A Call to Spiritual Reformation – D A Carson
At New Word Alive 2008 Don Carson (professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois) was interviewed by Richard Cunningham head of UCCF. As I recall when listening on-line someone said how much they had enjoyed this book – A Call to Spiritual Reformation – but thought it might have had more readers if the title had been changed to “Paul’s Pukka Prayers”.
This book is based on a series of sermons which Carson preached a few years ago, and he takes as his starting point the “urgent need of the church” which is a deeper knowledge of God. For Carson, all the other problems in the Church and in Society at large point back to this. The book then goes on to address a (the?) vital part of that challenge to know God better – that is, prayer. Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “what a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.” Where better to learn how to pray, than to look at Paul’s prayers and “align our prayer habits with his” ?
There are practical tips on how to plan to pray, and organise your prayer life. Strongly recommended is to tie your prayer to your Bible reading and to “think through, in the light of Scripture, what it is God wants us to ask for.” This seems to me so fundamental – that to pray with confidence we must pray knowing that God wants to give us what we ask for. Yet how little time I spend trying to seek God to find out those things which I believe he has promised me. And what joy and fantastic answers to prayer I have known the few times I have really sought God in this way.
At the heart of Carson’s approach is his belief that “the Bible simultaneously pictures God as utterly sovereign, and as a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God.” This approach saves us from both “a resigned fatalism that asks for nothing and a badgering desparation that exhibits little trust.” He advises us to follow the Puritans and “pray until you pray.”
Alongside practical advice Carson takes us through model prayer’s of Paul’s from practically all of his letters. A whole chapter on praying for others brings together all the verses from the epistles where Paul prays for others, for us to to read through and meditate on, while his conclusion on Paul’s passion for people, evident from his prayers, is that many a church would benefit hugely if “by God’s grace we make it our commitment not to put anyone down – except on our prayer list.”
Other chapters look at Excuses for not praying, Praying for Power, and a very helpful overview from Romans of how we can best pray for our Ministers and Church Leaders.
I found the chapter on God’s Sovereignty very helpful. As our appreciation of the complete Sovereignty of God increases, it is easy sometimes to think that our prayers no longer matter. Carson admits that at one point he was tempted down that path. But as he says: “something has gone amiss in our theology if our theology becomes a disincentive to pray.”
This is a book that is worth reading slowly and carefully, and coming back to. Above all it’s a book to act on, something I need personally to take more to heart than I have to date!