Saturday, February 18, 2017

Prayer and the Voice of God

Introduction to Prayer and the Voice of God by Phillip D. Jensen and Tony Payne

Katie Stringer

Prayer and the Voice of God by Phillip D. Jensen and Tony Payne is a small, ordinary looking book that has had a profound impact on my Women’s Bible Study Group. Can I urge you to consider reading it with some Christian friends this year, you won’t regret it!

As we gave thanks in our small group for 2016 it was one of the things people highlighted as making a big impact. Together we read this book chapter by chapter over ten weeks. We discussed our questions, looked up Bible passages and most importantly - began to pray more! God greatly encouraged us in this endeavor by bringing three new people along to our group during this period. Two of the women have stayed and become cherished members of our group. A third woman came and was with us for a few sessions, but it wasn't for her. However she's come along to church a few times (something she’s never done before) and when I see her has both a Bible (her first one!) and a copy of this book in her bag. I continue to pray that God will draw her into a deep and satisfying relationship with him. And I hope she reads this book!

So what's so special about this little book?
  1. It’s short and it’s easy. Like Guidance and the Voice of God (by the same authors) it distills the Bible's wisdom on one topic, in this case, prayer, in a chatty Australian style. I’m used to reading American and English Christian writers and there’s a certain rhythm to Australian sentences and directness to our speech that is nice to read on the page, and does feel like home. (This may or may not make it easier to share with people in your context. In mine, I think it made it easier.)
  2. It works brilliantly in a Bible study or book club setting. I love reading and will pretty much read any type of book. For example, I stood in line at the Post Office this morning and read a book on computer coding for children. It was the first thing at eye level! But I get that reading is not everyone's cup of tea and we are living in an age where many people are unfamiliar with the experience of ‘deep’ reading. This is a book even a ‘doesn't like to read much’ person can get through. When you combine ‘alone time reading’ with weekly catch ups to discuss each chapter you get the chance to dig deeper into things you didn’t understand, want to talk more about, or find difficult to do. In short, you get to plunge together!
  3. There’s lots of Bible in it. For such a little book, the authors manage to pack a lot of scripture in. There are discussion questions provided at the back of the book and the Bible passages to look up are often quoted in full in the chapter you’ve just read. We found we had enough to chew on here for a ten week term. As a group we then returned to our usual practice of reading a book of the Bible in depth the following term.
  4. You get to open your heart about something that matters deeply. Everybody has opinions and questions about this most fundamental of human spiritual activities. And it's lovely to have a chance to explore your meaty questions: What is Christian prayer as distinct from other types of prayer? Do you do it? Alone? With other people? How often? Does He hear you? What do you pray about? Does it work? Why should I pray? What if God says ‘no’ to my prayer?
  5. You’ll have interesting conversations outside of the group. I love talking about the things I’m passionate about. Reading this book led me to have great conversations with people who weren’t reading the book! I longed to talk to friends who I know pray regularly and learn from them. Do your church going friends have an active prayer life? You might be surprised and saddened to discover that many do not. This should motivate you to pray for them and with them! And tell them about this great little book you could read together. I had interesting conversations with people who weren’t reading the book and don’t pray through Jesus to our Heavenly Father (as far as I know) just because it was a Thursday and they were standing next to me in the playground and they looked at my young son in the pram and said, “What’d you guys get up to today?”  And I took a deep breath and said, ‘Well, we’re reading this really interesting book in Bible Study…”
  6. You’ll pray. And you’ll pray more often. Using this book helped each of us in the group grow in confidence to head into the throne room of God and ask Him for things. “In the Bible, ‘prayer’ simply means “asking God for things”. (p13.) Of course we combine that with thanking him and praising him for things and confessing our sins too but it was helpful to learn that the prayer bit is in the asking. Rather than beat ourselves up for the times we don’t pray we grew in our understanding of what happens when we do pray and we learnt to confess our prayerlessness and start again. As the weeks rolled on, a friend leant forward after group prayer time and said, “I think our prayers are getting really really good!”
  7. Prayer can feel good. That’s not the main reason to pray but it is reason. I thought recently that I spend a lot of my time thinking about what I need to do or buy, but that the truly satisfying moments in my life are not when I tick something off my list. The deep joy in my life comes from connecting with other people. And a lot of those times are in prayer. The authors spend a whole chapter on the fellowship of prayer and write, “Whenever Christianity has been strong, and the gospel has been growing and bearing fruit, believers have been united in labouring hard at prayer.” (p.157) While that sounds like a lot of work, I’d add God has put more joy and purpose in my heart sitting with my friends in prayer than almost any other way I can think to spend my time. I am immensely grateful to have praying friends and learn so much from their deep dependence on God.
  8. Prayer is still good even when it doesn’t feel good. It’s normal to struggle in prayer. The authors write, “If the Bible is any guide, we have to be taught to pray, and then encouraged, exhorted and even commanded to continue doing it.” (p.10) I also appreciate my own pastor’s helpful teaching which is that the devil hates it when the gospel goes forward. C S Lewis’ Screwtape letters come to mind. You can imagine the conversation: “Oh no! She hasn’t started praying regularly has she? Distract her, make her busy, make her too tired, put an amazing new series on Netflix. Remind her what a waste of time it is and then get her to fill up a big list of stuff to do and buy.” Nice one.
  9. You’ll grow. That is the single most memorable thing I continually pray for myself and the women in my group, “Dear Lord please help us grow!” I continue to pray that we will grow in number and that we will grow in maturity. That our love for Christ will deepen and that it will be our great joy to serve him and reach out to others with the life-changing news that Jesus is Lord! The authors write:

“God includes and uses our prayers in his purposes, much as a patient mother will let her three-year-old help with the cooking, even though it takes much longer and produces considerably more mess! God gathers our prayers into his purposes for our sake - to help us learn to trust him and depend upon him for all things.” (p.154)

May we never stop depending upon our good God and saviour, listening to what he says in the Bible and asking him for things.

About this month's contributor, Katie Stringer
Katie loves writing and has had snippets published in Womankind Magazine and the Guardian Weekly. She leads a Bible Study at her local Anglican church, All Souls Leichhardt and loves being part of the Leichhardt community. She is married to Andrew and they have two school-age daughters and a young son