Geoff New, Carlisle: Langham Preaching Resources (Imprint of Langham Publishing, 2020. xxi+168pp. ISBN: 978-1-78368-812-8 $25.48
The subtitle of this book is “The Lord’s Prayer in the Preacher’s Life”. But this is not a book about the Lord’s Prayer. Instead, it takes the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer and uses them as “pegs” on which to hang themes and explore aspects pertaining both to Scripture and to a preacher’s life and preaching. Having said that, an introductory chapter explores the character of the Lord’s Prayer as a familiar but urgent prayer, places the prayer intriguingly as “a mirror at the very centre of the Sermon on the Mount” (4), and briefly examines each of the prayer’s petitions.
The book comprises three main sections, structured around the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer but exploring how it may be grounded in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Part One is entitled “The Lord’s Prayer as Heard in Jesus’s Life” (perhaps one should add “and teaching”). This connects each of the petitions with passages from Luke 18:1–19:10, and examines each petition under the rubric of “A Prayer for Preachers Wanting to Pray, Honour God, Guide, [wanting] Renewal, Fulfilment, Healing, Restoration. What intrigued me was how New was able to work sequentially through the various discrete passages in this section of Luke’s Gospel, and relate them to the respective petitions of the Lord’s Prayer in the order found in the prayer.
Part Two, entitled “The Lord’s Prayer as Heard in Jesus’s Death”, relates the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer to Jesus’s words from the cross, and one to the inscription that Pilate wrote to place above Jesus’s head. The themes in this case are given as “A Prayer for Preachers Needing…” Reassurance, Courage, Hope, Family, Nourishment, Release, Enabling, and Blessing.
Part Three, “The Lord’s Prayer as Heard in Jesus’s Resurrection” relates the petitions to passages from John 20:11–29; 21:1–23. In this part the themes deal with each of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer as “A Prayer for Preachers Desiring…” Revelation, Faith, Peace, Direction, Refreshment, Kindness, Perseverance, and Vision.
In each of the chapters, New unpacks the pertinent passage of Scripture, relating it to aspects of the preacher’s life, whether this be a need for spiritual refreshment, or dealing with the loneliness a preacher may feel, or the temptation to despair or, conversely, to be jealous of others’ successes in preaching. In each case, the petition from the Lord’s Prayer sits in the background as scriptural insights illuminate and expand upon the petition, and as anecdotes and stories are drawn in for illustration. The petition in question comes in as a kind of mantra at particular places in the chapter. Sometimes this may seem slightly tangential, though in most cases the theme being explored is well connected with the petition.
A couple of sample chapters may give the flavour of the book. Chapter 3: Your Kingdom Come: A Prayer for Preachers Wanting to Guide, looks at the story of people bring babies for Jesus to bless in Luke 18:15–17. New draws two insights out of this: first, we need to have a child-like attitude to spiritual matters. Second, preachers are to be guides who help people enter the kingdom (like a child) rather than guards to hinder people from entering. New tells the story of a “child-like” member of a congregation he once pastored whose normally talkative and “limited” capacity dropped away as she called upon the congregation to pray for a member of the church whose mother was dying.
New considers Jesus’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:32–34) in chapter 14: “Forgive us Our Debts as We Also Have Forgiven Our Debtors: A Prayer for Pastors Needing Release”. He writes of how Jesus grants forgiveness in the face of great injustice. He writes of the difficulty of forgiving; and how we may need both to seek forgiveness and grant forgiveness. He tells the story of hurt he received, at a meeting, from members of a church he was pastoring, and how he had difficulty in forgiving those who had hurt him. It happened that he had been reading a book by Simon Wiesenthal, in which raised he raises the question, when faced with a request for forgiveness by a young German SS soldier who was dying, what the reader would have done in Wiesenthal’s place. In meeting with his spiritual advisor, New shared his experience with the church members, his difficulty in forgiving their attitude to him, and his reading of the book. He shared how if he would have been Wiesenthal he “would have forgiven the young, dying soldier”. At the end the advisor simply asked: “Don’t you think it strange that you could have forgiven an SS soldier for genocide, but you can’t forgive a church for a meeting?” (100-101).
New writes as a preacher to preachers. He writes as a pastor to pastors. He is prepared to be vulnerable and very honest, sharing many times where he has struggled, or felt spiritually drained, or where he has learned a lesson from someone else. One can see a sermon lurking in the background of his scriptural expositions, and many of the anecdotes he tells are extremely good, and to the point. A number are moving and heartfelt. This book will inspire, challenge, encourage and transform.
The main title of the book is “Echoes”. And this neatly captures the function of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer in this book. They echo through the chapters, and resonate afresh in the Scriptures opened by a skilled preacher, and richly resound in telling and truth-bearing anecdotes. This is a book to be read and savoured (New suggests at the outset how the book may be read devotionally). It will enrich a preacher’s preaching and probe the pastor’s life.
Derek Tovey is the book review editor for Stimulus and an occasional preacher.