As I begin working my way through the backlog of review books that accumulated over the holidays, I’ll begin by sharing A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller with you. This is the most practical and encouraging book on prayer I’ve ever read!
Most books on prayer tend to be academic in nature, focusing on it as a spiritual discipline, or method-focused, giving steps and methods to achieve a satisfying prayer experience. A Praying Life develops the premise that the goal is a praying life rather than concentrated, disciplined moments of communion with God at certain intervals. Much more than just a spiritual discipline, it’s a way of life. The foundation of this approach is to demonstrate how intertwined prayer and the gospel are. Our prayer life (or lack thereof) is motivated, informed, and sustained by our view of God and His role in our lives.
A praying life feels like our family mealtimes because prayer is all about relationship. It’s intimate and hints at eternity. We don’t think about communication or words but about whom we are talking with. Prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect to God.
Oddly enough, many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focusing on praying, not on God. Making prayer the center is like making conversation the center of a family mealtime. In prayer, focusing on the conversation is like trying to drive while looking at the windshield instead of through it. It freezes us, making us unsure of where to go. Conversation is only the vehicle through which we experience one another. Consequently, prayer is not the center of this book. Getting to know a person, God, is the center. (p. 20)
When we have a praying life, we become aware of and enter into the story God is weaving in our lives. A quieter, less busy life is not necessarily the goal. A quick glance through the Gospels will show that Jesus’ life was anything but quiet!
The quest for a contemplative life can actually be self-absorbed, focused on my quiet and me. If we love people and have the power to help, then we are going to be busy. Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. In the midst of outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet. Because we are less hectic on the inside, we have a greater capacity to love…and thus to be busy, which in turn drives us even more into a life of prayer. By spending time with our Father in prayer, we integrate our lives with his, with what he is doing in us. Our lives become more coherent. They feel calmer, more ordered, even in the midst of confusion and pressure. (p. 24)
Throughout the book, he uncovers many obstacles to prayer and rightly points out that lack of prayer reveals a lack of dependence on God. It’s essential to recognize that, when it comes to prayer, helplessness equals power! Prayer parallels the gospel:
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. It works because we are helpless. We can’t do life on our own.
Prayer mirrors the gospel. In the gospel, the Father takes us as we are because of Jesus and gives us the gift of salvation. In prayer, the Father receives us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of help. We look at the inadequacy of our praying and give up, thinking something is wrong with us. God looks at the adequacy of his Son and delights in our sloppy, meandering prayers! (p. 55)
I’ve barely scratched the surface of the gold mine found in A Praying Life. Miller’s writing style is encouraging and straightforward. The numerous personal stories from his own family, particularly his experiences with his autistic daughter, Kim, provide concrete examples of how this philosophy of prayer works out in real life while the visual aids and charts are helpful for visual learners. The practical ideas and methods in the last section give a great starting point without resorting to a legalistic attitude of prayer as simply a discipline to be mastered.
In short, this book makes a praying life seem attainable! It’s one I’ll be coming back to again and again. Get it. Read it. Apply it. I HIGHLY recommend it!