Book Review: The Prayer of the Lord, by R. C. Sproul
Throughout much of Church history, the Lord's Prayer (together with the Decalogue and the Apostle's Creed) has been one of the most foundational elements used in instructing new believers and children in what it means to be a Christian. But unfortunately, while it is frequently recited by rote today, it is not so commonly used as a guideline to teach Christians just what it means to pray, how we should approach God, what we should speak to him about, and so on. Even books on the topic of prayer itself, in the modern church, rarely employ the Lord's Prayer, given to his disciples for the specific purpose of teaching them how to pray, as a foundational shaping paradigm. The Prayer of the Lord, by R. C. Sproul, is a very refreshing exception to this trend, and in a crystal clear and surprisingly simple way shows modern disciples of the Lord, in his own words, just what it means to pray.
The outstanding characteristics of Sproul's writing, particularly in this book, are his simple, easy-to-understand way with words, and his faithfulness to the biblical text. Line by line, Sproul says what the scriptures mean, no more, no less. With each petition of the Lord's Prayer, he not only provides an insightful definition of its basic meaning and intention, he also gives an overview, when appropriate, of the broader biblical teaching on the topics uncovered, topics such as God's fatherhood of us, his chosen people, in distinction from the rest of the world; the variety of ways in which the biblical terms for the will of God are used; the difference between moral and monetary debts; and many other such things. Each discussion is illustrated with colorful anecdotes, often from his own life, that make the book easy to read even while shedding light on the sometimes complex topics, which Sproul has a knack for making as simple as possible without glossing over or ignoring the difficult nuances.
Structurally, the book is quite simple; after an introductory chapter on how not to pray, taken from Christ's teaching in the Sermon in the Mount, Sproul launches into a phrase by phrase unpacking of the petitions of the Lord's Prayer. After this heart of the book, in which he helpfully explains Christ's model prayer, he has a concluding chapter of commonly asked questions and answers. Largely addressing problems that may arise from encountering different biblical teachings or examples that superficially seem to contradict the principles established in the previous pages of the book (examples such as Hezekiah's â€œbargainingâ€ with God, the bitter complaints of some of the Psalmists, etc.), this conclusion is helpful in â€œtying up the loose ends,â€ and bringing the overarching biblical teaching on prayer into a unified and non-contradictory whole. After this chapter is an appendix, capably dealing with a common question pertaining to prayer in light of the Reformed (and biblical!) teaching on God's sovereignty: if God is utterly sovereign, why pray at all? The answer, emphasizing God's sovereignty over the means as well as the end, and reminding the subjects of this sovereign God how inappropriate it is to question his commands and recorded truths, is a very fitting end to the whole book.
All in all, this is an excellent place to start, for anyone desiring a biblical understanding of how to pray. Easy enough for the newest believer but insightful enough to reveal and correct the most entrenched false perspectives of older believers, it will certainly prove to be a useful tool for a very wide segment of contemporary Christianity.
The Prayer of the Lord: available at Monergism Books