Two Books on Prayer

The Book of Daily Prayer by Robert Webber. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993. 532 pages. Cloth, $39.99; Paper, $24.99.
A Call to Prayer: Public Worship Through the Christian Year ed. by Caryl Micklem. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993.176 pages. $12.99.

By far the more valuable of these two is the book compiled by Webber, and it will take its place alongside his many other publications in the pastor's library. Organized around the liturgical year, The Book of Daily Prayer aims to assist the reader who is seriously committed to the discipline of regular personal worship and prayer. The book is designed as a convenient guide for daily prayer throughout the year and seeks to overcome the wandering of the mind by organizing prayers in a threefold manner: preparation, hearing God speak, responding to God.

Psalms and other Scripture readings are woven together in stages that involve the mind, will, and heart. The heart is quieted and made ready to hear God speak through the preparation stage, which involves a theme, antiphon, and opening prayer. God speaks in the second stage as the Scripture is read. The worshiper responds to the Word in the words of a psalm, prayers of confession, adoration, thanksgiving or petition, and a closing psalm prayer oriented to a sense of hope or a call for action.

The prayers for this stage are adapted from the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal church. Usually parts of the same psalm are used for the three stages in each day.

Webber provides an introduction both to the idea of the liturgical year and to each season of the liturgical year. He does not deny that certain aspects of life must be organized around the civil and academic calendars, but believes that organizing prayer around the two events of Christ's birth and his death/resurrection can help Christians overcome the secularism of our times and improve their spiritual health.

In preparation for this review, I decided to follow his approach for a while. At first I thought the daily use of the prayers from the Book of Common Prayer would be repetitious, but eventually I wondered whether this repetition might be exactly what I needed. For example, the familiar words, "I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone," cover exactly what the sinner needs to say to God in daily conversion (see Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 33). Combined with the other psalm readings, this language penetrates the stubborn heart. The debate over extemporaneous versus written prayers will surely continue, but frequent use of well-tested language combined with extemporaneous prayer may be most welcome in seeking communion with God.

The biblical record indicates that prayers have grown best as a response to the mighty revelations of God, and Webber's approach cultivates a prayer life that flows out of Scripture. Almost subconsciously, Reformed Christians have probably organized their prayers around the pattern suggested by the lectio continua or reading through Scripture in sequence, and this may be a fresh approach for them. The value of Webber's program is that various parts of Scripture are read at the same time: the psalms move the heart; and the readings from the gospels or the other narratives address the mind and will. I am personally disappointed that the author used the NRSV rather than the more familiar NIV translation that so many evangelicals appreciate. The NRSV follows the trendy and politically correct moves to provide gender inclusive language when referring to human beings (not God), but can easily be faulted for a number of translation and textual choices that seem "forced" by the current trend.

A Call to Prayer: Public Worship Through the Christian Year aims to provide prayers for use in public worship. This book is based on an earlier collection of prayers in the contemporary language of the 1960s and 1970s, updated for the 1990s with special consideration for the gender concerns that have become so popular.

The prayers are arranged under the headings of Prayers of Approach, Prayers Through the Year (following the liturgical year), Further Prayers for the Life of the World, and Prayers of Discipleship. Some of these prayers will be most useful for discerning pastors, especially as a healthy discipline of their own prayers in covering a wider range of subjects. The prayer of confession of the seven deadly sins is an example of the kind of prayer that keeps the interest of the worshiper (number 168, p. 102).

One appreciates integrating all of life with the perspective of the Christian faith. Yet these prayers reflect a social agenda that is infonned by a theological bias against orthodox Reformed doctrine. Several examples of such bias stand out: "You hold us in being, and without you we could not be .. ." (number 3, p. 3). I doubt whether our biggest problem is drifting out of being. Struggles that call for prayer are spiritual and moral but not metaphysical. Prayer number 30 (p. 17) infers that we actually have to choose between two evils, failing to recognize we have a very limited understanding of reality and of moral choice apart from God's law. Contemporary philosophy seems to have prompted the vague prayer, "You are the hidden urge bringing form out of chaos—the cosmic energy which organizes the very structures of life" (number 161, p. 98). The exclusive claims of Christ are missing in the request, "We pray for reconciliation between religions. May those who profess one faith no longer suspect and misrepresent those who profess another. May good be recognized wherever it exists" (number 224, p. 142). Universalism is taken for granted: "We are sure that Jesus lived and died for all people, and we cannot believe that those who died without accepting him have lost their only hope of salvation" (number 128, p. 137). Clearly discernment is imperative in use of these prayers.

I for one would welcome a good book of prayers that use contemporary language without being trendy, that express the concerns of godly people for a wide variety of needs, and that express thanksgiving for the riches of God's blessing. Because of its theological bias against orthodox doctrine, and because of its failure to discern the times in light of biblical revelation, this book cannot meet the need for such a guidebook to public prayer.

Reformed Worship 38 © December 1995, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.