Many teachers I've read tend to emphasize what prayers does, not to God, but to the person praying. They argue that the primary purpose of prayer is to make our hearts more like God's rather than His more like ours. I'm inclined to agree, at least in large part, and this is the tact taken by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove in their new book Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals. The two authors examine the Lord's Prayer, Jesus' high priestly prayer from John 17, and a prayer of Paul, all the while asking the question "How should the priorities here inform the way we live?"
Those of you who have read Shane before will see many of the same themes here: social justice, community, love for the least of these. He and Jonathan do a pretty good job of linking them to the texts themselves. At the same time, I felt like this book was a clear demonstration of the fact that, despite accusations to the contrary, they're thoroughly evangelical.
Two things stood out to me about this book. One was the way the authors managed to pull off an admirable co-writing project. Rather than simply writing different parts of the book as individuals, the two consistently use the plural when talking about themselves, slipping into singular only to tell personal stories (of which there are a number; both these young men have certainly lived eventful lives). I was impressed by how well they worked as a team.
The other thing I liked were the prayers interspersed through the book. Interspersed with the text are little boxes with different prayers from saints and liturgies. Many of these were fantastic, and I especially appreciated how historically-rooted and catholic the selection was. Too many young evangelicals have never been exposed to the rich tradition we have from the early and medieval church, and this is a good place to start.
My biggest complaint about this book is that the actual exegesis of Scripture is a mixed bag. Shane and Jonathan clearly have an agenda coming to the texts, and I think there are times that this shows in their readings of the different prayers. They have a tendency to read a text and then take one application and say "Here! This is what it means!" This is fine as long as it's recognized that it's one of many things you could do with the text, but at times I get the feeling the authors would feel like their emphasis is the only one the prayers could give you, and I'm not so sure. That said, I don't want to be too harsh on them; every time you use a text to make a point you necessarily do this, and I'm not unhappy with the points they're making.
I enjoyed this book. It came at a time when my life has been busy, so I feel like I wasn't able to soak in it as much as I would have liked. However, I think some of the prayers littered throughout it will pay rich dividends down the road, so I'm sure I'll be picking it up again.
I'd recommend the book if you like Shane or Jonathan, or more general if you are active in areas of social justice and struggle to connect that with your prayer life. I should note that this is not a manual on how to pray. If you're a new believer or someone seeking advice in this area, I'd recommend Thomas Watson's The Lord's Prayer and Andrew Murray's With Christ in the School of Prayer.