Each week is full of crises—in the world, in the church, and often in our own families. It’s natural to wonder: How should I have been praying about that? As Christians, we dream of having a prayer life that is fervent, fruitful, and on top of things. But so often, we end up dwelling on the prayers we neglected to pray and wondering if God is disappointed with our lack of spiritual fervor.
For the anxious or hesitant prayer, the pointed two-word title of J. D. Greear’s latest book—Just Ask—offers both a reassurance and an exhortation. The word just conveys the childlike simplicity of prayer. Don’t worry about getting your phraseology just right, says Greear, the North Carolina pastor and former Southern Baptist Convention president. Just pray already.
The book’s subtitle describes postures that, in Greear’s opinion, ought to typify our approach to prayer: confident, bold, patient, relentless, shameless, dependent, grateful, powerful, and expectant. But despite the can-do tenor of these words, Just Ask is no lightweight, name-it-and-claim-it pep talk, and Greear takes pains to give reasons why God might decline to answer a prayer.
The book contains seven manageable chapters, arranged into two sections. Greear begins by candidly addressing questions like “Honestly, does prayer do any good?” and “But seriously, why isn’t God answering me?” Then he gets even more practical, mapping out various how-tos and the how-not-tos. And he helpfully closes the book with ten straightforward suggestions.
Readers may flinch, at first, when Greear jabs them with the claim that “instinctively we all pray the wrong way.” But he softens the sting by making sure to include himself among the accused. Drawing on insights from authorities like Augustine, G. K. Chesterton, Charles Hodge, Tim Keller, J. I. Packer, John Piper, and the biblical writers, Greear walks us through the fundamentals of prayer and motivates us to get going.
Greear spurs the readers to take Jesus seriously when he says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Though asking is not the only component to prayer, we still need to be asking. How can we avoid the self-inflicted disappointment that comes from giving up too soon? The solution is simple, says Greear—keep asking! Those who are children of God, adopted into his family through the atoning blood of Christ, have every reason to boldly approach (and reapproach) the throne of grace.
Though Just Ask focuses on one aspect of faith (prayer), the book ultimately concerns the totality of faith and one’s relationship with God in general. Greear drums on this theme: “God only gives some things in response to ongoing, patient, relentless, impudent, bold, shamelessly persistent prayer.” Explaining that “God is glorified through our persistence,” he assures us that our repeated petitions demonstrate “that God is the only place [we] have to go.”
Overall, Just Ask is persuasive, compelling, and often convicting. That said, the book does occasionally fall prey to what struck me as false dichotomies. I would invite Greear, for instance, to add some nuance to a self-evaluation he calls the “Acid Test”: namely, the act of asking whether we’re coming to God because he is beautiful or because we’re looking to get something, as though these motives were mutually exclusive. It’s possible, of course, to approach God selfishly, as a dispenser of favors. Yet God’s beauty and his giving go together. One of the most beautiful aspects of his character is that he gives generously to his children. When God gives in response to prayer, and we respond in turn with heartfelt gratitude, he gets the glory as the good giver. In fact, we can’t come to God without believing that he rewards us (Heb. 11:6).
Elsewhere, Greear exhorts us not to ask God to do what he has already promised. Again, this strikes me as a false dilemma. For example, when God promises to strengthen us and help us (Isa. 41:10), it is not faithless but instead faithful to ask that he customize that promise and deliver that help for today’s circumstances. Here’s another example: God promises to give us wisdom, but James explicitly invites us to ask for it (1:5).
Beware of reading a book on prayer without praying (even just to write a review). Hypocritical whited sepulchers come to mind (Matt. 23:27). While reading Just Ask, I prayed that God would help me see what I ought to see, do what I ought to do, and become what I ought to become. Hopefully, Greear’s book will put many others onto the same habit.
Sam Crabtree is a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He is the author of Practicing Thankfulness: Cultivating a Grateful Heart in All Circumstances.
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