This is a book about prayer, looking mainly at St Paul’s prayers in New Testament letters. One thing I like most about this book is the clear and logical structure of each chapter. It usually has an opening question. The body text is divided into a hierarchy of headings. The headings are never vague, but always point to the core message of the arguments that follow. Some headings are linked with previous content by further questions. And summaries and conclusions are provided at the end. It reads like sermons (I consequently found out they were sermons!) If you’re too busy to read the whole book, just look at the headings and conclusions. But you’ll miss a great deal, I don’t recommend doing so!
The paragraph under each heading is not a summary of the chapter. They’re just some of the lessons I learnt.
1. Lessons from the School of Prayer
First of all, I’m very interested in Lesson No.5 “develop a system for your prayer lists”. I like things to be organised. A certain degree of formality motivates me to keep going. So this year, I asked for a bigger diary as a Christmas present and I have been recording prayer requests from church friends in there. I also planned to get in touch with all our family members and tell them they’re on the first page of my prayer diary, I would love to hear from them and pray for them regularly. I’m ashamed to say it’s April now and I only finally did it yesterday!
The author prays for his students according to the letters they send him. The way he files and highlights the prayer requests sounds very efficient. Interestingly, it says, “I tell my students that if they want me to pray for them regularly after they graduate, they need to write regular letters to me. Otherwise I shall certainly forget most of them”. I feel like this is a fact that leaders in my fellowship are reluctant to face and avoid discussing (with good intentions I’m sure). The fellowship is made up of around 50 students, many of whom move on each year. How many of them can leaders keep up with after they graduate and go home? How about the students from 3 or 5 year ago? Very few I believe. We put a lot of emphasis on leaders looking after returnees, but not enough on returnees updating the fellowship with what’s going on in their lives.
Secondly, Lesson No.7 says, “if you are in any form of spiritual leadership, work at your public prayers”. I think the argument is convincing and it has changed my attitude on the importance of public prayer. Every time someone new from our group leads the prayer at the front in the fellowship meetings, I would ask him / her to read these pages.
2. The Framework of Prayer (2 Thessalonians 1:3-12)
I learnt to think carefully when I give thanks to God for other people. Paul’s priorities reminds me of what’s truly essential in God’s sight. When facing persecution big or small, in my life or in the lives of those who face life-threatening trials, I learnt to pray with confidence, because Paul is certain about Christian’s hope of vindication at Jesus’ second coming, so should I.
3. Worthy Petitions (2 Thessalonians 1:1-12)
It talks about the primary concern we should have for our fellow Christians. With an eternal perspective the answer is a lot easier: which is more important, financial prosperity or spiritual maturity? It’s a test of the trueness of a Christian I think. It was really frustrating to see a faithful Christian friend facing a lot of pressure recently from her parents because she wishes to do full time ministry while the parents want her to find a “proper” job.
4. Praying for Others
This chapter starts by talking about the focus of a good Christian leader: always people rather than programmes. Prayer is not only for ourselves. As we can see in Paul’s letters, he spends a lot of time and effort praying for Christians whether or not he had met them.
5. A Passion for People (1 Thessalonians 3:9-13)
Paul worries about the church in Thessalonica; he had to leave them when they were still a baby church. This situation is actually very similar to many of the international students in our fellowship. They usually study here for one year only, going back to their home countries as very young Christians, knowing very little about different forms of false teaching, potential pressure from family and possible persecution from the immediate world around them. However I confess that I haven’t got the passion of Paul, and I don’t pray for them as often or as urgently as Paul does. Another thing I should learn from Paul and act on from today!
6. The Content of a Challenging Prayer (Colossians 1:9-14)
Here Paul is praying for a church he does not know personally. That’s a challenge already. Maybe I should start from the church my own mother is going to (or skipping) at the moment. The author also reminds me that of course we can pray when we meet difficulties, but Paul also prays for ongoing concerns. When Paul gives thanks for one thing, he doesn’t say, well done you, I now can go praying for someone else now. If the church is faithful, we could pray that it will continue be so and more so. The author also explained in details what is “God’s will”.
7. Excuses for Not Praying
There are many. Have you ever spend some time thinking about your excuses? I have and I’m too ashamed to share my excuses…
8. Overcoming the Hurdles (Philippians 1:9-11)
This prayer is about discipleship and Christian maturity. Paul prays that Christians will “be able to discern what is best”. This book points out to me that this could be applied in every area of our life. It’s about making decisions and choices with a transformed heart and mind. It also warns me about the danger of being a perfectionist. Am I doing it for God or myself?
9. A Sovereign and Personal God
This chapter talks about the big question about prayer: God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. It looks at several passages in the Old and New Testaments as evidence.
10. Praying to the Sovereign God (Ephesians 1:15-23)
This is such a great prayer that it’s appropriate to pray for Christians and non-Christians alike almost at any time. It prays for “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” in order to know God better. It prays for eyes opened in order to understand the hope, inheritance and power of God. And when you pray, do you realise that the same power that raises the dead to life is working in you?
11. Praying for Power (Ephesians 3:14-21)
The book argues that our styles of prayers are often influenced by the examples of others, but rarely by the prayers of the bible. This prayer is for power. It prays firstly, for God’s power shown in our characters, secondly, for Christians to have the power to understand how amazing God’s love is for us. The purpose of these prayers are Christian maturity. Talking about ongoing concerns, I ask myself if I pray for these wonderful things for myself, my husband and my close family and friends?
12. Prayer for Ministry (Romans 15:14-33)
Paul asks for prayers for himself and his ministry. It reminds me to pray for our church leaders and missionaries.
Another thing I love about this book is that the Afterword at the end is a prayer for spiritual reformation from the author to God for all the readers: “And now, Lord God, I ask your blessing on all who read this book,…” If my prayer life is transformed, it’s not because I read this book, not because the author taught me Paul’s prayers painstakingly, it’s because God is working in me.
I usually put a book away in my bookcase after I finish writing a blog post about it. I might keep this one on my desk for a bit longer yet.