A Solid Introductory Primer on Prayer

Most Christians struggle with prayer at some level. We struggle with time spent. We struggle with what to pray for. We struggle with seeing answers to our prayers. We struggle with how God’s sovereignty connects with our prayers. Prayer is hard.

I remember as a Bible college student struggling with stories of missionaries and pastors who prayed for 3 hours every morning. I was working 20 hours a week and taking 22-23 credit hours so I could finish a semester early and reduce the financial impact of my college degree. That level of prayerful dedication seemed unattainable. Despite that, I did all the stuff. I went to missions’ prayer meetings (we had to) and got together with college friends to pray (didn’t have to, but wanted to), and went to dorm prayer meetings (again, had to). But I struggled. Was I doing enough? Did we have to do something “crazy” to bring down the revival and movement of God that we all sought? We read stories of the Great Awakening and Haystack Prayer Meetings and wondered if we just weren’t doing it right. In the 20 years since those days, I have developed a more solid (and I think, biblical) theology of prayer.

My point is that believers struggle with this. Joseph Harrod has written the newest addition to the 40 Questions series on the subject of prayer. 40 Questions About Prayer tackles the basics of biblical prayer. He unpacks simple concepts such as the types of prayer and to who a Christian should pray. He explores Scripture to see how things like the Lord’s Prayer and the prayers of Paul relate to believers today. And he deals with practical questions such as what the “prayer of faith” in James 5 is or the meaning of praying “without ceasing” in 1 Thessalonians. There is much here that is helpful for all believers, especially those who are just beginning to build their understanding of prayer.

Harrod’s work is well-written and has a lot to commend it. The sheer spectrum of topics he covers makes the book very engaging. This is also the book’s greatest weakness. With only a few pages given to any one subject, the coverage of each topic is fairly basic and shallow. I have mixed feelings about this, having read multiple books in this series. On the one hand, basic coverage is sufficient, as the book is a basic overview designed to move people on to more significant works. On the other hand, I have seen some of the other books in the series (I’m thinking of the recent work on Arminianism) do a better job of addressing each question that was asked. Readers will also find that the individual chapters can be a little uneven. Harrod does an excellent job addressing many of the basic issues. His chapters on the types of prayer and how the gospel shapes our prayer are excellent, along with many others. A few simply lack the depth to sufficiently address the issue, even at a basic level. The chapter on whether God hears the prayers of unbelievers seems to create more questions than it answers.

Overall, 40 Questions on Prayer is a solid addition to the ongoing series and to the body of work that has been written on the subject of prayer. I would recommend it as a beginning study, either to be read on a personal level or even gone through in small groups or Sunday School, as a means to generate greater interest in specific aspects of prayer and drive believers to deeper study. Despite a few weaknesses, the book is well worth the read and will be found helpful by many. I received a free copy of this book from Kregel in exchange for an honest review.