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Thursday, May 7, 2015

"Praying With Paul" (D. A. Carson)

TITLE: Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation
AUTHOR: D. A. Carson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (216 pages)

Think of the epistles of Paul and what comes to mind? You may see Romans as a book with deep theological underpinnings or Galatians as a letter which focuses on law and grace. Maybe Ephesians is about the Armour of God and Colossians about Christology. Perhaps there are some of us who see Thessalonians as a warning about the end times and Timothy as instructions from an elder to a junior. What about using the Pauline Epistles as a way to pray? More specifically, what about letting the letters of Paul reform the way we pray? With this book, we learn to avoid the frenetic tendency of using the Bible to run programs, to plan preaching schedules, or to structure Bible study sessions using the letters of Paul. What about letting Paul inform us in terms of knowing God more personally and devotionally? What about letting Paul shape our own theology of prayer? Indeed, the most pressing need in the Church is more praying.

After setting forth eight lessons from the school of prayer, Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School examines several Paul's letters to highlight some ways we can learn to pray. In 2 Thessalonians1:3-12, readers learn about the framework of prayer of thanksgiving in spite of trials and tribulations. Instead, persistence in prayer is linked to the promise that believers will be vindicated and those who persecute them will be judged. The goal of Paul's prayer is about glorifying God. The basis of prayer is via the grace of God. We learn how Paul prays for others. We sense Paul's deep passion for the people he wrote to.

In Colossians 1:9-14, Paul prays in a manner that challenges the hearers to know God deeper, to learn of what pleases God, and the four characteristics of Christian living.

  1. That Christians will bear fruit in every good work
  2. That they would grow in the knowledge of God
  3. That they would demonstrate great endurance and perseverance
  4. That they would joyfully give thanks to God.
In between chapters, Carson would insert some observations and tips of prayer. Some of the excuses he addressed are:
  • Too busy to pray 
  • Too spiritually dry to pray
  • No felt need to pray
  • Too bitter to pray
  • Too ashamed to pray
  • Too unmotivated to pray
  • Too content with mediocrity to pray

In Ephesians 1:15-23, we learn about the power of prayer and how the central petitions of prayer eventually point to the love of God. In asking why we pursue power, we are forced to see it from God's perspective rather than man. For prayer in God's Name means learning to ask for things according to God's will and not the fancies of man. At the crux of Paul's prayer is that knowledge of God informs the way we pray. That is why we need a new Spiritual Reformation.

So What?

Indeed, this book is a gentle reminder once again that the Bible is not some book about moral instructions or philosophical treatise. Neither is it a book about what Christians can or cannot do. It is about spiritual relationship with God and in this book, about spiritual reformation through the prayers of Paul. Far too often, we approach Paul's epistle from the lens of theological frameworks. Seminary students and Bible study groups will be familiar with that. Far lesser is the use of the Pauline letters toward spiritual formation and spiritual reformation. This book enables us to do more of the latter. Hopefully, when we do more of that, we will learn to love the Bible even more and in the process to know God and to make God known.

While this book talks specifically about prayer, it is quite unlike books of prayer like Andrew Murray or EM Bounds. It is about incorporating prayer into Bible studies, prayer into Christian Living, prayer into exegesis, prayer into every aspect of our waking time. We may have stumbled upon the essence of Paul's conviction in his ministry and outreach to the Gentile: The letters are prayed into passions, passions into convictions, and convictions into knowing God.

Be warned. After reading this book, your approach to Paul's letters in the New Testament will be changed.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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