Julian Hardyman will be known to many from some kinds of churches as the Pastor at Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge (Where my parents met, incidentally) and whilst I’ve never met him (Though did know his son in Nottingham, at a superior university) I’ve enjoyed his writing and teaching when I’ve come across it. I can now add this new book, published by 10 of Those (who kindly provided a review copy for me) to that positive impression. Fresh Pathways in Prayer is a book about prayer that, rather than blocking up the reading arteries, actually engages with some real issues in prayer, and does so in a practical, biblical and Christ-focused way.
One (Welcome!) surprise was Julian’s thoughtful and warm-hearted embrace of the so-called ‘Jesus prayer’ model, which he suggests (After the Lords Prayer) as a great way ‘in’ to praying regularly. This is an easy example of two of the strengths of this little book, honesty and dialogue. In terms of honesty, Julian models and explores what it means to be honest in and about prayer – it just isn’t easy, but it is very important! The book is peppered with little dialogues between Christians about prayer – and this is helpful, allowing the reader to go ‘yep, been there’, and also understand how different people may struggle with different aspects of prayer.
Coming from a more charismatic form of church, I really appreciated Julian’s definition of and approach to ‘Drawing near to God’ and ‘Contemplation’. He identifies drawing near to God – a vital part of prayer – as a deliberate personal interaction with God, unpacking what it actually means to experience God’s presence and nearness: “using the faculty of imagination with the help of the Holy Spirit to bring to mind what is real: that we have access to God through Christ; that he is actually near to us; that he is a constant, strong, faithful presence. It is grasping hold of faith something that is real but unseen“. Drawing on 2 Corinthians 3:18, Julian suggests that “Contemplation is seeing Christ with the eyes of faith. It is having our love and hope aroused by the sight of him in personal response to his personal love for us“. Amen!
In a very practical, helpful and honest chapter, ‘When I drift away from God during the Day’, Julian draws on the idea of ‘micro-sabbaths’, which he borrows from Stuart Olyott, to invite the reader and the struggling pray-er into what God desires: “I am convinced that this same spiritual refreshment is more possible for us than we think. We should engage with God moment by moment, taking deliberate micro-sabbaths through the day. This will then grow gradually in our lives until it becomes more and more normal“. What if we could enjoy ‘unceasing prayer’, and the presence of God permeating every part of our lives?
Fresh Pathways in Prayer is a short and refreshing book. I warmly recommend it to those who are perhaps new to the Christian life, or, like me, a bit rusty and dusty when it comes to prayer. It has some good reflection questions and suggested prayers throughout – Julian has worked hard to make this a book that not only invites you to the party, but shows you where to go!