There are three events that led to this review. The first was simply a general message on Twitter back in October asking if anyone would like to review a book entitled Prayers for Today: A Yearlong Journey of Contemplative Prayer. The second and third are what led me to ask if I could review it.
Two years ago I stopped knowing what to pray for. I still gladly prayed before I gave my messages as a pastor, I still prayed with my kids, and I still prayed when we were guests at a house and I was asked to pray over the meal. But when it came to praying personally, I just stopped. I don’t know if it was because I felt most anything I could pray about felt petty compared to the needs of the world or if it was because I started wondering if there was even a God “out there” to hear my prayers. But based on 2000 years of church history and the overwhelming support of the Scriptures, I knew that if my spiritual life was to remain central to who I was, prayer had to make a comeback.
Last year, I came to the conclusion that the statement “no one can believe for you” is only half true. There have been many times in my spiritual life that I wondered if this whole Christianity thing is just made up. But in those times, I would show up to church, see the faith of everyone around me, and allow them to carry me. We were a team and we would get through this together. There were times when I would be preaching and wonder if I believed anything I was saying. But in the those moments it never failed that I felt surrounded by belief and that it was okay to say “I’m with them” even though I don’t feel like it right now.
And so, armed with admitting that I no longer knew how to pray and therefore no longer really desired to pray, coupled with my belief that we are “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” who could pray on my behalf, and even teach me to pray again, I opened Kurt Bjorklund’s new book Prayers for Today: A Yearlong Journey of Contemplative Prayer.
The book itself is a collection of 260 days worth of prayers. Each day has four main parts. The days are organized around types of prayers rotating between Prayers of Thanksgiving / Confession / Affirmation / Petition / Renewal / Praise / Christlike Character / Wisdom / Intercession / Surrender. Then, the first section for each day is a passage from Scripture. The second section is 2-3 prayers from influential Christians, pas and present, and the last section is Bjorklund’s own “Prayer for Today.” In addition, the book begins with a wonderfully clear introduction that explains different types of prayers, how to use the book, and all of the special markings that he uses throughout the book.
Since I want to end on a positive note (since that is what you will likely remember), let me first do my due diligence as a reviewer and mention a few of the things I did not like about the book. The first is the decidedly contemporary evangelical slant. I have no problems if that is the intended scope for a compilation of prayers but the back cover had sold me on a book that collects prayers from “across the ages” from “classic and contemporary sources.” I did a quick check of the works cited with almost half being written by a very small slice of church history and an even smaller slice of theological tradition (even to the point that one of the “prayers” was a section of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (Day 163)). Considering the title is “Prayers for Today” I can understand the contemporary slant, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing out on the broader voice of Christianity. There is a lot of theology in prayers and I wish more of the diversity of the Body of Christ could have shone through, rather than being filtered through what felt like a narrow lens.
The second issue I found distracting was that Bjorklund included himself in the prayer compilation (in addition to his daily “Prayer for Today”). Once would have been understandable, but I counted 17 times. There is not much else to add here, except that I wonder what led him to add himself so many times. Surely with 2000 years of church history it was not a matter of filling up space.
With both of those things said, I found the book extremely helpful. To speak subjectively, it was exactly what I needed. The same way I felt my congregation believe on my half, I couldn’t help but think that every night when I read these prayers, they were praying them on my behalf. Some of the more objective things I liked was that it was only 260 days, based on 5 days a week rather than 7. It just takes the pressure off. The second thing I appreciated was that he puts Scripture first each day. There aren’t many prayer compilations that highlight Scripture in the way Bjorklund does and I think it was a major addition. And finally, for all of my talk about lack of diversity, don’t think that means there is none to be found.
The most influential Christian writers are accounted for, from St. Augustine to Tim Keller, the Anglican Book of Prayer to John Piper, with everyone in between. There are mystics (like Julian of Norwich) and politicians (Oliver Cromwell and Eisenhower), missionaries (Ruth & Warren Myers) and priests (Nouwen). It was exciting to think about all of the life experiences this array of people encountered and brought to the same God I myself worship. It was a humbling thought and made my doubts seem quite insignificant. Since it was such a helpful book in teaching me again how to pray as well as allowing various voices pray on my behalf, I cannot help but recommend Kurt Bjorklund’s Prayers for Today.