Paul Miller – A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (NavPress, 2009)
I, and a great many Christians I know, find it hard to be faithful in prayer. A Praying Life starts with the understanding that prayer is frustratingly difficult, but it places it so firmly within the broader strokes of the Christian life that it becomes something natural and central.
A Praying Life is largely a personal account of Miller’s own experience with prayer and trusting God. Miller spends much of the time talking honestly about his own struggles and how God has used various experiences to shape him. It’s genuine wisdom born out of hardship.
I found the first half of the book particularly valuable as Miller goes through why we find it difficult to pray. He shows that the way Christians speak about prayer makes it something so otherworldly that it is impossible to do naturally. The early chapters look at how we need to model ourselves on children when we pray – not being self-conscious, but being honest with what we want and accepting the fatherhood of God. Rather than presenting the perfect regime to master the discipline of prayer, he wisely advises ‘baby steps’ – making little changes rather than making idealistic resolutions that are unlikely to last more than a few days.
Miller sees a culture of cynicism as the root of why prayer is so hard for us. Our sceptical and jaded culture has profoundly influencing the way we relate to God. A praying life isn’t going to happen without first addressing this root cause, so Miller tries to help the reader to trust God. I found his chapters on this very helpful and encouraging – I would often want to put to book down so that I could start actually praying.
However, I did find aspects of Miller’s style quite frustrating. It has the tone of a self-help book and I found this increasingly grating as the book went on. Miller’s pithy remarks are more mawkish than profound. He writes from within the bubble of American Christianity. And he makes some odd decisions in who he quotes; for example, Einstein is quoted to show that we can believe in a God who is both infinite and personal, even though Einstein explicitly denied believing in a personal God.
Miller uses the Bible a lot, but in a rhetorical rather than exegetical fashion. Instead of looking at what the Bible says about prayer, Miller starts with his experiences which have taught him various things about prayer and he goes to the Bible to illustrate what he thinks. As a consequence he ends up using the Bible to say things quite different to what the original authors intended (though normally still good things to say).
That said, I would still recommend A Praying Life and I think those who read it will find it immensely beneficial.