It’s only 50 pages, but it contains what (at the risk of sounding irreverent) one might call the distilled spirit of colonial America’s great theologian. Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of and Devotion to Prayer (Biblical Spirituality Press, 2013) is a sort of young scholarly book, one that has not quite outgrown the popular level. Virtually every page has massive footnotes, and big league scholars, including the director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale, recommend the book. Yet its message is easily comprehended and the author, Brian Najapfour, only uses the word “asseverates” once.
Edwards prayed frequently. He had prayer time built into his schedule. He took additional, non-scheduled time throughout the day to pray in private. He also led his family in public prayer. When he went horseback riding for exercise, he often rode into the woods, dismounted, and began to pray.
What motivated him in this constant vigilance? His utter commitment to the truth that God hears prayer (Psalm 65:2). That is, He accepts prayer and He answers it with further displays of His mercy. He is available at all times; He hears readily, and He gives liberally. In fact, God is “overcome by prayer.” He responds to the petitions of His people and “changes His mind,” apparently relenting of His purpose. Thus, He delivered the Ninevites in response to their prayers, and He preserved Israel in response to Moses’ intercession. Even though God already knows what we will pray for and what He will do in response, He still loves to be asked, and it is our duty to ask Him. Prayer humbles us, preparing our hearts to receive God’s mercy.
Najapfour wrote this book as a fundraiser for his mother-in-law’s medical bills. Yet long after they’re paid, his work will linger as a compelling summary of Edwards’ doctrine of prayer.
If you’re like most Christians, you feel little or nothing about your walk with God. So says Baptist pastor Matthew Jacoby, lead singer of the Sons of Korah, in Deeper Places: Experiencing God in the Psalms (Thomas Nelson, 2013). But, he adds, the Psalms can heal these spiritual calluses. To prove it, Jacoby shows the consistent movement of the Psalms from pain to reconciliation. The problem is that we have insulated ourselves against the pain of our own sin and this broken world. What we need is to experience the “dissociation” between our wickedness and God’s righteousness. We float in the ocean of His healing presence, surrounded by His love—but we have grown thick shells to keep the pressure out, thus creating a tiny world we can “control.” The experience of pain breaks those shells and lets the healing presence of God flow in.
This is all much less mystical and more practical than it sounds, for Jacoby’s treatment deals especially with the harsh realities of life. Faith is found in the tension between God’s promises and our sufferings, and this movement is displayed over and over in the Psalms. Though the psalmists’ outward situations rarely change, they frequently move from grief to joy within a few verses because they apprehend the promises of God.
Desire was deliberately designed to be insatiable. That’s because it is supposed to be oriented toward persons. You can never have enough communion with God, or with your wife. But direct that same desire toward material objects, and its insatiability is a curse. The bottom line, Jacoby says, is that you must allow yourself to feel the emptiness of material objects and circumstance-driven happiness. Then let this emptiness drive you to seek God—ardently. You will find Him, and it will feel good.