Friday, December 26, 2008

Book Notice: Prayer Coach

James L. Nicodem
I have struggled to pray consistently since moving out of church ministry and into academics. I don't mean when I was in full-time church ministry prayer was an easy discipline for me; it never has been. But prayer seemed much more central to my vocation then and I was intentional about my prayer life. Once I stepped out of vocational church ministry my prayer life took a big hit and unfortunately it has yet to recover. 

I have found there are so many activities that take me away from praying. To be honest, it would be more accurate to say there are so many other pursuits I choose over praying. It is an issue of priority. I would rather begin reading the latest important article or book, write a paragraph or two, practice my Hebrew or German, revise a course syllabus or blog. I so often choose to do something other than pray. By this choice I deem the other things more necessary. This tendency isn't because I don't know the importance of prayer or know how to pray. It's not a matter of poor theology or lack of skill. No. My problem isn't what I don't know, its simply that I don't pray. 

I recommend the book Prayer Coach because it is just the kind of book I need. It's not a book so much about theology or skill, although both are adequately represented, as it is a book about the praying. Perhaps Bill Hybels's blurb says it best: "This book had a singular effect on me. It made me want to pray more". 

I recommend this book for a personal reason as well. The author Jim Nicodem is a personal and dear friend of mine and my pastor.  I have an up close and personal knowledge of the man behind the book. Jim is the founding pastor of Christ Community Church in the suburbs of Chicago and not only was I on his ministry staff in the late nineties, we continue to call CCC our church home. For more than a decade I have come to know that Jim is a pray-er. A Wheaton and TEDS (MDiv & DMin) graduate, Jim is an intellectual. But his passion is not theory; it is practice. Jim is passionate about and gifted at teaching the Bible. More than anything, however, Jim wants folks to live the teaching they know. Over lunch recently I told him that I really appreciate the tactility of his teaching (I don't think I put it like that over lunch). And it is just the kind of preaching/teaching I need to hear. While I am often content to think theoretically, he has little patience for mere intellectual gymnastics. I need this kind of influence in my life. I hope this book is the first of many from his pen or is it keyboard. 

It is important to put the book in its proper context however, so the reader has the right expectations when picking it up. Jim's book is squarely in the evangelical pietistic stream of the Protestant faith. For example, there is no attempt to put his approach to prayer in the context of the wider prayer traditions of the Church, although reflecting many of the same priorities, e.g. "Patterns" (ch. 3). For these one should consult either 

Phillis Tickle's book The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime or better 

Yet, Jim's interest is not this context and his work should not be judged for its omission. Rather Jim brings to bear on the topic of the practice of prayer in very real-concrete discussions both his over a quarter-century's experience as a pastor and more importantly his almost a half-century's walk with Christ. His writing is personally revealing and engaging to boot. 

The book is divided into four parts: (1) The Busters. Here Jim discusses several obstacles to praying. On list are things like not planning to pray, sin in the life of a believer, and a lack of passion. (2) The Basics. Here Jim discusses the importance of patterns in praying, responding to promptings and the need for a passionate speech when praying. (3) The Building Blocks. In this section, Jim develops his own and improved form of the well-known ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication). His is CHAT: Confess, Honor, Ask and Thank. Perhaps the most important point is that his list is comprised of verbs implying the importance of action. (4) The Beneficiaries. Jim discusses five categories of persons that will be affected by our prayers: our children, church leaders, accountability partners and Satan. There is a useful appendix of biblical names, titles and attributes of God for use in honoring God. 

The only disappointing part of the book for me, and only because I am a Bobby Bowden fan, is Bowden's foreward. When one has to say, "That's enough about me; now on to this book", with only five lines to go, there is something slightly awry. Nevertheless, Go FSU (Florida State University)! They play in a bowl game today against the University of Wisconsin.


hrobins said...

Yes, McKnight's Praying With the Church provides solid information on the history of common prayer and practical advice for application today, but Tickle's Divine Hours is a great way to ease into the rhythm of common prayer. I just wanted to clarify that neither is necessarily "better", but that each serve a specific purpose and are good in their own right. =)

Anonymous said...

Nicely clarified.

mbrankatelli said...

Joel, I love your posts. I am excited for the next one. Also, I wanted to know if you got my last email?