Friday, May 24, 2013

Praying the Scriptures for Your Children

Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, Jodie Berndt

This is a rewritten review of one I posted years ago.  Since I am doing a prayer series, I wanted to redo it and remind you all of its existence.   This book transformed my prayer life 5 years ago and I have never looked back.  I now use biblically based prayers for all my praying and I have detailed categories for prayer than have broadened the scope and depth of my prayers for others.  

She divides the book into 5 sections: faith, character, safety, relationship and future. Each of these is then divided into subsections. Each chapter contains numerous bible verses from which to pray for your children. The best thing about this book is that it focuses your prayer life. Instead of vague prayers such as:

Dear God, please look after A, help him to be safe and to become a Christian

I now pray things like:
  • I pray that A will confess with his mouth "Jesus is Lord" and believe in his heart the God raised him from the dead and be saved (Rom 10:9)
  • Give A wisdom and understanding. Do not let him forget your words or swerve from them. Cause him to love wisdom and to value it above all worldly desires and accomplishments. (Prov 4:5-7)
  • Let A's light shine shine before men, so that they may see his good deeds and praise you, our Father in heaven (Matt 5:16)
  • Show A that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
  • Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of A’s mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Eph 4:29)
  • Help A to be self-controlled. Let him show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about him. (Titus 2:6-8)

Things I really enjoyed about this book:
  • It was easy to read, with lots of anecdotes, and was well structured.
  • It gave me better ways to pray
  • I love the idea of praying straight from the scriptures, but had never been very good at it, so it set me up with some good principles. You know (as long as you are using the bible appropriately) that you are praying in line with God’s word.
  • It challenged me to think about how I pray and how much of my praying can be mechanical and over and done with very quickly.
  • It's ‘ready to go’ - each chapter contains the bible verses at the end to use to pray for your children, great for busy mums
  • A friend also pointed out that it would a helpful book also for new Christians or people that are learning to pray, and could help them get into good habits

Other comments:
  • I do have some hesitation with her use of Scripture at points - when you look up some of her references in context, they don't always seem to fit with her use of them. Most of her general principles are biblically accurate though, I just wouldn't choose that verse necessarily. And like any book, if you do the work yourself as well, you can make those judgments as you read it.
  • I felt the scope was too limited. It was great to point out the ways to pray for your children, but the areas for prayer and the prayers themselves could have a much wider application, to my husband, to me, to our friends and others in ministry, for Christians and non-Christians. Therefore, after reading this book, I used her prayers and her layout, and set up a way to do it myself, with a broader scope. In doing so, my goal was to take some of the standard jargon out of my prayer and replace it with scripture, and in so doing, help me to learn more of the bible at the same time.  
  • Similarly to above, I thought it was a shame it is so focussed on mothers, because it can restrict the possible audience (what about fathers?).
When I read this with a book group, they raised the following concerns:
  • She has a lot of prayers for your children’s future, including their marriages.  However, she does not seem to consider the option of praying for them if they remain single. For example, for contentedness for the parents and the child, or an acknowledgement that it might be God's plan that they remain single.  I don’t want to be closed to that option as a praying parent - rather I pray that my children will make godly and wise choices either in marriage or singleness.
  • One of our group was offended (understandably, and personally) that Berndt prayed that her children would marry people from unbroken homes. She felt it was holding the sins of the parents against the child.
  • Another of our group thought that her emphasis on Satan was at times unsettling and too strong.

Having said all that, this is a great book.  It remains on my recommended reading list for new mothers, for if it encourages mothers to pray biblically and intelligently for their children, that is a wonderful thing.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Praying Life

A Praying Life, Paul Miller

If Carson wrote a theologically practical treatise on prayer from Paul’s letters, Paul Miller has written a personal account of how he has learnt to pray over the years and how he has seen God continually work through prayer and the lives of others.

This is a book that convicts you to pray, to pray often and to pray well. I would finish a chapter and want to pray, not because I felt I should, but because I wanted to, and that is probably my highest recommendation of this book: it had me wanting to pray immediately.

Miller’s prayer life has been very shaped by his own family and their struggles. He is very open about the challenges they faced, especially raising a disabled daughter. He knows God led him & his family through this experience to teach them a prayerful dependence on Him, for there was no other way forward.

It is biblical, honest, realistic and purposeful. He deals with issues that many Christians face such as:
  • How do we deal with Jesus’ extravagant promises about prayer?
  • What about when God doesn’t answer prayer?
  • Why we find it hard to ask God for some things?
I found I had to read it with pen and paper to follow through the structure logically. The sections and chapter headings were not entirely obvious and because he used language that I tend not to use (eg. Living in your Father’s story), it took me some time to ‘translate’ it for myself. Having said that, this is great book full of good ideas and personal reflections for anyone who wants to think about prayer and to then turn to praying.

