As is the case with so many Christians I speak to, my theology of prayer is much stronger than my practice of prayer. I know so much of what the Bible says about the privilege, priority and practice of prayer, yet struggle mightily to pray fervently and consistently. Putting that theology into practice remains a daily battle.
For this reason I make books on prayer a regular part of my reading diet. While I have read enough books on the subject that I do not always find new ground, I always benefit from an author's excitement and always learn from his experiences. Reading a book on prayer renews my confidence in prayer and sparks a renewed desire to do the hard work of praying.
I first encountered H.B. Charles Jr. through his blog and quickly became a regular reader. I have since benefited from many of his articles and especially those that deal with preaching. In a recent post he mentioned the publication of a new book, his first book, and I quickly grabbed a copy. It Happens After Prayer is (obviously) a book on prayer. Another book on prayer. It is one I enjoyed. In fact, I sat down on my day off to read a chapter or two and a few hours later had read to the end, pausing only to throw together a quick lunch.
The book's great strength is in drawing upon the passages in Scripture that show God's people praying. Charles throws down a major challenge right from the earliest pages:
Prayer is our Christian duty. It is an expression of submission to God and dependence upon Him. For that matter, prayer is arguably the most objective measurement of our dependence upon God. Think of it this way. The things you pray about are the things you trust God to handle. The things you neglect to pray about are the things you trust you can handle on your own.
If this is true, and I believe it is, he has just exposed a lot of self-dependence in me. Not only that, but where I continually slip into the mode of viewing prayer as a duty, a necessity, Charles allowed me to see it again as a privilege and an honor.
Only a good and wise and sovereign God like ours would make prayer a duty and a privilege at the same time. Let me say that again. Prayer is a privilege. It is not a burdensome duty. It is a wonderful privilege. Even though Scripture commands us to pray, we should not view prayer as something we have to do. We should view is as something we get to do.
Charles looks at some of the perplexing questions that surround prayer. Questions like why we should even bother praying. "'Why should I pray?' you ask. Answer: Prayer works! More accurately, God works when we pray. When we work, we work. When we pray, God works." He looks at unanswered prayer and shows that prayer is effective even when it doesn't work quite the way we want it to; not one of the Christian's prayers is unheard or ignored. "God is a wise Father who sometimes refuses what you want to give you what you need." He addresses the way I can sometimes approach God in this too-busy always-on world saying, "Prayer is not a scheduled appointment with a busy executive. It is quality time with a loving Father."
He answers common objections to prayer and also subtly chips away at the always-dangerous prosperity theology that shifts the focus of prayer from God's good purposes to my self-centered desires. This is a book that succeeds on the macro level but one that succeeds equally on the small scale, in quotable lines and thought-provoking paragraphs.
There are a few areas where I wish the book was stronger. Most importantly, it would have benefited from another round of editing to tighten up some of the ideas and to catch a few typos. For a book published by Moody Publishers, or one of Moody's imprints at least, it is unusually rough in places and especially as it progresses; the best of the book comes early. There are a couple of places where an application does not flow naturally out of the text, Charles' use of Jeremiah 29:11 being a prime example. It is a wonderful passage, but one that demands attention to context. Finally, I would have liked stronger illustrations. Many of the illustrations are a little too generic, as if they are drawn from a book of sermon illustrations rather than from the author's own life and experiences. None of these undo the book's strengths, but addressing them would have allowed this to be a stronger and more consistent work.
Nevertheless, It Happens After Prayer was a timely book for me. It has renewed my confidence in prayer and challenged me to continue to dedicate myself to it. The fact that I read the book in a sitting on my day off speaks to its value in my life. If I apply even a small part of its wisdom I will be a more faithful husband, father, pastor and friend. I will "Pray when I feel like it. Pray when I don't feel like it. Pray until I feel like it." I echo Ray Pritchard who, in the book's foreword, writes, "I can't think of a higher compliment than to say that a book on prayer made me want to pray."
It Happens After Prayer is available at Amazon.