Addressing fellow believers, J. C. Ryle once wrote, "If I know anything of a Christian's heart, you are often sick of your own prayers." The sickness is drearily familiar: You can't think of what to say. Or you tell God he's majestic, but then you recall that the Subaru needs an oil change. You promise God that you'll fight the good fight and doze off as you speak. You feel stagy and self-conscious at prayer. You try to confess your sins, but your shifty psyche won't come clean. (Both of these fine new books quote C. S. Lewis, who fought his dishonest prayers by beginning like this: "May it be the real I who speaks; may it be the real Thou that I speak to.")

A Heart for Prayer

J. I. Packer (a CT senior editor) and Carolyn Nystrom start us off with a character sketch of God. Knowledge of God's character makes him more real to us and makes us more aware of his presence. "God is personal, plural, perfect, powerful, purposeful, promise-keeping, paternal, and … praiseworthy."

To Packer and Nystrom, the key to healthy prayer is not technique. It's a pure heart that wants to please God. Much of this book focuses on the person who is praying. One lovely chapter is all about brooding over Scripture and about soliloquy in God's presence. You "plead with yourself," God as your witness. The authors write of praising God: Like all prayer, it's both a duty and a delight. They remind us that our prayers need periodic checkups, self-examinations that test for mixed motives and self-deception.

One chapter on asking admits our difficulty: We want to pray in accord with God's will, but God's will is complex. Still, say the authors, ask and give God reasons for your request. Affirm that if God has something different in mind for you, it ...

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