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Read an Excerpt
A Praying Life
Connecting With God in a Distracting World
By Paul E. Miller
Tyndale House PublishersCopyright © 2017 Paul Miller
All rights reserved.
"WHAT GOOD DOES IT DO?"
I was camping for the weekend in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania with five of our six kids. My wife, Jill, was home with our eight-year-old daughter, Kim. After a disastrous camping experience the summer before, Jill was happy to stay home. She said she was giving up camping for Lent.
I was walking down from our campsite to our Dodge Caravan when I noticed our fourteen-year-old daughter, Ashley, standing in front of the van, tense and upset. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, "I lost my contact lens. It's gone." I looked down with her at the forest floor, covered with leaves and twigs. There were a million little crevices for the lens to fall into and disappear.
I said, "Ashley, don't move. Let's pray." But before I could pray, she burst into tears. "What good does it do? I've prayed for Kim to speak, and she isn't speaking."
Kim struggles with autism and developmental delay. Because of her weak fine motor skills and problems with motor planning, she is also mute. One day after five years of speech therapy, Kim crawled out of the speech therapist's office, crying from frustration. Jill said, "No more," and we stopped speech therapy.
Prayer was no mere formality for Ashley. She had taken God at his word and asked that he would let Kim speak. But nothing happened. Kim's muteness was testimony to a silent God. Prayer, it seemed, doesn't work.
Few of us have Ashley's courage to articulate the quiet cynicism or spiritual weariness that develops in us when heartfelt prayer goes unanswered. We keep our doubts hidden even from ourselves because we don't want to sound like bad Christians. No reason to add shame to our cynicism. So our hearts shut down.
The glib way people talk about prayer often reinforces our cynicism. We end our conversations with "I'll keep you in my prayers." We have a vocabulary of "prayer speak," including "I'll lift you up in prayer" and "I'll remember you in prayer." Many who use these phrases, including us, never get around to praying. Why? Because we don't think prayer makes much difference.
Cynicism and glibness are just part of the problem. The most common frustration is the activity of praying itself. We last for about fifteen seconds, and then out of nowhere the day's to-do list pops up and our minds are off on a tangent. We catch ourselves and, by sheer force of the will, go back to praying. Before we know it, it has happened again. Instead of praying, we are doing a confused mix of wandering and worrying. Then the guilt sets in. Something must be wrong with me. Other Christians don't seem to have this trouble praying. After five minutes we give up, saying, "I am no good at this. I might as well get some work done."
Something is wrong with us. Our natural desire to pray comes from Creation. We are made in the image of God. Our inability to pray comes from the Fall. Evil has marred the image. We want to talk to God but can't. The friction of our desire to pray, combined with our badly damaged prayer antennae, leads to constant frustration. It's as if we've had a stroke.
Complicating this is the enormous confusion about what makes for good prayer. We vaguely sense that we should begin by focusing on God, not on ourselves. So when we start to pray, we try to worship. That works for a minute, but it feels contrived; then guilt sets in again. We wonder, Did I worship enough? Did I really mean it?
In a burst of spiritual enthusiasm we put together a prayer list, but praying through the list gets dull, and nothing seems to happen. The list gets long and cumbersome; we lose touch with many of the needs. Praying feels like whistling in the wind. When someone is healed or helped, we wonder if it would have happened anyway. Then we misplace the list.
Praying exposes how self-preoccupied we are and uncovers our doubts. It was easier on our faith not to pray. After only a few minutes, our prayer is in shambles. Barely out of the starting gate, we collapse on the sidelines — cynical, guilty, and hopeless.
The Hardest Place in the World to Pray
American culture is probably the hardest place in the world to learn to pray. We are so busy that when we slow down to pray, we find it uncomfortable. We prize accomplishments, production. But prayer is nothing but talking to God. It feels useless, as if we are wasting time. Every bone in our bodies screams, "Get to work."
