In reading and researching fairly widely around the topic of prayer, I’ve consumed and discarded a wide range of books on the topic. There are, it seems, a myriad of approaches to this all-important issue, and it genuinely looks like someone has tried each one. That said, one of my favourite thus far is Don Carson’s “A Call to Spiritual Reformation”. This well known and fairly comprehensive look at ‘Priorities from Paul and his prayers’, with the intent of calling the reader to a renewed and reformed personal prayer life, that God may be glorified.
This is a wonderful book. It is a very ‘Don Carson’ book, and relatively comprehensive, but well worth the effort to work through. It is a comprehensive, deeply prayerful, and expansive look at the many prayers of Paul that we have preserved in the New Testament, and it is a brilliant combination of a very specific commentary, and also a useful devotional.
The various chapter-length engagements with particular prayers (often giving helpful frameworks or structure for prayer generally) are interspersed with Carson’s opinion and observations on Prayer more generally. In contrast to some of the various and many books on Prayer I’ve been digesting recently, Carson gets properly stuck in. He identifies this issue as the urgent need of the Church, and addresses with chapters important issues such as “Praying for Others”, “Excuses for Not Praying”, and each of the chosen passages containing a New Testament prayer gets a serious issue dealt with. I personally loved his “A Passion for People” exegesis of 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, and the engagement with “Overcoming the Hurdles” that characterised his treatment of Philippians 1:9-11.
As I pointed out in my review of another of his books, Carson is great at laying out the glorious truths of the Bible in simple and understandable terms, even when said truths are complex. This is in evidence here. Many popular books on prayer simply fail to engage with the tension between God’s Sovereignty and his Personal nature in relation to prayer – but Carson hits it head on, in the superb chapter “A Sovereign and Personal God”, swiftly followed by “Praying to the Sovereign God”, his careful and comforting exposition of Ephesians 1:15-23. These themes are tricky but essential, and Carson unpacks them with characteristic grace. His aforementioned book, “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God”, goes deeper into these issues.
I enjoyed this book. It is a fairly meaty tome, and it can be quite deep and challenging at times, but it is definitely worth it. Of the books on prayer I’ve read – many reviews forthcoming – this has been one of the most powerful, especially in the sense of combining reflection on Scripture, theological engagement, and spiritual application. One of Carson’s aims with this book is to foster ‘Spiritual Reformation’ in its readers – I believe it certainly contributed to that in me! I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a prayer/bible aid to their devotional time, or to anyone looking for a biblical understanding of Prayer. A great book.