Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 01/07/2011 by Leslie Wiggins.
Recommended. Not for the faint of heart, this is a detailed and comprehensive study on what Scripture says about prayer.
A couple of years ago, I reviewed Susan Heck's With the Master Bible study on the book of James. What impressed me most was that Mrs. Heck didn't try to persuade me with emotional stories or pleas. Her purpose in the study was simple: teach the book of James, verse by verse. Not your typical fill-in-the-blank study for women, Tested Faith is an in-depth, challenging study. I was quite pleased to receive a copy of the second book in the series, With the Master: On Our Knees.
Unlike the study of James, which is an expository exegesis of an entire book, On Our Knees is an expository study on the topic of prayer. Heck begins with the first and last prayers recorded in the scriptures, and then moves systematically through a selection of prayers from the Old and New Testaments. She lays the foundation with an introduction about prayer in general: interesting facts about the prayers featured in the Bible, the prayer habits of the saints as recorded for church history, a believer's attitude in prayer, hindrances to prayer, and methods of prayer.
The study works its way through 15 prayers:
- The Prayer of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20
- Solomon's prayer for wisdom in 1 Kings
- How to pray for a sick child, demonstrated in 2 Kings and 1 Samuel
- A prayer of a young man, demonstrated in Psalm 8
- Stephen's prayer in Acts 7
- Praying through depression with King Hezekiah* in Psalms 42 and 43
- The prayer of the ten lepers in Luke 17
- David's prayer for mercy in Psalm 51
- The Lord's Prayer in Luke 11
- Praying with a broken heart, like David in Psalm 55
- A prayer expressing a deep thirst for God in Psalm 63
- Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane in Luke 22
- David's prayer for vengeance in Psalm 109
- A prayer of praise in Psalm 145
Sandwiched among these prayers are two chapters dedicated to fasting prayer. I enjoyed these chapters as they required more thought and scripture passage look-ups on my part. Heck guides the reader through every instance that a fast is mentioned in the scriptures and what is to be learned from that passage. Most importantly, the reader will learn the kind of fast that pleases the Lord.
The study itself is quite good. The questions for further study and consideration at the end of each chapter are challenging and call for serious spiritual inventory. There are, however, though I hate to admit it, a few aspects of the study that bother me. First, and least bothersome, is Heck's dry style. Her writing is very straightforward, to-the-point. While I do appreciate what I assume is her desire to avoid injecting too much of herself (or too many feel-good stories of answered prayers) into the Bible study, a little whimsy and personality wouldn't hurt. I suppose the upside of this is that when a local church Bible study leader uses this study, she will be able bring her unique testimony and gifts to share with a small group..
Second, you may have noticed that number six (asterisked above) lists King Hezekiah as the author of Psalms 42 and 43. Heck writes, "There are a lot of suggestions as to the author of these Psalms. Some suggest that this prayer was written by King David when he was fleeing from Absalom. But the best suggestion for the author seems to me to be that of King Hezekiah." Though I could not find any notes or commentary to agree with her, she asserts that he wrote Psalm 42 and 43 during the time of the Assyrian invasion and his illness. I am not certain whether it ultimately matters who wrote it since many of the Psalms authors are unknown; however, I would appreciate a footnote with more explanation, considering the extra-biblical sources I searched agreed that Psalm 42 is simply a "Maskil of the Sons of Korah."
Finally, and probably most importantly, is Heck's introductory statement "that it is impossible for God to even hear our prayers if we have sin in our lives and in our hearts." She cites Psalm 66:18 ("If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.") and Isaiah 59:2 ("but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.") as support. I do not disagree with the scripture; I disagree with the proof-texting interpretation and application of it. Sinlessness is not a prerequisite for God to hear and answer our prayers. Because this study is addressed to believers, those verses need to be re-read through the lens of the gospel. Women whom God has granted new hearts (which do not cherish sin), who stand justified in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, need not fear that their Abba Father will ever turn a deaf ear to their prayers.
This Bible study will take a lot of time, particularly for the last several chapters. Heck's suggestions for getting the most out of the study – several passage look-ups, comparing/contrasting, charting – will take time. Her comments are helpful, some are insightful and bring out points and correlations that a casual Bible reader will not readily see. Heck's style, however, is not what makes this book one that I would recommend. Though not without its flaws, it is the closest thing to a systematic teaching on prayer that I've seen for women. The joy of discovery as I studied the scriptures excited me. The chapter on our Lord's prayer in Gethsemane was my favorite chapter for its simple admonition to persevere in prayer.
I recommend this book with the encouragement to remember God's grace while studying.