When we aren't working, we are used to being entertained. Television, the Internet, video games, and cell phones make free time as busy as work. When we do slow down, we slip into a stupor. Exhausted by the pace of life, we veg out in front of a screen or with earplugs.
If we try to be quiet, we are assaulted by what C. S. Lewis called "the Kingdom of Noise." Everywhere we go we hear background noise. If the noise isn't provided for us, we can bring our own via iPod.
Even our church services can have that same restless energy. There is little space to be still before God. We want our money's worth, so something should always be happening. We are uncomfortable with silence.
One of the subtlest hindrances to prayer is probably the most pervasive. In the broader culture and in our churches, we prize intellect, competency, and wealth. Because we can do life without God, praying seems nice but unnecessary. Money can do what prayer does, and it is quicker and less time-consuming. Our trust in ourselves and in our talents makes us structurally independent of God. As a result, exhortations to pray don't stick.
The Oddness of Praying
It's worse if we stop and think about how odd prayer is. When we have a phone conversation, we hear a voice and can respond. When we pray, we are talking to air. Only crazy people talk to themselves. How do we talk with a Spirit, with someone who doesn't speak with an audible voice?
And if we believe that God can talk to us in prayer, how do we distinguish our thoughts from his thoughts? Prayer is confusing. We vaguely know that the Holy Spirit is somehow involved, but we are never sure how or when a spirit will show up or what that even means. Some people seem to have a lot of the Spirit. We don't.
Forget about God for a minute. Where do you fit in? Can you pray for what you want? And what's the point of praying if God already knows what you need? Why bore God? It sounds like nagging. Just thinking about prayer ties us all up in knots.
Has this been your experience? If so, know that you have lots of company. Most Christians feel frustrated when it comes to prayer!
A Visit to a Prayer Therapist
Let's imagine that you see a prayer therapist to get your prayer life straightened out. The therapist says, "Let's begin by looking at your relationship with your heavenly Father. God said, 'I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me' (2 Corinthians 6:18). What does it mean that you are a son or daughter of God?"
You reply that it means you have complete access to your heavenly Father through Jesus. You have true intimacy, based not on how good you are but on the goodness of Jesus. Not only that, Jesus is your brother. You are a fellow heir with him.
The therapist smiles and says, "That is right. You've done a wonderful job of describing the doctrine of Sonship. Now tell me what it is like for you to be with your Father? What is it like to talk with him?"
You cautiously tell the therapist how difficult it is to be in your Father's presence, even for a couple of minutes. Your mind wanders. You aren't sure what to say. You wonder, Does prayer make any difference? Is God even there? Then you feel guilty for your doubts and just give up.
Your therapist tells you what you already suspect. "Your relationship with your heavenly Father is dysfunctional. You talk as if you have an intimate relationship, but you don't. Theoretically, it is close. Practically, it is distant. You need help."
I needed help when Ashley burst into tears in front of our minivan. I was frozen, caught between her doubts and my own. I had no idea that she'd been praying for Kim to speak. What made Ashley's tears so disturbing was that she was right. God had not answered her prayers. Kim was still mute. I was fearful for my daughter's faith and for my own. I did not know what to do.
Would I make the problem worse by praying? If we prayed and couldn't find the contact, it would just confirm Ashley's growing unbelief. Already, Jill and I were beginning to lose her heart. Her childhood faith in God was being replaced by faith in boys. Ashley was cute, warm, and outgoing. Jill was having trouble keeping track of Ashley's boyfriends, so she started naming them like ancient kings. Ashley's first boyfriend was Frank, so his successors became Frank the Second, Frank the Third, and so on. Jill and I needed help.
I had little confidence God would do anything, but I prayed silently, Father, this would be a really good time to come through. You've got to hear this prayer for the sake of Ashley. Then I prayed aloud with Ashley, "Father, help us to find this contact."
When I finished, we bent down to look through the dirt and twigs. There, sitting on a leaf, was the missing lens.
Prayer made a difference after all.
