Monday, July 08, 2013

BookPastor >> "The Prayer God Longs For" (James Emery White)

TITLE: The Prayer God Longs For
AUTHOR: James Emery White
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2005, (130 pages).

Books on the Lord's Prayer are plenty. The most popular prayer in the Christian Bible is also the most popular prayer many preachers have preached on. Rightly so, simply because it is so rich with insights that it takes the whole Church together to mine the depths of the spiritual prayer. Like many authors, James Emery White has offered his take on this prayer. Calling it the "Prayer that God Longs For," White shows us that this prayer is essentially spiritual formation, turning pilgrims from people uttering prayers to prayerful persons. What really catches my attention are the words of Evelyn Underhill, the 20th Century English mystic.

"Again and again in public and private devotion the Lord's Prayer is taken on hurried lips, and recited at a pace which makes impossible any realization of its tremendous claims and profound demands. Far better than this cheapening of the awful power of prayer was the practice of the old woman described by St Teresa, who spent an hour over the first two words, absorbed in reverence and love." (Evelyn Underhill)

Firstly, we learn about intimacy. The two words, "Our Father" is one of the most personal address of God anyone can start with. It is drawing near to God. It is being confident of the approachability of God. It is just enjoying being in the presence of God. It is also being reminded that we are coming to God, as children of God.

Secondly, we learn about expectancy. The key thought behind the words "in heaven" is that it is less about place, and more about the meaning. The place matters less as the meaning takes on more significance. It shows us the transcendence of God, and that we can be reconciled to God there in Christ. We move from mere natural to a supernatural domain. This is precisely what happens, for when we prayer the heavenly prayer, we get lifted out of our puny earthly worries, and to glimpse the heavenly kingdom, which in turn, puts all of our earthly concerns in perspective.

Thirdly, we adopt a position of reverence as we pray "Hallowed be Thy Name." It is because God's name represents God himself, we need to honour, to revere, to hallow that name in worship. White gives the example of the Old Testament story of Araunah's threshing floor. When King David offered to pay for the property, Araunah flatly refuses to accept payment. Amazingly, as I reflect on this story, Araunah gives away his threshing floor freely, and David freely chooses to pay the full price for it. Reverence frees us and one another in a way that we let love and honour rise above obligations and rights.

Fourthly, we learn submission as we pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."The trouble with many people running on circles around themselves, and coming out empty is simply because they are more concerned with self-will rather than God's will. Taking a leaf from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grieving, White shows readers what it means to die to self. Stage One is about denial where our loss of our own will and dreams seem suicidal. Stage Two is anger as we start to ask "How long" or questions God about our state. Stage Three comes bargain, in which we serve or love God more conditionally than we thought. Stage Four is where we experience depression, in which God's will to us seems more like death than life. Stage Five is acceptance, where we learn that as our human will send, our spiritual will begins. White suggests a Stage Six where one moves from acceptance to worship, where we start to enjoy the pursuit of God to heaven and in heaven.

Before moving to the fifth aspect, White pauses to show us the need to pray less about ourselves or our world, but to ready ourselves for something bigger.

Fifthly, we learn dependence on God for "Our Daily Bread." White observes that the hardest thing to ask for sometimes is for the most ordinary and mundane stuff. Through this phrase, we learn what is necessary. We learn to be content with what we need, and not be distracted by non-essentials. God will provide. Sometimes, I wonder about those of us who are genuinely praying this prayer. If we get to the bottom of this, we will be less concerned with our plenty, and more concerned with the lack of others.

Sixthly, we learn honesty as we pray "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Debt is a Jewish way to talk about sin. This prayer shows us the need to be honest, to practise the golden rule of relationships. Just like bread is necessary for the body, so is forgiveness for the soul. The key to closeness with God is intricately connected with our closeness to one another. In forgiveness, we learn this connection in ways no other methods can provide.

Finally, we learn to be humble as we pray, "and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." We cannot depend on ourselves in spiritual warfare. We are vulnerable and easily tempted. We need to be delivered from sin. We need God. This particular prayer is an admission that without God, we are helpless.

White has a section on a common question regarding unanswered prayer. He provides three answers: God hears, God cares, and God answers. It is how God answers is the thing that concerns us. When we truly learn the Lord's Prayer as above, we will learn to handle unanswered prayers better. We learn that God is someone who knows what is best, when is best, and in what manner is best.

This is a great book to add to your prayer resource library.


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