Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants

A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants (Upper Room, 1983)

1982-3 I was the most difficult year of my professional life, recovering from a painful divorce from the church to which we had been called a year earlier. [1]

But it was also the richest, spiritually. With no other pastoral interruptions, I prayed/read while walking around English Bay, Vancouver (‘the most beautiful city in the world’ the travel people tell me: what a place for God to choose for a ‘desert’ experience!).

I lived in the spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing - ‘piercing the dark cloud with a dart of longing love’ – and read books about contemplative prayer and spiritual direction.

And dreamed dreams which I hadn’t dreamt before. Like: why don’t mature Christians have more devotional resources which bridge the conservative/liberal/Catholic divides? Actually two pastor-scholars had asked the same question a generation before – W E Sangster on one side of the Atlantic and A W Tozer on the other. And just seven or eight years earlier a new wave of spiritual writing was born, led by Richard Foster, Kenneth Leech, Tilden Edwards and others  – a movement which has been gathering momentum ever since.

But while those five authors wrote some spiritual classics which still enrich us, they hadn’t put together something which could be used for pastors’/leaders’ daily devotions.

So I dreamed of publishing something which would bring all these streams together, and the initial volume – Still Waters Deep Waters - became something of a best-seller, at least for an Australian book – 35,000 copies. This was followed by seven other similarly-formatted volumes over the next ten years or so. [2]

But down in Nashville, Tennessee, two people had a similar vision, and in 1983 produced a devotional classic titled A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants. Like Still Waters Deep Waters Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck brought together the best Scriptures, quotes, homilies, poems and prayers from a wide range of sources, into 418 pages of delightful spiritual nourishment.

Study this list of their most-quoted authors: Carlo Caretto, Henri Nouwen, George MacDonald, William Barclay, Anthony Bloom, the Cloud of Unknowing, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Richard Foster, Robert Greenleaf, Urban T. Holmes III, Thomas a Kempis, Hans Kung, Malcolm Muggeridge, Thomas Pettepiece, Hannah Whitall Smith, Mother Teresa, Elton Trueblood, Simon Tugwell, Teresa of Avila, Howard Thurman, Evelyn Underhill, Simone Weil, H A Williams… Each of these contributed six or more quotes…

Now that’s a marvelous group of spiritual writers: if there’s a name or two there you don’t know, guess what? you’ve been feasting on limited rations all these years! They’re Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, evangelical, liberal, Anglican, Quaker, Presbyterian, classical, modern  - you name it! The secret of anthologies like this one is that the compilers believe God has spoken by ‘many and various’ saints and prophets over the centuries. Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water is the best modern exponent of that idea. [3]

Let me whet your appetite with some of the best quotes:

When we go to the Bible with an empty spirit, moved by intellectual vanity, striving to show our superiority to the text; or as barren souls who go sight-seeing to the words of the prophets, we discover the shells but miss the core. It is easier to enjoy beauty than to sense the holy… (Abraham Joshua Heschel – a Jew!)

 God is nearer to our minds than our own thoughts; nearer to our hearts than our own feelings; more intimate with our wills than our most vigorous decisions. If we are not aware of him, it is not because he is not with us (Albert Edward Day – a Methodist)

The fire of God [burns worst at a distance]. When we turn and approach him, the burning begins to change to comfort, which comfort will grow to such bliss that the heart at length cries out with a gladness no other gladness can reach: ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee!’ (George MacDonald – one of C S Lewis’s mentors).

I could easily have chosen 200 more…

Do yourself a favour and go to some of the online secondhand book sites and get a copy of this brilliant anthology. [4] And take your time reading the 68 chapters/collections of quotes – perhaps for a whole year.

[4] has plenty for sale – for just a few dollars upwards!

Rowland Croucher
November 2011