Saturday, January 28, 2012
A Praying Life by Paul Miller
Prayer. Public or private, either way, prayer is something that should be so easy and yet can be so difficult, even intimidating. There are so many books on prayer! Some promise to teach us to pray in a specific amount of time. Some promise to revolutionize our prayer life (whatever that means).
I have often been intimidated by public prayer; when I have to pray aloud in a group I feel like a little kid among a bunch of grownups; everyone else is so eloquent and I am... not. Even my private prayer often sounds like a task list for God. Please do this and this and this. Even when my request are good and right and not selfish (I'm not asking for a new car, though I may ask that my old car continue to work), it seems so hollow.
And there's the distraction! My brain can go from earnest prayer to my daily to-do list to some random pop song without even slowing down. Most mornings I take our dog for a walk and try to pray as we go, but it's hard to have a conversation, even with God, that's interrupted constantly... Lord, I do praise you as our soverei-- Max, leave it!... uh... thank you for... Sit! OK, let's go... uh... ugh, I forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer... Lord, please help... Max, leave it!... Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'...
But I determined to "fix" my prayer life and looked for some books. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World looked promising, and it seemed providential that we already own it. It didn't promise to revolutionize anything in my life, so I started in. This is a book about private, not public, prayer.
The author endeared himself to me right away by talking about distractions. I am not sure that I agree completely that being distracted is OK, though I do agree that it is normal and that our distractions may lead us to pray about something we hadn't been thinking about when we started. Of course God sees our hearts, and hears the prayers we never manage to articulate perfectly, or even at all. He reminds us to pray like children. As I said, I am often intimidated by the prayers of others and even feel that my private prayers should "sound good." My husband had to remind me that there's a difference between personal prayer, or even public prayer in, say, a Bible study setting, and prayer from the pulpit, which is somewhat prepared ahead of time. But no matter: we don't have to be eloquent with God.
This is not a book of method, though there is a section in which the author shares some of his own. It is about cultivating a life of prayer in which we allow our prayers to shape our actions and our desires. Prayer is often a long-term proposition. Mr. Miller uses many stories of his family, including life with a disabled adult child, to illustrate this: some of his prayers for his daughter took 20 years to be answered in a way he could see. But of course God had been answering them all along.
A Praying Life didn't make me jump up and say "Oh! This is what I've been doing wrong!" It did help me see that I am not doing everything wrong, though certainly there are some things I could change. It's an encouraging, useful book, probably one to reread from time to time.
Read the table of contents and forward to the book here.