Excerpted from A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller. Copyright © 2017 Paul Miller. 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
1 "What Good Does It Do?" 1
2 Where We Are Headed 7
Part 1 Learning to Pray like a Child
3 Become like a Little Child 17
4 Learn to Talk with Your Father 25
5 Spending Time with Your Father 31
6 Learning to Be Helpless 41
7 Crying "Abba"-Continuously 51
8 Bending Your Heart to Your Father 57
Part 2 Learning to Trust Again
9 Understanding Cynicism 63
10 Following Jesus out of Cynicism 69
11 Developing an Eye for Jesus 81
Part 3 Learning to Ask Your Father
12 Why Asking Is So Hard 89
13 Why We Can Ask 97
14 How Personal Is God? 103
15 What Do We Do with Jesus' Extravagant Promises about Prayer? 113
16 What We Don't Ask For: "Our Daily Bread" 125
17 What We Don't Ask For: "Your Kingdom Come" 131
18 Surrender Completely: "Your Will Be Done" 137
Part 4 Living in Your Father's Story
19 Watching a Story Unfold 147
20 A Father's Love 155
21 Unanswered Prayer: Understanding the Patterns of Story 161
22 Hebrew Laments: Relearning Desert Praying 171
23 Understanding How Laments Work 179
24 How God Places Himself in the Story 191
25 Praying Without a Story 197
26 Hope: The End of the Story 207
27 Living in Gospel Stories 215
Part 5 Praying in Real Life
28 Using Prayer Tools 225
29 Keeping Track of the Story: Using Prayer Cards 229
30 Prayer Work 239
31 Listening to God 245
32 Prayer Journaling: Becoming Aware of the interior Journey 255
33 Real-Life Praying 263
34 Unfinished Stories 269
Appendix: Getting Started with Your Prayer Cards 275
About the Author 287
What People are Saying About This
Honest, realistic, mature, wise, deep. Warmly recommended.
In my library, I have perhaps twenty different volumes on prayer, but none captured my heart or propelled me into fresh communion with our Father as much as A Praying Life. Finally, a book that applies the radical implications of the gospel of God’s grace to prayer! With childlike wonder, sage-like wisdom, and heartfelt candor, Paul shows us that to pray is to see Jesus more clearly and meet him more regularly in every single aspect and moment of the day. Thanks, my friend, for calling me back to what really matters.
Paul Miller refuses to separate the spiritual life from the rest of our daily living. In A Praying Life, he shows the difference that constant communication with Christ makes in the everyday experiences of life, especially the life of the family. Reading this book will help you make prayer a more important part of your own life story by integrating prayer into the daily routines of life.
Honest, realistic, mature, wise, deep. Warmly recommended.
Prayer, the concept and the practice, exposes our core doubts and desperation for God. Paul Miller captures the promise of prayer as a gift that connects us to the heart of the Father and as a path for transforming the world. Paul’s honest struggle with living a life full of prayer and his childlike delight in hearing the heart of God invite us to gratitude and call us to speak boldly to our God. This book will be like having the breath of God at your back. Let it lift you to new hope.
If Jesus or Jesus’ saving grace is just an abstraction to you, Paul Miller will be a great help in making his love a living reality to your heart.
A Praying Life is a deeply moving testimony to God’s power in prayer. Paul Miller shares his life and biblical wisdom to instill in us, his readers, a “heart that becomes a factory of prayer”that is, a passion to speak to God honestly and in a way that will change our life and the lives of others for whom we pray.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater works; prayer is the greater work.” Paul Miller’s superb book calls us back to this “greater work,” reminding us of the joy we find in our Lord’s presence and equipping us with practical insight on how to recapture the intimacy and power of a praying life.
This is as fine a book on prayer as you will ever read, but it is so much more. It is the story of our struggle to actually live like we believe that our heavenly Father really does love us. If we did, nothing could keep us from being committed to the day-by-day hard work of prayer. Paul Miller exegetes our struggle in a way that is convicting, insight giving, and encouraging. This is a book on prayer that actually makes you want to pray!