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Thursday, March 1, 2018

"Teach Us to Pray" (Gordon T. Smith)

TITLE: Teach Us to Pray
AUTHOR: Gordon T. Smith
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2018, (112 pages).

One of the most popular prayers used in churches and many Christian communities is the Lord's Prayer. Many churches use them in their Sunday rituals. This prayer has also spawned many books. Almost every major preacher and theologian has written something about this famous prayer. Jesus' curious disciples must have been piqued by Jesus' constant desire to pray and to seek God. What is it that made Jesus so earnest about prayer? What can we learn from this prayer? Author and theologian Gordon T. Smith helps us to see this prayer from a community perspective which in turns helps us in our personal prayers. In the title, "Teach us to pray," the question is posed on behalf of a community. Smith hones in on the "us" word, showing us the frequency of this pronoun in the prayer itself. The power of united prayer show forth the power of togetherness under the common identity of citizens of the Kingdom of God. It is a prayer as a community to God to bless the communities on earth. He also notes the active word "participant" instead of mere observers in the prayer. Adding to this, instead of us trying to pray according to our present circumstances, why not pray to alter our lives? In other words, pray not according to our circumstances but according to how God wants us to live. The Lord's Prayer is great in forming us in this attitude. We pray as grace receivers desiring to share grace with others. We see prayer as "recalibration" our our souls to be in sync with the will of God. Praying in the Spirit essentially means abiding in Christ. He encourages us with a different take with regard to the rising secularism in our society. Instead of lamenting the lack of public prayer or the difficulty of sharing Christ in the public squares, why not see the hidden opportunities that require us to seek God's Eye rather than our own eyes? Rather than fighting the world with the weapons of the world, why not take up the spiritual armour of God? There is a powerful weapon we have: The sword of the Word of God. Letting the psalms inform us, Smith shows us the richness of Scripture and the evidence of praying in the Spirit. For when we pray in the Spirit, we cultivate character. We obtain "vocational clarity and patience." We receive joy.  The Lord's Prayer is a powerful way to focus our attention on God, to seek God fully and to have God's will manifested fully in our being and in our doing.

The main contribution in this book is Smith's three movements of prayer:
  1. Thanksgiving
  2. Confession
  3. Discernment
Discernment is an important third point. Many believers pray as if they already know the answer, that is, the answer that they want, instead of praying for an openness to receive God's answer according to God's will, whatever that may be. In these three movements, Smith tells us to beware of the temptations that threaten to derail these movements.  Our default mode is not thanksgiving but taking things for granted. Instead of giving things to what God had done, we frequently focus on what God is not doing. Worse, we fail to have eyes to see what God had already done but we refuse to see it. In confession, the temptation is to look at the faults of others instead of our own; that others need to change while it should be us that need changing. In discernment, Smith urges us not to become cynical or too busy not to listen.

Smith does not leave those of us petition-worriers out. Intentionally, he leaves it to the last section of the book, the Afterword. Using Philippians 4:6 as a launchpad, he reminds us that only after we had welcomed God's purposes and desires into our hearts, are we ready to pray in a manner that brings delight to God, instead of shopping for our needs according to our own presumed needs, or for some, whims and fancies. He even says that "prayer is an act of service." Powerful indeed. We pray as a community and receive as a community. It makes us want to pray it forward.

What I like about this book
First, Smith brings out very unique perspectives about the Lord's Prayer. Many have written about the prayer itself and having read a couple, some ideas have become stale. Not this book. Even though there are many fundamental things being written or re-emphasized, I like the freshness that Smith provides. The three movements is a nice way of structuring our attitude in prayer. It is a very simple format to remember and will help those of us who need structure to pattern our prayers so that we don't jump all over the place in our minds. Just as the famous Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard had said: "Purity of heart is to will one thing," this three movements all center around one Person: God.

Second, it is less about prayer per se but more about God. Right from the start, Smith reminds us that it is about praying for God's kingdom to come; to abide in Christ; and to pray in the Spirit. Prayer is not some self-driven exercise but a discipline to let God be God; to let us see ourselves honestly in God's eyes; and to move toward God. All the movements in prayer are precisely about that. Seeing God's work in thanksgiving; letting God inside our hearts in confession and repentance; and discerning God's Word in our lives for our daily living.

Finally, this book makes me want to pray. Though this is not the only book that causes me to want to go on my knees to God, it has a nice touch of spirituality that resonates with my inner longing. In thanksgiving, I start to appreciate what God had been doing all along. In confession, I recognize the flaws in me and to be humble before God. In discernment, I realize that less talking and more listening does wonders.

Small in footprint but large in meaning, this is a must-have book when it comes to prayer.

Gordon T. Smith is President of Ambrose College in Calgary, Alberta. He is an ordained minister with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He is also a popular speaker and has written several books useful for vocational clarity and spirituality.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Inter-Varsity Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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