Daniel Henderson’s book ‘Transforming Prayer’[1] is a practical resource on, you guessed it, transforming prayer. I have to admit; I began reading this book with a bit of skepticism. Many books have been written on prayer over the last 50 years, which boast of nothing more than a form of ‘wish-list’ praying and carnal tactics for getting God to do exactly what we want Him to do. This approach is neither transformative nor beneficial to the reader, and actually serves as a means of stunting growth, rather than promoting it. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised with Henderson’s work. Three main thrusts carry us through the content of this book. These are defined by the Author as testimonies, teachings, and what he calls ‘trophy cases.’ The latter consists of specific testimonies from men and women who have implemented the practical teachings of this book and experienced real-life transformation in their personal lives, relationships, and churches.

Henderson’s approach to transforming prayer is simplistic in its’ nature, and he makes an effort to highlight the importance of seeking God’s face over seeking His hand. This is essential to true worship, which is exactly what prayer is supposed to be. As he explains, too often, we come to God with a grocery list of needs that we expect God to check off. This form of prayer leaves us empty and makes prayer an almost dreadful experience. As stated, the purpose of prayer is worship, not request. Although our time in prayer should include requests for ourselves, our families/friends, and our nation/world, this should not be the sole substance of our prayers. When God is not sought and valued first and foremost for who He is, then the entire point of prayer is missed. It is only once we have come to a deep sense of Biblical worship that we are ready to be led by the Word and the Spirit in praying for ourselves and others.

Early on in the book, Henderson describes an experience from his childhood that many of us are far too familiar with. We know the scene, prayer meeting at church, numerous requests (which often seem more like gossip sessions), and minimal time spent actually praying. This is usually followed by a round of ‘Sweet Hour of Prayer’ and dismissal. In reading this section, it felt like Henderson took a page out of my own book. So often it is that case that, with good intentions, believers gather to pray and yet spend such little time actually praying. I have experienced the emptiness of this approach first-hand, and have often dreaded corporate prayer at times for this very reason. A common theme is scenarios like these is that we pray with closed Bibles and closed hearts.

God desires that we come to Him for no other reason than to seek His face. Nothing less will do. This implies a deep affection and love for the person of God, not just His work. Left to ourselves, this is an impossible task, yet with an open Bible and the Spirit’s enablement, we are able to conquer the impossible! The point of an open Bible is that we do not know how to pray as we ought. This is the reason why our prayer lives lack substance, and we often fizz out rather quickly.

Thankfully, God has provided His pure and perfect Word, which serves as the blueprint and outline for all of our praying. Henderson makes use of the Lord’s prayer in teaching the Biblical method of praying. He does not condone simply repeating the Lord’s prayer verbatim but highlights its practical use as a blueprint for praying all of Scripture. The themes of the Lord’s prayer is transferrable to any passage we meet, and provides what Henderson has coined as the ‘4/4 pattern.’ This simple yet effective approach to prayer focuses on making the most of our time with God. It begins with the upward motion of reverence toward God. This is where we acknowledge our Father in heaven and seek to hallow His name. Here we scan through the text and seek out those areas which tell us something about His nature, character, and work, then we praise/thank Him for the things that we have seen. Next, there is a downward stroke of response. This is where the emphasis is placed on His will being done on earth and in heaven, and what that looks like. What is our prayer text saying about God’s will (again, this does not imply that the Lord’s prayer is in front of us, but we are utilizing its’ pattern), and how should that look in all facets of my life? Third, is the inward stroke of requests. Having had our hearts open to the face of God, we are now ready to seek His hand. This emphasizes on the giving of daily bread or providing for our needs and the needs of others. Fourth, is the outward stroke of readiness. The avoidance of temptation and deliverance from evil is highlighted. What does this passage teach me about the war against sin? How can I seek preparation for future battles? Finally, prayer should end where it began- with an upward stroke of reverence. His is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever (Mt. 6:13 KJV).

There is much we can glean from this method of prayer, and I would argue that it is the kind of prayer that brings God the greatest glory. We cannot go wrong when we pray God’s Word, in His Spirit, while seeking His face above all else!

