What is the most urgent need in the church of the Western world today? (p.11)
Do you think much about this? If you were going to pick one thing that the church needs to grow in most, what would it be?
Don Carson jumps straight into thinking about this in his book, and doesn’t avoid the big issues. Maybe our materialism and love of money, if addressed, would fix the church’s problems. Maybe sexual morality is our biggest issue. Biblical literacy, still an issue for a generation that is used to constantly consuming instant content. Or maybe if we did more and better evangelism we would see the results we want in our world.
But Carson would say that even though all of these are issues (and they still are today, nearly 20 years after this book was published), we need to look deeper than our own efforts to see the most urgent need of today’s church: prayer.
The bible is full of examples of the power of prayer, of speaking with God. It contains many examples of what prayer looks like in different circumstances.
But often this is still something we struggle with, whether because of a short attention span and distraction, feeling overwhelmed and time poor, or simply because we don’t see the point of prayer. Most often, I think, it is that we simply forget to make time for prayer in our lives. Maybe you can relate to that too, that in between uni and church and work and the other things that fill up your time prayer can feel like and afterthought, slotted in whenever you have time. Or maybe you feel guilty because this often gets forgotten or neglected completely!
Carson calls for a ‘spiritual reformation’ in the church, and in his view this is only something that can happen as Christians pray better, depending more on God rather than their own efforts. So how do we do that? The simple answer he gives is this: Pray until you pray (p.37). Essentially, just do it.
The somewhat longer answer to this question he fleshes out in the rest of his book, where Carson goes through some of the prayers of Paul in his letters to think about how these can be seen as a model of good prayer for us, and how they point us to things we should be prioritising in our own prayers.
This book is a great one, because it goes through Paul’s priorities clearly and links these to prayers we have probably read many times in the bible, without stopping to think about what they teach us about how we should pray. I know it is easy for me to pray for the immediate needs of myself and the people around me (for a job, for uni assignments, for good health), and even though praying for these things is good, we often forget about the bigger picture. How often have you prayed for God to empower you? Or pray for the people you know to become more like Jesus? Our prayers are often limited to the everyday, but we need to remember how big God is and how much he can do!
This book is limited in some ways by its focus on Paul: an exploration of prayer throughout the bible would be helpful also, but I would challenge you to look into this yourself, and think about Old Testament prayers and what they reveal to us about our priorities in prayer. Despite this, the book helpfully explores many principles that can help shape our own thinking, and also gives practical tips on how to overcome distractions that may stop us from praying well, intentionally and thoughtfully.
If you struggle to pray, or you struggle to get beyond the everyday in your prayers, this book is for you. It will push you to think about praying more deeply. If you consider yourself a prayer warrior this book is for you too, and will help shape your prayer priorities biblically!
Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation
D.A. Carson (IVP, 1992)