Daniel Henderson. The Prayer God Loves to Answer: Accessing Christ’s Wisdom for Your Greatest Needs. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2016. See here to buy the book.
The back cover of the book says (and these are excerpts, not the whole two paragraphs):
“Should I take that new job? How can I be a better parent? Who should I marry? How can I make ends meet?…The source of all wisdom and knowledge has not called us to figure out life’s uncertainties for ourselves…In this book, Daniel Henderson shares his practical approach to prayer.”
In my opinion, this book is not exactly as it is advertised. The writers of that summary may sincerely believe that their description is faithful to the content of this book, and I am not accusing them of being intentionally misleading. What I am saying is that readers should expect something different from this book.
The book is essentially about Spirit-led character formation, and relying on God in prayer for that godly character.
What is the prayer that God loves to answer, to echo the title of this book? According to James 1:5-6, God loves to answer people’s prayer for wisdom, provided those prayers are made with faith. And what are the characteristics of the wisdom that God gives to those who ask? James 3:17-18 states: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (KJV).
That is how the book is organized. The chapters unpack each of those characteristics of wisdom from above, then the book interprets v 18, which states that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (KJV).
The book has its share of positives. It seeks to define the characteristics enumerated in James 3:17-18, rather than just assuming that readers know what they mean, and it looks to Scriptures for illumination. Occasionally, it provided an insightful interpretation of Scripture that was new to me. For example, it discussed James 3:1’s statement about teachers receiving stricter judgment in light of what James 3 later says about cursing and vain ambition; for Henderson, these would-be teachers may have been guilty of precisely that.
There were good quotations, such as the quotation of Charles Haddon Spurgeon that said that people’s unkindness should make us appreciate God’s kindness even more, and a quotation of John MacArthur about what God’s kingdom is about. A few times, the book referred to aspects of Greco-Roman society that overlapped with or differed from the virtues of biblical religion, and that was interesting, or at least it can stimulate further research.
Often, the book was presenting a standard that appeared idealistic or unrealistic. Yet, Henderson occasionally told stories about his own shortcomings, and he encouraged struggling Christians to persevere amidst spiritual failure. Henderson also said that he has experienced God enabling him and others to be merciful, when they lacked the power within themselves to be so. Such testimony gave more credence to what he was saying.
The book presented a lot of thoughts that have been presented before, in other places, but there is nothing wrong with being reminded of these insights. (This is not to suggest that Henderson is plagiarizing, but he does relay a lot of the common sense that is out there in Christian culture, and even secular culture: common sense about treating people with respect and being kind rather than winning arguments.)
In terms of negatives, the book would have been better had it addressed difficult questions. Does gentleness mean that we have to be passive doormats and can never stand up for ourselves? Does being impartial mean that we cannot love some people more than others? Does avoiding hypocrisy mean being completely transparent to people about how we are feeling? Really?
There was an occasion when Henderson raised an excellent question, but his answer was slightly disappointing. He asked whether Jesus’ apparent preference for Peter, James, and John contradicted God’s standard for Christians to be impartial. Henderson’s answer is that we cannot fully understand why God does what God does. Maybe there is something to that answer, but I was hoping for a little more wrestling.
Another negative in the book, in my opinion, was a lack of pathos. Henderson tried to convey some pathos. He referred to a time when he pastored a church that was recovering from the previous pastor’s moral failure. But Henderson only went so deep when it came to pathos, or to the grittiness and struggles of life. Overall, the book conveyed a Zen-like, Pollyannish, and perhaps even a detached tone.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest!