Four Books On Prayer, by Rev. Dr. Felix Haynes, Jr.

Today’s guest blogger is my father, Rev. Dr. Wilson Felix Haynes, Jr. Pray is my One Little Word for 2023, so I asked him to share several of his favorite volumes on prayer.


The oldest biblical book in our canon contains key questions about life. From Job, we hear this question: “What profit shall we have if we pray unto him?” (Job 21:15). The topic of prayer has been explored by almost every great saint, theologian, and author of the great Christian books. I have procured many of these books, read, and reflected on them. They have left a deep imprint upon my life and thinking. Four of these volumes are particularly noteworthy.


First, I think the single best is The Meaning of Prayer (Association Press, 1916) by Harry Emerson Fosdick, the well-known “liberal” preacher whose pulpit was the Riverside Church of New York City (built by John D. Rockefeller). I read this volume during my Seminary years after the reading of his autobiography The Living of These Days. The book followed a period of depression in Fosdick’s life. Beyond those days, the impact of his life was incredible. This well-arranged book is the best purchase anyone can make to enhance biblical knowledge and provide the very best instruction about prayer. Harry Emerson Fosdick, I am proud am proud to say, has been a vital mentor in my life of continuing education.


The second is The Prayers and Meditations of Samuel Johnson. The first edition was in 1785, and it has been published subsequently in many other editions. The striking thing about this volume is that this testy old doctor was so honest and self-revealing in his “diary” parts of the book. These written prayers may become guiding forces for us in our own journeys. Incidentally, Fosdick quotes Samuel Johnson in the first sentence of his book on the meaning of prayer.


The third volume is The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (Nicholas Hermon). Brother Lawrence was born in poverty, served as a soldier, and thereafter joined a community of Carmelites in Paris in 1666. He died at age 80, and his letters were published in 1692. The primary essence of Lawrence’s thinking was continued awareness of God. I offer a couple of quotes to whet the appetite to read his letters:

“The most Holy and impactful practice in the spiritual life is the presence of God-that is, every moment to take pleasure that God is with you.” 

And this: 

“I have abandoned all particular forms of devotion, all prayer techniques. My only prayer practice is attention. I carry on a habitual, silent and secret conversation with God that fills me with overwhelming joy."


Lawrence’s main job in the monastery was in the kitchen, where the lyrical sounds of pots and pans only elevated his communion with God. He said. “I turn my omelet in the pan for the love of God.” Whenever I’m in the kitchen, I try to model what Brother Lawrence did.


A forth book is Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. Matthew Arnold said, “Next to
the Bible, this is the most eloquent expression of the Christian life ever written.” A classic. Mark Twain once said, “A classic is a book everybody talks about, but nobody reads.” Change your mind on this thought. You can find an audio version of The Imitation of Christ, which greatly enhances the reading process. This is not a book to read from cover to cover, but more of a daily vitamin. Read a portion, percolate on the thoughts, and perhaps journal your impressions. The Imitation of Christ is a compelling meditations journey which prompts prayer – a searching call to imitate the way of Christ, to learn to embrace His virtues, and to stir reflection.


Spirituality: Reverend Dr. Felix Haynes, Jr. on the Power of Books

Today’s guest writer is my father, Rev. Dr. Felix Haynes, Jr. , who shares his thoughts on the power of books to shape lives.

THE POWER OF BOOKS


In Little Letters to God, Margaret E. Sangster includes the following letter:


Dear God:
Three books came to me in this morning’s mail. They were messages from friends who wanted to share with me the pleasure of the printed word. One book was a love story, one was sparkling with inspiration, and one was a travel book that would transport me into far, forgotten places of the earth. As I unwrapped these books, I felt a sudden sense of reverence – reverence for you, God, who has given the authors a great expression. Through their eyes—and your wisdom—I shall be permitted to widen my vision.

Reading good books becomes a tool to widen our horizons and expand the depth of human experience. The poet Frances Thompson said books became to him “trumpet sounds from the hidden battlements of eternity.”

