"Conversation is only the vehicle through which we experience one another," writes Paul Miller, author of A Praying Life. "Consequently, prayer is not the center of this book. Getting to know a person, God, is the center."
That quote sums up this refreshingly atypical book about prayer. Other books I've read often list formats, acronyms, and methodologies for improving your prayer life, which is sometimes necessary. But this book made me realize how imbalanced I was in trying to evaluate my prayer life through its "effectiveness," i.e. answered prayers. Though I knew that fact intellectually, it was still my default functional theology. I liked keeping prayer journals so I could track how many prayers were answered. And that's not the point of prayer. Instead, the praying life reveals the heart, Miller writes.
The quest for a contemplative life can actually be self-absorbed, focused on my quiet and me. If we love people and have the power to help, then we are going to be busy. Learning to pray doesn't offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. In the midst of outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet. Because we are less hectic on the inside, we have a greater capacity to love. ...
We don't learn to love someone without it changing us. That is just the nature of love that reflects the heart of God. Because God's love is unchanging, the second person of the Trinity, Jesus of Nazareth, now has a scarred body. The Trinity is different because of love.
A Praying Life is a book full of encouraging perspectives. Paul Miller invites us into his home and family life to encounter what he's learned about God, prayer, and himself. And he's not one to shy away from the conundrum of "unanswered prayer" that seems to be in contradiction to the promises Jesus made about asking God for what we need and desire. Instead, he unpacks these promises, challenges our faith, and reminds us the story is not over.
When we don't receive what we pray for or desire, it doesn't mean that God isn't acting on our behalf. Rather, he's weaving his story. Paul tells us to "continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2). Thanksgiving helps us to be grace-centered, seeing all of life as a gift. It looks at how God's blessings impact our lives. Watchfulness alerts us to the unfolding drama in the present. It looks for God's present working as it unfolds into future grace. ...
When the story isn't going your way, ask yourself, What is God doing? Be on the lookout for strange gifts. God loves to surprise us with babies in swaddingly clothes lying in mangers. Sometimes when we say "God is silent," what's really going on is that he hasn't told us the story the way we wanted it told. ... Living in unfinished stories draw us into God's final act, the return of Jesus.
I read A Praying Life in small bites, savoring biblical truths that needed to soak deeply into my soul. Like every believer I know, I am always convicted of my prayerlessness when I read books like this one. Self-sufficiency is a huge temptation for American Christians, from my observation. Though this book convicted me again, it was not condemning to read. Instead, I was highly encouraged to think of my prayers as part of the grand narrative that God is creating. He is using my requests and my efforts in petitioning Him to conform me to the image of Christ. More importantly, He is teaching me how to love. As Miller writes, "How would you love someone without prayer? I mean, what would it look like if you loved someone but couldn't pray for that person? ... Love without being able to pray feels depressing and frustrating, like trying to tie a knot with gloves on. I would be powerless to do the other person any real good. People are far too complicated; the world is far too evil, and my own heart is too off center to be able to love adequately without praying."
I highlighed that passage for the obvious application: If I claim to love someone and I'm not praying for him or her, I'm not truly loving that individual. Love and prayer are bound together in the kingdom of God. A Praying Life is an outstanding resource to "spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24). Highly recommended.