Do you know how to pray? In one of his books, A.W. Tozer wrote:
Some of the churches now advertise courses on how to pray. How ridiculous! That is like giving a course on how to fall in love.
And I got that quote from his book on prayer! How ridiculous!
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 “Prayer: Communing with God in Everything – Collected Insights from A.W. Tozer” compiled by W.L. Seaver. 224 pages, published by Moody Publishers in February 2016. It’s available for USD1.99 in Amazon Kindle and it was the Free Book for April in Faithlife. And it’s now May. Oops!
Writing on Tozer and Cats
If you asked me, “Who is A.W. Tozer?” One answer would be, “He is your grandfather’s Paul Washer.” By that I don’t mean that they hold the same doctrine. It’s that they both don’t pull their punches. Their words are daggers plunging into the all-too-comfortable Christian soul.
Today’s book is a collection of Tozer’s writings compiled by W.L. Seaver. Seaver has another book on Tozer titled, “Fiery Faith: Ignite Your Passion for God” but, far more curious is a three book series titled, “Purring in God’s Ears”.
Seaver, good man that he is, rescues wild and dumped cats. He writes:
God used the cats I was caring for to care for me in this difficult time just as He used the ravens with Elijah. I felt as though the feral cats ministered to me more than I helped them.
As I became acquainted with each cat, their unique purr, and their special story that covers many years, I was inspired to write about them.
Cat-lovers out there, these three books are for you. I’m a dog-person myself so I will satisfy myself with Seaver’s other great love, the writings of A.W. Tozer.
So, let’s turn to today’s book, “Prayer: Communing with God in Everything – Collected Insights from A.W. Tozer” by W.L. Seaver.
Seaver begins his introduction with these words:
With fear and trembling, I approached this task of compiling Tozer’s words on prayer and praying. I tried to avoid it, but the Spirit kept drawing me back to the riches of the topic for myself and others.
Later, Seaver explains how the book is structured:
the first twenty-two chapters of this book focus on Tozer’s writings from sixteen books that deal with some aspect of prayer. The next three chapters are snippets from some sermons that deal with prayer and related topics. The last three chapters are excerpts from two major sermons that Tozer gave on prayer. To help us reflect and respond, each chapter concludes with a response section, “To Reflect and Apply,” which includes questions and action steps. In addition, chapters one through twenty-five have a transition section, “Exploring with Tozer,” that amplifies on Tozer’s thoughts on the specific prayer topic.
Prayer Changes People
For today’s review, let me read from Chapter 13, titled, “Prayer Changes People — And Things”. This is one of the shorter chapters in the book, so I will read it out in full.
No one who has read the Bible with any perception can fail to see that to God, men and women are more important than things. A human being is of more value than a thousand galaxies of stars or a million worlds like ours. God made man in His own image and He made things to serve man. His concern is with intelligent moral beings, not with lifeless matter.
However, since every person has a material body and must live out his days in an environment of matter, time, and space, things are important to him. His earthly life is to a large degree interwoven with matter and the laws that control matter. He is often deeply affected by the report his senses bring him from the world around him. Situations sometimes develop where the welfare of the inner man is for the time allowed to depend somewhat upon outward circumstances. At such times it is altogether proper that he should pray to God to alter those circumstances and “change things” to afford a more favorable climate for the growth of the Spirit. A thousand promises are recorded in the Scriptures to encourage him to ask and seek and knock to the end so that unfavorable things might be changed or removed altogether. And the history of Israel and the church abundantly demonstrates that God does hear and answer prayer.
In all our praying, however, it is important that we keep in mind that God will not alter His eternal purposes at the word of a man. We do not pray in order to persuade God to change His mind. Prayer is not an assault upon the reluctance of God, nor an effort to secure a suspension of His will for us or for those for whom we pray. Prayer is not intended to overcome God and “move His arm.” God will never be other than Himself, no matter how many people pray, nor how long nor how earnestly.
God’s love desires the best for all of us, and He desires to give us the best at any cost. He will open rivers in desert places, still turbulent waves, quiet the wind, bring water from the rock, send an angel to release an apostle from prison, feed an orphanage, open a land long closed to the gospel. All these things and a thousand others He has done and will do in answer to prayer, but only because it had been His will to do it from the beginning. No one persuades Him.
What the praying man does is to bring His will into line with the will of God so God can do what He has all along been willing to do. Thus prayer changes the man and enables God to change things in answer to man’s prayer.
That was a selected extract from Tozer’s book, “The Price of Neglect”. And with that reading you have a sense of Tozer’s way with words. He speaks plainly, meaningfully, powerfully. He makes us ponder on our spiritual life. It made Seaver ponder on prayer so much so that he collected those sayings and compiled a book on them. And he adds his own thoughts to the mix.
Seaver reads “Prayer Changes People” and Abraham comes to mind. How Abraham lingered before the Lord and prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah. Seaver concludes this chapter’s reflection by writing:
This whole prayer experience changed Abraham, Lot, Lot’s family, and all the people in Abraham’s sphere of influence. But even more, it changed not only Abraham’s walk with the Lord but his prayer life (see Gen. 20:7, 17). May we be willing to embrace such change to further God’s glory!
After we read Seaver’s reflection, he invites us to join him, as if saying, “You have seen me do it, now it’s your turn.”
