I must admit from the start that I am a "fan" of Richard Foster. I love reading his books. And my favorite is "Celebration of Discipline." So when I saw "Prayer" I took to it like a duck to water.
A hardening of the categories has stifled my own prayer life. Many of the 21 categories through which Foster guided me, I had before neglected or misunderstood. In each chapter, Foster leads us by the hand, identifying and describing a different feature of prayer.
"By naming our experiences," says Foster, "I hope to increase our understanding of what God is doing among us so we can be more intentional in our practice."
These various chapters on prayer hold one thing in common: they all pulsate from "the heart of God, which reaches out in utter accepting love and woos us into the intimacy of prayer." The author groups these features into three sections, suggesting that prayer move in one of three directions.
The first group of chapters (pp. 5-82) shows some ways in which prayer draws us inward into the transformation we need. Topics include the prayer of the forsaken, the prayer of tears, the prayer of relinquishment, formation prayer, and covenant prayer.
He begins with a chapter titled "Simple Prayer." He quotes from Dom Chapman: "Pray as you can, not as you can't" (p.7). Some days after reading this, I sat in a coffee shop with a church member who wondered how he could come to God in prayer when he struggled with persistent sin. I shared with him some insights from this chapter. Several days later, he called to thank me for the sharing.
One reason we experience the "agony of prayerlessness," says Foster, stems from the faulty notion that everything needs to be in order before we pray. On this side of eternity, we will always come to God with tangled motives. But God's grace allows us to pray, baggage and all. In fact, "it is in the very act of prayer itself that these matters are cared for in due time" (p. 8).
The chapter on the "Prayer of Examen" (examination) helped me identify an area of neglect in my own prayer life. I have prayed my share of prayers Foster would label "the examen of conscience," which are prayers uncovering areas that need cleansing, purifying, and healing. But I had neglected the "examen of consciousness," which is the discovery of "how God has been present to us throughout the day and how we have responded to his loving presence" (p. 28).
A second group of chapters (pp. 83-175) shows us some ways prayer draws us upward into the intimacy we need. The author touches on the prayer of adoration, the prayer of rest, sacramental prayer, unceasing prayer, the prayer of the heart, meditative prayer, and contemplative prayer.
A final set of chapters (pp. 178-274) shows us how God's loving friendship calls us outward into the ministry we need. Here, Foster deals with praying the ordinary, healing prayer, the prayer of suffering, authoritative prayer, and radical prayer. I found the chapters on petitionary prayer and intercessory prayer particularly helpful. Asking is at the heart of both. The former involves asking for ourselves, the latter for others.
Petitionary prayer is not a lower form of prayer, argues Foster. We will never get beyond asking for ourselves, nor should we want to. I sometimes struggle with what Foster calls "bothering God with the petty details of my life." He reminded me of "the Abba heart of God," which makes my big concerns God's concerns.
The other side of asking is intercession.
"Intercession is a way of loving others," says the author. The author's comments have prompted me to encourage my church people to see that prayer need not be a cop out for turning our love into action. Rather, it must support those actions, and at times, it will be the only tangible way we can express our love.
In closing let me quote some lines from the back cover of this must read book:
"Here is a comprehensive, profound and immediately accessible book which opens the way for all to increase their understanding and develop their practice of prayer. … No one who reads Prayer will remain unmoved. All will find encouragement within its pages. The mystery of prayer will become a source of wonder; the possibility of a profound experience of prayer will come within reach."
(This book is found in BGST Library at REF 248.32 FOS and LC 248.32 FOS.)
(Review by Dr John Lim)
I would also like to encourage all who are interested in prayer to take a private study course entitled "Prayer: Its Traditions and Practices" taught by Rev. David Wong.
Chapel speaker last week was Dr Quek Swee
Hwa. He spoke on 2 Cor 3:1-11. The Apostle Paul wrote: Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God.
Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-- not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!"
Dr Quek pointed out four things: (1) Commendation - it is God who commends us and enables us to stand up with our head high because he gives us the
victory. (2) Letter - Christians are compared with a letter which testifies to Christ. Others should be able to look at the way we live our life and see Christ in
us. (3) Competence or sufficiency - Our sufficiency is from God without which we are nothing. And (4) when all these are achieved we can begin to minister to others: our ministry rises above the ashes of condemnation and we express in our lives the surpassing glory of the righteous of Christ.
This week's (13 Nov) Chapel speaker will be Dr Philip Satterthwaite. Next week (20 Nov), we are privileged to have Rev John Ting sharing with us on the topic of depression.