Praying on the Hill: a book review.

The Reverend Barry C. Black has served as the 62nd Chaplain of the U.S. Senate since 2003. Prior to that, he spent 27 years in the Navy, achieving the rank of Rear Admiral (OF-7). In February 2017, he provided the address for the National Prayer Breakfast, Donald Trump’s inaugural prayer breakfast as president. His message was inspiring. Go ahead, google it. It is about 27 minutes long and worth your time. It is an inspiring message, powerfully delivered.

978-1-4964-2949-0Make Your Voice Heard in Heaven: How to Pray in Power is an expansion of the themes he explored in his 2017 National Prayer Breakfast address. Black commends a lifestyle of prayer—trusting in God and praying through every circumstance. He asserts that prayer changes things and as we pray, ‘we make our voice heard in heaven.’

Black opens his book with an appeal to pray with assistance, that is, noting that as we gather to pray, Jesus is in our midst (Matthew 18:18-20) and the Spirit of God intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27). Next, Black points to the Lord’s prayer as our model prayer we should pray. In the remaining chapters of the book, Black exhorts us pray with the right spiritual posture and to pray in every circumstance (e.g. Pray with purity, and fearlessly, pray with effectiveness, pray to escape temptation, pray even when God is silent, when we don’t feel like being good, when we need patience, in times of celebration, pray with intimacy, fervency, perseverance, submission, and pray with a partner).

Black occasionally illustrates his chapters with his experiences praying on Capitol Hill, and sometimes from his daily life Occasionally he throws in a pop cultural reference or something from history. However, for the most part, this pretty straight teaching from the Bible. Black has helpful and encouraging words for us as we each seek to develop our own private prayer practice. Despite the self help-y, title (“Make Your Voice Heard!) and the exhortation to pray effectively, and with power, what Black says is solid, God-honoring and down to earth. He is no prosperity preacher but is confident that prayers do have an impact on our life and nation.

Black speaks against the partisan divide in Washington, and he holds regular bipartisan prayer and Bible study meetings with members from both sides of the political aisle. However, his privileged place in the Senate puts limits on the sort of prophetic witness he is allowed to have.  Chaplains are the custodians of civil religion and as a career naval officer, Black does not challenge the status quo. So, for example, when he recommends the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Galilean hill country—a region full of would-be-revolutionaries—Black depoliticizes the prayer. Praying for God’s coming kingdom by necessity challenges the established order. But Black writes:

Because I’m a member of God’s family, his promises become mine. I want my life to advance his Kingdom—not mine—and his Kingdom is not of this world. When my behavior  doesn’t adequately represent his Kingdom, I should desire to change what I’m doing. I make my decisions based on which choices better advances the priorities of my heavenly Father’s Kingdom (22-23, emphasis mine).

So while the Kingdom represents God’s priorities in the world, for Black, praying this prayer is fundamentally about challenging our own personal behavior and self-centeredness. For the first-century disciple praying this prayer, it meant the emperor was not the true king and that the political order was called into question. But Black is surrounded by powerful men and women. So Jesus’ most political prayer becomes primarily a tool for private devotion. Of course, because he exhorts political leaders to pray this prayer in this way, there are political implications. But this offers no systemic challenge.

On that score, this book is similar to a lot of other books on prayer. I am grateful for Black’s presence in the Senate, and the way he mediates God’s presence to our leaders, but I wish this book was more storied and offered a more prophetic challenge. I give this two stars. ★★

Notice of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book from Tyndale in exchange for my honest  review

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matichuk

I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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