|Edition description:||Second edition|
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MICHELLE AND I DECIDED TO live prayerfully for an entire year. It was a nice, shiny idea. But where should we start?
With For Dummies, obviously. I borrowed a copy of Christian Prayer for Dummies from the library. The cover was so enticing:
Find your own prayer style!
Explanations in plain English!
"Get in, get out" information!
Icons and other navigational aids!
Tear-out cheat sheet!
That last one was really important. I would hate to pray without cheating. I flipped to the cheat sheet.
The cheat sheet included items like "Incorporate Christian Prayer into Your Life in Three Weeks" and "How to Hear God's Voice during Christian Prayer," but I was skeptical. This book was published in 2003. A lot had changed since then. Would it still work today? I didn't have a landline anymore; surely the Almighty had updated His contact methods too. Was He an Apple or an Android guy?
I was also suspicious of the book's author. According to his For Dummies author page, the author had created fourteen For Dummies products, including Christianity for Dummies, Christian Prayer for Dummies, and Yahoo! SiteBuilder for Dummies. Which compelled me to ask, Did Yahoo still exist?
Page one. Right in the middle, boxed and bolded, I read this disclaimer:
The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a professional where appropriate.
This left me with all sorts of questions, such as when, exactly, would be an appropriate time to consult a professional? Wasn't that why I was reading the book in the first place? Where did one find a prayer professional? What, precisely, is a prayer professional?
I grabbed a dictionary and found this definition for the word professional: "Following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain: a professional builder."
Clearly, I needed to find someone who got paid to pray.
I googled "prayer professional," and it produced 44,300,000 results (in 0.2 seconds), but they all appeared pretty fruitless.
Well, not entirely. I found a prayer request from a consultant that read, "I request prayer for my trip to Denver July 9–20 to be safe and successful to achieve my goal of 32 net sales @ net volume of $222,500." So that was something.
I changed my web query to "prayer consultant," which produced much better results. Using LinkedIn, I connected with a prayer consultant named Don Pierson. Don's actual title is "Prayer Strategies Specialist," which sounded impressive. I scheduled a phone call with him for the next day.
"Prayer is like a greased pig at a county fair — often pursued but rarely grasped." CHRISTIAN PRAYER FOR DUMMIES
With Don's call a day away, I had plenty of time to consult Christian Prayer for Dummies. I skimmed through the table of contents, and I'll be honest — I skipped directly to Chapter 17: "Ask and It Shall Be Given — I'd Like a Porsche, Please."
I was disappointed to discover that you actually have to read the context of a Bible verse if you want your prayers to work. I also learned that Italian sports cars weren't around when the Bible's original manuscripts were written, so it might be better to ask for a chariot or a donkey (which gets better mileage anyway).
One thing caught my eye:
THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF PRAYER:
1. You double your chances of successful in vitro pregnancy if you're prayed for.
2. Heart attack survivors recover quicker if they're being prayed for by someone.
3. Getting people to pray for you gets you out of the hospital faster after you've had an angioplasty.
This was great news, to be sure, but maybe the author needed to add an unregistered surgeon's warning. Prayer isn't a strict cause-and-effect relationship. Candy junkies can't manipulate God into getting rid of their diabetes. Prayer is not a substitute for healthy eating and daily exercise.
I skimmed some more. My favorite line: "Hudson Taylor had a lifelong passion to become a Christian missionary to inland China, and not just because he liked Kung Pao chicken."
After the author called the Lord's Prayer "The Original Christian Prayer for Dummies," I called it quits, returning the book to the library, where I assumed it would remain until next year's Friends of the Library book sale.
"The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health." PSALM 41:3, ESV
Prayer Strategies Specialist Don Pierson is the prayer point man for a denomination in Tennessee, a member of the staff who literally gets paid to pray. A former pastor, church planter, and missionary, he's been around the block.
Having been on the prayer job for thirteen years, he has no idea how one lands such a job. "I get asked that a lot," he told me. "All I know is, I have a calling based on Hosea 10:12: 'Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.' I'm here to break up fallow ground." He informed me that one can get a master's degree in prayer but that no one has offered a doctorate yet. Probably so that no televangelist could start a show called The Prayer Doctor.
Don has 3,197 churches under his wing, and he spends his time leading retreats, revivals, classes, concerts of prayer, and assemblies. He helps pastors develop strategies to unify their churches for spiritual awakening, and he preaches almost every day. The guy is a spiritual mover and shaker; he gets stuff done. Don was heading out to a meeting as we spoke, and I could hear him driving while talking on his cell phone. I quickly prayed for his safety.
Don told me there are three types of prayer. Crisis prayer is the most popular of the three. Such prayers are urgent, earthly, and temporal. The help-me-pass-this-test, please-heal-my-neighbor, fix-my-marriage kind of prayers that we all pray.
