Monday, November 19, 2007

This is not a book about how to pray. It’s about living the Christian life.

Ain’t Too Proud to Beg (Living through the Lord’s Prayer)
Author: Telford Work
Publisher: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Pages: 252

In Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, Telford Work shows how the Lord’s prayer relates to our living as Christians. He writes, "First, we ‘live through’ the Lord’s Prayer in the same sense that, say, America lives by the American Way. The Lord’s Prayer is the Lord’s way; its agenda is the right agenda for the Father’s children. When we pray it, it trains us in the way of the Lord Jesus, which of course is the only true way to live (John 14:6)."

The author continually looks through this prayer as a means of grappling with current moral dilemmas. Chapter one seeks to answer the question, "What is the character of the God that we worship?" In the wake of 9/11, Work is troubled by the thought that the God of biblical faith bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the God of Wahhabi Islam. This God of judgment may not be the kindred spirit and soulmate that we imagine. Witness the language of many of the Psalms, which record the struggle of people trying to come to grips with what God does and what He doesn’t do.

One of the highlights is that the author often resorts to God’s triune nature in his search for answers. He likens it to a rule of the Christian faith: "Every good answer to every question about God’s character appeals to God as Triune." The Trinity reminds us that God is not far off. We can address God as Father because the same relationship that Jesus enjoyed with the Father is now ours through the Son. Jesus not only prays for us, He prays with us as we say, "Our Father." His frequent insights about the Trinity are delightful and provide welcome perspective on a neglected subject.

The book is also a valuable addition to existing literature on the Kingdom of God. The book is divided into two halves: the first dealing with the coming of the kingdom and the second focusing on the righteousness of the kingdom. Underneath these broad headings, the author tackles all the subjects raised in the prayer. He takes a philosophical essay approach rather than being strictly expository or devotional.

Every page is packed with information and insights. This is not Christianity light. I found myself getting a little lost at times through the inclusion of contemporary studies that provide background and perspective. But this is the work of an associate professor of theology at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. Even if at times I found myself in unfamiliar territory, it’s what one would expect from someone who has the experience of years of academic study. He does a fine job of showing the implications of this prayer in our contemporary setting.

Every Christian could benefit from considering the generosity of spirit advocated in "Generosity Under Pressure: or, How to Win in November No Matter What," which is one of the three sermons found in the concluding "Amen" section of the book. It’s profoundly helpful and relevant as we head into another election. Work writes, "Our task is a kind of inaction: not to backslide into our old lives of frenzy, anxiety, alienation and resignation." He’s not saying that we shouldn’t work for change as the Spirit leads; only that we should not lose our focus. Christ has freed us so that we don’t have to be dragged back into the world’s way of living.

I appreciate the broad perspective and the unconventional analysis of this familiar passage of Scripture (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4). It’s a book that is better read slowly or repeatedly. It will be helpful to anyone who is serious about living the Christian life.
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