Book Review: The Prayer of the Lord – by R.C. Sproul

Sproul-PrayerPrayer is one of those things in the Christian life that if many of us are honest with ourselves we will admit that we do not do very well.

We neglect prayer when we’re tired, when we’re busy, sometimes we can go days or weeks without praying. As Sproul points out “We’re not all that adept at prayer; it is a practice very few of us have mastered” (p4). In his book The Prayer of the Lord R.C. Sproul provides commentary and instruction on how to pray through the model provided in the Lord’s Prayer.

Sproul’s text basically serves as a commentary on the Lord’s Prayer as found in Matthew and Luke, thus he begins his book in similar fashion to the way Christ begins his instructions on prayer – by talking about how not to pray. Thus first, we are to avoid hypocritical prayers, learning from the Pharisees: “Their piety was a sham; it was phony and fraudulent. It was a fake form of godliness…” (p6). A helpful not here is the reminder that when we pray – specifically in public – our prayers are still in a sense private. They are not meant to display our spirituality to the world or to show anything about the person who prays, but to communicate with God. Even in public the person praying “is representing us before the presence of God; that means his words are not for our ears primarily. But if he is not speaking consciously to God, he is not praying properly” (p9).

Secondly, Sproul asserts, we should avoid pagan prayer. That is, we should avoid prayer that is used a summons, as a magical incantation, or a mere recitation (even the Lord’s Prayer is not meant to be prayed mindlessly, merely recited).

Finally we should pray knowing that God is a God who is sovereign, who is omniscient. Thus Sproul points out that “prayer does change things, all kinds of things. But the most important thing it changes is us” (p14).

After these preliminary remarks on prayer Sproul goes into analyzing each part of the Lord’s Prayer one by one. Thus he points to the privilege of adoption as sons that is found in ‘Our Father in geaven’; that ‘Hallowed be thy name’ points to the fact that “the very beginning of godliness, the very beginning of transformation in our lives and in our society, begins with our posture before the character of God” (p33) because “No worship, no adoration, and no obedience can flow from a heart that has no regard for the name of God” (p36); that we are to bear witness to the coming of the messianic kingdom through ‘Thy kiingdom come’; that we pray for God’s will to be done over ours with ‘Thy will be done’; that we are to rely upon him daily for everything with ‘Give us this day our daily bread’; that we must ask for God to ‘Forgive us our debts’ and that we should ‘forgive our debtors’ and asserting that duty-bound forgiveness is conditional upon on repentance; that with ‘Do not lead us into temptation’ “Jesus is saying that we should pray that the Father will never cause us to undergo a severe test of our faith or of our obedience” (p88) and that it is especially referring to deliverance from Satan; and finally that through ‘Yours is the kingdom…’ we are shifted back to focus on God and affirms that everything prayed for is within His power, for “The kingdom of God is not of the people, by the people, or for the people… His reign extends over me whether I vote for  Him or not” (p100).

On the whole, Sproul provides an excellent commentary on the Lord’s Prayer and sound instruction on how we should pray. The book could make for a solid devotional reading or for a study resource for better understanding Jesus’ words or simply for instruction on how to pray better. All in all, a good read.

Memorable Quotes:

“Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, every time we open our mouths and say ‘Our Father,’ we should be reminded of our adoption, that we have been grafted into Christ and have been placed in this intimate relationship with God, a relationship that we did not have by nature.”-20

“[Mankind] is not a brotherhood but a neighborhood. Not all men are my brothers, only those who are in Christ. However, all men are my neighbors, and I am required by God to treat these people as I would expect them treat me.”-35

“The kingdom of God was near to them because the King of the kingdom was there. When He came, Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom. He didn’t consummate it, but He started it. And when He ascended into heaven, He went there for His coronation, for His investiture as the King of kings and Lord of lords.”-48

“First, notice that Jesus didn’t teach us to pray that God would sell us our daily bread or render it to us in exchange for our service; instead, in this petition, we manifestly ask God to give us something.”-65

“Got typically works through means, and He normally provides through the means of our labor.”-68

“If we are obligated in every situation to forgive immediately, directly, and unilaterally, there is no need for the whole process of discipline in the church.”-84

Specific Criticisms

I don’t have many criticisms of this text. There are a few nitpicks where I felt he was putting up a straw man to attack, but this doesn’t really affect the message of the book.

The only place where I would directly disagree with Sproul’s analysis is when he states that ‘Do not lead us into temptation’ means that we should pray that our faith should never be tested, that we are praying for ‘deliverance from severe testing.’ As Derek Thomas points out in his book Praying the Savior’s Way, “Jesus by this petition intends more than a prayer against our faith being tested for its authenticity” (p114)

Or as other commentators have put it: “Jesus does not mean we should pray that we will never face any hardships. Rather, we should pray that we will be ready to endure tests and hardships faithfully. The same situation can be a test one day and a temptation on another.”

“Just as a Christ tells his disciples to rejoice when persecuted (Mt 5:10-12) and to flee from it (10:23), that the times will have wars and rumors of wars yet we should pray for peace (1Tim2:2), so a prayer requesting to be spared testings may not be incongruous when placed beside exhortations to consider such testings, when they come, as pure joy.”

“‘Lead us not into temptation’ does not imply ‘don’t bring us to the place of temptation’ or ‘don’t allow us to be tempted.’ Nor does the clause imply ‘don’t tempt us’ because God has promised never to do that anyway. Rather, the words seem best taken as ‘don’t let us succumb to temptation.’ When we give in, we only have ourselves to blame. The parrallelism renders less likely the alternate translation of the first clause as ‘do not bring us to the test’ either as times of trial in this life or as final judgement. God tests us in order to prove us and bring us to maturity, such tests should not be feared, nor should we pray for God to withhold them.”

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