Then there are calling prayers. The prayers of Paul were dominated by calling, especially in Colossians 4. Paul had received a word from God — a very clear direction and purpose — and it trumped every circumstance. Paul was in prison, but he prayed for boldness instead of rescue or escape. His calling was greater than his crisis. When he prayed for others, he prayed for their character in spite of present circumstances.
Then there are Kingdom prayers. Don doesn't believe that we create these prayers, but that "Kingdom prayers come from the King." These are prayers like Jesus' prayer to "send out workers into [the] harvest field." Kingdom prayers are bigger than any one person, denomination, or time in history.
Don believes his job is to help people move from crisis prayer to calling and Kingdom prayer. "Crisis prayer has consumed our churches," he said. "The number of lost people is increasing, but all we're praying about is colds and cancer."
He continued, "I want to see transformation. I pray that people will return to God and begin to pray the way He wants us to pray. Most new believers pray calling and Kingdom prayers, but I've noticed a disturbing trend in older believers. They pray mostly crisis prayers." I gave him a loud "hmmm" and hoped he didn't realize I was one of those people.
"So how do we reverse the trend, Don?"
"If your heart is consumed with Kingdom and calling, you pray differently. When you seek first the Kingdom, the other things don't concern you."
He asked me if I was married, and I said yes. "If you don't talk to your wife, your relationship will get sick. You'll never know each other's hearts and wills, and it's the same way with God. You can't do His will if you can't hear His voice. Every religion prays. What makes our prayers any different? God speaks back. God doesn't need us to talk to Him, but one word from Him changes us. Prayer is about us hearing from God."
Suddenly I felt uncomfortable. The words sounded familiar. I once heard a talk by Erwin McManus where he asked, "How do you know if you're a Christian? You know you're a Christian because you know the sound of His voice." Now Don was saying the same thing. Problem was, I'd never audibly heard from God. I'd never even had an overwhelming spiritual experience. I'm a rational thinker — I like to process and ponder and write. Don't get me wrong — I really want to hear from God, but is it even possible for someone like me?
"So, Don," I asked hesitantly, "how do I hear from God?"
"You know, Jared, it's a still, small voice. The more time you spend with Him, the less you'll ask that question. You'll begin to recognize the sound of His whisper."
Aside from his full-time day job as a prayer warrior, Don also spends about forty-five minutes a day with God on his own. He doesn't have a set schedule or plan — he just reads the Bible until God speaks, then he journals about it, and then he prays it back to God. The next day, he picks up where he left off.
I asked Don if he ever heard any really good answers to prayer. "Oh yes, every day," he replied. "Last week we had an incredible answer to prayer. There's a girl in one of our churches. She grew up in the church, went on mission trips — great kid. She started dating this guy who was far from God, and eventually married him. Now she's far from God."
I knew where this was going.
"In December the husband thought he had stomach cancer. No doctor had diagnosed him; he just really believed he had cancer. So he put a shotgun to his stomach and pulled the trigger."
Okay, I didn't see that one coming.
"Somehow he survived the trip to the hospital, but the doctors didn't think he'd make it. The church started praying for his salvation. Not for his healing — for his salvation. The church commissioned their pastor to lead this man to Christ. The pastor goes to the hospital and leads him to Christ on the spot. And, wouldn't you believe it, the man makes a miraculous recovery.
"Fast-forward a few months. The guy is home, and the pastor calls him up and says he wants to start a Bible study in the man's home. The pastor tells the man to invite all his unsaved friends and family. So he does. Thirty people show up the first night. The man's parents and sister now drive three hours each way to attend every week. They've been going for five weeks now, and already several of them have gotten saved and baptized."
These are the kind of stories I want to be able to tell. This is the kind of faith I want to have, living in the midst of a community of people who have prayed with greater power than the brute force of a shotgun. But how can I tap into what Don has in prayer? How can I hear God's still, small voice? What will it look like in my life, without having to become a "prayer strategies specialist"?
In true prayer-expert style, Don ended our conversation by praying. He prayed for Michelle and me, that our journey of prayer would be fruitful, that God would open doors of opportunity, and that we'd learn to pray more and more calling and Kingdom prayers. He prayed that I would find what I was looking for.
I hung up the phone — and hummed a little U2.CHAPTER 2
NEW YORK CITY
I WAS DANCING IN a circle with two dozen Hasidic Jews. And I was wearing a yarmulke. What had I gotten myself into?
Michelle and I had decided to start our year of living prayerfully by exploring the prayer traditions of the Jewish faith. Starting with Judaism made sense, because Christianity grew out of Jewish roots. While Christianity is definitely wholly its own thing, you get the sense that we still have some Jewish markers in our DNA. Hanging out with Jewish folks would be a bit like visiting my grandparents. While I'm most definitely my mom and dad's kid — a Brock through and through — I'm surprisingly like my grandparents in a lot of ways. Passover was coming up, so I e-mailed eight local synagogues to ask if we could attend their seder supper.
