“Prayerful praying.” Far from a mere redundancy, it is what Joel Beeke and Brian Najapfour hope to encourage within the body of Christ through the devout prayer lives of the Reformers and the Puritans in, Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer (Reformation Heritage Books, 2011). Taking Hold of God compiles some of the richest theological meditations on prayer from Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Knox, Henry, and other “giants of the faith” within the Reformed and Puritan traditions. Beeke, Najapfour, and others have sifted through the weighty primary sources to leave the reader with the pure gold and potent perspectives of these men for whom “prayer was a priority.” Beeke notes:
These giants of church history dwarf us in true prayer. Is that because they were more educated, were less distracted by cares and duties, or lived in more pious times? No; undoubtedly, what most separates them from us in is that prayer was their priority; they devoted considerable time and energy to it. They were prayerful men who knew how to take hold of God in prayer (Isa. 64:7) [p. 224].
Focusing in on the theologies of prayer among 9 influential Purtians and Reformers (along with the aforementioned, also include: Perkins, Burgess, Bunyan, Boston), together with some additional men along the way, Beeke and Najapfour aim to guide the reader in allowing this treasure of theology, practice, and experience to make our prayer lives “more informed, more extensive, more fervent, and more effectual” (p. xiii). I would say that they accomplish their task quite well. With the amount of significant theology and testimony in each of the essays on prayer, it would be a book the reader would do well to read more than once.
Additionally, Taking Hold of God aims to develop a robust theology of prayer as it addresses how other theological aspects relate to and inform one’s prayer life and experience. My favorite bits included Beeke’s chapters on Calvin (Prayer as Communion with God), Matthew Henry (a Practical Method of Daily Prayer), and Thomas Boston (Praying to Our Father), and Prayerful Praying Today. Also, Peter Beck’s chapter on Jonathan Edwards (Prayer and the Triune God) proved to be edifying and informative as well.
Particularly worth noting within these chapters was Calvin’s perspective on the purpose of prayer in light of the sovereignty of God. Calvin taught that prayer was “not primarily instituted for God, but rather for man. Prayer is a means given to man so that he might, by faith, “reach those riches which are laid up for us with the Heavenly Father” (p. 29). Calvin’s theology of prayer was such that, “Prayer is a way in which believers seek and receive what God has determined to do for them from eternity” (p. 30).
Furthermore, I found Matthew Henry’s remarks on prayer and the importance, practice and purpose of family worship to be convicting and encouraging. “[Henry] considered family worship as a time for the whole family to come to God in prayer, seeking His blessing, thanking Him for His mercies, and bringing Him fractures in our relationships so He might heal them” (p. 148).
Henry also favored format in daily prayer. Though a Christian can occasionally be caught up with the greatness of God in such a way that methods may hinder, those times are likely quite rare. Utilizing the Westminster Directory for Public Worship (1645) Henry outlined effective ways to keep prayer focused and substantive so as to “not be ‘rash with our mouth; and let not our heart be hasty to utter any thing before God;’ but let every word be well weighed, because ‘God is in heaven, and we are upon the earth,’ Eccl. 5:2” (p. 154). Beeke includes one such helpful outline from Henry on adoration within our prayers.
As well, within Beeke’s chapter on Thomas Boston, Boston’s theology of prayer in light of the doctrine of adoption and the Trinity was immensely heartening and enlightening. Boston taught that, “adoption is the foundation of prayer, and prayer is the fruition of adoption” (p. 161, emphasis mine). Moreover, in light of Boston’s theology of prayer/adoption, “Prayer is not just a privilege of adoption; it is a sign of the adoption, for it is the fruit of the Spirit of adoption” (p. 168).
All together, Taking Hold of God demonstrates that what seems to have characterized the prayer of these men, and the others within the book, was their focus and dependence upon God’s Word to shape, sustain, and give substance to their prayers to the glory and enjoyment of God. Beeke fittingly concludes with a chapter aimed at helping the reader practically move in the direction of the Puritans and Reformers so that we, by God’s grace, may achieve a life of “prayerful praying” that “clings with one hand to heaven’s footstool and with the other to Calvary’s cross, stirring itself “to take hold” of God (Isa. 64:7).”
I wholeheartedly commend this book!
CLICK HERE to read sample pages. (PDF)
*The publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review, provided a copy of this book. I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.
**Prices subject to change without notice.