“Before a believer will faithfully engage in this potent ministry, he must have a deep conviction of the place and importance of prayer in the program of God.” With those words in chapter two of Working With God Through Prayer, D. Edmond Hiebert diagnoses a problem embedded into the Christian life. While prayer should be the natural condition of a Christian it is often the neglected position. I find it unfortunate that the truth of that statement is such an accurate description of me, and yet I recognize that I do not falter alone on this pleasing grace of God. Therefore a book on prayer is often a welcomed aide. While books on prayer number many, Working With God Through Prayer sets itself apart by offering some unique features in its biblical analysis of prayer.
Few know of D. Edmond Hiebert. While being used of God in mighty ways, he was content to maintain obscurity in a world where fame is a preeminent goal. Instead, he used his gifts to further compel believers into a deep, intimate study of Scripture. He spent his life’s work teaching, mostly at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno. Although he died in 1995, his teachings have been preserved through the writings he undertook during his lifetime, which included a large number of commentaries (most notably his commentary on the Epistle of James). It is safe to say that Working With God Through Prayer is not just little known to the Christian world, but is not quite so known even among those fortunate enough to be acquainted with Hiebert.
Perhaps it is the unimpressive size that makes this book so little known. At 129 pages, it is easy to conclude that few words of meaning can be placed in its covers. Yet, Hiebert has done well with his choice of teachings, quotes, stories, and biblical citations in order to make the most of the space he has taken up. In 10 chapters, the layout of the book can be described as exhortation (chapters 1-4), exemplification (chapters 5-7), and exposition (chapters 8-10). While each chapter is primarily based upon the expounding of a primary verse, D. Edmond Hiebert intertwines stories and quotes in much the same way a sermon is given proclaimed to the church body.
While one can read the book casually and learn much, a deeper reading garners more attention to the more remarkable aspects of the writing. First, the author’s notable exhortations. While the entire book is a compelling account of the joy of prayer, the first four chapters focus heavily on reasoning with believers from Scripture about the importance and priority of prayer. D. Edmond Hiebert does not merely recount the basic teachings of prayer, but instead he elevates to a rightful place recognizing that it is both a ministry and a service to the body of Christ for God (see especially chapter four). He does this first in logical steps by first defining prayer before demonstrating how powerful prayer is through Scripture. Upon this recognition then is built the ministry of prayer.
In addition to the notable exhortations one will also see see notable explanations. The author’s vast knowledge of Scripture helps him to convey some difficult aspects of prayer that many people grapple with. Perhaps of greatest example is his meticulous explanation of the interaction between man’s work through prayer with God’s sovereignty.
Finally, D. Edmond Hiebert’s book is exceptional by its notable exclusions. One would expect that any discourse on prayer would address both Christ’s teaching on prayer (especially what is known as the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:5-15) and his own prayers (noting his discourse to the Father in John 17:1-26). However, the author excludes a lengthy discussion and description of both of this. While I would be fascinated to see more of his exposition of such important passages, one can appreciate the fact that Hiebert elevates the priority of prayer using other passages that are not quite as known. While important, these particular passages have become so commonplace when discussing prayer that many people tend to simply overlook them as routine.
While the book is commendable on many levels, there tend to be two areas of weakness that should be noted:
- Conflicted Use of Old Testament: Hiebert relies much on the Old Testament. While this is great in many ways, one must recognize that it is important to recognize the difficulty in applying Old Testament passages to the current era. We all see how many will take great hold of Old Testament passages to be life verses that are not taken in the context of Israel and the Old Covenant. While he does not go quite so far to misuse the Old Testament, there are times in which he comes dangerously close.
- Conflicted Use of Descriptions: While extolling the Lord’s sovereignty in chapter one, Hiebert seems to contradict himself in chapter 3. Here he draws readers attention to the need for laborers and Christ’s own suggestion to pray for workers (Matthew 9:35-38). Without directly saying so, his description can be taken almost as a suggestion that were it not for the intervention of the people Christ would have failed.
While trying to reconcile and wade through these points are necessary in the reading, it is important to recognize there is much value in the information that D. Edmond Hiebert presents.
Over the years there have been many books on prayer. Some of them are considered classics and many people have their favorites. I don’t think this book will supplant that status for many of the available solid books. I would however urge believers to read this book at least once because one can learn some major points from it. I am certain that it will compel you to your knees more frequently as you see the importance and impact of prayer before God.
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