A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-four Ways to Walk with God [A Review]

The difference between talking about prayer and praying is the same as the difference between blowing a kiss and kissing. – G.K. Chesterton

I am learning how to pray. Like Jesus’ original, questioning disciples, I am in need of some schooling in the ways and means of prayer. As the Chesterton quote above alludes, talking about prayer is a world apart from actually praying and I find myself frequently firmly planted in the talking about camp rather than the praying camp.

In this learning process, I’ve come to realize how my apathy towards prayer has lead to my antipathy regarding prayer. I have an aversion to prayer. It’s so boring and seemingly non-consequential. My mind wonders as time is wasted. In the end, all the talk about prayer was compounding my distaste for it.

And this in a world where I’d been taught the central place of prayer for life itself. Like many facets of the Christian life, prayer is a given in many discussions albeit an arduous road less traveled. Yet, my conversion to a life of prayer was borne out of life of actually praying. It wasn’t until I actually began praying in regular ways that I began to question how to pray, the efficacy of prayer, and the true central role it has for all of life. As I continue to learn and press through this antipathy – for it has never gone away completely – I find myself yearning for more of the God I encounter.

Thankfully, this book by MaryKate Morse landed in my mailbox. It is a variegated antithesis to all things stale and pallid in the life of prayer. Its multifaceted approach does what it says: it guides us into myriad of ways of getting on with prayer with an attentive gentleness outdone only by listening to Morse’s voice in person. (I have done so and have been bettered for it.)

The book gives us means of engaging with God in a uniquely trinitarian way.

The purpose of this book is to move from the lament to the joy of praying…Prayer is more than a practice. It is a living adventure with a relational and risen Lord. God created us to be in a relationship with God expressed in the Trinity. God is the Creator and Covenant Maker. Jesus Christ is the living embodiment of God’s love and is the Redeemer who heals and forgives us. The Holy Spirit empowers us and intercedes on our behalf. – p. 14

Taking her cues from the Divine Community, Morse has broken her book up in three sections focusing on one Person at a time: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each section, therefore, reflects the being and doing of each person. As such, prayers revolving around the Father discuss creativity, work, blessing, and worship; the Son on service, simplicity, forgiveness, and play; the Spirit, conversation, healing, and rejoicing. These are just a sampling of the prayers given and fleshed out among many others.

Within each chapter – i.e. creativity, simplicity, healing – exercises are given for the individual, groups, and partners. Thus, as one reads, not only is information amassed, but concrete practices are embodied. Furthermore, she does not foresee this work being used primarily as “an occasional tool for different ways to pray, but it is primarily designed to help us become people of prayer.” (p. 19) To this end, stories are given from folks who have gone ahead of the reader(s) in the specific type of prayer being addressed. These are helpful encouragements that play a prominent role in the book; they’re not just supplemental add-ons. In them I found my own story and circumstances echoing back to me in the common hardships and pleasantries of life. In other words, don’t skip them.

If you’re one who has grown tired of speaking of prayer, I suggest this book. If you’re a leader of retreats looking for fresh material, I suggest this book. If you’re a pastor/priest looking for both teaching material and exercises, I suggest this book. Regardless of where you find yourself, I suggest this book. From its plethora of prayers, to its beautiful trinitarian structure, to its personal stories, this is a resource rich in both diversity and the potential to unify.

May it help you – and me – in our transition to being people of prayer.

Purchase it here.

Full Disclosure: I received this book for free from InterVarsity Press with the condition I would read it and write a review. I was under no obligation to write an endorsement for the book; nor did I receive any monetary incentives. All words, unless cited with a page number, are my own and are not reflective of the authors or IVP.

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A or B?: A Few Thoughts on Discernment and Decision Making

“A good journey begins with knowing where we are and being willing to go somewhere else.” – Richard Rohr

For several months now, my wife and I have been praying, thinking, and discussing with friends and family regarding a potential shift. Not only the possibility of a move in geography and locale, but one of occupation as well. It has been a long, developing set of circumstances filled with doubt and frustration, joy and laughter, bewilderment and irony. This past week brought some conclusion to this time as I have accepted a position with a company here in Syracuse.

While traversing this time in liminal land, we have had to deal with times of disorientation as we wondered what was around each corner. For us as a family, it was a much deeper and concerning time as we now are not only responsible for ourselves as a married couple, but also for our 3 children. In many ways, the decisions we were facing had the potential to alter the trajectory and direction our family has been headed. For us, it is imperative to filter our own longings through the interrelated grids of community, incarnation, and mission.

Through it all, we knew discernment had to permeate all we did. This wasn’t a task we took lightly as it had/has enough inherent force to change how things play out in the future.

We are by no means experts in any of these things, but I’d like to share a few lessons we’ve come across and implemented through this particular season.

Discernment

Community Discussion

We knew through it all we could not and should not pretend we could make it alone. The lie of autonomy is exactly that: a lie. We have been taught in many ways that independence is a higher value and aspiration than interdepedence. Whether it be engrained in us implicitly or explicitly, the modern imagination has been shaped by power, prestige, and self-importance. Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with the illusion of autonomy and the good life it purports. The interdependent life sees these and names them as antithetical to its very existence. Postures of humility, mutuality, and vulnerability are the hallmarks of interdependency and run counter-intuitive to our individualistic mindsets.

So, we tried our best to incorporate not only our thoughts on things along with the thoughts and feelings of others. We began with our family and closest friends, along with co-workers and neighbors. Knowing our decisions would have effects on people beyond ourselves, we deemed it necessary to include the voices of those we are tethered to. Through their input, we were able to discern gifts, talents, possibilities, and the ripple effects of potential decisions. For this we are/were extremely grateful.