Books are forces to deepen our lives through spiritual and human development.
Well-selected books can push us towards a greater grasp of human maturity. Robert Browning wrote, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”


Christian growth is a process, an alluring quest – exciting and fulfilling. Delving into the spirit of reading and study prevents stagnation. Life is an adventure, when we dare to climb, with compelling vistas that beckon us to new heights of understanding. Books are rungs on the ladder.


I have frequently used the metaphor of Oliver Wendell Holmes’s poem The Chambered Nautilus as an example of an ever-maturing growth pattern. This beautiful seashell is gradually enlarging compartments in which the mollusk lives as it grows larger and larger. The snail-like creature that lives inside grows and moves into the next compartment, where further growth and development occurs. This process continues in ever-increasing sized chambers, until finally, in the largest compartment, it moves out. The shell it leaves is a thing of great beauty – a fascinating analogy of the human spirit, continually growing and expanding, building ever more stately mansions.


In life, we travel various avenues in the quest of expanding our fulfillment on the journey. The power of the printed page is one such avenue, and when you combine this tool with dialogue and discussion about a book, it becomes a significant life-shaping kind of experience.


Dr. E. Glenn Hinson was one of the most probing professors of my seminary experience. His book Seekers After a Mature Faith states in the Preface:

“I have written this book with a firm conviction that private devotion is essential to the life of the {Christian} and that devotional classics have much to contribute to that devotion. The Bible holds many expressions about the power of the printed page. In the oldest of all biblical documents, the Book of Job, Job says:

'Oh, that my words were now written! Oh, that they were printed in a book! That they were
graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever. For I know that my redeemer lived, and
He shall stand in the latter day upon the earth.” (Job 19:23-25).'


Job’s passion was to remind those who would suffer of the greatness of God. The best of books that convey life-messages are prompted by a deep desire to help others along their journey.”


Ralph Waldo Emerson commented in one of his essays that reading books molds an individual. Any casual reading of biography will confirm this truth of the value of books on one’s life. For example, Charles Colson in his biography Born Again attributes much of his conversion to Christianity to reading C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.

Samuel Miller of Harvard Divinity School has cited three things that a book may do to nurture faith. First, he says that a book can help “name” an experience. A book can help one see the reality of some experience in a manner that helps in some way to better deal with a situation. The “word is made flesh” and we weave the insight into character. A second benefit in the book’s nurturing of faith is that it can “resurrect certain levels or dimensions of our consciousness from a dormant condition.” In other words, self- understanding ~ in this respect, a book becomes the stimulus to an honest appraisal of one’s life. Authenticity emerges in a healthier manner. We can see ourselves in the pilgrimage of others. Another’s experience can bring about an awareness of some repressed areas which we many have neglected. The book leads to an understanding necessary to the revelation of a new vision. A third benefit is that a well selected book encourages productive reflection. We stretch and improve our spiritual posture.


A book that provides a good reading experience baffles and embraces us, inspires and challenges; and it can startle and unsettle. The values are inestimable intellectually and fuels the imagination causing one to reach for new heights. We should expect occasions in the reading of good books which cause us to rethink opinions and face new truths that change our path on the journey.


Charles Kingsley, a revered English writer says, “Except a living man, there is nothing more wonderful than a book.” I would be quick to add this observation, based on my Doctor of Ministry work: The two things that most affect a person’s life are the people we meet and the books we read. I think Thomas a Kempis said the most appropriate word about the power of Books:


"If he should not lose his reward who gives a cup of cold water to his thirsty
neighbor, what will not be the reward of those who by putting good books into the hands of those neighbors, open to them the fountains of eternal life?"


And Mark Twain, who always has a bold word, appropriately reminds us that “the man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.“

Slathered in the Spirit: My 2023 Spirituality and Inspiration Goals

When I took listen as my OLW of 2022, I ordered a bracelet with my word on it to remind me to listen when I was tempted to forget. I also ordered a wooden word cutout to go in my kitchen windowsill to keep listen at the forefront of my mind.

