Reviewed by Fred G. Zaspel
Devotional books of prayers are not new to Christian publication, but it is rare to find one that immediately strikes you as truly deserving of “best seller” status. I cannot remember when I last read a book more personally stirring and universally applicable than P&R’s new Prone to Wander: Prayers of Confession and Celebration, by Ian and Barbara Duguid and Wayne Houk. I picked it up for review purposes, yet curious to check it out, and as I read it I soon found my heart racing and my eyes wet, and now I want somehow to get a copy into the heads of every Christian I know.
A Gospel-Shaped Piety
For a full generation now Arthur Bennett’s Valley of Vision, with its profound theological insights and rich language of devotion, has taught Christians how to pray. Prone to Wander does the same but now with the narrower focus of confession of sin and celebration of pardon – the very center of devotional piety and just where so many of us need help.
Few Christians would claim to be sufficiently thoughtful (i.e., honest) in confession of sin, and inevitably this failure leaves us with an inadequate appreciation of Christ also. Yet these considerations lie at the very heart of the gospel and of our devotion. After the New Testament it was Augustinian and then Reformed theology that so famously shaped Christian piety in terms of a robust understanding of sin and grace. “Miserable sinners” is the language the church has historically used, but it is a miserable sinfulness that, happily, is more than matched by the grace of God in Christ. By the gospel we confess that we are at the same time and always both righteous and sinful – sinful in ourselves and righteous in our great Redeemer. And understanding the gospel in these terms leaves us, on the one hand, very willing to acknowledge our sinfulness so that, on the other, we may exult the more in Christ. As B.B. Warfield perceptively wrote, “There is no other joy on earth like that of appeased remorse,” and this notion shapes Christian devotion deeply.
This, very simply, is the value of this book. Its prayers of confession are, frankly, disturbingly insightful, but its celebrations of free and full pardon and acceptance in Christ lead us to the heights of redeemed joy. And its thoughtful expressions of utter dependence upon the God of all grace will warm every Christian heart. Each devotional – prayer, Scripture readings, and hymns – though brief, stirs the mind and enflames the heart as only the gospel can.
Prone to Wander consists of 93 brief (1½ to 2 page) devotional readings, each following the same format:
- Call to Confession (brief Scripture reading)
- Prayer of Confession (reflecting on the given Scripture passage)
- Assurance of Pardon (another brief Scripture reading)
- Hymns (hymn titles only are given)
The prayers of confession are unusually poignant, grounded as they are in thoughtful reflections on specific Scripture passages. And having identified sin and expressed confession accordingly, each prayer then turns attention to the God of grace revealed in the gospel, as every Christian prayer of confession must. Consistently we are led to think of God as Father, Son, and Spirit and of the saving and sanctifying work of each. And consistently we are led to focus our thinking on the Lord Jesus Christ in both his active and passive obedience – the one who lived before God perfectly, for us, and the one who bore our sin in his death. The passages selected to convey “Assurance of Pardon” are well-chosen and to the point also, as are the hymns.
There is more to Christian devotion than confession of sin, of course. Adoration, petition, praying for kingdom advance, and such, must also find prominent place in our prayer life. Of course. But confession of sin and celebration of pardon are basic, and Prone to Wander models this dimension of Christian devotion wonderfully.
It is worth clarifying that Prone to Wander is not an exercise in morbid introspection – “miserable sinner Christianity” in its worst sense. Far from it. As the subtitle tells us, it is not Prayers of Confession only, but Prayers of Confession and Celebration. As I mentioned, the prayers of confession are indeed disturbingly insightful. And in this way they are helpfully instructive also – we are too prone to miss the many ugly dimensions of our sinfulness. We need instruction in honest confession of sin. But it models well the confession of a gospel-informed sinner who by that gospel is led to revel in the grace of God. If this book teaches us to recognize sin, and it surely does, it also leads us to glory in Christ who is for us all that God requires of us.
I could scarcely recommend this book more highly. Read it yourself daily, and find your heart stirred and your prayer life enriched. Use it for public reading in your congregation each Sunday. Buy it by the box, and give it away generously.
Fred G. Zaspel
Buy the books
Prone To Wander: Prayers Of Confession And Celebration