The next step, however, was to begin to talk with those outside of our closest circles. In many ways, those who are not too familiar with the ins and outs of our existence can give us eyes to things we don’t see. Those closest to us are invaluable, but there are communal blind-spots we share that an outside perspective illuminates. As I began to talk with friends across the country, I was able to gain insights I wouldn’t have gained otherwise. They poked and prodded in ways our friends and family here couldn’t.

If you can, I suggest you look at both of these circles in your own life and ask how they can open your eyes to things you may not even be aware are present.

Stage of life

Discerning our stage in life was vital. We have been married for 7.5 years and have attempted to live as simply as we can. In some seasons this has been easy; in others, a bit more difficult. I was 24 when we were married, 25 when I started my Masters, and by 26 we had our first daughter. Those first two years of marriage we were both working full-time and had plenty of time, money, and energy. However, the past 5 years has given us 3 daughters and time, money, and energy have been found wanting.

Dreams and aspirations change as the seasons of our life change. The things I was chasing after have taken drastic twists and turns. With each new child, those potential endeavors and passions have changed as life has become more about family and less about Scott. Even within the past 5 years of having children, each successive child brought new challenges and opportunities. What I saw as necessary when I was 25, I now have been able to bury in the ground. Paradoxically, life has still emerged and emerged all the more beautifully.

So, for us, determining what stage of life we were in was a must as we came to decisions. There is a whole new set of questions we have to be asking as we form answers to what directions things might move in. They are different for everyone, but I suggest you prayerfully reflect upon them and your current stage of life.

Prayer

I know. For many, this is a given. Still, for many others, it is a given in thought, not in reality. I was certainly in the latter camp for a long, long time. It is interesting – and somewhat embarrassing – that it takes tough times to truly turn to God. Desperation has a funny way of tearing down our arrogance and providing the framework necessary to realize our finiteness. God is a being of participation, rather it be small or large decision. As Ruth Haley Barton says,

As strange as it may sound, desperation is a really good thing in the spiritual life. Desperation causes us to be open to radical solutions, willing to take all manner of risk in order to find what we are looking for. Desperate ones seek with an all-consuming intensity, for they know that their life depends on it. (Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, p. 30)

The longer we prayed about our potential change, the more we became open to whatever God had for us. As the Richard Rohr quote above states, we were becoming ever-increasingly willing to go somewhere else. Rather ironically, our “going somewhere else” will take place in our staying put geographically.

And this leads me to perhaps the weightiest part of this all.

Decision Making

I’ll be with you regardless.

There is a strong idea, perhaps even a doctrine, embedded within many Christian communities regarding God’s will. It has several variations, but essentially goes something like this: “God has a wonderful plan for your life and as long as you’re in the center of God’s will, you will be blessed.” Have you heard this before?

I have had numerous conversations with people who have heard this. They were facing decisions with tectonic shift-like power and were ruminating on some permutation of the aforementioned Christian axiom.

Now, hear me: I’m not saying this statement is inherently evil nor are those who perpetuate it. I have said it, believed it, encouraged it, and acted upon it. However, as of late, I have come to the conclusion that I have no idea what it means.

Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s my inexperience. Maybe it’s my faith.

Regardless, my worry is that it has created more confusion than clarity. For those whom I have spoken with who were wrestling with the ramifications of “being in God’s will” there was a paralysis brought upon them by this belief. It’s as if there is either A or B and you must choose and choose wisely or else. There is no “both” because they are typically seen as mutually exclusive and singular in their pathways. As such, there is a visceral fear of making the wrong choice in regards to God’s will and finding God is blatantly absent from our lives due to it. (Obviously, there are decisions we make that are outside of the life and kingdom Jesus beckons us into. The thought here is central to decisions decidedly not of that nature.)

In place of this fear, we have found freedom in finding God’s presence in both A and B. Recently, we were reminded, “God made humans, not robots.” Again, it is one thing to understand this; it is another to embody it. Yet, the beauty of God’s love is its allowance for choice.

God is infinitely patient. He will not push himself into our lives. He knows the greatest thing he has given us is our freedom. If we want habitually, even exclusively, to operate from the level of our own reason, he will respectfully keep silent. We can fill ourselves with our own thoughts, ideas, images, and feelings. He will not interfere. But if we invite him with attention, opening the inner spaces with silence, he will speak to our souls, not in words or concepts, but in the mysterious way that Love expresses itself – by presence. – M. Basil Pennington

I firmly believe we would do well to crack the illusion of both God’s non-involvement in our lives and God’s commandeering of our wills. We have certainly found the grace of God in the tension of earnestly praying for his will to be done all the while knowing it was our decision to make. As we have decided, we have rested in his promise of “I’ll be with you regardless.”

What about you? What has aided you in discernment and decision making?

There is a lot more to be said. What am I missing?

I’d love to hear your story.

Ordinary Time: A Prayer for the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Trees Planted by Streams of Water – Psalm 1

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Ordinary Time: A Prayer for the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer Is Like Watching For the Kingfisher: A Poem by Ann Lewin

Prayer is like watching for

The kingfisher. All you can do is

Be there where he is like to appear, and

Wait.

Often nothing much happens;

There is space, silence and

Expectancy.

No visible signs, only the

Knowledge that he’s been there

And may come again.

Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,

You have been prepared.

But when you’ve almost stopped

Expecting it, a flash of brightness

Gives encouragement.

Prayer Is Like Watching For the Kingfisher – by Ann Lewin

Ordinary Time: A Prayer for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Fifth Sunday After Easter: A Prayer

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Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.