Teach Us To Pray. Prayer in the Bible and the World.

By Don A. Carson
Grand Rapids : Baker (1990). 362 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
2.2 (Fall 1991) : 201-204

These twenty chapters by different writers will stretch readers through their breadth of teaching about prayer. This is the third volume by the Faith and Church Study Unit of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship. Carson, Professor of NT at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, wrote Chapter 1, "Learning to Pray." Edmund Clowney, former Dean of Westminster Theological Seminary, contributed Chapter 8, "A Biblical Theology of Prayer." Most contributors to the book are not well known in America. They hold key positions, mostly in schools outside this country. Topics discussed include Biblical Theology of Prayer, Prayer and Biblical Notions of Spirituality, Lessons in Prayer from the Worldwide Church, and the Challenge to Pray (testimonies to prayer). At the end are notes for each chapter plus indexes of names and biblical passages.

The book is a very helpful small encyclopedia on important aspects of prayer. Much of the writing, however, is so matter-of-fact and academic in style that this reviewer fears will be too general, scholarly in tone, and abstractly heavy for all but the well-educated and seriously-persevering. Yet all who stick with the book will mine an abundance of gold.

The sixteen points about OT prayer (pp. 22-28) are highly profitable: prayer is not restricted to great saints; it transcends national/racial barriers and exposes the heart; it should not be an escape or excuse; it is hindered by unbelief; it should be exercised at all times, all places, and in any reverent posture. Also one should pray and fast, pray and tithe, and pray in the name of the Lord. Further, prayer fights anti-prayer forces, prayer is a cry for miracles in desperate times, does not always have a happy ending, produces monuments of gratitude, and moves God to send revival. "Rarely will you find regular nights of prayer and fasting in churches and organizations in which nothing is happening" (p. 28). "Who would have thought that the round-the-clock prayer meetings begun in Count Zinzendorf's community in 1727 would have continued for 100 years! The community was, aptly enough, called Herrnhut, `the Lord's Watch' (cf. Isaiah 62:6-7)" (p. 33).

Fine chapters deal with Prayer in the Psalms, Gospels, and Acts, Paul's writings, the General Epistles, and the Book of Revelation. Knowledgeable discussions also treat a Christian view of prayer and spirituality in Hindu thought, Buddhist thought, Muslim thought, and Roman Catholicism. A moving chapter gives lessons from prayer habits of the church in Korea. This chapter attributes spiritual birth and growth to scriptural preaching and united prayers (p. 231). The prayer was characterized by confession and accompanied by transformed lives. Often in the early work in Korea (1903, etc.) prayer extended from 1:00 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. or overnight. Also, later revivals were steeped in prayer. One section sketches some of the great men of prayer in Korea (pp. 235-39). Current habits there include prayer at daybreak or overnight and fasting.

The chapter on lessons from China is also stimulating. China has had perhaps the most Christians of any country. Conservative estimates claim about 50 million Christians there today, in a population of one billion (pp. 247, 250). Amazing growth has characterized China's churches since as late as 1976 when believers faced persecution. House churches sprang up, and the vast majority worship in these, though others attend open churches. Prayer meetings are as much as 3-4 hours long, most Christians fast often, the tone and volume is intensely earnest, and the spirit is one of unity. Scriptural language is used, with long quotations interspersed and promises claimed. Prayer is on all occasions, in accord with Eph 6:18, with heavy reliance on the Spirit. "Answered prayer is probably the most common cause of new conversions in China" (p. 253). Christians talk to God with empathy, crying while they pray, interceding for persecuted believers and backsliders, and expressing their thankfulness.

Other chapters recount prayer habits of Latin America, Africa, and the Puritans (a chapter just as stimulating as the ones on Korea and China). The Puritans prayed fervently with an awareness of God's majesty and presence. They were persistent and sensitive to God's will as revealed in His Word. They prayed to enhance God's glory and advance His kingdom. Some gave such a large place to intercession that they had hourly communion with the Lord.

Felicity Houghton, a member of the South American Missionary Society, describes her personal experience. She finds much help in the prayers of others (church and family), praying with others, and letting the Word fill her heart and shape her prayers. A prayer notebook is an asset, in addition to books on prayer, hymns, and prayer letters. Commitment to honor God's name according to the Disciples' Prayer of Matthew 6 is beneficial. A factor that draws out her prayer is the sense that others are counting on her intercessions.

The valuable book has one puzzling statement: "Prayer in Habakkuk, in a country overrun by godless, foreign armies . . ." (p. 20). The foreign army of Babylon was yet to come, but Habakkuk 3 shows Habakkuk's preparedness for it because of God's sufficiency. Not everyone will agree with the writer who says prayers of adoration represent "an advanced and higher form of prayer than those prayers that are full of complaints and requests" (p. 56). If requests are God's will, prompted by His Spirit for His glory, why are prayers of adoration necessarily a higher form? In either case, the person praying is highly pleasing to God. Scripture does not rank the aspects of prayer (praise, thanksgiving, confession, petition, intercession, etc.) in this manner.

All in all, the book blends so many features of prayer that it can be of immense spiritual benefit to a serious Christian who patiently reads it.