Saturday, June 9, 2012

Praying with the Grain

How does your personality type affect the way you pray? That's the subtitle of my latest read: Praying with the Grain by Dr. Pablo Martinez. And of course I loved that John Stott wrote the forward - added credibility.

I thought I was in for another traditional  book on prayer - one of many in a cluster of books in my library. I couldn't have been more wrong. This is an intriging, unusual, thoughtful, and altogether different book on prayer than I suspect you may ever read.

The opening section is all about personality types and from a doctor's perspective how those unique characteristics and preferences affect our approach to prayer...and the potential problems that may ensue. Really interesting stuff. Particularly good presentation on introverts and extroverts.

But then Dr. Martinez takes us on a most interesting journey discussing prayer and psychology, side by side and intertwined. There is so much scripture and terrific quotes by people from Teresa of Avila to Paul Tournier to Larry Crabb to Richard Foster - I was amazed at the variety and breadth of references. All very spot on in my opinion. I was underlining on nearly every page. New ways of approaching and discussing a topic that has probably been written about more than any other.

I don't often do this but the table of contents is worth sharing here:

Part 1: The Psychology of Prayer
  1. Different prayers for different people (Prayer in relation to temperament)
  2. Overcoming difficulties (Emotional problems and prayer)
  3. The therapeutic value of prayer (Prayer - a love relationship)
  4. Questions & answers
Part 2: The Apologetics of Prayer
  1. Prayer: psychological illusion? (A psychiatrist's viewpoint)
  2. Are all prayers alike? (Christian prayer and Eastern meditation)
I want to share some excerpts but first let me say, I really enjoyed this book and believe I'll be refering back to it in the future (I can't say that about every book on prayer I read). At times the psychological talk got tedious but there is great meat to chew on.

Here's an example, however, of how practical and prescriptive the book is as well:

In responding to the issue of how to get started in prayer and the challenge that presents for some: "Try writing down your prayers. One practical exercise I often recommend is to write down two good things that happened today: perhaps some good news, a conversation of any form of blessing for which you feel happy and grateful. Then do the same with two reasons for concern or anxiety. Now you are ready for a short prayer." (p.58)

He goes on to say to those who feel hypocritical in prayer because they aren't "feeling it:" "My recommendation, then, is basically the same one that I recommend for those who have problems with starting to prayer: begin praying, regardless of what you feel. It is better to begin praying, though you don't feel like it, than not to pray at all. Prayer is primarily an expression not of my inner well-being, but of my love towards God. I do not pray when I feel well; I pray because I love the Lord." (p.66)

I commend Dr. Martinez for his presentation on the differences between Christian prayer and Eastern meditation. It is logical and thoughtful, and in my opinion quite helpful. Here is one excerpt that I found particularly good:

"Eastern meditation is fundamentally passive; one gives oneself completely, simply letting go. The person seeks to disconnect, to emply himself or herself. As Gaius Davies, a psychiatrist, says, it "puts the mind, as it were in neutral gear." Here, the differences are also absolute. Christian prayer is not a technique, nor is it passive. It is an active process by which the person is fully occupied with God's truth. It does not seek to empty the mind but to fill it. It does not seek to lose the attention but to concentrate it. It does not seek relaxation. It does not consist of letting ideas float without a fixed direction, but of setting them on concrete realities: the person of God, his works, his promises, his commandments. This establishes the framework within which meditation is developed. It is not an excursion without borders, or an aimless journey in which a map and compass are lacking." (p.162)

I had coffee with a friend yesterday and she asked what I was reading...after a brief discussion (not unlike what I've shared with you here) she immediately got on her Kindle app and bought the book to read this weekend. I think she'll like it or at lease be challenged by it.

(Note: Thank you Kregel Publications for providing this book to me for review purposes)

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