God-centered prayer emphasis more satisfying
February 21, 2006
This week’s selection is an outstanding recent book on prayer written by fellow Missourian Bryan Chapell, President of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. The title of the book is Praying Backwards: Transform Your Prayer Life By Beginning In Jesus’ Name.
The first question I asked when I saw this book was, “What does that title mean?” Many of us close our prayers with the phrase, “In Jesus’ Name,” but how does one go about “praying backwards?” Chapell pleads for Christians to build our prayer life on the meaning of that phrase. He says:
“The message of this book is to put first in our hearts what those words are supposed to mean: ‘I offer this prayer for Jesus’ sake.’ When Jesus’ priorities come first, our prayers will change. They will be less self-oriented, more Christ-directed, more blessed, and ultimately most satisfying to our hearts.”
So, “praying backwards” is a shorthand way of saying our prayer should be built on the desire to accomplish God’s purpose in our life. And His purpose for us is that we would bring Him glory by being conformed to His image.
In ten quick chapters, Chapell moves through familiar terrain, highlighting key texts and principles relating to prayer. However, even when stating a principle we have heard before, such as “Pray Boldly” (Chapter 5), he explains it with fresh insight and a contagious passion for the subject. You come to the end of the chapter with the desire to close the book immediately and begin to put this “bold praying” into practice. Such writing comes only from the pen of one who has walked this path of prayer in his own life.
One of the strengths of Praying Backwards is how Chapell uses Scripture. As he handles a text relating to prayer, he does not pull the verses out of context to make them fit what he needs them to say. Instead, he employs sound hermeneutical principles. As a result, our confidence is built on the Scripture rather than on the inventiveness of the author.
By continually referencing the attributes and actions of God, Chapell writes theologically-loaded paragraphs. With God at the center of our thoughts, He becomes the center of our prayers. And the Trinitarian language is so meaty, showing how the Father, Son and Spirit each relate to the prayer of the saints. In a culture that likens prayer to yoga or transcendental meditation, it is refreshing to find a God-centered book on the subject.
One of the great strengths of the book is how Chapell anticipates possible extreme application of some of his material. In wisdom, he gives his counsel in balance. For example, a grieving family should know that God’s purposes are fulfilled even in the midst of pain, but it is presumptuous for us to guess what those purposes are. Chapell writes with the wisdom gained from having spent time in the trenches of pastoral ministry.
Chapell is an excellent communicator, employing a multitude of personal anecdotes and illustrations drawn from his everyday life. Preachers would do well to read this book if just for the example Chapell gives in how to find illustrations directly from your own life experiences.
Because prayer is such a vital part of the Christian life, I heartily recommend this book to you. It soars far above the level of many other books on prayer crowding the shelves. If you read Praying Backwards, you are sure to find your prayer life strengthened. Priced at $12.99, this is certainly money well spent. (Scott Lamb is pastor, Providence Baptist Church, St. Louis, and is a regular book reviewer for The Pathway. To interact with others about this review and to read reviews of many other books, go to www.wisdomofthepages.com)