Monday, July 29, 2013

BookPastor >> "Whole Prayer" (Walter Wangerin Jr)

TITLE: Whole Prayer: Speaking and Listening to God
AUTHOR: Walter Wangerin Jr
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998, (208 pages).

Prayer is to a Christian what water is for a fish. If anyone does not pray, where then is faith? For prayer is a relationship between God and men. The quality of anyone's relationship with God is intricately tied to the quality of one's prayer life. There is no need for long prayers, just truthful ones. There is no need to worry about the brevity of prayer. The problem is less on what kind of prayer but whether we are praying or not in the first place. The great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon has reminded us that it is the weight, not the length of prayer that matters more. Ditto.

This book aims to help us cultivate a life of whole prayer. Sometimes, people tend to reduce prayer to asking for stuff, interceding in such a manner as if the only purpose of God is to do our will. Walter Wangerin Jr, in this thoughtful book shows us the simple four parts of praying.

  1. First, we speak.
  2. Second, God listens
  3. Third, God speaks
  4. Four, we listen.
Simple as that. There is a circle of communication that makes up the whole prayer. If any of these parts are missing, our prayer is less than whole. 

A) Speaking

Using the example of a child speaking with his father, it can begin as simple as "Help me, God!" or ends with "Thank you Jesus." How does one speak? For anyone needing help to pray, Wangerin suggests using the Bible, especially the Psalms as a prayer book. In poetic fashion, psalms with with the reader. It completes us in our conversation with God. There is also the opportunity to pray with the people, with God's faithful in worship prayers, daily prayers, as well as occasional prayers. There is also the use of "collect prayers" where there is a 5-fold form comprising:
  1. Invocation: Almighty God,
  2. Basis for petition: unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid:
  3. Petition: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit
  4. Purpose: that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name;
  5. Ending: through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.
We can speak and pray the Lord's Prayer too, intently and meaningfully. Wangerin closes with a story of praying together with another, for one another.

B) God Listens

Over to God, while five chapters are allocated for the part of "We Speak," only one chapter is allocated for God listening. As one reads the chapter, one quickly recognizes the fact that before a word is uttered in our mouths, God already knows. God precedes, accompanies, and listens throughout time. The beauty of it all is,  God never gets tired of hearing us.

C) God Speaks

Here, seven chapters affirm God's nature to speak with creation. God speaks in a variety of ways. He speaks through song, story, exhortation, law, wisdom, thoughtful theology, the Bible, and also audibly or visibly. God speaks most profoundly to us through life. Laws are meant to preserve life as much as possible. God speaks to those who are most desperate. Through "lesser messengers," God hears even the harshest complaints or the angriest words. God can speak through our own deeds, silly though some of our acts may be. God also speaks through the Word of God and the people that we pray for. Creation too is an orchestra of communication from God. God speaks intimately to us in private as well. 

D) We Listen

There are several ways to do this. Firstly, the pieties, where we respond in good deeds, or alms.It trains our ears to listen well. It also prepare our hearts to receive God's speaking. Secondly, fasting discipline's the soul. Apart from that deeper awareness of the presence of God, it provides other benefits physically too. Thirdly, praying itself is an act of listening. Other than sound, we can use concentration on any one phrase or word, adapting speed in speaking and listening as we go along. Fourthly, there is the opportunity to listen through worship. Fifth, we remove barriers of listening through confession of our sins and to do some self-assessment.

My Thoughts

I like this book for its sheer simplicity and readability. It reminds us again how prayer is about relationships. Wangerin adds: "Whole prayer grows into the wholeness of divine relationship." Ultimately, the way to the relationship is love. If there is no love, why the relationship in the first place? We need to listen with heart, mind, and soul. We pray with words, works, and worship. We become what God has made us to be. That is the purpose of prayer. Let me close with the same prayer of Thomas a Kempis, the same way that the book concludes with.

"O my God, when will silence, retirement, and prayer become the occupations of my soul as they are now frequently the objects of my desires? How am I wearied with saying so much and yet doing so little for you! Come, Jesus, come, you the only object of my love, the center and supreme happiness of my soul! Come, and impress my mind with such a lively conviction of thy presence that all within me may yield to its influence. Amen."


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