A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Hannah Miller
Kevin DeYoung set out to write a book that was not simply a reminder to pray, to pray without ceasing, to just pray. He wrote a book to implore believers to integrate into their daily lives something that is essential for their faith, for their progressive sanctification. He does not berate those who have not been active in their prayer lives as they should be, but he gently calls his readers to explore with him what, why, and how one should pray and does so with great humility. He sympathizes with the believer who is struggling to make prayer part of their daily life. DeYoung states “In my experience, nonstop focus on the ought of prayer stirs up the Christian at first but quickly wears off, leaving in its wake more guilt than prayer… the Lord’s Prayer is different. It doesn’t focus on the will to pray, at least not explicitly. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us how to pray” (p. 12). DeYoung’s thesis is that the Lord’s Prayer gives everything the believer needs to understand what, why, and how the believer ought to pray.
The book is structured with seven chapters; 1) When You Pray, 2) Our Father, 3) Our Desire, 4) Our Daily Bread, 5) Our Debts, 6) Our Plea, 7) His Glory and there is a study guide at the end of the book. The seven chapters, minus the first chapter, are structured around how DeYoung broke up the Lord’s Prayer. He walks through the Lord’s Prayer paying special attention to the phrases he has chosen for each chapter.
In chapter one DeYoung states “Jesus was most concerned with what they prayed, more than with when or where or for how long” (p. 13). Going on to state that “There is freedom in a great many elements of prayer. But (1) we must not neglect praying, and (2) we must pray for the sort of things Jesus tells us to pray for” (p. 13). He then structured the rest of the chapter around not neglecting to pray and asking what Jesus tells us to pray for. Concerning not neglecting prayer DeYoung talks about prayer being part of the daily life of the Jewish person and how with the coming of Christ it became the way all believers commune with God. He states “You can’t be a Christian and not pray. There is no such thing as a non-praying Christian” (p. 16). From there, DeYoung discusses what it means to be a hypocrite, and that is that what one professes to be is not what one actually is. If one professes to be a Christian they must be in prayer. He then spends the remainder of chapter one reminding the believer to pray for what Christ requires the Christian to pray for, that one is to pray for Christ’s will, not their own. That praying is not about telling God how to run the universe but is about a relationship that changes the heart of the believer.
Chapter two discusses the very first couple of words in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father.” DeYoung discusses how everything that God does is for His glory and for the good of the believer (as well as to draw unbelievers to Himself). He states that “the first set of three requests focuses on God’s glory – his name, his kingdom, and his will” (p. 27). In order to rightly pray one must focus on the Father. On His glory alone, not on one’s own glory, desires, or anything else. As one learns to pray, DeYoung reminds the believer that “it is not our natural human birthright to call God “Father”; it is our born-again spiritual birthright” (p. 29). Believers can go to God as a child knowing that one will receive the best that God has to offer. DeYoung admits that prayer often seems to become dull and lifeless, but he says that if that is true then one is not keeping before them whom they are praying to. If one is dwelling on the God of the universe, but who is approachable as “Our Father,” it changes how one prays. The author states “To pray this prayer is to ask that God would do a miracle in our hearts, in our actions, and in our world, that his name would be set apart. It makes plain to God our chief desire: to praise him and want all people to praise him. It’s to want the whole world to see him for who he really is” (p. 35). DeYoung aptly named what many believers struggle with, a lack of rightly remembering whom one is praying to.
Chapter three is titled “Our Desire.” He discusses how the desire of the believer is to be devotion to Christ and proclamation of the gospel. He discusses how often the believer mixes up their desires with the desires of Christ. The phrase “Our Desire” is not in the Lord’s Prayer, but is in reference to “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Meaning that when one prays they either have the desires of the Lord’s heart, his kingdom come, his will be done or one has their kingdom and their will in mind. DeYoung goes into depth discussing what “thy kingdom” means. There have been a lot of thoughts on this particular phrase in the Lord’s Prayer and DeYoung posits “the kingdom of God is the heavenly world breaking into our earthly existence” (p. 41). He gives a few pages explanation then must succinctly states “the kingdom comes when and where the King is known” (p. 45). DeYoung argues that one must pray for the kingdom of God to come, and they must be an active participant in what they are praying. That prayer ought to change the heart in order to see a lost world come to know God, and on the flip-side that being a willing participant in helping a lost world come to know God ought to continuously rejuvenate the prayers of the believer as they are living out what they ought to be praying, and ultimately what one ought to be desiring, God’s will, not thine own. He uses the last few pages of the chapter to call the believer to live obediently, outwardly, and expectantly of God’s kingdom, come and His will being done.
