Prayer, The Great Adventure

By David Jeremiah
Sisters, OR : Multnomah (1997). 263 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
9.2 (Fall 1998) : 237-238

This new contribution comes from the pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in the San Diego, California area. Jeremiah has several tributes in the book to Howard Hendricks, one of his tutors while at Dallas Theological Seminary, and Hendricks writes one of the praises of the work on the first two pages.

Jeremiah includes 13 chapters, among them titles such as “Too Busy Not to Pray” (earlier the title of a Bill Hybels book on prayer), “Priorities: Aligning Our Will with God’s,” and “The Greatest Prayer Ever Offered” (John 17). The book focuses on prayer as saturating all that Jesus did on earth, and His putting more emphasis on teaching His disciples to pray than to preach (11). A big point is that Christians need a sense of being helpless without God so that they pray out of desperation, not mere duty. Problems can drive one to prayer, as Jeremiah’s own desperation came in his bout with cancer. He learned, he says, to use prayer not as a last resort but as the first line of defense (13). He has many statements that grab, such as “A prayerless Christian is like a bus driver trying alone to push his bus out of a rut because he doesn’t know Clark Kent is on board . . . “ (14). Of course, Jeremiah believes that God is much greater than even the legendary power of Superman.

The book is written simply, with many fine illustrations, and communicates very well as a stimulant to pray. Jeremiah deals with how to find time to pray in a busy life, overcome discouragement, and what to ask when praying. It may not appear gracious when he berates books on prayer that he views as “little more than guilt-ridden tirades on why we don’t pray and why we should pray more” and as “a depressing collection.” One can easily commend his own book as superior that way, and put a spin on other books which in their context may in the view of others have their point. It is valid, among other things, to speak of why people do not pray and why they ought to pray more. Sometimes the present book has statements that are not thought through well. One is, “prayer is the most wonderful gift in God’s great bag of blessings” (19). But what about 2 Cor 9:15, “the indescribable gift,” Christ and His salvation? What about God’s presence with believers, and His Word, which can be seen as a gift surely as important as, or more so, than our words to Him?

Readers find in this book a fine discussion of what Jesus teaches on prayer in Matt 7:7-11 (ask, seek, knock), Luke 11:5-8 (the parable), Matt. 6:9-12, and John 17. Chapter 2 shows that Jesus Himself was incredibly busy but prayed even when pressed with the most duties, and seeks to answer common reasons to excuse one from praying. Jeremiah says that believers need to guard against feeling that prayer is useless (59), or letting changing moods elbow prayer out of the life (59), or losing heart and not talking with God (64). Chapter 5 is “Praise” to the Father of Matt 6:9- 12. It also explains the meaning of “Hallowed” and gives seven benefits of praise. Careful interpretation falters at times, as in saying that Luke 17:21 teaches that the kingdom of God is within you. A problem is that the verse is variously translated as “within you” (but unsaved Pharisees were in Jesus’ audience, and the true kingdom was not in their hearts) or as “among you, in your midst,” and then the issue of whether that is by Jesus the King Himself being among people at that time for a while, or by His being among them as publicly and unmistakably at His future coming as the Son of Man (cf. vv. 22-37; 18:8). Many have written journal articles on the meaning of 17:21.

The author calls the prayer Jesus taught His disciples (Matt 6:9-12) “the best known prayer in the world” (71), and styles it as a road-map to guide in prayer. His book turns out to be in large part one more work giving a chapter-by-chapter discussion of the Disciples’ Prayer, which Jeremiah often calls “The Lord’s Prayer,” although in one place he acknowledges that the true Lord’s Prayer, the one Jesus prayed, is in John 17 (191). Chapter 12 is “Secrets of the Directed Life,” and it continues what chapter 11 began on John 17. Jeremiah says this is living by divine purpose and divine power and writes on how living by God’s plan guarantees five things God promises: nothing can distract, destroy, discourage, disappoint, or defeat the believer. That guarantee requires further clarification for imperfect people.

Chapter 13 shows the value of keeping a journal and what to include in it. The author is against putting in so much that it becomes so big a project and invites its own discontinuance. To put in everything “except the kitchen sink,” i.e., to make the journal so broad and inclusive as an overall writing project, can work against a real focus on prayer. Jeremiah even suggests putting in quotes from books read. This can get out of hand fast. A mature believer with many years of discipline in writing and note-taking, such as the author, can do this, whereas many believers have little discipline for such a daily journal, and need the simplest, most prayer-focused, most uncluttered methods, at least for a good while as they are building the discipline. It can be a big and fast-growing project just to maintain daily entries on new prayers/answers featuring petition, intercession, praise/thanks, affirmations about God, confessions, questions where God’s help is needed. Notes on Bible study and reading can be kept in other records, and a prayer journal should be a focused record of prayer.

The list of suggested prayer books at the end, a bit over a page, has some notable titles by E. M. Bounds, Dick Eastman, O. Hallesby, John MacArthur, Dwight Moody, J. O. Sanders, Ray Stedman, R. A. Torrey, and Warren Wiersbe. But many of the great titles are not there, such as by Andrew Murray (though he appears in some of the footnotes), W. B. Hunter, Donald Carson, and Evelyn Christianson, to name but a few.

An overall assessment would rate this as a highly readable motivation book for seeing the urgency to pray and finding guidance for prayer in some passages of the NT. It is refreshing for teachers, pastors, and lay people, and has many oneliners and illustrations of a riveting nature. The book has those benefits without plowing ground beyond what many books have already essentially covered.