Monday, March 12, 2018

Developing a Healthy Prayer Life

Developing a Healthy Prayer Life: 31 Meditations on Communing with God, James W. Beeke and Joel R. Beeke (Reformation Heritage Books, 2010)

A talk series on prayer has led me again to investigate resources for prayer. I have come across some good ones.

This very short offering (under 100 pages) is designed to be used as a devotional, with 31 brief chapters covering numerous aspects of prayer. Starting with a definition of prayer as “the act of forging a connection between two specific points: our human needs and the resources of God offered to us in Christ”, it’s then extended to include expressing desires to God, embracing God’s will, confession, and worship. The reader is invited to be both challenged and encouraged by prayer, and to be changed by it.

They begin by addressing the question: “Who should pray?” and address some excuses why people don’t think they should pray, concluding “You are too sinful not to pray; sinners are the very people who need prayer. Therefore, pray.”

The following 29 chapters focus on different aspects of prayer, such as pray in Christ’s name, pray believingly, pray humbly, pray boldly, pray intercedingly, pray thankfully, pray dependently and pray against besetting sins. Each were instructive, helpful and bible based.

Some helpful things along the way:
“Prayer requires faith: believing in God, trusting in God, and placing our expectations in God.” (Ch 3) 
“You need humble boldness – humility when viewing your sinful self and boldness when viewing a reconciling Christ.” (Ch 7) 
[Regarding praying with thankfulness] “First we are to be thankful for mercies received… Second, we are to be thankful for trials endured… Third, we are to be thankful for the absolute goodness and infinite mercy of God expressed in His actions toward us in both prosperity and adversity.” (Ch 11) 
“In our prayer, God does not note the expressiveness of our voice, the multitude of our words, or regard the eloquence of our expressions. Rather, He observes the sincerity of our heart. To pray sincerely is to pray without pretence or deceit.” (Ch 17)

“We are to pray dependently, not independently, True prayer weans the petitioner from self-reliance.” (Ch 23) 
“Unfulfilled prayer can serve as a means to produce far deeper and more valuable benefits that those we originally requested. Unfulfilled prayer can teach us patience and contentment, surrendering and bowing before God…. Unfulfilled prayer can serve to teach us humility and dependency, to trust more in God and less in self.” (Ch 24) 
“Thoughtful prayer moves us from weakness to strength and from strength to glory. It binds us to God and comforts us in distress, pray not as a last resort, but in the increasing knowledge of God and His will." (Ch 30)

There was an appendix at the end with 31 Marks of True Prayer – they were helpful to read but I would have appreciated an explanation of where they came from, they seemed to be sourced from elsewhere.

I did have a couple of hesitations:

  • Chapter 29 was about praying with scripture. I wasn’t sure why this was placed so late in the order, it would have been much better to have this much earlier. Indeed, there was no real logical to the order of the chapters.
  • It was very disappointing that in 2010 they chose to use the KJV translation for all bible quotes. It makes the bible almost inaccessible to modern readers. Even the small number of suggested written prayers modelled the use thees & thys whereas all the other writing was modern. This implies you need to use different language for both bible reading and prayer than you use in daily life. It’s very unhelpful.
  • It would have been both instructive and encouraging to have a short prayer or aid to prayer at the end of each devotional. Modelling such prayer, not just talking about prayer would have been beneficial.

So as an aid to consider prayer from multiple angles, it's a very helpful book with instructive prompts and challenges. With each chapter only ~2 pages, it's very, very readable. One a day would indeed be excellent food for thought over a month, and a way to analyse your prayer life in light of the teaching of scripture.

Note: it only appears to still be easily available as an eBook.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Fitz and the Fool

Fitz and the Fool Series, Robin Hobb

The fifth and final series of Robins Hobb's world of the Elderlings was only just finished last year. Good thing I only found this series in the last 12 months, or I (like millions of other fans) would have been waiting a long time for this one!

Back we return to the Six Duchies and Fitz. About 20 years have passed, he is now happily married and living at the estate at Withywoods, and the Fool has been absent since the events of series three.

Really there isn't any point saying much more. If you aren't already reading this series (13 books in so far) you won't understand the details, and those still working their way through them won't want me to spoil anything.

It's enough to say it's a cracking end to the whole series. All our favourite characters are woven in again, not just in the Six Duchies, but in the Rain Wilds, Kelsingra and on the Liveships as well. These books occupied me completely on holidays and got me through a few rough days with a tummy upset too. It was a fitting completion to a very impressive series, which has clearly been a life's work for Hobb, who has been writing them since 1995.

I have noticed with authors that write a series over the course of their lives that you start to feel you know them a bit: what they care about, their worldview, and their value system. You also can glimpse  how their attitudes or values change as the years go on. I felt the same about Jean Auel and Diana Gabaldon. I assume any writer's values and beliefs come out in their writing. It's an interesting privilege to be allowed, just a little, into someone else's mind and how they express it creatively.

Friday, March 2, 2018

High School Musical

This fun, musical about life in high school seems like it was meant to be the clean, modern version of Grease. When I say clean, I mean really clean – no bad language, one kiss on the cheek and everyone grows in character. Even the clothing choices are mostly appropriate.

When Troy and Gabriella meet on holidays at a ski resort, they are unceremoniously shoved together and made to sing karaoke. Initial horror turns to fun and interest as it turns out that (wow!), they can both sing really well. Fast forward to the next semester and Gabriella (no way!) turns up as a new student at Troy’s school. Troy is captain of the basketball team whereas Gabriella excels in maths and science. But both start to wonder if they should try out for the high school musical. Obviously, there is a lot of romantic interest between them, but as I said, it’s all very chaste.

Friends try to convince them to stay in their own cliques (with a catchy song ‘stick to the status quo’). The overarching message of the movie though is that it's OK to be a bit different, and to do the things that you like – whether it’s singing, dancing, baking, academics or sport. Positive messages abound throughout– kids learn to encourage their friends into different interests, the teachers while caricatured at points do help the kids out, and parents are positive role models. The basketball coach / dad in particular makes it clear to his son in the end that he wants him to enjoy playing rather than concentrate on winning. The brother/ sister duo of Ryan and Sharpay who run the Drama club even learn to cope with the intrusion on their domain, and their antics are fun to watch in the process.

The songs aren’t really anything special (the music from Grease is certainly much much better). One review suggested the songs sounded like offcuts from a Paula Abdul album and the lip syncing is pretty bad. But the energy is fun, lighthearted and enjoyable.

Moving on, it's as much fun watching #2 and 3. Continuing with comparisons, it seems to me that High School Musical 2 is trying to be a conservative Dirty Dancing. It's summer and Sharpay is living at the country club. She wants Troy in the show and fixes it so he has a job there. He manages to get all of the crew from East High employed for the summer. This one is much more about Ryan and Sharpay's shenanigans and there is tension developing between Troy who is favoured, and Gabriella and the rest of the gang.

High School Musical 3 is Senior Year and while looking forward to prom and graduation, there is uncertainty about everyone's future. Where will they go to college? What will happen to Troy and Gabriella's relationship?

As with the first, there are a lot of songs and dance routines. Few will stay with you for long (unless your children listen to them on constant repeat), but they are fun to watch and the choreography of all the large dance scenes is pretty impressive.

All three (ages 10, 12 and 14) enjoyed these and laughed at the jokes. Husband and I liked the positive messages and that they were funny (sometimes laughing at, sometimes laughing with). Troy and Gabriella kiss properly in #2 & 3, but as with the first, there is no bad language, the interactions are pretty chaste, and all the characters tend to improve and learn. Definitely a bit of enjoyable family fun.