I have three confessions to make:
1) I am a book addict. I love books. I believe that books are meant to be appreciated in their entirety. For this reason, this doctoral program has been a great challenge, as I have such a hard time leaving a book unread. I struggle to finish our assigned books prior to writing my weekly blog post, given the size of the books we have to read. (I know that Jason says we don’t have to read the books in the entirety… which leads to my second confession.)
2. I am sure that there is some vital insight at the end of every book that I will miss by not reading the entire book, that will be glaringly apparent in my blog post that will cause ridicule and scoffing by my cohort. For this reason, talking about a book I have not completed gives me chills and keeps me up at night.
3. And now for the biggest confession: I have not finished MaryKate Mores’ A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-four Ways to Walk with God….AND I am sleeping just fine! The reason for this is that this simple: This book is really a devotional book. My leisurely reading of this text over the last ten days (covering only 12 chapters) has been so beneficial and insightful that it seems wasteful to rush through the remaining chapters to merely say I’ve finished it. What I have discovered is a rich warehouse of wisdom and spiritual insights, practices and direction that requires time to practice and penetrate. To rush through this book would be like gulping a bottle of expensive wine. This book is meant to be sipped and savored, slowly, quietly, prayerfully.
Prayer is not something that comes easily for me. In fact, as one person in book admitted: “It turned out that the prayer felt a lot like work.”1 For me, prayer has always been a hard work. My problem is the tyranny of the urgent, where my most productive time is bright and early in the morning and my list of “to-dos” is always the longest. To pause, to sit quietly, to experience intimate moments with God is nothing less than demanding on me. That is why I am extremely thankful for this book, as it has already begun to change my prayer life. The reasons for this book being so helpful are numerous:
First, Dr. Morse provides us with an actual guidebook. I love travel guides, because they excite me about future adventures in some exotic location. They are filled with helpful information, like what to do and what to avoid. But they also are filled with possibilities or suggestions. You don’t have to do everything the guide tells you, but you can pick and chose those things that most interest you. This is what A Guidebook to Prayer has to offer, a vast smorgasbour of possible ways to pray, creating a joyful expectation of moving into new ways of approaching and communing with God. Some practices fit well and others are just not me. I’ve read many books on prayer and contemplation that more often are one-size-fits-all. Here, the possibilities are limitless.
Second, the book highlights real people who are learning and struggling with prayer. Much of my reading on prayer and contemplation are by the saints, the superstars who had amazing prayer lives and mind-blowing encounters with God (like the Dessert Fathers…these were the real prayer warriors!). However, these people are very different from me (no kidding!). I so appreciate the personal insights of real people provided by throughout the book, people who are like me, who are learners in prayer rather than those who have it all figured out. And they help illustrate that prayer not only changes the lives of the one praying, but it can change our relationships, our churches, our societies, our environments and our world. This is a guide for those who falter and need words of hope and encouragement.
Third, this book is a deep mine filled with jewels of wisdom. The wisdom comes first in the form of spiritual insights. Every chapter has those sentences that make me pause, ponder, and then pray. For instance:
• “In rest, we all stop and before God we are all equal. God blesses and consecrates the rest, not the work.”
• “A Christ-follower needs to both go and abide. Jesus was active and stayed connected to his Father.”
• “Solitude creates the space to detach from the power of things.”
• “Jesus service did not involve him giving up who he was but his need for gain and recognition.”
• “Forgiveness is not just a right. It is a responsibility.”
• “When you pray, you never are alone.”2
Wisdom also comes in very practical methods of prayer that are even doable for those of us with long to-do lists and other distractions. This is not a workbook on how to be a “super saint,” but about having “a more meaningful prayer experience and to know more authentically God, yourself and others with whom you pray.”3 This humble and helpful approach has already begun to make a difference in my prayer practices. One personal story (by Rick Adams) spoke to me. He suggested reading Psalms 145-150 everyday before praying, “just to get into the right attitude.”4 I thought, “This I can do. I need to do this!” For the last couple weeks, it has become an important start of my day. Praying a few short psalms that focus entirely on praising and worshiping God, is the reminder I need of who God is, who I belong to, and what I am all about. It puts me into a posture of prayer starts my day on the right note. This is my first baby-steps in what I hope will be many adventures as I apply the abundant lessons and practices available in this guide to drawing closer to my Lord.
1MaryKate Morse, A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-four Ways to Walk with God (Downers Grove, IL.: Inter Varsity Press, 2014), Kindle 1717.
2Ibid., 1826, 1459, 1973, 1786, 1649, 455.