Tuesday, November 15, 2005

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Praying BackwardsSeveral months ago, I picked up a copy of Bryan Chapell's Praying Backwards, largely due to a glowing review by Tim Challies, who endorsed it as one of his best reads of the year. At the risk of being autobiographical, I must admit that disciplined prayer has never been one of my strong suits. So I bumped this book up to the top of my ever-fluctuating reading list, and I certainly have not regretted it!

Subtitled "Transform Your Prayer Life By Beginning In Jesus' Name," the book offers the simple-sounding premise that our prayers should start with Jesus, instead of merely tacking His name onto the end as a sort of rubber stamp that legitimizes our petitions (regardless of what they are). Unlike many books on prayer, Praying Backwards does not rely on a gimmick or pattern. Although Chapell uses the "backwards" motif to grab the reader's attention, he makes it clear early in the book that a mere re-ordering of words is not what he is advancing. Rather, he offers a study of many of the Scriptural teachings on prayer, specifically on what it means to pray "in Jesus' name." Chapell, who currently serves as President of Covenant Theological Seminary, writes in clear-yet-challenging prose, teaching through several key passages on prayer. He also brings in a great deal of personal application, drawing from his years of pastoral experience.

I really enjoyed the book. Chapell does a great job of explaining that "praying in Jesus' name" ultimately entails a desire to see Christ magnified in all things. This necessarily means that our own desires are subordinated to the greater glory of Christ. Yet, Chapell also makes it clear that Christians are encouraged to bring their petitions before the LORD persistently without fear or doubt, because our Father really and truly cares for His children. Even when we don't know what to ask for or how to articulate our prayers, the Spirit meets us in our weakness to help us pray, as He conforms us more and more into God's will. The chapters on discernment of God's will are excellent, as well, and Chapell teaches that our prayers on the matter should be "fenced in" by two main principles, that of righteousness and of Christian prudence. Obviously, we should never pray for that which God has condemned in His Word, and our discernment of God's will in a given situation should reflect this. But wisdom, Chapell maintains, also dictates how we should discern God's will. An action may be permissible (i.e., not condemned as unrighteous) yet unwise. Our prayers for discernment should apprehend how our potential actions will impact ourselves, effect others, and ultimately, how they will glorify Christ. These chapters were very good food for thought, and definitely a welcome change from the popular teachings on "knowing God's will" that are too-often steeped in superstition or pure subjectivism.

Again, this is a great book, and a valuable resource on prayer. I read the book alone, but Chapell has structured it such that it is easily adapted to a group Bible Study setting, with each chapter containing summary of its key point as well as questions for further discussion. Regardless of how you read it, the book will surely be a great encouragement.

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