A Guidebook to Prayer: 24 Ways to Walk with God, by MaryKate Morse. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013. Kindle. $10.49.
“Prayer is not an event but a life. It is not a petition but a love relationship with one God, expressed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All three expressions of God bring imagination and possibilities to the character of the love relationship” (Loc 201–203). MaryKate Morse is professor of leadership and spiritual formation at George Fox Evangelical Seminary and director of strategic planning at George Fox University in Portland, Oregon (4846–48). Morse believes that prayer is the “tipping point” for the church—a low cost input that, if engaged in, correlates with effectiveness for the kingdom of God and, if unused, correlates to ineffectiveness.
In Scripture and history, there is no one sacred way to pray. In A Guidebook to Prayer, Morse acts as a spiritual mentor, guiding the reader in a discovery of different ways to pray. Morse points out that “we often relegate prayer to the professionals or to private times alone,” and the prayers that are modeled are often verbose monologues (3146–47). Prayer, however, should be at least as diverse as the Triune God who created it (4470). By approaching prayer with creativity and openness, the church can create a culture that views prayer as a spiritual adventure (4470).
The book is divided into twenty-four chapters, each exploring a different type of prayer. These twenty-four types are categorized according to persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In each chapter, Morse teaches a doctrinal idea and then explains and guides the reader through a correlating style of prayer. Along with Scriptural exegesis, Morse uses testimonies, quotations, personal anecdotes, and studies from various scientific fields (mostly psychology and sociology) to convey both her teachings and the various modes of prayer. Some of these prayers are historical (Lectio Divina), some are based on prayers from the Bible (The Lord’s Prayer), and others are creative (Prayer in Play).
The prayers Morse outlines are not simply topics to pray about, they are diverse in method, content, and posture. Use of Scripture reading (1175), meditation (2806), silence (890), group conversation (3160), physical symbols (2849), mental imaging (3750), physical postures (2512), singing (1354), and moving (4185), among other approaches, are all used in and as prayer.
The book is not so much making arguments as it is expanding the typical view people have of prayer. Along the way, Morse certainly takes various theological stances, but these arguments are not the thrust of the book, which is to expose the reader to all types of prayer (4448).
To start, Morse does not promote sola scriptura in the classic sense. According to Morse, Scripture contains the revealed truth of God; however, this truth can only be received by the Spirit’s illumination, which is corroborated by “experience, the faith community, . . . and reason” (3772). Scripture is our source of truth, the Spirit is truth’s mediator, and experience and reason serve to corroborate and affirm those truths revealed in Scripture by the Spirit. While Scripture is her primary building material, other materials such as experience, reason, and scientific research influence her prayer constructions as well. For instance, in an effort to establish the validity of intercessory prayer, she appeals to chaos theory: “Our penchant for individualism and need for simple cause-effect answers often overlooks or underestimates the interrelatedness of life. Science has taught us otherwise . . . with the development of chaos theory, scientists saw the universe as much more complex, interrelated and less predictable than thought . . . intercessory prayer is a perfectly rational response to such a universe” (3514–3530). Chaos theory has explained our universe in a way that corroborates intercessory prayer. The reasoning of the argument is sound, but, ostensibly, does not derive its primary thrust from Scripture.
The most compelling and explicit reason for her diverse approach to prayer, however, is that Scripture clearly tells believers to pray, but is unclear on how to pray (4434). So, in accordance with the biblical principle of discernment (using biblical principles to discern right action on subjects not clearly discussed in Scripture), Morse uses creative and diverse means of prayer based on biblical models and precedents (3860).
Most conservative Evangelicals and Catholics will likely find Morse’s theology to be firmly orthodox on the majority of her points. However, she is an egalitarian and a continuationist (the former is understated in this book, but is implicitly understood; the latter is expounded clearly, but with care), though complementarians and cessationists would be wrong to dismiss the book solely on these grounds (1773, 3000). As she herself posits in the book, the current generation (like those that came before it) often trades the unity we could have in Christ based on our agreement on the defining aspects of our faith in favor of the division caused by disagreement over minor doctrines (3894).
Although orthodox on the whole, Morse takes liberties in a few doctrinal areas. For one, she frequently employs physical symbols, mental imaging, and “sacramental” approaches to prayer. On most topics where there are multiple acceptable orthodox views, Morse treads lightly and often gives credence to views different than her own. However, regarding symbolism and imagery, she does not address the complexity of using physical representations of the divine in light of the teaching of the second commandment forbidding graven images. So, when she says to use a “picture of Jesus” as an aid to “sacramental prayer” (which is concerned with physically representing Christ’s spiritual presence with us), she does not address the biblical merit (or lack thereof) of said method (2815). This is an instance where she may be elevating scientific discoveries in the realm of learning styles above strict Scriptural fidelity.
Regarding her approach to cultural engagement, Morse is a transformationist. For her, evangelism and social outreach are inextricably bound, though distinct (1950). Her most relatable contemporaries would be Shane Claiborne and Leonard Sweet (“New-Monasticism” and the Emergent Church, respectively). The chapter on “Simplicity Prayer” most clearly evidences her approach: “We sometimes reduce our ambassadorship to telling others the Good News. Telling is vitally important, but the power of telling comes from a deep connection with the heart and purpose of God” (1964-65). According to Morse, this “heart and purpose of God” has to do with social justice and good stewardship of earth’s resources.
One of Morse’s strongest attributes is her knowledge and use of insights regarding Jewish culture during New Testament times. For instance, some might oppose the entire premise of A Guidebook on Prayer on the grounds that Jesus taught us the way in which we should pray with the Lord’s Prayer. Morse, however, puts the Lord’s Prayer in context:
During Jesus’ time, rabbis would teach their disciples a prayer. The rabbi’s prayer would “brand” the key messages of that rabbi to distinguish him from other teachers. Jesus’ disciples asked him to “teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples,” not because they didn’t know how to pray, but because they wanted that mission understanding that set them apart from all other discipleship groups. The Lord’s Prayer, then, contains in it all the important fundamentals of Jesus’ proclamation. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we affirm Jesus Christ’s priorities and we join with the catholic (meaning all-embracing or universal) church throughout time and place, proclaiming our united calling. (1600-04)
This book is both timely and important because, during this current period of prevalent prayerlessness in the western church, Morse teaches us about prayer in a doctrinally rich way and offers us twenty-four practical methods for engaging with God in prayer. The book is an excellent resource for both personal devotions and for leaders of group prayer. The step-by-step guidelines for group prayer for all twenty-four types of prayer could make for an excellent semester’s worth of material for group Bible studies.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, TX