We need to pray more; we need to give more careful thought to the content of our prayers; and we need to spend more time preparing our hearts and our tongues for prayer. It is with that in mind that I offer this book.
That’s Pastor John MacArthur from the preface of his book, “A Year of Prayer”.
Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Today I review “A Year of Prayer” by John MacArthur. 258 pages. Published by Harvest House Publishers in 2014. Priced at USD11.49 in Amazon Kindle and USD14.99 at Faithlife. But for this month and this month only, this book is available for free from Faithlife.
I am not a MacArthur Hater
John MacArthur is the pastor for Grace Community Church. He is also the President of The Masters College and Seminary. He has written countless books and has preached verse-by-verse the entire New Testament over the course of 42 years. A lifetime achievement! Another fruit of his long labours is the MacArthur New Testament Commentary Set, a 33 volume commentary on the entire New Testament. With this, you can know what MacArthur thinks of every verse in the New Testament.
With that, I want you to know that I am not a John MacArthur hater. You might think that when I give today’s book, “A Year of Prayer”, a less than complimentary review. Even when I disagree with him at some points, I still value his opinions. R.C. Sproul’s highest praise for MacArthur was if you can show MacArthur that the Bible proves he is wrong, MacArthur would unhesitatingly change his position.
The Children’s Note
So coming back to today’s book, “A Year of Prayer”. The only part I like in this book is the personal note written by his children. They reveal the warm relationship in the MacArthur family and their respect and devotion to their father and pastor. Let me quote at length for this will explain the genesis of this book.
A few years ago, a friend approached us and asked what we thought about our dad’s prayers being transcribed and published so others could read them. We felt an immediate mix of emotions. We agreed these prayers should be put in print – and we had our children’s children in mind here – but we hesitated, because we suspected that our dad would resist. We knew his thoughts regarding the sacredness and propriety of a person’s personal dialogue with the Father.
So we talked it over with him. As we anticipated, dad pushed back, not enthusiastic about memorialising something so intimate. Respectfully, we asked him to pray about it and consider the loss for those who would never hear or read these prayers if they were not published. We encouraged him to allow his prayers to be available in print – not only for our own posterity but as a legacy for those of his friends around the world who would be instructed and inspired by them.
After some time, dad finally agreed … with one caveat. He asked that his children write this introductory note to the book and explain that it was our desire that he put his prayers in black and white.
Sounds the Same
After I finished the book, I conclude that MacArthur was right to be resistant. It’s not as helpful or insightful as his other books or sermons. Page after page the prayers sound the same.
There is a thematic arrangement. We have a collection of prayers under the heading of Prayers on Worship and the Attributes of God, Prayers on Joy and Longing and so on, but if I tore out all these prayers and scattered them on the floor, it would be difficult to group them into different themes because they all sound the same.
The title of the book is “A Year of Prayer” and there are 52 prayers for the 52 weeks in the year plus the Easter and Christmas prayers, which makes it 54 prayers in total. The year is not fixed to a calendar year, which means Week 1 is not in January and week 52 is not in December. The good news is you can begin this book from page 1, at any time of your life, the bad news is the prayers become even more generic. These prayers do not refer to any people, place or time. Week 52 is not the Christmas season, you will not read a prayer on the Incarnation of Christ.
Prayers in Context
I had such a hard time reading this book of collected prayers that I asked myself, “Is it because I don’t like the genre? Maybe I don’t reading a collection of prayers?” But I think back and I notice that I am pulled into prayers when I know the context. For example, in Episode 11 in my review of the Young Christian, I shared a 200 year old prayer of Christians facing death as their ship breaks up in a storm.
I love the prayers in the Bible because it has context. Just to name examples from David. Look at his prayer in 2 Samuel 7. After God promises him an everlasting Davidic Kingdom, David prays “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?” Or consider David’s prayer in Psalm 51 after he committed adultery and murder, “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” I like prayers that have context.
