Monday, September 20, 2010

Recommended Reading: The Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God, by James M. Houston

A modern day classic, The Prayer welcomes readers into profound spiritual formation. For James Houston, “prayer” is not simply the act of “praying,” rather it describes the whole of our walk with the Lord. Prayer is not a spiritual discipline—it is the sum of our relationship with the God of all love.

“I used to think that prayer was a spiritual exercise—something that needed to be worked at, like running or vaulting. But I was never any good at sports, and perhaps I would never be any good at prayer either” writes the author. “After years of feeling useless and guilty, I began to realize the truth of a comment made by one of the early fathers of the church, Clement of Alexandria. He said that ‘prayer is keeping company with God.’ This began to give me a new focus on prayer. I began to see prayer more as a friendship than a rigorous discipline. It started to become more of a relationship and less a performance (9)”.

Houston’s thesis is that we experience genuine transformation through healthy relationship with God and with others. In fact, the book was originally published under the title, Transforming Friendship. Friendship with God and friendship with others are inextricably interwoven. “It is precisely the wounds in our relationships that keep many of us from experiencing the life of prayer (52)”. As we experience healing, accepting friendships in our lives, we learn to open up to God. Conversely, the more we encounter the Lord’s unconditional love for us, the more we allow other people to get close.

A leitmotif running throughout the book is “that God calls us to use our Achilles heel, where we limp most, to lead us through our natural weakness or woundedness of personality, to grow spiritually strong (9-10)”. As fallen beings, we all have flaws and we all become wounded in one way or another in life. Instead of trying to cover these imperfections or simply cope with them, God wants to use them. Such vulnerable places inside us are actually the key to profound transformation in our lives, according to the author. In addition, once our woundedness has been healed, it will become the centerpiece of our ministry to others. It is where we have experienced the greatest grace that God extends his lovingkindness to those around us.

Houston brilliantly weaves together our friendship with God, our relationship with others, our prayer for those we are in relationship with, and the eternal relationship among the three Persons of the Trinity. Many gems will be gleaned from the first reading of this book. However, it will likely be the third or fourth time through that the reader begins to grasp the larger tapestry with its many interrelated strands of insight, challenge, theology and practical application. Few books today warrant multiple readings; however, The Prayer offers life-transforming insight each time one returns to study and reflect upon its pages.

James Houston. The Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2007. ISBN: 07814-44268.

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

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