We drove from Hamilton, Ontario, to a local synagogue in my hometown, Guelph. I learned some interesting things at their seder, the most important being that many Jews drink prune juice because the matzo bread "bungs you up like cheese." Overall, attending the Guelph seder wasn't a particularly fruitful experience. Aside from the two rabbis who led the service, I didn't get the sense that there were many devout Jews in the crowd. And despite praying twelve or thirteen different prayers, nothing connected with me. So while the seder close to home gave us a taste of the Jewish prayer tradition, we wanted to go deeper. We decided to go to New York City for the full experience.
We arrived at the synagogue precisely on time. The rabbi greeted us at the front door, shook my hand, and then awkwardly half saluted Michelle as he slowly backed away. It was a direct elbow bend, with the palm facing her in a John Wayne Native American movie sort of way. It screamed, "Please don't come one step closer." Hasidic men don't touch women — except their wives, and even then for only about two weeks each month.
The rabbi showed Michelle to her seat, and then he dragged a wooden divider across the room so she wouldn't distract the menfolk.
The rabbi and I walked around to the male side. I quickly slipped into a seat and grabbed a Bible. It seemed to be backward, and upside down, and was definitely missing the entire New Testament. I skimmed through it. Every time they typed the word God, they left out a letter, so it read "G-d." Saved ink, I suppose.
The rabbi towered above me, suspiciously inspecting my thinning hairline. "I'm going to need you to wear a yarmulke," he said. Then he handed me a bag full of yarmulkes of all sizes, colors, and patterns. It seemed equal parts unholy and unsanitary. I grabbed the first one I saw.
Was I switching allegiances by wearing it? It's the same God, right? I still felt guilty. I put it on, and it fit my bald spot nicely. It didn't move for the entire service. It must've been black magic. It did feel strangely right. In fact, I didn't feel it at all.
People often mistake me for being Jewish. I look very Jewish. In fact, when people ask what my background is, I'll jokingly say, "I'm Jew-ish." I love God, read the Old Testament, enjoy a weekly day of rest, and try to avoid pork products (with the exception of pepperoni pizza). But I'm not actually Jewish.
Or am I? I wondered.
The service began. I watched for tardy stragglers, of which there were many. If this particular shul represented the average lateness of the Hasidic faith, then they ranked somewhere below the Pentecostals and Lutherans but slightly above the Baptists.
One of the stragglers was a cowboy. A Jewish cowboy wearing leather boots and a cowboy hat. Apparently that was kosher.
The rabbi was chanting his prayers, but everyone seemed pretty distracted. A young dad walked in with a baby who was wearing a miniature yarmulke. The father walked around, and everyone congratulated him. One of the rabbi's sons started drumming on the altar with his hands. The cowboy shot the breeze with a fellow synagogue member. There seemed to be lots of grace and freedom despite all the rules.
Everyone was reading and praying together now. They were rocking back and forth — hip-thrusting, really. It reminded me of the Mr. Bean dance. Then they took three steps forward and three steps back. The service was in Yiddish, and I couldn't understand the words, but I'd read about this ritual. Hasidic Jews take these steps after praying the Amidah, "The Standing Prayer." It's an incredibly beautiful prayer tradition, and it's the main prayer in Jewish services. It's a series of nineteen blessings, broken into three sections — praise, petition, and thanks. Before saying the prayer, you take three steps back to symbolize a withdrawal from the material world and then three steps forward to symbolize approaching the King of kings. It's like a holy line dance, and everyone did it except, suspiciously, the cowboy. Wasn't this his area of expertise?
The service continued in a similar fashion — distractions and chatter, then synchronized prayer and dancing. Almost all the men introduced themselves and shook my hand at some point in the service. On the other side of the great wall, no one said hello to Michelle. Then the rabbi told me to stand.
I was dancing in a conga line with two dozen Hasidic Jews. We were banging our fists on the altar, and they were all hollering something I couldn't understand. I felt the rhythm and moved to the beat. My head covering held on for dear life.
Michelle watched the entire spectacle through a row of lattice in the wooden wall: her husband in a yarmulke, banging on a pulpit and dancing like a Hasid.
The service ended, and we were getting ready to head to the rabbi's house. It was pouring rain outside, and we stood on the porch as we opened our umbrellas. I spotted a Hasidic woman holding a newborn baby, and I offered her my umbrella, which she gladly accepted. Michelle and I shared an umbrella, and the four of us walked down the stairs together.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Year of Living Prayerfully"
Copyright © 2015 The Brock Stewardship.
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Author's Note xi
How My Journey Started xiii
Chapter 1 Hamilton, Ontario 1
Chapter 2 New York City 9
Chapter 3 Israel 37
Chapter 4 Mount Athos, Greece 65
Chapter 5 Italy 99
Chapter 6 Spain 133
Chapter 7 France 161
Chapter 8 Eastern USA 185
Chapter 9 The Outer Limits 221
Chapter 10 Korea 253
Chapter 11 England 283
Chapter 12 Hamilton, Ontario 305
An Invitation 317
Seven Ways to Pray 319