The First Prayer “Adoring our Advocate”
Let me give an example from the book, the first prayer, “Adoring our Advocate”. Like every chapter, it begins with the complete printing of a Bible verse, in this case it’s 1 John 2:1-9. Then MacArthur writes:
Our Gracious God, we thank you for our heavenly Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous, whose death on the cross made propitiation for all our sins – perfectly satisfying every demand of Your holy justice.
It is he who brought us out of guilt and into forgiveness, out of darkness and into light, out of our rebellion and into Your love, out of death and into life.
He delivered us from this evil world, into Your glorious kingdom. How we praise you for the wonder of Your love in Jesus Christ! We thank You for sending Your Son, the Incarnate One, who was despised, rejected, beaten, mocked and crucified – all in order to atone for our sin.
And what I just read is one fifth of the entire prayer. Every prayer is Christ-centred. Every prayer has a Gospel message. We are sinners. Christ died for us. We now live for him. Amazing Grace.
The prayers are also Bible-saturated. Every prayer ends with a footnote of bible verses referenced in the prayer. This book can be a really good book if you have only prayed and heard “God give me something” prayers. Here we have example after example of scripture first, and praying from that scriptural truth to convey an ACTS prayer. ACTS: A-C-T-S stands for adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication. Supplication is petition, to ask for something. For example, MacArthur petitions:
Lord Jesus, Master, Redeemer, Savior, take possession of every part of our lives – Yours by right through purchase. Sanctify every faculty. Fill our hearts with hope. May we flee the many temptations that relentlessly hound us and mortify the sins that continually plague us.
Mortify the sins is something he says often in the book.
The petitions are generic unlike the Book of Common Prayer which has prayers for peace, for the Church, for families, for guidance and protection.
Read the Book the Right Way
I make a big deal about the lack of variation and lack of context in this collection of prayers but I confess I am reading this book in the wrong way.
Remember, what is the title of the book? “A Year of Prayer”. How is the book structured? The first chapter is marked Week 1 and it goes on for 52 weeks. Each week is a new prayer. How did I read it? I read the whole book in a few days. So I read it in a way that it was not meant to be read.
So if the reader was to read it the way it was read, you would be getting a weekly reminder of Scriptural truths, praying from it, covering the Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication, using John MacArthur’s words that you yourself can say for your own situation, time and place. It’s like the Book of Common Prayer in the sense readers can mouth the words and have these prayers applied to them and these prayers are keyed to the Gospel.
The book might also be good for anybody who loves or hates John MacArthur. A man’s prayers reveals much of the man. And MacArthur’s prayers, while it doesn’t make for exciting reading, it does show consistency in his preaching and his prayer. As a man preaches, he prays.
As I said earlier, if you have only prayed “Gimme, gimme, gimme” prayers before, this will be a massive eye-opener for you for MacArthur’s prayers are an extension of his preaching.
And so, as you know, MacArthur’s preaching and writing is marked by clarity and keeping close to the text. He is not known to craft words to stir the heart. I’m not saying people who craft words are trying to use words to manipulate you, emotionally or spiritually.
For example, John Piper loves poetry. He thinks about the words he uses, in its precision and also in how it sounds. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. There is a nice ring to it. MacArthur is not known for poetry.
I want to say in the kindest terms that MacArthur’s book, “A Year of Prayer” is helpful to know God, to pray to God, to incidentally know MacArthur the man of God, but the book doesn’t make good reading.
Another Suggestion: Piercing Heaven
If you are looking for a book of collected prayers as a reader, an appreciator of literature, prayers with a nice ring to it, I recommend another book: “Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans” edited by Robert Elmer. 240 pages. Published by Lexham Press in 2019. You can say this is a best hits compilation of Puritan prayers.
I haven’t finished reading the book, I’ve only read the first 50 pages but I love it. Similar to MacArthur, there is no local context here. The prayers can be said at any time at any place by any one. But there is a difference between MacArthur’s collection and the Puritan’s here.
