At STAFF FOCUS (Co-Mission's annual retreat for all staff working in Co-Mission churches) all attendees were asked to read Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life. Santhosh Thomas, a pastor at Dundonald Church and theological editor of ARTICLES, chatted to Roo Standring, Director of Church Strengthening, about why he chose this book to be the discussion starter at this year’s event.
SANTHOSH THOMAS: You recently asked the entire Co- Mission staff team to read A Praying Life, in preparation for Staff Focus. Why did you do that?
ROO STANDRING: The theme of Staff Focus this year was Prayer and A Praying Life is easily the best book I’ve ever read on prayer. I was looking for a book for pre-Focus reading (to extend the reach and input into our 3 days away together) and I remembered my wife Becky raving about it when she read it 5 years ago so I read it myself over the summer. I read very few books more than once (apart from the Bible!) - life’s too short and there are so many books - but as soon as I’d finished it I started again at the beginning. I’ve now read it three times in the last 4 months!
ST: It’s obviously made a real impact on you, as well as on many of the Co-Mission staff who’ve read it. Why do you think that is?
RS: Paul Miller is a Christian who has learnt to pray over the last three decades of his life and he shares his personal experience in the book for our benefit. It’s not a theology of prayer (for that read J I Packer’s book Praying) but it is shaped and informed by the Bible. He fully and sympathetically understands the struggles we have in prayer because he had, and has, them too. Without making us feel guilty he shows us how we can get ‘better’ in our praying: how we can pray more, about more things, more instinctively and more expectantly. In his commendation on the back cover author Paul Tripp says: “A book on prayer that actually makes you want to pray!” I’ve totally found that to be true and heard many others say that too.
ST: What would you’d say you’d specifically learnt from A Praying Life about prayer that has meant you’ve wanted to pray?
RS: So many things! It's such a great book! Let me think of three to give you a favour if it:
Miller is great on exposing the cynicism in our hearts, which we’ve absorbed from our culture, that stops us praying. Either, we think, praying is unnecessary because we can do what needs doing in our own strength; or, we think, praying won’t really make any difference to the situation we’re facing. Either way, the result is the same - we don’t pray. That nailed me!
We often think that we need to sort ourselves out before we can come to God in prayer and so again that stops us praying. Miller has a great line - “Come messy! The real you has to meet the real God.” I found that so liberating. It got me praying as I was and that was OK.
Miller shows us how prayer is much bigger than just a small part of our lives; it’s seeing and interacting with everything God is doing in our lives. His book isn’t called ‘A Prayer Life’ (just a book about how to improve the praying part of our lives) it’s called ‘A Praying Life’ (how to move prayer into every part of our lives).
ST: Would you say that is the big change you’ve seen in your life from having read A Praying Life - you’ve gone from having a ‘prayer life’ to a ‘praying life’?
RS: I’m not sure I’d go quite that far! I’m not there yet, but I’m definitely heading in that direction! Prayer is a much bigger part of my life, less confined than it was; it pops up all over the place and I find myself praying about most things as I go along and also seeing where God is at work more readily. There was so much I was blind to before because I just wasn’t praying about so much. Praying has really opened my eyes to see what I guess was always the case - God is active in the lives of his children. Now I see more of that, I can thank him for more it.
ST: You’re a pastor and you got the Co-Mission staff to read A Praying Life, so is it just a book for ‘professional’ Christians?
RS: Absolutely not! It’s for any Christian who is dissatisfied with how they pray now and wants to grow in their relationship with God, so I guess it’s for all Christians.
ST: So really it’s a book about drawing closer to God, more than about prayer?
RS: Yes, in a way it is. The key verse for the whole book is John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Miller has written A Praying Life to help us believe the end of this verse - apart from me you can do nothing and so do the first part of the verse - remain in me. Prayer is simply the language of someone who is ‘remaining in Jesus’; someone who is convinced that without him they can do nothing.