice. They speak to the essence of prayer and do not present a step-by-step technique, emphasizing the importance of both novelty and regularity in this task. They say rightly that prayer is not a matter of technique but of relationship.
Chapter six, ‘The Desires of God’ and chapter seven, ‘the Anxieties of Life’ deal with what ought to occupy the content of our prayers. Chapter six is a longer chapter but it includes a helpful summary of the Lord ’s Prayer. There’s some overlap with Don Carson’s brilliant book on prayer entitled, ‘A Call to Spiritual Reformation’. But this is the place to begin. Chapter seven touches on what to pray and what to expect when we pray in the midst of situations where we have no idea what to pray.
‘What Happens When We Pray?’ is the title of chapter eight. It explains the mechanics of prayer. The authors answer two questions. The first is ‘does God actually listen?’ The second is ‘does anything actually change?’
The brief chapter entitled, ‘Fellowship of Prayer’ is an encouragement to meet up with others in order to stimulate one another as we struggle in prayer. Any of us who've been in a prayer triplet ought to be nodding in agreement throughout this chapter!
The ‘Seven Common Questions’ of chapter ten are the standard queries raised by an audience. The answers are gentle, clear and explain the biblical text. Whether they’re our questions or not they’ll be right on the money for someone in our small group.
The book then concludes with a brief summary chapter and a chapter by chapter discussion guide with questions.
Why not buy a copy and read it this term? If you’re part of a triplet you could arrange to read a couple of chapters before you meet each week, answer the discussion questions and chat about what you’ve learnt. You could team up with someone, perhaps someone in your KG group and agree to work through the book and e-mail each other with some surprising observations, a few implications and a couple of resolutions. To get a copy of this book e-mail John Lumgair on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The real value of this book is that it improved my praying. It was a real shot in the arm. I think it’ll help everyone else whether we’re frequent prayers or whether it’s been quite some time since what we had might be described as a routine. If that's a description that you recognise, can I suggest that it’s been long enough? Don’t waste any more time in prayerlessness. Get a copy, get reading and get your Christian life back on the rails.