As with any book, I had some hesitations. He was surprisingly critical of the ACTS prayer system (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) and indeed of any system, yet went on to advocate prayer cards and prayer journaling in detail. I thought there was too little emphasis on how we can use scripture itself to teach us to pray, on praising God himself for his character and works and on praying more widely than our personal circles.

Overall though, it is a great book. Some quotes to whet your appetite:
“One of the subtlest hindrances to prayer is probably the most pervasive. In the broader culture and in our churches, we prize intellect, competency, and wealth. Because we can do life without God, praying seems nice but unnecessary. Money can do what prayer does, and it is quicker and less time-consuming. Our trust in ourselves and in our talents makes us structurally independent of God.” (p16)

“Many assume that the spiritual person is unruffled by life, unfazed by pressure…even a cursory glance at Jesus’ life reveals a busy life… If we love people and have the power to help, then we are going to be busy. Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. In the midst of outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet” (p23)

“Praying out loud can be helpful because it keeps you from getting lost in your head. It makes your thoughts concrete. But it is more than technique; it is also a statement of faith. You are audibly declaring your belief in a God who is alive.” (p48)

“Prayer is where I do my best work as a husband, dad, worker, and friend. I’m aware of the weeds of unbelief in me and the struggles in other’s lives. The Holy Spirit puts his fingers on issues that only he can solve. I’m actually managing my life though my daily prayer time. I’m shaping my heart, my work, my family – in fact, everything that is dear to me – through prayer in fellowship with my heavenly Father. I’m doing that because I don’t have control over my heart or life or the hearts and lives of those around me. But God does.” (p257)

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Call to Spiritual Reformation

A Call to Spiritual Reformation, D. A. Carson

This is one of those books on prayer that everyone recommends; in fact it has been spoken about and suggested as crucial reading for the last 20 years. It takes me a while to catch up sometimes, but I tend to get there in the end!

I have read through this book over the last few months. It is like mining for treasure. You have to work a bit, it is a bit dense theologically at times and it takes some serious thinking, but the treasures abound. D. A. Carson is a skilled theologian who can explain many a passage. Yet at the same time, he is pastorally sensitive, astute and aware of the struggles many Christians face with prayer.

Combining these two gifts he has written this book which looks at a number of the prayers found in Paul’s letters in the New Testament. Each is filled with detailed explanation of what Paul is praying and why, and how then we as believers should think about prayer. Interspersed are chapters on practical issues such as why we do not pray, how we think about God’s sovereignty related to personal prayer, and how we make sure our prayers are focused on others. I found the first chapter, with eight lessons to learn about prayer incredibly helpful and adopted some immediately myself.

Some of the things I was challenged by are included in Carson’s own words below:
“Christians should pray long enough and honestly enough, at a single session, to get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attend not a little praying … To enter the spirit of prayer, we must stick to it for a little while. If we "repay until we pray", eventually we will come to delight in God’s presence, to rest in his love, to cherish his will” (p36)

“We must look for signs of grace in the lives of Christians, and give God thanks for them” (p44)

Paul’s prayers are primarily about others not himself, they are “outstanding for the large part intercession for others and thanksgiving for others play in them” (p66)

“What we need, then, is a prayer life that thanks God for the people of God, and then tells the people of God what we thank God for” (p88)
If you are like I was and have not read A Call to Spiritual Reformation yet, even though you have heard about it for years – do yourself a favour - get a copy, put aside time to read a bit of it each day, and go looking for treasure.

I plan to return to it regularly, digest it in small chunks and keep being challenged about how to pray.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Some thoughts on prayer

Over the next month or so, I will be putting up a number of posts about prayer. These will include books about prayer, books of prayers and some ideas for praying with children.

Something to get you thinking, and hopefully even praying!

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Mitford Years

I have recently discovered a new Christian fiction series, The Mitford Years, by Jan Karon.

Eight books in and I am really enjoying them. They are the story of Father Tim Kavanagh, the Episcopalian minister in a small country town of North Carolina. Throughout the books you are introduced to the various members of the town and parish with all the characters and eccentricities you would hope for in a series of novels.

They are charming books, easy to read, lovely to get involved in with a range of people and characters along the way.  While it does border on clichéd and predictable at times, I am OK with that - they are nice clichés and things predictably end well!  And while it is gentle and easy to read on all levels, there are still people and events that are very real. Like any real parish and town, there are people who are struggling with addiction, marriage breakdown and abuse. There are people who gossip and interfere. There are the real saints of any parish, the one who persistently pray, bake, are generous and servant-hearted.

