Book review: A Praying Life

Dave Walker

Book review: Paul E. Miller A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (Navpress, 2009) 279pp £10.99pb

My great prayer hero is a man in his seventies called Dave. Dave’s prayer life is difficult to define. It can’t be measured in terms of frequency and length of quiet times – although those are certainly important to him – as prayer spills over into everything he does. Some of his best prayer times are patches of sleeplessness in the middle of the night. Dave’s is not just a life with prayer times, it’s a praying life. Dave knows his God, so his life is lived in conversation with Him.

I like this book so much because it works towards this sort of life. It does so by wedding a deep understanding of God as the generous Father who welcomes his needy children through his Son to a good range of simple practical steps. Taking up Miller’s recommendation on the use of prayer cards, for example, has been a real help to me. The practicality helps because it is soaked in the theology and vice versa.

Miller’s writing is peppered with anecdotes and real life examples, often drawn from his own family. Some may find this style not to their taste – it’s very familiar and not very British – but it grounds everything he says in very ordinary reality. This is a book on prayer which seeks to unite the spiritual with the day to day. He is good at displaying how prayer develops godliness, and how such godliness is grown through practice and experience. To use language much beloved of my friend Dave, this is about ‘being fashioned in the school of prayer.’

His use of sources is sparing but eclectic. Miller draws deep from a Reformed and particularly a Puritan understanding of prayer, but engages with a spectrum of prayerful thinkers, which he brings in to illuminate aspects of prayer from different angles. In doing this he carefully avoids the quagmire of greatly divergent prayer theologies and practices which have grown up during the history of the church.

A particular highlight was his treatment of cynicism as a very contemporary enemy of prayer, which felt like a digging to the root of so much prayerlessness. His analysis of how such cynicism within the church can cause our prayers to become distant, with little expectation for the personal God to be personally involved in our lives, was very perceptive. As a conservative evangelical, I found refreshing Miller’s wide-eyed trust and use of language more often associated with charismatics, and enjoyed seeing it rooted deeply in a scriptural worldview. This is a strong call to a child-like faith which grows out of a mature understanding of God, rather than simple naïve optimism.

The book is written to be accessible: reading one chapter doesn’t take long, provides stimulus for prayer and is littered with memorable nuggets to take away. The nature of the illustrations and examples used would make this book particularly helpful for families, in growing prayerful husbands and wives, fathers, mothers and grandparents. I would gladly recommend it to anyone as a book which doesn’t just talk about prayer, but actually fuels your prayer life; providing warm encouragement built on the goodness of God and gritty practical advice on how to practice prayer in a cynical world.