You Don’t Have to Close Your Eyes: a book review.

Prayer is like kissing, you don’t have to do it with your eyes closed.  Joking aside, part of prayer is cultivating an open, and attentive posture before God. This is in essence what Sherry Harney’s Praying With Eyes Wide Open is about: learning to attend to your environment, circumstances, and the voice of God. On a practical level, the biblical injunction to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess. 5:17), means you have to learn to pray with eyes wide open, especially while operating an automobile or heavy machinery, but Harney has more to say. She describes how purposefully opening our eyes, ears and selves to God in prayer, brings new dimensions to our prayer lives.

9780801014703Sherry, with her husband Kevin,  lead Shoreline Community Church in Monterey California and cofounded Organic Outreach International (a network which resources churches and families for outreach). Sherry has coauthored books with her husband and written study guides for authors like Dallas Willard, Gary Thomas, John Ortberg, Ann Voskamp, Max Lucado, Bill Hybels, Christina Caine, and Mark Batterson.  She is a sought after speaker on prayer, spiritual formation, outreach, and leadership.

Praying with Eyes Wide Open isn’t just about open eyes. Harney advocates praying with eyes wide open, ears wide open, hearts wide open and lives wide open. These four open postures provide the framework for the book.

In section one, praying with eyes wide open, Harney commends open-eyed prayer, that allows us to attend to and see our environment (e.g. people, relationships, pain, beauty, and joy). Section two, praying with ears wide open, discusses cultivating our ability to hear the voice of God and the Spirit’s gentle leadings as we enter into conversation with Him. Section three, praying with hearts wide open, describes how trusting in God’s love for us frees us up, to be honest, and vulnerable in prayer. Harney also discusses in this section, how to engage in spiritual warfare and give your worries to God. Finally, section four, praying with lives wide open explores the rhythms of praying for and with others, for big things and small, and trusting that when we pray, stuff happens.

Each of the sixteen chapters ends with a suggested prayer practice to try for a week, meaning that the book is designed for those on a sixteen-week prayer journey (with a small group or personally). However the practices are simple enough to double up on if you would like to read through this in less time (I don’t have the attention span for reading a short book in sixteen weeks).

I am pretty bad at keeping my eyes closed in prayer anyway but Harney makes a good case for using open-eyed (or ear, heart, life) prayers to cultivate an attentiveness to what is really going on around us. I particularly appreciated her suggestions on praying with ears wide open, asking God good questions, and listening for answers (79-80).  But certainly, I can learn to cultivate openness and attention in each of four realms that Harney names. This book makes me hunger for more intimacy in my own prayer life (as any good prayer book should do).  I give this book four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review

Power Through Weakness (or Community, Rest & Mission): a book review

The Christian life is the empowered life.  In Christ we are set free to live life and face the challenges that come our way. But sometimes we feel powerless in the face of life’s obstacles. Kevin Harney, author of Reckless Faith and the Organic Outreach books has written a month-long daily devotional exploring how God’s presence empowers believers. Each week of Empowered By His Presence explores a different God-given source of strength which reveal God’s empowering presence. These include:

  • Suffering, loss & pain.
  • Community
  • Sabbath and rest
  • Mission

The daily devotional entires profiles a character from the Bible which explores their experience of God. Each week has a reading on Paul and Jesus, but the rest of the entries take you across the Old and New Testaments. At the end of each section in the book are a daily reading plan (which parallels the daily devotionals, suggestions for prayer, personal reflection questions and action steps. There is a discussion guide at the back of the book, designed to accompany a small-group DVD also available from Baker Books.

I really liked this book for a several reasons. First, this is a book about God’s empowering presence, but it isn’t esoteric or strange. Harney starts with the experience of grief and loss in Job, the persecution of Paul, Hannah’s sorrow, Joseph’s betrayal at the hands of his brothers, Peter leaving his nets and Jesus’ cry of dereliction.  Each of these people were met by God, but they came to experience his power through loss, grief and weakness. This isn’t a book about the ‘power of God’ that never enters into human suffering. Rather Harney posits that we meet God there!

The other sections are similarly thoughtful. Community is a Christian buzzword, but Harney draws attention to the ways we mediate Christ to one another. The chapter on the four friends and the paralytic is pure gold (chapter seven). He has good stuff to say about Sabbath and Mission as well.

Second, I think the format is perfect for a small group. I am suggesting it for a small group study at my church and will  likely be ordering the DVD.

Third, I appreciate the breadth of Biblical people profiled. Harney isn’t stuck in the New Testament or Old but gives us a nice cross-section of the communion of saints.

Finally, I loved how solid this is. Harney has keen pastoral insights and is judicious in his reading of the Bible. I don’t remember any specific passages where I felt like he fudged it

I give this book four stars and recommend it especially for use in small groups. It may also be read profitably as a small group resource. ★★★★☆