Archive for May, 2011


Going back to school!

It might have been the title that put me off getting round to reading this book – for a long time Andrew Murray has been a worthy but uninviting writer for me.  But recently he has opened up new vistas: his book on the power of Pentecost (YES it’s an RHP classic!) was very exciting, and this book, ‘With Christ in the School of Prayer’, drips wisdom on every page.

Until I started reading it, I thought that E.M. Bounds and Richard Foster between them had got prayer sewn up (er, who can ever do that?!).  But Murray is full of power and insight into what prayer is all about.  I quote:

‘Most churches think their members gather simply to take care of and edify each other.  They don’t know that God rules the world by the prayers of his saints, that prayer is the power by which Satan is conquered, and that through prayer the Church on earth has access to the powers of the heavenly world.’

Don’t think that this is a manual for the advanced.  This starts at the beginning, and talks about how Jesus prayed.  But I need to start there personally.  Jesus’ disciples saw him praying and then said: “Teach me how to pray”.  Murray tells us not to think how little we have to give to God, but how much He wants to give us.  He also tells us that if we ask and get no answer, it is because we have not learned to pray properly.  There is a simple faith in his writing, just like Torrey, that is inspiring.  He laments that there are so few Christians who know definite direct answer to prayer as the rule of their daily life.

We pray to God because he is our Father, because we are commanded to, and because in doing so we please Him.  Not only has the Holy Spirit equipped us to pray, but Christ prays on our behalf and in our best prayers interceeds through us.  Murray urges that: ‘Our true aim must not be to work a great deal and pray just enough to keep the work right.  We should pray a great deal and then work enough for the power and blessing obtained in prayer to find its way through us to men.’

I confess I’ve not finished this book yet.  I’ve slowed right down reading it because it’s so rich.  And I always struggle spending time reading books on prayer, when I should be doing it!  Yet they fire me up, and remind me of what can be achieved.  This is in no way a self-glorifying book, but rather a serious work for those who long to give of their very best in their two-way conversations with the Almighty.

A basic handbook modelled on how Jesus prayed

only for the serious!

Didn’t think, being a Christian who has read the Bible for most of his years so far, that I could start to see the Bible in a different way.   But looking at Torrey’s book ‘How to Bring them to Christ’ has made me think that the real meat of the Bible is in the power it has to break down a person’s defences and strip away the props that they thought they were depending on.

Do you think that you are too bad to come to saving faith?  Do you want to believe but don’t know how?  Are you indifferent about God, or even skeptical?  The assumption in Torrey’s book, dated but helpfully updated by Whitaker (with some omissions, but you can always find the original book in a pdf online, under the title ‘How to Bring Men to Christ’), is that whoever it is is interested in the Bible.

Personally, I find what I read in Scripture as bracing and affirmative, often intimidating, as I read anywhere else.  And it doesn’t have the same tang of despair about it as humanist or postmodern texts.  It draws on something larger than itself, there is no doubt about that.  What I like about folk like Torrey is that he was dead certain about his faith.  And the way he draws on Scriptures is fabulous.

It is hard to give glib answers to those who ask, now, ‘Why does God allow suffering?’  But, without necessarily turning up the Bible, it is still possible to use the ideas from Scripture to respond, and then we are allowing God to speak, rather than feeling that we have to come up with a solution.  I have to say, Torrey’s responses might often put people off from becoming Christians: ‘What if I get persecuted’.  Torrey instructs us to show them, from Scripture, that ‘persecution is the only path to glory’.  But I have to say, from my recent reading and studying in 1 Peter, and 2 Timothy in particular, that that is what the NT says.

Torrey is a recent discovery of mine, a real boon for Bible study and for anyone wanting revival.  His sermon ‘The greatest sentence that was ever written’   http://www.ccel.org/ccel/torrey/revival.v.ii.html

A font-friendly selection from the original work

doesn’t fail to impress, for example.  The only caveat with this book is that it all appears too easy.  You have to know these verses, and make them your own, and pray them through with particular people in mind, to see results.  Torrey advises, in his book ‘How to Study the Bible’ (another RHP classic!) that you do your own study of Scripture identifying verses that will help with particular categories of those who do not know Christ.

Some would feel that this somehow violates the freedom of the individual.  However, I believe that Satan has already violated the freedom of the individual.  He has stolen our freedom.  We are in darkness unless we know Christ. Many of us who have met Christ remain in darkness still. Show me a believer who will not benefit from closely scrutinising the pages of Scripture for texts that will help people come closer to saving faith.  Do.

Pick this up at a bargain price

Thought that ONE of the useful things I could use blogging for was to record some book reviews.  I’ve read a number of books over the past two years or so that relate to revival in particular.  I also MAY start to build up a selection of literary reviews, as I have read a number of other books as well!  Perhaps there should be a blog out there somewhere for the Christian English teacher.  What am I supposed to say when, for example, Finney says: Don’t read any novels!  Er…

Anyway, in spite of that injunction I’m here to say the RHP Pound Classics are superb.  Charles Finney, Revival, contains some of the hottest stuff from his Lectures on Revivals of Religion (which you will find online at  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/finney/revivals.toc.html ).  The third  chapter contains a helpful list with explanations of a range of sins, and requires the reader to thoroughly inspect his/her life for these errors and make confession, before moving on with the book: he calls it breaking up your fallow ground.  If you don’t think you have any fallow ground, read his list of sins!

Finney writes out of a real and powerful experience of ongoing revival throughout his life.  He led hundreds of thousands to Christ.  He writes with an authority that few would pretend to adopt, and in an honest and direct way that all pastors should take note of, for example on prayer meetings: “In nine cases out of ten it is the leader’s fault that they do not attend.”  He criticises too much singing, meetings being too long, not enough focus on actual conversion of sinners.  He also says that “if the prayer meetings are neglected, all [a minister’s] labours are in vain.”

There is plenty of practical advice on how to speak to sinners, instructions to converts, and hindrances to revival.  I have to say that personally, although I read through the whole volume (after having read in Finney’s Lectures online) I found the first two chapters to be the most helpful for myself.  Many of the points that are made in here come across as extremely brief, and you may wish to look at his more detailed lectures.  You might find that some of his instructions rub up sharply against yourself, and you might think ‘That doesn’t apply to me’.  That is PRECISELY the moment, when reading any book devotionally, that we should repent to God and say ‘Sorry, Father, show me my sin’.  Rom 2:1-4 is helpful on this.   None of us is in a position to judge another.

I would say that a powerful rule of thumb when reading books to be stirred up by the Holy Spirit, is that if you feel strongly convicted while reading, pray and seek His face, write things down.  Decide how you will respond to what you have read.  This is true of all Scripture reading too.  Take one book and make prayerful, devout and regular use of it for some time; it will be a greater milestone in your journey with God than ten books skimmed through hastily (and I speak from experience of both!).

You may want to know more about Finney’s life after reading this book.  Liardon Roberts’ ‘God’s Generals’ has a helpful overview which covers the main points.  If you are passionate about revival, you cannot afford to NOT read about Finney’s revivals.