I’ve been reading this outstanding book by Paul Miller, A Praying Life: Connecting With God in a Distracting World. Miller is perceptive of the many hindrances to regular prayer and he writes winsomely. Here is an insightful section where he traces the movement from God-grounded optimism in life to naive optimism to cynicism (which hinders prayer):
No culture is more optimistic than ours. America’s can-do spirit comes from the Judeo-Christian confidence in the goodness of God acting on our behalf. Knowing that the Good Shepherd is watching and protecting me gives me courage to go through the valley of the shadow of death. Even in the presence of my enemies, I can enjoy a rich feast because God is with me. Faith in God leads to can-do boldness and daring action, the hallmarks of Western civilization.
In the nineteenth century that optimism shifted its foundation from the goodness of God to the goodness of humanity. Faith became an end in itself. President Roosevelt rallied the nation during the Depression by calling people to have faith in faith. In The Sound of Music Julie Andrews sang about having confidence in confidence itself. Disneyland, the icon of naive optimism, promises that we’ll find Prince Charming and live happily ever after.
Optimism rooted in the goodness of people collapses when it confronts the dark side of life. The discovery of evil for most of us is highly personal. We encounter the cruelty of our friends in junior and senior high. In college the princes turn out to be less than charming. If we have children, we learn that they can be demanding and self-centered.
And that, in turn, leads to cynicism. Miller goes on to note, “In naive optimism we don’t need to pray because everything is under control, everything is possible. In cynicism, we can’t pray because everything is out of control, little is possible.”
“This is as fine a book on prayer that you will ever read, but it is so much more. It is the story of our struggle to actually live like we believe that our Heavenly father really does love us. If we did, nothing could keep us from being committed to the day by day hard work of prayer. Paul exegetes our struggle in a way that is convicting, insight giving and encouraging. This is a book on prayer that actually makes you want to pray!”
– Paul David Tripp, author of Broken Down House: Living Productively in a World Gone Bad
“If Jesus or Jesus’ saving grace is just an abstraction to you, Paul Miller will be a great help in making his love a living reality to your heart.”
– Tim Keller, author of The Prodigal God