Reviews

“Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church” by John Onwuchekwa — A Book Review

John Onwuchekwa teaches his readers how to pray better corporately (as churches). In this short volume, Onwuchekwa laments the lack of corporate prayer that slows down and lingers on God’s glories, attributes, and character unhurriedly, as well as the lack of meditation that confesses specific sins.

Onwuchekwa, John. Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018. 137 pp.

Summary

In chapter 1, Onwuchekwa likens prayer to breathing, lamenting for the marginalization of prayer and arguing for the necessity of prayer in the life of the church. He defines prayer in chapter 2 as calling on the name of the Lord to fulfill his promise, linked to the hope of redemption through the gospel. For Onwuchekwa, prayer is God’s prescription for life in a fallen world. Chapters 3 and 4 walk through Jesus’ pattern of prayer as taught to the disciples in Matthew 6:9-13. The first three petitions prioritize God’s presence before God’s provisions: the advancement of God’s honor, God’s kingdom, and God’s will. The prayer for our needs is more than just meeting our own needs, but also the needs of others (based on the plural pronouns). Thus, we pray for our provision, pardon, and protection. Chapter 5 gleans from the Lord’s prayer in the garden as another example of how to pray. Jesus modeled prayer in the midst of suffering with confidence and contentment in God’s ability. In chapters 6-8, Onwuchekwa demonstrates what corporate prayer looks like. He discusses the use of the ACTS model (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication), wisdom on running a prayer meeting, and the role of prayer in missions.

Key Insights

Literature on the topic of prayer abounds. But Onwuchekwa contributes to one aspect of prayer that is generally marginalized: corporate prayer. Three gems from this book stand out for me.

First, Onwuchekwa helped me see once again the vital importance of prayer.

Breathing–as a metaphor for Christian prayer–captures so much of what prayer should be. It reminds us that prayer is something essential to our existence. Breathing is necessary for everything we do. It enables every activity. Likewise, prayer is basic and vital. It’s tied to both our present existence and perpetual endurance. Prayer is breathing.”

Prayer, p. 18

Second, Prayer has motivated me to be intentional in my participation in church prayers, both when I’m leading prayer and being led in prayer. Onwuchekwa points out that the first two words of the Lord’s prayer—”Our Father”—reminds us that prayer also involves others. We are not just individuals relating to God, but part of a community with the same Father. This makes prayer a collective exercise (p. 41.).

Onwuchekwa laments the typical corporate prayers in churches:

Unfortunately, our prayers in the church too often feel like prayer before a meal: obligatory and respectable, but no one really gets much out of it. Our church prayers get reduced to a tool for transitioning from one activity to the next.”

Prayer, p. 18

In chapter 7, Onwuchekwa suggests several practical ways for pastors to consider when leading a prayer meeting. Here are they in brief:

  1. Schedule a prayer meeting.
  2. Remove anything that would compete for people’s time.
  3. Begin with the Word.
  4. Populate the prayer list primarily with kingdom, whole body, and major life concerns.
  5. Call on people to pray, but don’t let them pray too long.
  6. Remember the main ingredients: burdens and brothers & sisters who are willing to pray.

Lastly, Onwuchekwa has taught me to realign my priorities and posture when I pray. Prayer is calling God to glorify himself. Therefore, all requests must first be godward. Based on the first three petitions of the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6, Onwuchekwa comments:

God is not here to simply grant wishes. He’s not here to fund idolatry. God does serve us, but he exists for his glory. We exist for him, not the other way around. In prayer, we embrace the right posture of longing for his glory before his provision.

[T]he most important things about prayer are not what God gives us by way of his possessions, but what God gives by way of his presence. Throughout the Bible, the people who gain peace and security in this life are the people who long for God’s presence more than his possessions.”

Prayer, p. 45, 46

Conclusion

At a personal level, here is what I learned: 1) I need to pray more; 2) I need to pray with my church; and 3) I need to pray godward.

*******************

Here is a 1-minute interview regarding the book:

Here is a 30-minute discussion on prayer with John Onwuchekwa in the Pastors’ Talk podcast:

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