I picked up Praying Like Jesus: The Lord’s Prayer in a Culture of Prosperity for a dollar or two at Half-Price Books because I enjoy short (raises the odds that I will read them) and pointed books on important topics and this seemed to fit the bill.
James Mulholland is alarmed at the success of recent books that he feels are based on a false understanding of prayer and a false gospel of personal gain. “We so quickly forget the point of prayer. The point of prayer is not to tell god what you want, but to hear what you need. It is not approaching God with our demands, but listening for God’s commands. It is not seeking our will, but learning to discern God’s will. This is so important to understand in a culture that caters to our every whim. Prayer isn’t about me. It is about God.”
Mulholland offers an expansive meditation on the simple, yet powerful verses of The Lord’s Prayer. Praying Like Jesus is an important and timely call back to a vision of the gospel that can transform our world, and a primer on the true role of prayer in our lives.
The obvious hook for this book, The Prayer of Jabez phenomenon, feels a bit dated but the prosperity gospel is sadly alive and well; a perennial temptation it seems. And the issue of faith in an age of prosperity (and yes, even in our troubled economic times Westerners live in an era of prosperity) is as challenging as ever. So don’t let the hook fool you, this is about much more than a Christian publishing fad. It is about timeless issues, how do we approach our relationship with God and how does that affect our daily lives. Mulholand explores these issues through the lens of The Lord’s Prayer. It is a challenging and thought-provoking read.
The fundamental goal of Mulholland is to reorient the modern believer away from selfish and self-focused thoughts and actions; to see prayer as act that requires a change of perspective and a desire to build a relationship. He emphasizes that prayer should not be about getting what we want but hearing what we need. Critics may try to jump in and say that prayer IS about asking God for help in need, etc. Mulholland doesn’t deny this but focuses on coming to God in humility and with love and worship as an attitude not want and desire for mere things.
This book is intended to encourage those who follow Jesus to pray prayers like the one he taught. Such prayers remember to whom they are speaking. They seek God’s will rather than God’s blessing. They focus not on our needs, but on the needs of the world. Praying such prayers change the world by changing us.
What flows from this changed perspective is a faith lived out in the world; a change in how we think and act. I found it interesting that a few of the reviewers at Amazon noted the author’s “liberal” perspective. I must be getting squishy as I didn’t notice that at all. Of course, certain conservative’s are so reactive that the mere mention of “social justice” or the concept that actions (“works” is the loaded term) are a part of faith that they begin rejecting anything that follows as liberal. But Mulholland flushes out how the prayer of Jesus calls us to action both in seeking God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven” but also in the nature of seeking “our daily bread” and what it means to forgive and to be forgiven. Just like our faith grows out of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ so too our faith grows as we act it out in the midst of humanity. We can’t limit our faith to a private life that has no impact on our public life. This is not liberalism but the gospel. How this is worked out in practice, however, is rightly the subject of some debate.
It should be noted that this book is not a happy-go-lucky one. Mulholland is not interested in making you feel better or allowing you to be comfortable in your beliefs and actions. He challenges the easy and comfortable life of so many Western Christians and hammers home the temptations of wealth and privileged. For some this might come off as arrogant or preachy and this makes the reading difficult at times. How many of us like to put our lives under this kind of scrutiny? But I found that Mulholland did it with grace and humility; frequently sharing his own struggles and convictions in this area.
Being told that we are all too prone to selfishness and greed even in our spiritual lives is not an easy message to hear but it is a needed message and a challenge that as Christians in a needy world we must face.