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Praying Today: Practical Thoughts on Prayer by Norman Pittenger

Dr. Pittenger, philosopher and theologian, was a senior member of King’s College, Cambridge for many years, then Professor of Christian Apologetics at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, before retiring in 1966. Published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1974. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Throughout human history men have engaged in prayer. They have addressed themselves to a power or powers greater than human, seeking somehow to enter into communication with the reality upon which their lives depend. They have expressed their gratitude, uttered their petitions for themselves and for others, asked pardon for wrongdoing, endeavored to discern the purpose which that greater than human reality has for them. They have done these things privately and publicly, in their lonely moments and in social gatherings. And throughout Christian history, prayer has been conceived as a relationship with the God and Father of Jesus Christ, the God who is the "power greater than human" but who cares for his world and his human children and whose "nature and whose name" (as Wesley put it) "is Love." But today a very considerable number of people who would profess themselves Christians do not find much meaning in prayer. Or if they do, it is a somewhat stale kind of thing, to be done in church services but with little personal demand upon them. Contact with God: what can this mean for them? Much that they have been taught about prayer, in school or at home or from sermons, does not speak to their condition; they wonder if it really matters at all. For those who do not have faith in God or who subscribe to the idea (much bruited a few years ago) that "God is dead," all this would be natural enough. But for Christian people who do have faith in God as the living One, it is very strange. On the other hand, young people from many different backgrounds seem to be much interested in prayer these days. But they do not consider that the Christian Church has much to say to them on the subject -- perhaps with justice, since so often, in Christian circles, prayer has become little more than a formal exercise without deep significance for this or that particular man or woman. So these young people turn to the eastern religions and their methods of meditation, or to some esoteric teacher who tries to show them "how to pray," or they attempt to discover for themselves what prayer may mean and what it may become in their own experience. I have written this little book with the desire to show all such people, young and old, that prayer is a valid exercise and that it is at the heart of Christian discipleship. As I attempt to demonstrate, prayer is essentially what the old masters of it have said: our conscious and intentional, or attentive, relationship with God -- and with God as "pure, unbounded Love," the "Love that will not let me go," and the Love that in Jesus Christ is both portrayed and enacted in the midst of our human history and situation. At the same time I have tried to look at prayer in a new way, by getting at its roots, by relating it to the kind of world we know nowadays to be ours, and by speaking about it in the light of present-day understanding of our selfhood. From one point of view, I have said nothing new: I have only sought to recover emphases known in the past but forgotten by many for a long time. From another point of view, much that I have said is new: for to state old things in a new way is often enough to find oneself obliged to say new things too. For those who are interested in the "case" that can be made for prayer, I may refer to another book of mine, God's Way with Men (Judson Press, 1970), in which I discussed the relationship between God and men and argued for the validity of prayer as central in that relationship. In the present book I have spoken only incidentally of the "case" for prayer; my purpose here is to make suggestions about the actual practice of prayer, including the question of its effectiveness, the various kinds of praying in which we may engage, the significant exercise of private prayer and of public prayer, the way in which the Lord's Supper (or Holy Communion or Eucharist call it what you will) sums up all our praying, and finally the point of prayer in the total context of Christian faith itself. If the reader is helped to see the importance of prayer, its contemporary possibility, and something of its actual practice, I shall feel rewarded for my labor in writing this book. Norman Pittenger

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