I have enjoyed the way she weaves real faith into each book.  Father Tim is a man who is committed to scripture and prayer, loves his flock and goes out of his way to serve them.  The gospel is clearly explained in each book.  If you want some light, yet ‘salty’ reading, these may well be for you.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Slowing down

One of the things that has continued to surface in my thoughts since reading Love Tears & Autism was that the therapy they decided on for their son’s autism had as a major component the need for their family to slow down.

As I have thought about this further I wonder whether this is advice all parents could heed, not just parents of children with special needs.

I watch families run themselves ragged with school, music, sport and church activities. There is no family time, there is no playtime and there is no ‘relax and find something to do’ time.

It has to be adding to the stress of families and the increasing stress of kids. We expect them to be ready to go, with piano music practiced, sport clothes ready to wear and ready to eat food when we have time to fit it in.

Our family has slowed down a bit this year.  I have pulled out of or said no to a number of things that even 12 months ago I would have thought were not-negotiable and I had to do. Apparently I don’t! There is very little I have to do. Most things I do are because I want to, I like to, I feel like I should, etc. None of them are bad things and almost all of them are very good. But none of them are crucial.

My husband has spent a good deal of our marriage trying to convince me that I am not indispensable. Kindly of course, but nevertheless trying to get me to see that the world continues to turn, ministry continues to happen and the Lord continues to work whether or not I am involved.

This year for the first time, I think I have come to believe him.

What it has meant is that I am more relaxed. I am not rushing from one thing to another. I seem to have (a little) more time and patience with the kids. I do less in the daytime to ensure I have time for my family in the afternoons and evenings.

For the moment there are only a few things that I have decided are crucial and that I will keep doing this year:
  • Daily bible reading and prayer
  • Prioritising time & energy for my husband and my kids
  • Keeping the house running (food, clothes, etc)
  • Church & a prayer group
It feels like a very small amount to me. But I have decided these are the best things for me at the moment.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Love Tears & Autism

Love Tears & Autism, Cecily Paterson

I feel like I am slowly learning more about disability. I have a number of friends that have children with special needs and I want to be helpful and supportive. Part of that is trying to understand their life with its various joys and challenges. To not assume, but to ask questions. To be willing to make a mistake in trying to help, in order to learn better ways to be a friend.

Love Tears & Autism, is the story of one family in the first few years of realising their son has autism. Written by the mum and from her point of view it is a raw, honest account of the pre-school years. From the trying to fall pregnant years, to the early happy baby days; from the mild concerns that he wasn’t quite like other kids, to the increasing concern over his tantrums and inflexible behaviour; from a diagnosis of autism to then seeing a way forward with treatment and management. She is bluntly open about her own struggles and frustrations, her crisis of faith, depression and her views on disability.

While it is a highly personal and individual story, it is a great insight for anyone seeking to understand the challenges of a child with autism. Those for whom autism is a part of their life will find understanding and acceptance of their emotions and reactions. For those who do not live with it daily, it gives a good idea of the challenges and how we, as outsiders or supporters, can be of help (or not!)

She challenges all parents to ask themselves “what do you want from your children?” Often it is selfish things. We want our kids to be well-behaved, well-dressed and manageable so that we look like successful parents. She is very honest about her own struggles with this and how she thought she was seen as a parent and whether or not it mattered. She is also achingly honest about how she felt about disability before her son was born and her fears of not being able to love him fully. This openness will be balm to other parents who have wondered the same things but felt unable to express it.
There were times when I swore, usually but not always under my breath.  There were times when I put my head down on the kitchen bench and cried, wishing that it would all go away...

But there were also times when even though I thought I couldn't go on any longer, or do it anymore, that I realised that I loved this child, and if I wasn't going to help him, then no-one would.  It was out of sheer, desperate necessity that I could somehow find another scrap of energy - from either me or from God somehow - to quiet my own angry heart and offer my son the calmness that he needed so much.  (p140-1)
This book is really an introduction to parenting a child with autism. I hope she will go on to write again about the early school and then later teenage years in the future.

For more on the topic of disability, I have also reviewed Take Heart, Ella and You Owe Me Dinner. As for two other points of view on being a parent of a child with a disability, you might want to read the snippets at Welcome to Holland (disability) and Welcome to Beirut (autism). I know a father who has found Welcome to Holland particularly helpful in processing his own feelings about his child with special needs.