He gives you a quote from Tozer, and asks: what do you think of this statement, how can you apply it, what is your experience in living out what Tozer said and so on. These questions are suitable for small groups and for the individual reader.
And that’s it. That’s how each of the chapters are like. Let me now give you my thoughts on the book as a whole.
If you know Tozer, you know that he gets quoted for outrageous things. The crowd roars with approval but some of us take a hesitant step back.
Take that quote at the start of this episode. Is it so ridiculous to teach people to pray? Isn’t it harsh to say that teaching people to pray is like teaching people to fall in love? If falling in love happens naturally, is Tozer saying that prayer should not be taught?
But didn’t a barber write to Martin Luther asking how to pray? Luther didn’t rebuke him! Don’t we have early church writings that instructed early Christians on how to pray? Wait a minute, the disciples themselves asked Jesus, ‘Teach us how to pray’ and Jesus did! How can Tozer say it is ridiculous to teach people how to pray, when the Master did so?
And that is the thing with Tozer quotes — and I should know, I have two books of Tozer quotes — they are easily taken out of context.
Do you know what he wrote before he ridiculed churches for advertising courses on prayer? He quoted Luke 11:1. He tells us that we need to learn how to pray from Jesus. Jesus was on his mind when he ridiculed what those churches were doing.
And if you read the sentences that follow after, you will see that Tozer is not against teaching on prayer, he is for teaching on prayer with the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit takes the things of God, translates them into language our hearts understand. Even if we do not know the will of God, the Holy Spirit does know and He prays “with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).
Modernism and Post-Modernism
When you read Tozer, you need to remember that he is a man of his time. He lived back when Modernism was emerging. Modernism says that we can manage our faith like how we manage our factories. We just need the practical steps, an effective technique to teach them, an attractive way to advertise them, and all will be well.
Today, Modernism is bankrupt like some banks we know. Broken cisterns without water. Churches without the Holy Spirit. Surely, now people will turn to the Truth.
That didn’t happen. After Modernism is Post-modernism.
Whereas before, truth was material, practical and manageable, now, there is no Truth or Everything is Truth. The Lie is Dead. Long Live the Lie.
This explains why Tozer still reads well today. We are children of Modernism living in a Post-Modern age. And Tozer calls out the delusion of both.
Tozer vs. Classic Books on Prayer
Tozer didn’t write today’s book. Seaver selected and annotated Tozer’s works.
Therefore, by design, this is not a cohesive, focused, guide on prayer. For that you could read Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller or The Hidden Life of Prayer by David McIntyre or Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney.
If you are looking to be inspired you can read Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans, a collection edited by Robert Elmer. My personal favourite book on prayer would be the classic Power through Prayer by E.M. Bounds.
So when stacked against classic books on prayer, masterfully written, is Tozer worth reading? If yes, why settle for a hodgepodge book instead of a real Tozer book?
The Worth of a Collected Tozer
To the first question, is it worth reading Tozer? If your prayer life has grown cold, then you need this book like a vampire needs a stake in the heart. Piercingly painful but a release from a tortured life is better than the alternative.
See what I did there? That was my own Tozerism. A shocking line easily misunderstood without the follow up.
There are many great writers on prayers and Tozer should be included among them. Tozer at his best shakes the Christian out of his spiritual slump.
Then to the second question, if you decide to give Tozer a try, why not just pick up one of his books? The problem is you may not know where to start. And for that reason, I would recommend today’s book.
In this one book, you have extracts from sixteen Tozer books and two of his sermons. This is as good a place as any to start your journey with Tozer on prayer.
And you have a good guide in Seaver. He has done more than cut-and-paste pages of Tozer together. He also includes his own personal thoughts. But why would anyone want to read what a ‘nobody’ like Seaver thinks when you can read the thoughts of great men like E.M. Bounds or the Puritans?
Rather than comment on the writing quality of Seaver, and I think he would prefer I focus your attention on Tozer than on him, I want to commend the practice of engaging with what you read.
This is what Seaver did: “I read what Tozer wrote and I thought of Abraham. Let me collect my thoughts and write them down.”
These written thoughts of his will not win Seaver any literary prizes. Perhaps he might win one in a Christian Cat-Lovers Convention. But I think the important point is he engages and shows us you don’t have to be fancy to digest on what you read.
How many of us can write a bestseller or a classic? But all of us can read and engage with what we read. Your reflections on your reading will probably not get you published. But if sharing your thoughts fires you up, then post it in social media, start a blog, or try your hand at a Christian book review podcast.
I see in this book, a man who has gained much on prayer from Tozer and wants to introduce these good things to new readers or even those who know Tozer but have never seen his writings on prayer compiled together like this.
Tozer was a plain-speaking man. I don’t know whether Tozer liked cats but if he did, that would be an extra bonus that a cat-loving, plain-speaking man got the chance to write a book on Tozer and prayer.
This is a Reading and Readers review of “Prayer: Communing with God in Everything – Collected Insights from A.W. Tozer” compiled by W.L. Seaver. 224 pages, published by Moody Publishers in February 2016. It’s available for USD1.99 in Amazon Kindle and it’s the Free Book for April in Faithlife.
My next book review is “On Getting Out of Bed: The Burden and Gift Of Living” by Alan O. Noble. I know it’s a good book when I find myself spamming screenshot after screenshot of the book.