You may or may not know that today, the first Thursday of May, has been designated the National Day of Prayer since signed it to law in 1952. Since I’ve just recently read a book on prayer I thought it would be appropriate to do something a little different with my blog post today and give you my review of The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, New-York Times best-selling author and lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C.
You may have heard of it or seen it at your local bookstore as it seems to be popular in many Christian circles (no pun intended). Mr. Batterson challenges us through the book to pray and to pray more fervently. His desire in prompting us to pray is that God would be supremely glorified through our prayers as we bow in dependence before our Savior King. God indeed loves to hear the cries of his children and instructs us to call on His name for all things.
Since reading The Circle Maker I have been led to pray more frequently and about more things throughout the day. This awareness has also exposed to me where I have neglected prayer as a lifeline to my Lord, who is deserving of all my praise and the only One able to move mountains. For this I am thankful to be reminded again of my need to pray. However the overall message of the book leads me more to myself then to the One I am praying to.
Mr. Batterson’s expressed heart desire for God’s glory to reign supreme is overshadowed throughout by the preeminence of the “circle maker”. The legend of the circle maker focuses on the first century BC sage, Honi, who drew a circle around him and swore to the Lord that he would not move outside the circle until God delivered rain. When the rain began to fall a generation was saved from the extreme drought and Honi was exalted for his bold prayer.
This legend is the impetuses behind the author’s urging that we follow in Honi’s boldness by drawing a figurative circle around our prayers and not move outside of that circle until God answers them. This requires praying hard and praying long. The author asserts that when we faithfully see our prayers through, God will faithfully respond.
The implications of this “winning” new formula for prayer concern me. First, the action and emphasis is placed on us, the circle makers- the ones praying. Not on God. By focusing on our method, level of faith and action, we have inadvertently become the primary actors with God succumbing to our commands. While I don’t think this is the author’s intent, this is the theology that is bred when the focus is placed primarily on us and not Christ. Similarly when a sermon does not fully give Christ in the passage but goes straight to personal application.
Now it is up to us to have enough faith, to work hard enough and to get the formula right. In the case of prayer if we don’t get the answer we want or God seems to be silent, we are left to ourselves to try harder to please Him. Banking on the misconception that if we do it all “right”, He will bless us.
But what if we fail? What if God is silent? What did we do wrong? What if I’m outside of God’s will? Where is our hope?
There is a lot of guilt and burden in these questions, which is why it is so important that we see ourselves rightly before our Holy God. It is not about us. Jesus did it all. He lived a perfect life that was credited to us when He sacrificially went to the cross on our behalf. God literally turned His back on His Son; He did not answer Jesus’ prayer “to let this cup pass before Me”. The answer to Jesus was No because His death and resurrection is the only way we will ever find rest. Because of that we can now come before Him, fully dependent, empty-handed with nothing to offer. There is no working harder, living more perfectly; praying better or longer, or fasting or circling that will earn our righteousness before Him.
God is glorified when we find our life and dependence in Him, not by striving in our own ability.
Which points to the fallacy in the book that in order for God to come through, we must “pray through”. We are told that by doing so God sees we are serious enough so He will then intervene. If this is true, I am led to believe that God cannot or will not work apart from our fervent and faithful prayers. But the amazing thing about God is He works and answers prayers despite our faithlessness and failures!
I don’t know about you, but that is way more comforting to me knowing that even though I am inadequate and forget to pray and don’t even know exactly what to pray, God still acts! He doesn’t wait on me, my “prayer cue” as the author calls it. Or test me or hold back answers until I get it together or remember to ask. Praise God! I can only imagine the despair we would find ourselves in if we believe our “better” prayers could’ve saved someone from dying of cancer or prevented an accident from happening.
Now hear me, I am not saying that our prayers do not move God to act. We are called to pray and it is awesome when we see God’s hand at work and know that He has heard our prayers and found delight in answering them the way we wanted. To God Be the Glory! And To God Be the Glory that He makes miracles happen and changes hearts and situation even when we don’t realize it and He gets no recognition or glory.
This is contrary to the book’s message that bolder, bigger prayers bring Him more glory because we get to see more miraculous, bigger answers. That is awesome, indeed. But just as spectacular is the fact that the God of the Universe cares deeply about the minute details of our lives and intervenes constantly in ways we will never even know. Furthermore, the statement that “miracles are the by-product of prayers that were prayed by you and for you” discredits God of the very glory the author espouses to be the reason for our bold prayers. Again, it seems to all hinge on us and our ability.
Instead of working to grow our faith by praying better and bolder with a circle around it as this book proclaims redundantly, “solid-rock” faith grows only when it is firmly rooted in the power of the gospel. We need to see Jesus, who He is and what He has done on our behalf. To see that He is the source of all hope, not my prayer technique, my faith, my unwavering resolve to not get out of the circle before He answers. When we begin to understand more deeply our daily need of a Savior, then we will be drawn more to prayer and to praise. More drawn outside of our self-focus and on to the face of the One who upholds us by His grace even when we step outside of His encircling arms. In Him we will find rest whether He answers our prayers the way we want or not. And in these answers we find peace knowing that everything that comes to pass is according to His sovereign will.
Now I can walk in confidence to come boldly to His throne of grace…
Come boldly to a throne of grace… Ye wretched sinners come;
And lay your load at Jesus’ feet… And plead what He has done.
“How can I come?” Some soul may say,“I’m lame and cannot walk;
My guilt and sin have stopped my mouth; I sigh, but dare not talk.”
Come boldly to the throne of grace, Though lost, and blind, and lame;
Jehovah is the sinner’s Friend, And ever was the same.
He makes the dead to hear His voice, He makes the blind to see;
The sinner lost He came to save, And set the prisoner free.
Come boldly to the throne of grace, For Jesus fills the throne;
And those He kills He makes alive; He hears the sigh or groan.
Poor bankrupt souls, who feel and know … The hell of sin within,
Come boldly to the throne of grace; The Lord will take you in.
(Red Mountain Music)
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