Let me read this portion from David Clarkson:
Lord, I would be the most miserable person in the world if my hopes were only in this life. Why? Because I am hopeless without Christ’s righteousness. My life could never be comfortable, and there would be no hope at all of eternal life. If you denied me that hope, I would be the most miserable one of all. I may be happy without worldly enjoyments, but all things in the world cannot make me happy without this. So however you treat me in this world, whatever you deny me, Lord, deny me not this. I can be happy without riches and abundance, like Job and Lazarus were. I can be happy even if I am reviled and reproached, as was Christ and his disciples. I can be happy and comfortable in prison, as were Paul and Silas. But I cannot be happy without the righteousness of Christ.
Let me read a full one from William Bridge:
Lord, we know your words, “The Lord God has given me a well-taught tongue, so I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” I am one of those wearied souls, Lord. I am wearied with my temptations, wearied with inward trouble.
So now, Lord, speak a word in due season to this poor, wounded, and wearied soul. Let me serve you, Lord—that is all my desire. Let me see you as you please, when you please. I am done, Lord, I am done. I have questioned and questioned my condition these many years. And I see there is no end of such questioning. I get nothing by it. I am a poor, weak creature, and I fear I will never be able to bear testimony of the truth of Jesus Christ. But you have said, “I will give power to my two witnesses.” I am one of your witnesses. Now then, Lord, give power to me, for I am poor. I see the sinfulness of sin, so let me also see the graciousness of grace, and the fullness of Christ. I come to you for righteousness, because I see my sin is exceedingly sinful. O Lord, keep my soul in the ocean of your free love. Amen.
First Comparison: It’s Personal
First, the Puritan collection is more personal, it uses I language. I am weak. MacArthur would say “we are weak”. Obviously every Christian prays personal individual prayers but MacArthur purposely selected corporate prayers. He begins his preface by saying the Lord’s Prayer would sound strange and self-centered if it read My Father in Heaven rather than Our Father in Heaven. MacArthur writes:
We who love the Lord can’t help sensing that the most vital things we need to pray about go way beyond ourselves, our desires, or our own will. The Spirit within us compels us to lift up our brothers and sisters in Christ at the same time. This book is all about helping us, as God’s people, to pray like that more than we actually do.
So, this direction could partly explains why MacArthur’s prayers here does not soar to the heavens. Perhaps it would have a different, more personal effect, if he changed the us and we to I and me. Ah… you need to be more selfless!
Second Comparison: It’s Shorter
Second, the Puritan prayers collected here are shorter. For MacArthur’s book, in 258 pages, we have 54 prayers. For the Puritans’ book, you will read 50 prayers one third of the way through the book. These prayers don’t intend to present the gospel. For example one prayer titled Strength to Stand Under Temptation by William Bridge goes like this:
O Lord, I have no strength to stand against this great enemy. I confess it is my duty to resist this temptation, but it is your promise to support me under this temptation. Therefore I put myself upon you. Amen.
That’s it. Short and sweet.
Third Comparison: It’s Varied
Third, the Puritan prayers collects various authors, many I don’t recognise, and each have their own writing styles. So it does make the prayers seem fresh as they say almost the same things in their own different ways.
In conclusion, I think there is a place for John MacArthur’s “Year of Prayer” for it’s corporate, Christ-centred and Bible-saturated nature. It fully satisfies its starting goal to be a legacy to the MacArthur family, both family by blood and by spirit. However, it’s not a book to be read in one seating which is clearly stated in the title and in the organisation. The risk is these prayers become boring unless there is some engaging context, which there is none, or there is some writing flair, which MacArthur refuses to indulge the individual, or if and here’s the thing if the prayer was not read, but prayed in the presence of God and community. Perhaps that would be the best way of reading this book, outloud mindful of God and believers.
Although I haven’t finished reading Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans edited by Robert Elmer, the first 50 pages tells me I will definitely come back to this book. The same way one returns to a book of poetry, as one returns to a book like the Psalms.
This is a Reading and Readers review of “A Year of Prayer” by John MacArthur. It’s available for free from Faithlife for this month and this month only.
The next episode will be published in two weeks which will be after Christmas Day. And so, I would like to take this time to wish all my listeners a blessed Christmas. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased. Thank you.