“There is nothing secret about communion with God. If we live a holy life before God, broken of our pride and self-will, crying out for grace, then we will be in communion with God. It really is that simple.”
Courtney Miller Sneed and Cyndi Anderson. Paul E. Miller’s A Praying Life Discussion Guide. Softcover (spiral-bound), 136p. , $9.99. Both NavPress.
This isn’t a tough read—except, of course, it’ll change you. And change is tough. I slowed my pace down quite a bit, to make sure I’d taken it all in before moving on.
Paul Miller’s message in A Praying Life is simply: Learn to depend on Jesus… for everything. Or as he puts it,
“[P]rayer is not the center of this book. Getting to know a person, God, is the center.” Doing that requires us to do quite a bit of unlearning as well. It wouldn’t be entirely out of line to call this book the story of one man’s unlearning and relearning.
Thus, this book is refreshingly free of “expert commentary.” In fact, after reading this, it could be argued that the best human teacher Paul has had on the subject of prayer has been his autistic adult daughter Kim. I’ll let you discover the story woven throughout the book for yourself, but suffice to say nothing fosters a dependence on God like…. well, having to depend on God. “Learned desperation is at the heart of a praying life,” he says at one point.
The bulk of the book is an exercise in, if you will, spiritual disarmament—in other words, laying aside what we think God can and can’t or should and shouldn’t do and just coming to Him as a child, letting Him lead the way out of our cynicism and trusting Him for everything. “Bending your heart to the Father” is one way he puts it. It should be such an obvious piece of what prayer is, but we have a tendency to let this basic truth get away from us.
Part 4, “Living in Your Father’s Story,” expands our level of trust, from giving it all to God to training our eyes to see how God is answering those prayers—especially when they’re not our answers. There’s a section about “living in the desert” that I especially appreciated: “The desert becomes a window to the heart of God. He finally gets your attention because he’s the only game in town.” But because of that, “The fresh, clear water of God’s presence that you discover in the desert becomes a well inside your own heart.”
There are some solid and creative practical tips about prayer here, mostly in the final section of the book “Praying in Real Life,” but they come long after the reader’s trust has been established—by which point you’ve already opened yourself up what God’s telling you to do about your prayer life. Thus, you can use or discard the ideas here, but they’ve clearly helped him, so they’re worth taking note of on that basis alone.
The Discussion Guide will also prove useful, both for personal reflection and for small groups. The bulk of the guide is comprised of thought-provoking reflection questions on each of the book’s 32 chapters. There are also recommended small-group sessions for both 13- and 18-week studies, primarily built around the reflection questions.
I’m not yet sure how much my prayer life (heck, my life in Christ) has been altered by this book. But I can tell you that it already has been. And if that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.