Book Review

"A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World" by Paul E. Miller

Andy Wilson
Paul E. Miller
Thursday, March 1st 2012
Mar/Apr 2012

There are a lot of books on the topic of prayer, and I have found helpful insights in many of them. I would have to say, however, that Paul Miller's A Praying Life has been the book that has been of greatest help to my personal prayer life. At the risk of sounding trite, I would even say that there is a sense in which it has been a life-changing book for me. Furthermore, I have often recommended this book to others, and just about everyone who reads it tells me that they too have found it to be extremely helpful. It is a unique book, one I might even be willing to deem a must-read for every Christian. For this reason, I want to commend A Praying Life to you by highlighting several of the things that make it such a special book.

Perhaps what makes Miller's book so effective is that he talks about prayer not as a duty but as a desperate need. We need to pray because we are utterly dependent on God for everything. When we neglect prayer, we lose sight of our helplessness and place our confidence in ourselves rather than in the Lord. Miller points out that even Jesus expressed his dependence upon God by cultivating a rich prayer life. "If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life. You'll always be a little too tired, a little too busy. But if, like Jesus, you realize you can't do life on your own, then no matter how busy, no matter how tired you are, you will find the time to pray" (49).

Of course, it is possible for a person to have a regular prayer life and still place his confidence in himself rather than in the Lord; there is a place for prayer in performance-based religion. Jesus illustrated this well in his parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, in which both men prayed to God, but only the tax collector, who acknowledged his utter helplessness, went away justified before God (Luke 18:9’14). This is the "foolish" logic of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:20’31), and the same logic applies to true prayer. In Miller's words, "The gospel, God's free gift of grace in Jesus, only works when we realize we don't have it all together. The same is true for prayer. The very thing we are allergic to’our helplessness’is what makes prayer work" (55).

Another major strength of A Praying Life is Miller's treatment of the relationship between prayer and divine providence, especially with regard to his thoughts on "unanswered" prayers, suffering, and how God uses our prayers to shape us. Miller writes,

When you stop trying to control your life and instead allow your anxieties and problems to bring you to God in prayer, you shift from worry to watching. You watch God weave his patterns in the story of your life. Instead of trying to be out front, designing your life, you realize you are inside God's drama. As you wait, you begin to see him work, and your life begins to sparkle with wonder. You are learning to trust again. (73)

The life of dependent prayer involves watching to see what the Lord will do in response to our prayers, and this enables us to see God's hand at work in our lives with greater clarity. It is not that he will always answer our prayers in the way we want. He is not a cosmic genie, bound to do our bidding. But if you belong to Jesus Christ, you can be certain that the Lord of heaven and earth really will listen to your prayers. And you can trust that he will act for your ultimate good.

Two other things to note about A Praying Life are Miller's use of personal stories and his suggestions for developing a prayer system. Regarding the latter, the simple system he discusses makes it easier to actually follow through when we tell people that we'll be praying for them. It also provides a structure that helps us be more consistent and specific in praying for ourselves, individual family members, the church's ministry and members, people in need, and unbelievers. As for the numerous stories from Miller's life, I found many of them to be well-placed examples of how prayer really does make a difference in the lives of God's people.

There are, however, a few weaknesses in the book. I would like to have seen more theological precision, such as "seeing Jesus" in the lives of Christians (97) and Miller's use of the term "incarnation" in relation to what God does when we pray (125). In addition, I wonder why so many of his quotations are taken from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox figures when there is a wealth of material on prayer among the Reformed and the Puritans. Finally, some readers may be turned off by the way Miller talks about the intimacy we can cultivate with our heavenly Father in prayer, or by his emphasis on praying for things that some might deem to be trivial. Frankly, these last two things did not really bother me, since they seem to be legitimate applications of the biblical principles of abiding in Christ and asking our heavenly Father for anything in Christ's name. All in all, there is far more to commend than criticize about this book. I hope that I have convinced you to read it.

Thursday, March 1st 2012

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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