Five Books That Helped Me Learn How to Pray

 

In high school I heard somewhere that James the brother of Jesus had knees like a camel. Supposedly he prayed so much on his knees that they became extremely calloused to the point they resembled camel knees.

For some reason I thought this sounded like something to aspire to. So for a time in high school I prayed on my knees. Most of the time wearing shorts (because growing up in California you can do that sort of thing), in hopes that I too might have camel knees.

I had issues in high school.

Now praying just so your knees become calloused like a camel isn’t the best reason to pray. But by God’s grace something in me did begin to change. It wasn’t my knees. But it was a growing desire to be able to communicate with God.

I had a lot of learning to do.

My formative learning on prayer would come through the following five books. There are lots of other great books on prayer, these are just the ones God used in my life to lay a foundational understanding of prayer and how to go about praying.

1. Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home

This book opened my eyes to a banquet of prayer options. Not only did it give me a far greater understanding of prayer, it also changed a lot of my thinking on how to pray.

2. Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Voice of God

Should I expect to hear from God? Jack Deere emphatically says yes. This was the first book I read (by a Bible scholar) that laid out a convincing biblical argument that God still speaks to us today.

3. Dallas Willard’s Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God

Much like Jack Deere’s book, Dallas Willard lays out the case that God still speaks. But then he focuses on how to hear God’s voice and what it means to live a life in two-way conversation with God. It was a very helpful book to read after Deere’s “Surprised by the Voice of God.”

4. John Eldredge’s Walking with God: Talk to Him. Hear from Him. Really.

This book is not so much a book about prayer as it is as an example of a life of prayer. Reading this book felt like I was spending a year with Eldredge just observing what it looks like to be in continual conversation with God.

5. Ben Patterson’s God’s Prayer Book: The Power and Pleasure of Praying the Psalms

Ben Patterson convinced me that the best teacher of how to pray is the Scriptures, specifically the Psalms. Learning from Patterson how to pray through the Psalms not only changed my understanding of the Psalms but also radically changed how I pray and what I pray for.

I still have a lot of learning to do when it comes to prayer, but these books have certainly helped. I can honestly say that learning to pray has been one the best things I have done as a follower of Jesus. So I hope these books will help you too  learn how to pray.

 

Other helpful books on prayer:

Jim Mindling’s Learn to Breathe: The Surprising Path to a Transformed Life

Paul E Miller’s A Praying Life: Connecting With God In A Distracting World

Tim Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
(I haven’t read this one yet, but I have no doubt it will be good)

How To Become Silent Before God

The other week I wrote about Lectio Divina. One of my favorite ways to go deeper with the Bible. In that post, I made the point that if you want to hear from God, you have to learn to be silent before God. But I never actually described how a person becomes silent before God. And the truth is, being silent before God is actually quite hard. Maybe you have noticed this.

Because by quiet, I don’t mean just siting before God without talking. Though let’s be honest even that is hard enough sometimes. No, by quite I mean, quite in your soul, and in your mind. It is to “Be still…”. (Ps. 46:10).

Quiet before God is when you have no burdens weighing you down. No thoughts racing through your mind. No stress inside of you. When you are quiet before God there is a sense of feeling empty. But a good empty. An empty like a drinking glass is empty just before it is filled with water. An emptiness that is ready to be filled with the living presence of God.

So how does one actually enter into this kind of silence before God?

 “palms down palms up”

One method, which has most helped me, is what Richard Foster calls “palms down palms up”. He writes,

“Begin by placing palms down as a symbolic indication of your desire to turn over any concerns you may have to God. Inwardly you may pray ‘Lord, I give to you my anger toward John. I release my fear of my dentist appointment this morning. I surrender my anxiety over not having enough money to pay the bills this month. I release my frustration over trying to find a baby-sitter for tonight.’ Whatever it is that weighs on your mind or is a concern to you, just say, ‘palms down.’ Release it. You may even feel a certain sense of release in your hands. After several moment of surrender, turn your palms up as a symbol of your desire to receive from the Lord. Perhaps you will pray silently: ‘Lord, I would like to receive your divine love for John, your peace about the dentist appointment, your patience, your joy.’ Whatever you need, you say ‘palms up.’ Having centered down, spend the remaining moments in complete silence. Do not ask for anything. Allow the Lord to commune with you, to love you. If impressions or directions come, fine; if not fine.”[1]

Over the years I have added variations to this “palms down palms up”. Usually when I want to be silent before God I start with my hands out in front of me in a pushing position. Then every time I confess something that is on my mind I imagine that I am pushing it away from me and toward Jesus. Then I imagine Jesus literally taking each of my burdens. I do this until I can’t think of anything else to give over to Jesus—until I feel quiet and empty. Only then do I turn over my palms, and receive the gift God has for me.

For me “palms down palms up” (or some variation of it) has been the most effective way for me to enter into silence before God, in preparation to hear from God. I pray it works just as well for you too. If you’re interested in other Christian practices that have long helped people enter into the presence of God, I would highly recommend Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.

 

[1] Richard Foster Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth 30-31