No Christian I know, myself included, finds prayer easy. We struggle with distraction, lack of motivation and lack of conviction about the value of prayer. We need constant encouragement to keep praying and grow as pray-ers. Which is why I was so pleased find this book by Tim Chester: You Can Pray.
I’ve read a few books by Tim: You Can Change and Gospel-Centred Family. What I love is the way he grounds everything he has to say in the Gospel. This practice continues in You Can Pray. He goes to great effort to avoid launching into various tips, strategies or rules about prayer, and instead shows how the Gospel drives us to pray. There are many great quotes in the first few chapters but here’s an example:
Prayer is the embodiment or outworking of the gospel. We come to the Father through the work of the Son in the power of the Spirit. That statement both summarizes the gospel and describes the practice of prayer. It means we grow as pray-ers not by developing advanced techniques, but by learning to appreciate the gospel more and more. The more we understand the gospel, the better we will pray. (Page 46)
The overall impact of this approach I found very encouraging. I felt more positive about the Gospel and more positive about prayer and indeed found myself praying more.
Here’s three other things I liked about the book.
I liked Tim’s teaching on how prayer actually changes things. I think sometimes, with our (correct) doctrine of God’s sovereignty, we can doubt whether prayer has any impact beyond making us more dependent on God. But the Bible is clear that our prayers do influence our world (while still acknowledging that God is in control). Chapter 5, “I’ve got more urgent things to do” covers this well.
I pray because prayer changes things. That’s actually shorthand for: ‘God changes things in response to prayer.’ But it’s a perfectly serviceable shorthand. God ordains that my prayers change things. This means I can legitimately say, ‘This happened because I prayed.’ (Page 80)
I personally found this very motivating and am thankful for the many prayers God has answered over my lifetime.
A second big thing I liked was Tim’s answer to the question of ‘why doesn’t God answer my prayers?’. He devotes a whole chapter to it: “When I needed him, God didn’t answer” (chapter 6). His answer is not simplistic, but takes into account lots of Bible passages, themes and the Gospel itself. He covers things like sin as a potential barrier, the value of waiting, trusting in God’s providence and reflecting on his character. There’s no one quote that summarises the chapter, but I felt myself comforted, encouraged and even gently rebuked about questions of unanswered prayer in my life.
Lastly, Tim did a great job in expanding the Lord’s Prayer and explaining how this prayer teaches us so much about what to pray for (chapters 9 and 10). He reminded me to lift my prayers above daily urgent needs (although I should still pray for those things too) and pray more for God’s agenda and glory.
If you live for your kingdom, then you’ll live in a small world and pray small prayers. Your concern will be your will and your needs. Your prayers will rarely extend beyond your garden fence. Small prayers for a small person. But when you live for God’s kingdom, then you live in a big world and pray big prayers. Even the minutiae of your life become profoundly significant because your concern is the glory of God in everything. (Page 151)
Prayer is never easy, and we will always need encouragement to pray more, pray with joy and pray, as Tim says, ‘big prayers’. This book reminds us of the Gospel, connects that Gospel with prayer and spurs us on to pray. It addresses our lack of motivation and conviction and also (eventually) gives us different practical ideas and strategies. I definitely recommend that you read it, pray about the things you learn, and see your prayer life change and grow. As the title says: you can pray!