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


  1. Thanks for these comments! I heartily agree about "A Guide to Prayer..." I've had mine nearly 20 years and almost always find something speaking a fresh encouragement or challenge!

    1. Update:


      June 17, 2013

      When I was suddenly hospitalized with clots in my lungs, my daughter Lindy visited from her country property bearing a basketful of wild roses from her garden. She set about arranging them in a large jug and put them on the window-ledge of my hospital room. Everyone who entered was stunned by their beauty.

      It was soon discovered that apart from clots I had some serious cancer which required immediate surgery in a large city hospital.

      I recovered quickly from this under the best gynocological oncologist my husband could find through much googling and consultation. So I was discharged knowing we’d have to return in a few days to get the pathology report. It was Wednesday when that report revealed aggressive and widespread cancer. So our professor planned to consult with his peers in the field the next Tuesday night, and we were to phone him the next evening for their decision.

      Seeking solitude and tranquillity we decided to spend that week with our daughter in the country. On our arrival my first words were ‘Oh Lindy, you sure did a thorough job of cutting back those rose bushes!’ Her reply: ‘Well it will bring a better yield in Spring’.

      By Tuesday night I knew those professionals had decided my fate, so I simply talked to the Lord about wanting him to be glorified, whatever my fate. Waking about 4am and unable to find sleep, I took out my daily devotional book, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants. For that very date I read:

      ‘Any good gardener knows that beautiful roses require careful pruning. Pieces of living plant have to die. It cannot just grow wild. We cannot simply “celebrate growth”. It is more than to be regretted, it is tragic that we seem to have lost the insight that growth in Christ requires careful pruning. Pieces of us by our intentional action need to die if we are to become the person that is in God’s vision. We are not cutting away a cancerous growth but making room for an intended growth. Mortification refers to that intentional action of pruning of life that better life might grow by God’s grace – just as better roses grow by God’s grace.’ (from Spirituality for Ministry by Urban T Holmes III)

      What that better life might be for me I must leave entirely in God’s loving hands.

      Peace and love

      Jan Croucher