Prayers of others helpful in continuing to learn to pray

encounteringgodeditedOften I find myself wanting to talk and listen to God but unable to find words for what I want to say. I’m out of sorts with God or myself about something. My “regular” way of framing words in prayer just won’t do.

Then there is the day-by-day puzzling over the meaning of life. Bad things keep happening, and once again I’m not sure why I’m here or what I should be doing with my life. When I find myself in that place, reading the prayers of others helps me.
Encountering God in the Prayers of Others is a wonderful source of prayers written by Christians across the centuries. It is a collection of the favorite prayers of seven Baptist ministers.

Among the ancient prayers are some from Ephraim the Syrian, St. Patrick and St. Augustine. There are words from the Book of Common Prayer and the monastic orders.

American hymn writers and poets such as John Greenleaf Whittier and Georgia Harkness are included. There are verses from the great British poets John Donne and George Herbert.

Readers will discover selections from Reinhold Niebuhr, John Henry Newman, Howard Thurman, Søren Kierkegaard, Anne Lamott, Mark Twain, D.L. Moody, Robert Frost, Peter Marshall and C. S. Lewis as well. Included are interesting historical tidbits about the authors of the chosen prayers and the period in which they were written.

Paul Basden is the editor of the book and one of the authors. The other contributors are R. LaMon Brown, Brad Creed, Gary Furr, Fisher Humphreys, Dwight A. Moody and Richard Francis Wilson. They are members of The Trinity Group, begun in 1990 to read and discuss Christian theology.

The name reveals the importance to them of the Trinitarian understanding of God. Over the past 25 years the group has continued to meet.

The initial idea of reading and discussing theology broadened to include consideration of theology’s implications for church life, educational institutions and personal matters. This volume focuses on the discipline of prayer as a part of the life of all who try to think about God and follow the way of his son Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit.

It was written out of the desire of the authors to commend the practice of letting the prayers of others help us as we continue to learn to pray.

For many with roots in the Free Church tradition, the idea of praying another person’s prayer doesn’t seem right. The editor addresses this concern in the introduction by pointing out that we regularly pray the Psalms, picking up on the words and phrases that fit our particular needs on that day and passing over the words that are less meaningful to us. In the same way we can read the prayers of others, and as God leads we can latch on to the parts that attract us.

Accompanying each prayer is an auto-biographical essay in which the author explains why that prayer is important to him. These essays are mostly stories.

They are a broad mix of thought-provoking, funny, winsome, heartbreaking and wise words about the incongruities of living as a follower of Jesus. You will find yourself smiling and nodding in approval at the rich connections and artistic images described by these authors.

You will be troubled by some of them. Not all prayers are comfortable. Some remind us to pay attention and not pray in self-righteous ways or let our prayers become weapons.

It can be hard to wrap your mind around some of the essays. But in the end you will find yourself identifying with the writers in their joy and in their pain.

Encountering God in the Prayers of Others is available from Amazon, Parson’s Porch Books and elsewhere. A three-hour audiobook is also available at Amazon.

Nancy McLemore Womble, a professional voice-over artist, is the narrator. She gives a brief biographical description of the writers before they read their chosen prayers and personal essays. So you hear the authors’ words in their own voices.

I downloaded the book to my phone and listen while I walk. There are 53 short tracks, and it’s easy to listen to as many as you would like and then pick back up another day.

Although the seven authors have earned doctorates in theology, New Testament or church history, this is not an academic book. It is very readable, but that does not mean it is an “easy” book. They write honestly about their personal experiences and struggles to understand life. In the end, however, they find a world and life filled with promise and beauty — made so in great part because of the hope found in praying the prayers of others. BT

Cynthia Wise Mitchell lives in Birmingham and Alpine, Ala., and is amember of Alpine Baptist Church.