Friday, February 13, 2015

Why We Pray, by William Philip

Glasgow minister William Philip would certainly encourage his congregation to pray, but in his new book Why We Pray his concern "is not with an exhortation to pray but with an explanation of prayer."  He writes that "nothing is more important and nothing more difficult to maintain than a meaningful prayer life," so an explanation is in order.

Here are the four reasons we pray:

  • God is a speaking God
  • We are sons of God
  • God is a sovereign God
  • We have the spirit of God

Prayer is all about talking.  We speak to people with whom we want to have a relationship.  "Speech is the audible form of a real and living relationship."  We were created for relationship with God, and "we have been redeemed that we might again respond to him."  This, to me, is one of the most important points Philip makes.  We don't pray because we are worthy to approach God, but because of our status as adopted children of God.  Our purity or sincerity are irrelevant to our ability or worthiness in prayer.  Because of our adopted status, "God cannot not hear us."  So when we pray not believing that God hears, or when we don't pray, we are "disbelieving the gospel."

I struggled with Philip's exposition on the third point: God's sovereignty.  I agree that prayer should not primarily about asking for stuff.  Christians have long struggled with "the efficacy of prayer" as C.S. Lewis wrote about.  Responding to the common assertion that "prayer changes things," Philip writes, "People repeating this phrase rather assume . . . that God won't work unless we pray, or (worse) that God can't work unless we pray," implying that "God is, in fact, impotent without the help of our prayers."

A better approach is to think of prayer as agreeing with God.  Because we have the spirit of God, we are alongside him, like a less-skilled player playing alongside the all-time league champion on the same team.  Philips writes, "So if we mean by the phrase, 'Prayer changes things' that prayer takes control of God and his thoughts and his ways, I'm afraid that just won't do at all.  A much better dictum is this: 'Prayer is thinking his thoughts after him.'"

I can't argue with this.  I was nodding right along with him.  But later on, I'm thinking about praying for specific things, about the woman pleading with the judge, about other scriptures that point to asking God.  I have to conclude that this is one of those enigmas of faith.  I don't subscribe to open theism, which Philips links to the idea that we change God's mind when we pray and that God does not know or control the future.  However difficult it is to reconcile God's perfect knowledge and our need to bring our petitions to him, I think we can, in faith, believe both.

Nevertheless, Philip's book is pastoral and readable.  What a great reminder that as God's children, God wants to hear from us.  Now that Philips has provided a rationale for why we pray, well, let's pray!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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