Recommended Reading: Gordon Smith’s Book, Teach Us to Pray
Gordon Smith has written a small book, Teach Us to Pray, that teaches one how to pray through the three movements of thanksgiving, confession, and discernment. He anchors this book around the idea that Jesus taught his disciples to pray for the coming of the kingdom and this should also be our most “important agenda.”
Smith stresses that we pray through the Spirit, listening more than we speak. Evidence of praying in the spirit includes a change in our character. First, we learn to live in the holiness of God and grow in faith, love, and hope. Secondly, we have vocational clarity and gain in the ability to be patient. Thirdly, one experiences the “joy of alignment.” We know deep in our hearts that Jesus will return and all will be well. Lastly, we develop humility as Christ is the center of our lives and not our own needs and wants. Our prayers change and are no longer all about us.
The rest of the book elaborates on the three movements. Smith spotlights the fact that negativity can encompass our lives and that we need to be insistent on focusing our minds and hearts on the goodness of God. He recommends praying particular thanksgiving for the unique ways we see God blessing us. He sees gratitude as central to our Christian life. Thanks allows us to avoid the trap of entitlement.
The prayer of confession keeps us from the pride of assuming we have our faith all wrapped up and we have arrived. I appreciated that Smith notes that confession is not about restoring our relationship with God because we have sinned. He says we are already in relationship and can’t lose our status as sons and daughters. We make confession as those people who are confident in the love of God. Smith says that confession needs to include the following elements: acknowledgment of our wrong, accepting responsibility, seeking the mercy of God, appropriating the forgiveness of God by recognizing that we are truly set free, and then realigning our lives.
The prayer of discernment recognizes that God invited us into His work and that our work really does make a difference. Again, I was happy to see Smith state that, “We should recognize that the common mantra, “pray more, give more, serve more”, is simply unhelpful. Perhaps worse than unhelpful. It feeds a certain temptation: we think we are more significant if we do more and that we bring greatest glory to God if we accomplish more.”
He acknowledges that discernment is complicated, as we all know. One directive he gives is making sure that in our prayers we are seeking the best. We ask, “What is the good to which I am called?” Then we test the peace by asking these three questions: “Does this peace reflect the will and purposes of God as revealed in scripture? What is the driving and defining motivation that shaped my desires through this discernment process? “To whom am I legitimately accountable for the actions or choices I make?”
Lastly, Smith addresses prayer as a spiritual practice. The author believes that there is “nothing that so indicates that the kingdom matters to us as the consistency of our prayers.” Using these three movements, he proposes, should become a pattern and rhythm for our lives. Praying the psalms, singing hymns, reading scripture, The Lord’s supper, and the church calendar shape us in these three movements of prayer.
It is interesting that Smith tacks on the prayer of petition as an afterword. He suggests prayer for family and friends, places we work, our faith community and for the happenings locally, nationally and globally, as well as our own needs.
Overall, I think Smith’s book would be helpful especially to those who are just learning the art of prayer. My experience has been that is a point when we may need a structure and roadmap for our prayer life.
He mentioned at the beginning of the book that listening is more important than speaking but it seems to me that the majority of the book was about talking and a certain order to bring to prayer. In Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, she includes in the appendix a “Seasons of the Soul Assessment”. She attaches certain helpful spiritual practices to each stage. I appreciate the fact that she sees the need for different types of prayer and disciplines depending on where we are on our faith journey. So, prayer using Smith’s three movements may be very applicable to some folks but others might be drawn into more contemplative practices such as centering prayer or practicing the presence. Many times, having a spiritual director or guide to walk beside us is helpful in understanding where we are on the journey and the practices that lead us further into our faith.
But, I thank Smith for offering a book that especially focused on the kingdom of God and a balanced approach to these three movements.