Chapter four then moves onto “Our Daily Bread.” He notes that the believer is called to pray “Give.” This sounds demanding, but he argues that “Praying “give” is one way we honor the giver” (p. 58). He also notes the small word “us.” Asking for daily bread is to be a communal thing. One is not to pray solely for their own bread, but for the bread for all believers. The call is for believers to daily pray for their needs and for the needs of their fellow believers. DeYoung states “Jesus isn’t urging his disciples to start every day back at poverty. But he is commending to us a poverty of spirit” (p. 60). What DeYoung is calling for is for the believer to be in a position of understanding that Christ provides everything the believer has. The author then gives three calls at the end of the chapter. First, to live with a spirit of contentment, secondly, to live with a spirit of gratitude, and lastly, to live with dependence on Christ alone.
Chapter five discusses the phrase “Our Debts.” He focuses on the forgiveness one needs to receive. That the believer needs to focus on the forgiveness that they need and that they have been given in order to see Christ and others correctly. When one sees their forgiveness rightly, they see Christ rightly and when they see Christ and their sin rightly, they can more easily forgive those who have trespassed them. DeYoung states “In this fifth petition, we not only ask something of God; we also expect something of ourselves. Forgiven people forgive… When we forgive others, we say something similar: “I will not demand of you the moral payment that is rightfully mine” (p/ 75). The author also understands that forgiveness has often been ill taught and explains in three sections that “forgiveness is not the absence of consequences,” “forgiveness does not eliminate all authority structures,” and lastly, “forgiveness is not a complete absence of any judgment” (p. 76). DeYoung wisely included these sections and better clarified the points he was striving to make. He also differentiates between forgiveness being a therapeutic feeling and forgiveness being an action. He states “forgiveness is what we grant to people when they repent. While we should always have an attitude of forgiveness and put forward a sincere offer of forgiveness, the fullest expression of biblical forgiveness happens when one side repents and the other side removes the moral debt he is owed” (p. 79). DeYoung walks through what forgiveness actually is very well and he anticipates many of the arguments surrounding forgiveness such as it being a feeling instead of it being an action. The author sympathizes with the difficulty in forgiving others and it is like walking with a friend as he explains why forgiveness is not optional for the believer.
Chapter six discusses not being led into temptation and delivered from the evil one. On page eighty-six he walks through three options for temptations and states “1. Sometimes the Bible portrays temptations as trails or testing… 2. Sometimes the Bible thinks of temptations as enticement to sin… 3. Then there are those temptations that arise from within, those allurements to sin that are internal, originating from the power of indwelling sin” (his emphasis not mine). He then states that believers are tempted by all three. He reminds the reader that God does not entice people to sin then he goes into the difference between the temptations Jesus faced versus the temptation’s believers face. He argues that temptations are focused on pleasure, pride, and power and walks through the temptation that Satan presented to Christ and yet Christ did not falter. He discusses how each person struggles with a particular one of these (pleasure, pride, and power). That just because someone else’s sin does not make sense does not mean that one is above sin, just that one is most likely struggling with a different area of sin. DeYoung encourages and challenges the believer stating “Know your enemy. Know yourself. And know from whence your help comes” (p. 94).
The last chapter is entitled “His Glory.” DeYoung actually only briefly mentions the Lord’s glory as he addressed that previously and instead turns to mention how the believer ought to seal their prayer with the word “amen” even though “amen” is not in the passage on the Lord’s Prayer. To end one’s prayer with “amen” DeYoung argues is to end one’s prayer in agreement with Christ. DeYoung spends the rest of the chapter writing out a prayer for the reader to pray in agreement.
DeYoung’s work was like discussing prayer with a friend who completely understands one’s struggles. DeYoung filled a gap in giving a detailed call to prayer instead of a reprimand against prayerlessness. A couple of weaknesses of the work are not in what DeYoung wrote, but in what could have been included. Though it is unlikely for one to be reading this book and not be a believer, giving a nod to that at the beginning of the book could have been helpful and provided for an unbeliever to understand what it means to come to know Christ. This book is specific in its audience, but it seems a shame to discuss prayer, something which other religions would also claim is part of their practices and not give a small explanation as to what the gospel is and how that is the prerequisite for the Lord’s Prayer. This is a small critique, but something to consider should there be further publications of this work. The other critique is two-fold, and that is that DeYoung primarily uses New Testament passages as he walks through the book but then at the end brings in David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 claiming it as a parallel passage and yet it appears to only be mentioned at the end of the book. The reader would have liked to have seen that passage used to book end this work. That would have strengthened what DeYoung was arguing as well and providing another similar structure for how to pray from the get-go. If David’s prayer is truly the inspiration for the doxology that people credit the Lord’s Prayer too and is perhaps what people are more familiar with addressing it sooner on in the work would have been beneficial. The shortcomings are minor and overall, this work is excellent and commendable.
Hannah Miller, PhD student, BC