I ordered a bracelet for 2023 also, but I got one with a whole verse instead of a lone word. Pray without ceasing it says on the outside, and on the inside it has the scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:17. It’s one of those verses that could stand in line with the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept (John 11:35). Pray ceaselessly, it might have been written, if Paul and John had been in a two-word verse challenge like on Name That Tune….”Lord, I can write that verse in two words….”. As it stands, John won the shortest verse challenge. Even though it’s not ONE little word on the bracelet, those two extra words make all the difference.

My One Little Word holds within it divine power to achieve (or not) every goal I set for myself this year, especially in the area of spirituality and inspiration. My spirituality goals for 2023 include continuing to tune in to my childhood church service on Sunday mornings (First Baptist Church, St. Simons Island, Georgia) and any churches where Dad may be preaching. I also like to “attend” where my children go to church sometimes so that I can hear the same messages that they are hearing. No matter where I “attend” in the wide world, I continue to grow spiritually from Sunday services – – the only way I am able to start each week ready to face the world.

My guidebook for this area of prayer and spirituality will be The Meaning of Prayer by Harry Emerson Fosdick. I’ll read this book from cover to cover this year and reference the quotes as I apply them to my own prayer life. I’m a fan of the Women of Faith, so I’ll also be rereading their daily devotional book as well. It’s a well-worn favorite! Today’s devotional, in fact, is by Patsy Clairmont, titled “Slathered in the Spirit,” and based on Proverbs 31:30. That’s how I want to be: Slathered in the Spirit. The devotional for January 7 ends with this prayer:

Lord, I want to be beautiful in your sight.
Slather me in your Spirit, soften my heart, and firm up my faith.
May I be taut in my resolve to please you alone. 
Amen.
-Patsy Clairmont
One Big Word with two little instructional words.

My One Little Word for 2023

As we move toward the beginning of a brand new year starting at midnight, on this last day of the year I'm taking time to reflect on 2022 and all the living we’ve done in its 525,600 minutes.  My blessings far outweigh my challenges and setbacks.  

Last December, I chose listen as my One Little Word for 2022, which Ali Edwards has made popular since 2006.  I suppose it’s what daily writers do: we listen to the world around us.  We listen for what inspires us and what we can take from conversations, moments, lessons, experiences - and time we share with others - to make sense of our world.  

What we do with all the listening is what invites me to choose pray as my word for 2023.  It wasn’t my first serious consideration, or even my second.  My initial choice was believe.  During my week of Covid confinement in December, I almost prematurely announced believe and all my reasons for choosing it.  It’s the essence of my Christian faith, the verb of what we do with our faith to trust in God’s plan.  It’s what gets us through tough times.  Long moments of pondering all that I don’t want to be quick to believe led me to think more about the power of sharing.  Share was my second consideration. I share what I experience and what I believe as truth, often on my blog. 

Then I thought of my word listen this year, and all of the listening that happened through prayer.  I wondered:  what if I spent an entire year with the word pray as my guiding light word?  My little Caribbean blue Rav4 has been my twice-daily prayer chamber for years as I make my way to and from work.  I don't turn on the radio ~ I pray.  I believe fully in the power of prayer and the difference it makes.  I see miracles that have happened because of prayer, and I often wonder about the miracles that happen that we never see, also because God answers prayer.  

As we step into 2023, I've chosen an action verb again.  Pray.  What a blessing I feel already!  

If you’re taking a One Little Word as your guiding light this year, please share in the comments below or send me a Facebook message - - I love all the thinking that goes into OLW choices!  Cheers to you in 2023!  

Tomorrow, I will begin daily posts in the areas of my seven goal categories this year.  They are: Reflection, Inspiration/Spirituality, Self-Improvement, Creativity, Literature, Experience, and Gratitude.  I've never succeeded at keeping New Year's Resolutions, but what has worked for me for the past 12 years is establishing goals and adding an accountability measure in my writing through a month-end checkpoint.  More on this beginning tomorrow!