A Review of Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels

(2nd edition, InterVarsity Press, 1998.)

In his usual relevant, personal style, Bill Hybels promotes a practical look at the discipline of prayer in a believer’s life. This is not simply a truth he teaches but one he has personally applied. We can desire his results when he says “the greatest thrill has been the qualitative difference in my relationship with God” (11). We can relate to his struggles when he readily admits that “the real reason my prayers were weak was that my faith was weak” (31). We can begin to follow his journey into a life of prayer by considering his take on re-ordering life – “We just cannot grow with no structure, no sense of intentionality about our spiritual life, any more than we can lower our body fat or develop good muscle tone or increase our net worth by just sitting back and waiting for whatever happens” (44). Too Busy Not to Pray would be a helpful beginning for some while it might be too light for others.

In terms of weaknesses, we can consider the loose biblical support for this look at prayer. As an example, Hybels begins his journey with a very exciting look at the newly rescued Hebrews and their battle with Amalek. Hybels is not alone in his interpretation of this text as one supporting prayer, but many theologians would disagree. In Exodus 17, Moses raises his staff, and Joshua wins. When his arms are lowered, the Hebrews struggle. Two come alongside to hold up Moses’ arms and thus the staff to ensure the win for the Hebrews. Nowhere in this text does Moses mouth words of prayer, nor do we see any evidence later of this being an instance of prayer. It is a beautiful picture of God’s power and protection (“The LORD is my banner”), but it does not adequately fit a foundational text on prayer. Yet Hybels suggests that “Moses discovered that day that God’s prevailing power is released through prayer” (15).

Another difficulty with the book is the, perhaps, overemphasis of blessings or results from prayer. Hybels suggests that “Prayer is the key to unlocking God’s prevailing power in your life” (16). As a result, he uses the first half of his work to focus more on blessings from prayer as opposed to sacrifice. He gets to that point later when he speaks candidly about time and priority, but it left something to be desired to show the sense of humility and sacrifice apparent in the prayerful life. While it is true that “when we make a habit of prayer, we stay constantly tuned to God’s presence and open to receive his blessings” (43); we must also be aware that prayer is done with God’s best in mind as opposed to our hopeful rewards for speaking with Him.

Hybels also offers a look at The Lord’s Prayer in Chapters 5 & 6. It is helpful in that it encourages a time set aside for prayer as well as considering the pattern present in Jesus’ words. However, Hybels treats this too much like a formula for receiving the above-mentioned blessings. “Once I’ve worshiped God , confessed my sins, and given thanks, it’s okay for me to take our my shopping list” (72). Later he states: “Nothing motivates people to develop their prayer lives more than unanswered prayers. And once the prayer busters are dealt with and dispatched, the way is clear for God to answer one prayer after another” (109). This would surely be an encouragement to young believers to enter a life of prayer, but it also does not provide a biblically balanced perspective that would serve as a foundation for the Christian life. Hybels deals shortly with unanswered prayer, and he admits this will be a great, unexplained struggle for the believer. Perhaps considering Jesus’ prayer inGethsemanewould be helpful here in our sacrificial obedience to the Lord’s will as opposed to an over-emphasized importance on getting our needs and wants met.

On the other hand, Hybels practically and masterfully works through the idea of his subtitle in the final chapters of the book. As we enter the prayerful life, there is a real important for slowing down to be with God. Hybels suggests that “prayer needs to be part of the rhythm of our daily lives” (115). This step in spiritual growth is a process, or, as Hybels states: “It is a walk – a supernatural walk with a living, dynamic, communicating God. Thus the heart and soul of the Christian life is learning to hear God’s voice and developing the courage to do what he tells us to do” (125). The genius of this book is in these final chapters. For here, Hybels cuts us to the quick when he states that “any way you cut it, a key ingredient in authentic Christianity is time. Not leftover time, not throwaway time, but quality time. Time for contemplation, meditation and reflection. Unhurried, uninterrupted time” (126). He even offers immediate, practical steps to beginning this life. For example: “Suppose that right after reading this chapter you put down the book and quiet your spirit before God. You wait until you are focused on him, and then you say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening’ (1 Samuel 3:9). In the solitude and stillness, what might God say to you?” (149).

Another strength is in his three “tests” for our prayers. He encourages the reader to ask whether our prayers are consistent with Scripture, consistent with our gifting, and whether they promote servanthood or self. These are helpful points with which we can grasp and apply to our lives right away as we enter into a life marked by prayer. The focus of Hybels life is shown through this writing in that “faith comes from looking at God, not at the mountain” (76). It is evident that Hybels has a concern for people and a love for God’s Word. He attests to this in giving a personal illustration of how he reads through Scripture: “I read and reread all those stories about God’s power over nature until once again I was convinced that they really happened in history” (33).

For someone looking to grow in the area of prayer, Too Busy Not to Pray would be a practical guide if read alongside a classical, theological work on prayer to provide a balanced perspective. Again, we would all do well to consider the last half of this book and seek to make immediate applications. However if we are seeking a deep, biblical understanding of prayer, we might do well to seek elsewhere.

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