One thing that I really like reading is anything to do with spiritual formation or practices. I think the reason for this is because I really like not just understanding the practices fellow Christians have adopted, but seeing how they have been transformed by the practice. Yet, I haven’t really read too many books on any particular practice. Most often these books come as a long-winded version of “just do it.” However, I now have a few books sitting on my shelf that dive into the practice of prayer. I think I’ve been shying away from these books because prayer is just simply a practice that I’ve not been very good with; not because I don’t believe in it, but because it’s not usually my go-to move throughout my day. So I decided it was time to change all that and picked up The Possibility of Prayer by John Starke. This book was published in February of 2020 by InterVarsity Press. Starke is the pastor of Apostles Church Uptown in New York City. While I was certainly apprehensive about starting this book, it ended up not being the same, flat, “how-to” sort of book that I’ve read many times before.
Starke organizes this book into two different parts. In part one, titled “The Possibility of Prayer,” he offers up an understanding of what prayer is. For Starke, we are only offered the ability to pray to God, because of the Incarnation; the very fact that God became human and dwelled among us. This gives us a god that does not merely listen to us in our prayers, but can actually empathize with what is happening. The Incarnation is what shows that God comprehends pain and trials because He went through it Himself. Strake seems to suggest that we must cultivate a practice of prayer in the mornings or evenings, or at best both, of our days. This focuses our minds and thoughts on God, and steers our energies into being close with God, by intentionally choosing to spend that time with Him. It is important for Starke that we intentionally choose this time of prayer because having a reactionary prayer life is not one that reaches its highest potential. By only praying as a reaction, we are only praying when it is easy and convenient for us, rather than bringing our whole selves into prayer. There is also an increased desire to only pray to God when we are happy, or when we desperately want something. What Starke is ultimately arguing for is a life that is so bathed in God, that He is more approached as a best friend than a cosmic parent.
If we want to see and experience what God does in us and around us, which is quiet and subtle, we must make ourselves low. Prayer is the regular practice of lowering ourselves to better views of his work.”
Now that the theory is out of the way, Starke moves to discuss the actual practice of prayer in part 2 of his book. The practice of prayer he breaks up into six sections: communion, meditation, solitude, fasting and feasting, sabbath resting, and corporate worship. Communion is the act of actually coming together with God, to connect with Him. Meditation is the practice of reflecting on how God is speaking to you. Starke uses the example of sticking with a passage of Scripture, contemplating its many views and message. Solitude is not necessarily being by oneself but is rather coming to God to gain God’s perspective on reality. It is quieting your own mind and thoughts to more fully hear God. Fasting is meant as a form of prayer and devotion so you may feast at the appropriate times. Practicing Sabbath rest is praying through your time, and learning from God the appropriate use of time. Getting together with other Christians in corporate worship is just as important as our personal prayer time. It is the primary way we can interact with others and form a closer connection with Christ.
When Christ said, “It is finished” on the cross, it was a death blow to finding our worth and fullness through our work. It means we can wake in the morning and not look immediately to work for worth, but instead come to Jesus in his word and prayer and receive all the fullnes as a gift.
I really appreciated Starke’s view on prayer. His writing didn’t feel like I was reading a “how-to” book on prayer. Rather, it seemed like it was written out of a wealth of experience and study. It is clear that Starke actually does practice prayer in the way that he suggests in this book and believes in what it does in the life of the believer. He does fall into the trap that most Christian authors, bloggers, pastors, etc. when writing about spiritual practices, in that it really just seems like something else a Christian has to do. I find the many people write with the assumption that you have all the time in the world and you have full control over your time and schedule. Maybe I’m a little burnt on this topic, as I am definitely busier than I really need to be, but he seems to me like he’s adding another checkbox of what I’m supposed to do, rather than presenting prayer as something I can do. I did find this book inspiring and encouraging to take a look at my prayer practice and consider new ways of making a deeper connection. As you may have seen, I did pick back up my copy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. This definitely was inspired from reading through this book.
If you find yourself needing encouragement in your prayer life, I would certainly recommend this book to you. Starke writes in a way that is easily accessible to any one member of the Church. He comes from a place of obvious experience and wants to lead you into a deeper relationship with God. He knows the value of having a deep and consistent prayer life and wants to invite you into that practice as well. Pick yourself up a copy of this book and let me know what you think in the comments below.
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