In our teaching series, The Power of All, we’re trying to take more seriously, the Apostle Paul’s closing words in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 that help define the will of God for us daily: Rejoice always; Pray without ceasing; in all circumstances give thanks. The suggestions given on the “how to’s” need further resources. Learning from Jesus and Jewish practice and “Praying with the Church” made reference to Scot McKnight’s book of the same title. I’m including a review of the book that provides a good summary – here at the end of this post. The mention of using prayer books from various Christian traditions can be followed up by using the links on this blog. (Scroll down and on the right are Links to e.g. Book of Common Prayer, Celtic Daily Prayer, Easer Orthodox Prayers, ESV Daily Lectionary, and The Divine Hours.)
For The Jesus Prayer, I will link you to the ‘Prayer’ category on this blog and let you delve in from there. (It’s the Feb 15, ’07 post – scroll all the way down after you click on this link.)
Here’s the Amazon review of McKnight’s book: Having grown up in the rural, evangelical Midwest, I was raised with the limited (very limited) understanding that `liturgy’ was something those `weird’ churches did, and that it was dry, boring, and irrelevant. Beyond such limited knowledge, I had no idea what `hours’ meant (other than a period of time consisting of 60 minutes), or what a `daily office’ was (other than a place where you go to work). Little did I know the connection to a global prayer movement that has thrived for centuries.
Even though I have since learned what these terms mean, the idea of using a liturgical prayer book still seemed so foreign to me. What I needed was an easy to read primer on `praying with the church’. Thankfully, Scot McKnight delivered with his new book Praying With the Church.
Like McKnight, and countless other evangelicals, I was very familiar with the practice of praying IN the church (spontaneous prayer gatherings, etc). But what my prayer life has lacked was an ordered prayer habit WITH the global church. Merging the two forms of prayer together, orchestrates what McKnight calls a “sacred rhythm of prayer”.
This book is perfect for Christians such as me, eager to enrich one’s prayer life, but lacking in instruction on how to pray WITH the church. To those from Anglican, Orthodox, Celtic, Catholic traditions, this book will simply preach to the choir (maybe Scot will follow up with Praying IN the Church for those of liturgical backgrounds!).
After some introductory comments on his personal journey of learning how to pray WITH the church, he reexamines the prayer life of Jesus, who most definitely joined in the fixed prayer schedule of first century Judaism.
With such a foundation laid, he then surveys the major streams of fixed, rhythmic prayer in the church today (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and the ecumenical Divine Hours). Each chapter is a helpful introduction on how to use the prayer books from each tradition, what each book’s strengths and weaknesses are, and how these books came to be written.
A book on sacred, fixed prayer could easily overwhelm a reader like me. Which book should I choose? There are so many! Fortunately, McKnight is careful to keep his instruction as readable as possible, and he frequently suggests taking this new path of prayer realistically: “Set realistic expectations…avoid the heroic.”
Praying WITH the Church is not meant to be a limiting, mindless `prayer prison’, where the Holy Spirit is shut out for the sake of uniformity. Rather, praying with the church is a way to join the global church in guided prayers steeped in the Word of God, in tune with the rhythm of life God has instilled within His creation.
To those evangelical sisters and brothers who are wary of `fixed prayer’, McKnight offers a valid point. “no one can dispute the tendency for fixed-hour prayers to slip into mindless, memorized mouthing of words. Whose fault, we need to ask is, that.” I know I have fallen into the same trap in my own, spontaneous prayer life. I find myself almost reciting the same requests, the same praises, without passion or fervor.
What’s my verdict: thumbs up or thumbs down? I give Praying With the Church a wholehearted thumbs up for anyone (especially those from evangelical backgrounds) who is searching for a richer, deeper, prayer life. I’d highly encourage you all to pick up a copy of this book, and then pick up one of the prayer books he recommends.