Stephen Cottrell: Praying through Life

I’ve recently read and thoroughly enjoyed this little book about prayerby Stephen Cottrell. He says quite categorically at the beginning that it is a book for novices, not experts, and having finished the book I’m inclined to think that after all these years of praying I must still be a novice, because I found a lot of his advice to be spot on for my situation.

This is particularly the case with regard to his thoughts around praying together in the family, and the use of set forms of prayer.

Let me explain a bit. In many ways Stephen starts at the other end of the stick from me. I was nurtured in the evangelical tradition in which the individual ‘daily quiet time’ was sacrosanct. Prayer together was encouraged, of course, but not at the expense of missing your daily private time with the Lord. And whether prayer was individual or corporate, the use of prayers written by others was frowned upon; true prayer had to be from the heart, and therefore spontaneous.

Stephen, however, starts from the other end. He says quite clearly that if we have the choice, we Christians should always pray together rather than alone, and his preference is definitely to encourage prayer in setting where people are already together (i.e. spouses, families), and adapting the forms of prayer to fit these communities, rather than trying to create artificial communities to fit the forms of prayer we have. And he says that beginners in the art of prayer often find the creation of spontaneous prayers of their own quite intimidating, but can find a great deal of help in the use of set forms.

The book is called ‘Praying through Life’ and the subtitle is ‘How to Pray in the Home, at Work, and in the Family’. This is a good description of the contents of the book. Stephen’s philosophy is that your life probably already has a natural rhythm to it, and you’re more likely to succeed at becoming a regular pray-er if you fit your prayer life to those rhythms. For most of us, those rhythms centre on home, work, and family.

One helpful feature of Stephen Cottrell’s books is his habit of giving a summary of the contents toward the end. In this book, that summary takes the form of a short chapter (all the chapters in this book are short!) called ‘Ten Golden Rules’. Let me quote the ten golden rules in full:
  1. Start. The hardest thing about prayer is beginning. So just start. Your longing for God, and your wanting to pray, are the beginning of a relationship that can grow and grow. Tell God that you want to know him and love him, and let him make the next move.
  2. Invite the Holy Spirit to pray in you and teach you how to pray.
  3. Find time to pray. Set aside special times for prayer.
  4. Find people to pray with, especially your family, but also friends and work mates. We need one another’s support. Remember, there is no such thing as private prayer; we are surrounded by the prayers of others.
  5. Build prayer into the rhythms of daily life.
  6. Make your home a place of prayer.
  7. Find the way of praying that is right for you. Explore different ways of praying. Listen as well as speak; give thanks as well as make requests. Try to make sure your prayer is marked by adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication, but don’t let particular methods get in the way.
  8. Don’t look for results.
  9. Make your life a prayer. Use your times of prayer to make the whole of life prayerful.
  10. Don’t give up when it gets hard. Trying to pray is praying, and God is present even in the darkness.
I would highly recommend this book. There’s a preview on Google Books here.