Prayer — a biblical perspective
Eric J. Alexander
Banner of Truth, 91 pages, £5.75
Maintaining a consistent prayer life is something I struggle with personally, so I was pleased to be able to read a book on prayer as a willing patient as well as reviewer.
Because there are so many books on prayer out there, I was looking for something different and genuinely helpful. This I found in Eric Alexander’s book, at least in part.
The author’s stated aim is to recall Christians and Christian churches to seeing prayer as ‘fundamental and not supplemental’. This strap line is helpfully reiterated as the book develops.
The reader is called to look again at the biblical teaching and see prayer as more than just support to kingdom work, but as the main dish itself. Reflecting on the apostles’ prioritisation in Acts 6:3-4, the author reminds us that ‘a consistent theme in Scripture is that prayer is work’ (p.39).
What is not clear is the precise target audience. The tone of the book is quite formal. Frequent use of words such as ‘supplicating’, ‘moribund’ and ‘importunate’ give it a Dickensian feel, where modern alternatives would do a better job.
Alexander’s quotes are drawn almost exclusively from old hymns and even older saints. There are few points of stylistic connection with the younger reader or new believers. As a result, the good material contained here might need to be ‘translated’ by a savvy cultural intermediary, such as a ‘switched-on’ youth leader or contemporary preacher.
I like short chapters. It’s easier to pick a book up when you know that, even if you only have a few minutes, you’ll be able to get something bite-sized from it.
Including the epilogue, this book covers 13 topics in less than 90 pages, so the chapters are necessarily brief and to the point. The down side, of course, is that the reader is sometimes left needing more. For example, the few hints the author throws out in the very short section on ‘Practical difficulties in prayer’ (pp.85-87) leave you longing for far more.
There is a personal feel to the book which drew me in. I enjoyed reading about the author’s personal engagements with prayer, people of prayer and his underlying belief that prayer is a natural expression of genuine relationship with God.
Alexander is not afraid to hit hard at core sinful attitudes, such as hypocrisy and indifference to God. I found this refreshing, challenging and helpful. I indeed needed to hear him tell me that, ‘for most people, I think the ultimate reason for prayerlessness is a lack of desire for God’ (p.57).