Annotated Quotations

  1. “Some of us still carry the baggage from parents or other authority figures in our childhood who were distant, negligent, or even abusive. These experiences can leave us with distaste for emotional vulnerability and transparency. We protect ourselves from getting too close to anyone, even God. Others simply embrace erroneous views of God’s character that keep them at a distance from their self-styled deity who is mysteriously remote, unpredictably angry, and impossible to please.”[2] This was a quotation that struck me deeply. Part of my own testimony that I frequently share consists of the model that I had of fatherhood. My biological father was an absentee and a promise-breaker, and my step-father was a disciplinarian who showed no genuine affection. When I came into the faith, I found that I was viewing God through the same set of lenses that I viewed my earthly fathers, and it shied me away from intimacy with Him. One of the greatest realities I have experience through maturity is the recognition that God is not like my earthly fathers. He is always with me, always keeps His promises, always displays the loving affection of a father, and always chastises with correcting love as the motive. Though there are times when I can begin to allow these former ways of thinking to creep in, overall, I have come to experience the reality of God’s fatherhood over my life, and am so thankful for who He is!
  2. “I have discovered that prayer truly has only two purposes. First, it is the means of developing a true love relationship with God by communication with Him, not to get His ‘stuff’ but to get to know Him more deeply. Prayer is intended to develop a two-way love relationship. Second, it is to receive His assignments for me, both daily and long term- by listening to Him- then acting, not only in how I live but also in how I pray for myself and others.”[3] Although not a direct quote from Henderson, this is from the testimony of one woman who embarked on the quest of transforming prayer and struck gold! Her observation here is simply profound, and I have to admit that at first glance, I found myself scratching my head and thinking to myself, ‘Is it really that simple?’ The conclusion that I came to was, ‘yes.’ The Lord’s design for prayer, and our purpose in it, is to stir our hearts to know and love Him more deeply, and to be equipped for our labor on this earth. God desires to maintain intimacy with us and direct our lives. Prayer accomplishes both of these directives.
  3. “…the only enduring motive for prayer is that God is worthy to be sought. Again, this is a worship-based motivation. I may or may not feel like praying. The prayer time may be energized; it may be dull. The answers to prayer may be apparent; they may not. Still, God is worthy to be sought.”[4] To this, I would respond with a hearty ‘Amen!’ As one preacher once said, there are times when we pray with our work boots on, and there are times when we pray with our work boots off. In the former, it can seem like tedious work to pray. We squirm and feel unsettled as we struggle to find the words to pray and seek to fight off competing thoughts. Other times, the Spirit makes His presence known, and prayer seems effortless. As Henderson notes, either way, the Lord is worthy to be sought.

Difficult Concepts and Areas of Increased Understanding

I found chapters 14 and 15 to be of particular interest and practical aid. These two chapters focus on the methodology of transforming prayer and provide examples of what this looks like in relation to Psalms and a passage from the New Testament. Henderson literally walks through the blueprint of this prayer method and provides fill-in-the-blank ways in which the quoted passages could be prayed out. This was a great help for me, as it seemed to open a new channel in my mind of how to interact with God’s Word. I have often come to the Word seeking to advance my understanding of doctrine and godly living, but it is almost embarrassing how little time I have spent praying through the Scriptures. I was challenged as I faced this ‘new’ way of approaching Scripture and almost felt overwhelmed (in a good way) thinking about how much praying I can do with my Bible open! I greatly look forward to experiencing a new level of intimacy with my heavenly Father and growing in deeper adoration of who He is. I also am excited to see how this approach to prayer has an effect on my familial and congregational relationships. Overall, this book has challenged and encouraged me in many ways, and I believe that there is much fruit to be bore as this lifestyle of prayer is increased moving forward!

Personal Application

Overall, the practicality of this book cannot be denied. Throughout, I found myself engaged and convicted to put into practice the clear, Biblical teaching outlined by Henderson. The simple, yet profound approach to prayer, which situates God’s face at the center and God’s Word as the content, is in shocking contrast to the usual ‘prayer list’ approach to prayer. Just the other night, I found myself praying through the content of Psalm 20 in a powerful, new way. I noticed how quickly the time went by and how much substance there was to fill my prayer. I realized that there was significantly less time spent praying for my own desires, and a considerable amount of time spent communing with God. I had always known that using the Scriptures as the blueprint for prayer was the best way to communicate with God, but I have never had step-by-step instructions of what that looked like. Having come to such an understanding, I do not see any benefit in praying another way moving forward. I have already begun brainstorming how I can implement this approach to prayer in family worship, the groups I facilitate at work, and my small group as well. I can honestly say that the results of this book are life-changing, or I suppose a more fitting way word would be ‘transforming.’

[1] Henderson, Daniel. Transforming Prayer: How Everything Changes When You Seek Gods Face. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2011.

[2] Ibid, 41.

[3] Ibid, 45.

[4] Ibid, 156.