Book Review: A Guide to Prayer

I wanted to start a little series reviewing interesting and formative books, some about parenting and some not. All will be helpful on your journey as an incarnational leader in your family. The first little book I wanted to offer as suggested reading is one of the most important books in my life: A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servantsedited by Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck. This book is my daily guide to entering the Lord's presence. Some might call it my "daily office." I will say I don't come to it every day - sometimes I feel led to engage other materials - but this book is one of the most excellent and easy jumping off points for reading scripture and prayer that I have ever come across.

It is organized by week - so there are 52 chapters, and each section is guided by the lectionary reading for the week of that year (A,B,C). The lectionary they use is the New Common Lectionary, so if your church uses the RCL as mine does, you'll have to make sure that the readings line up (Good thing I have provided a handy little link over to your right that will take you right to a list of this weeks RCL readings). If you have no idea what the Lectionary is because that is not your tradition - it doesn't matter! The scriptures are there and you don't have to bother yourself asking why. You may be satisfied to know that hundreds of thousands of Christians are reading the same scriptures as you and that if you stick with the suggested scripture reading, you'll make it through much of the bible in three years!

One of my favorite things about this book is how absolutely user friendly it is. If you are not used to having a "quiet time" or reading your bible or if you have no idea how to pray - there is no better teacher than this book simply because it guides you directly in the act of reading and praying. There are many wordy didactic books out there that mean to educate you all about prayer but leave you wanting because they don't actually take you into the presence. This book however is a hands on, experiential learning that lovingly draws you into the act of prayer. Included with the book is probably the best, most practical introductions to prayer and scripture reading I have come across. The introduction teaches you how to use the book, encourages you to pray as you can (and not as you can't), and gives you all the resources you need to begin your journey of meeting regularly with your God.

The layout for each day is this:

I. Invocation - a written prayer to call you to enter the presence of the Lord in faith that the Lord is waiting to meet you. This is especially great for those who have no idea where to begin in prayer, or for me on days when prayer is slow to come because I am feeling supremely indifferent or tired or (whatever).

II. A Psalm - you will read the same psalm all week until it builds a little nest for itself in your heart. The psalms are Christianity's most universal prayers. They are emotional and authentic and beautiful. I really enjoy the permission to stay with one piece of scripture for as long as I need. It helps people like me, who are used to using scripture and other readings to learn and educate rather than to just "be," in prayer.

III. Daily Scripture Reading - There is a theme for each week (this weeks, for instance, is "Chosen by God") and the daily scripture readings are meant to support that theme. One passage is given for each day of the week although it is suggested that you read two - one from the day and one from Sunday, as there are four on Sunday. The introduction in the book will teach you how to read scripture if that is something that you have never done before - no need to be intimidated! (This introduction by the way is only 6 pages long)

IV. Readings for Reflection - In addition to the daily scripture, they suggest that you reflect on one or more readings, and this book is chock full of truly excellent and inspiration thoughts from very respectable authors, also organized according to the week. And when I say respectable authors I mean people that have spoken, written and have stayed with us - some for centuries (John Wesley, Nouwen, Teresa of Avila, St. Gregory, C.S. Lewis, Carlo Caretto, Charles de Foucauld, etc.).

V. Prayer - There is also a time for you to talk to God in your own way. The intention of the first several sections is to increase your awareness of God in prayer. But this section is a time for you to use your own way, your own words, to respond to what you have read or have felt. You will use this time to pray prayers of adoration, confession, intercession, for yourself, for others, for the Church, whatever suits your fancy. The book's introduction can help you here for those that may be intimidated by this act.

VI. Reflection - A time to "reflect on all the words, thoughts, and emotions you have experienced during the daily routine and to record new insights, new commitments, prayers, etc."

VII. Hymn - A beautiful hymn is provided to wrap up your time. When you can't pray, this hymn is a wonderful, reassuring closure to your time.

I encourage you to try this book and try this "daily office." You will learn much about prayer and it will help you learn to engage the divine Other - the Mystery of God - especially if you have been looking for some place to begin! If you are well seasoned in the art of prayer and spending time with God, this book with deepen you relationship and move you with intention through the several important disciplines of prayer.

Happy Readings!