Book review: Fresh Pathways in Prayer

There are many books on prayer – many very good ones, indeed. Some are shorter such as Michael Reeves, Enjoy Your Prayer Life, others cover prayer in more depth, exploring more of the biblical material such as Don Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation.  They tend to focus, rightly, on getting our theology of prayer clearer, in order to approach God in prayer well, and often then such books include some tips and practices to help.  

We may have read these and other similar books, and yet still find prayer difficult.  More of us than usual might well find this the case within the current Coronavirus restrictions.  I think for some there’s an underlying unease which may well rob prayer of a focused-ness; that seems dispiriting as I write this on Easter Day 2020.  This is one area of Christian life we really do not want to neglect on this day and in this season.     

Julian Hardyman’s book is different from many others, and it may well be a tonic if your prayers feel feeble at the moment.  As the title suggests, he is looking at fresh ways into getting back into prayer, although those ways are perhaps less fresh than we might expect from the title.  This is a good thing though!  Running through the book is a simple conversation between a reluctant pray-er and a wiser older Christian.  It’s realistic, and this has the feel of a book written from personal experience: it feels very much written to help us with our prayer.    The chapters are short and the headings express what many of us might express at times in our own prayer life.  

The pathways that Julian Hardyman draws on are unexpected, however.  He taps into historical prayer patterns, such as ‘the Jesus Prayer’ which you might more typically associate with Eastern Orthodox churches and less so with the pastor of a vibrant Cambridge Baptist church.  Similarly he digs into morsels of Anglican liturgy as well as some of the Puritan practices of meditation and contemplation, which again seem unusual. Hence for many of us, these pathways will be fresh and to a certain extent, surprising.        Nevertheless it’s very effective.

Although the book seems almost simplistic on first reading, there is a depth to it that does emerge.   The heart of where he’s trying to get to, I think is expressed in a quote on page 56: “Abraham Kuyper wrote about the twin dangers of a dry proposition-based orthodoxy and also of what he called a sickly mysticism by which he meant a sentimental, undemanding, wishy-washy, low octane fat-free version of a relationship with God.”  Hardyman’s focus is right between these two: orthodoxy that isn’t dry, but instead is the foundation of a set of spiritual practices that helps us to grasp God’s “transcendent majesty and his holy weight”.  Don’t let that put you off though, you can barely feel that’s where he’s taking you, because of his lightness of touch – it’s very well written for that purpose.

I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve read it as part of my weekend quiet times over recent weeks, and it really has provided me with renewed ways to come to the Lord in prayer with confidence.  At £4 (here) this is a true bargain, and worth buying for others we know who struggle in prayer at times (who doesn’t?) as well as ourselves.  Reading it would be a super use of these lockdown times.

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