5 Stars Out Of 5
How to think about prayer
October 8, 2010
West Chester, PA
Matthew Henry starts his book on communion with God by defining prayer for us:
Prayer is lifting up the soul to God, and pouring out the heart before him; yet, as far as the expressing of the devout affections of the heart by words may be of use to fix the thoughts, and to excite and quicken the desires, it is good to draw near to God, not only with a pure heart, but with a humble voice; so we must "render the calves of our lips." (13)
That is, prayer is lifting up the soul to God, using words to fix our attention and thoughts on God, while also using words to instruct our emotions and affections to enjoy God. Ultimately, prayer is good because we draw near to God. Through the book, Henry applies this to our souls through the course of the day.
The book consists of three simple parts: How to begin your day with God, How to keep your day with God, and How to end your day with God. Henry discusses the three parts of the day in simply applying a Psalm to our lives. For beginning the day he applies Psalm 5:3 - "O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch." Here he opens up how to begin the day in one's attitude towards God and expectations in reading his Word. The Christian has much to be grateful for in beginning their day, and much to ask God for grace in as they look towards the day ahead. If you're needing help in seeing why you should begin your day in prayer, and how you should be praying to God, this section will be helpful for you.
In the middle of the day, Henry applies Psalm 25:5, "for you I wait all the day long." Henry goes through here and applies "waiting on the Lord" in how to spend the day with God. He helps us to ask what we are boasting in through the day. Am I boasting in God in my attitude and approach to the day's activities? Or am I boasting in myself? The Christian's life is bound up in dependence on Jesus Christ, and Henry beckons the soul to rest in Jesus.
Finally, Henry closes the book by applying Psalm 4:8 to how we end our days, "In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety." Here we see how to think about the day behind us. To be repentant of the sins we've committed, thankful for the mercies we've received. The grace of God to give us peace in Christ through the Gospel is applied to our souls to help us join with David in knowing real peace as we lie down. Henry closes by drawing our attention to think on that final peace we will know in death, to draw sobriety from that, as well as joy for that day when we will see our Lord Jesus.
Reasons to like the book
As I read through the book, I felt instructed on how to think about daily prayer and how to make a discipline of the normal events of the day into moments where I express simply faith in Christ. Many books on prayer want to address specific issues about prayer - how to pray for certain things, how to understand theological issues in prayer, etc. Other books want to give only practical guides for prayer - how to's and when's - without giving any instruction. Henry's little work gives you a whole vision of why you should pray during the day. The book feels like a parent helping their child see consolations in the heavens; Henry points to regular moments of our lives, stands us in them, and points us up to see how the glory of God relates to them.
One of the ways I want to use this book from here is to go through and make little short lists of his guidance of the types of things to be praying about for mental joggers. For example, when waking, Henry reminds us that we are dependent upon God, and lists out several areas that we see this: Our happiness depends on God; our guilt makes us dependent on mercy; our souls depend on God for life; our safety from enemies depends on God; our impending death makes us dependent upon God for every moment of life; we depend on Christ being members of his body, the Church; we depend on God for strength and wisdom in all of our relationships. That's a helpful list to keep in mind when thinking about the day's business ahead.
Personally, the most helpful chapter in the book - and I think the most needed for Western Christians - is his section on waiting upon God. American's are not patient. The call and application to wait in prayer upon God is very helpful.
Ultimately, I think this is a really helpful book on prayer. I highly recommend it to anybody looking for a little puritan book to guide them in thinking about prayer, and stir their affection to be with God.
-- This review was features on The Strasbourg Inn. The book was provided free for review by the publisher. All thoughts are my own. --