Book review · Christianity · Nonfiction · Things I'm Learning · Uncategorized

Always “Pray First”

I watched Chris Hodges speak on the topic, “Pray First” before reading an advance copy of his book, “Pray First: The Transformative Power of a Life Built on Prayer.” I wish I’d thought to do a search for him speaking sooner. He’s from Louisiana and said he’s Cajun, which made for fun reading. I now understand his frequent use of my least favorite punctuation mark: the exclamation point. I think using that mark is akin to writing in all caps. But I get it. If you’re Cajun, you need them.

Chris told his audience, “Some messages should teach you something you don’t know, and…[others should] remind you of things you stopped doing,” like his message that day. He wanted to stir hearts to make pray a priority and to pray without ceasing, much like the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8. The widow kept coming to petition the judge to grant her justice against her adversary. The judge didn’t fear God nor people, but he gave in because he tired of her constant pleas. God will supply quick justice to His chosen ones when they cry out to Him. Jesus taught his disciples to “always pray and never give up” (NLT) in this passage.

The book “Pray First” developed from prayer guides Chris used in his own prayer time and shared with his church family at Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama. He said believers need to make prayer the “first response and not the last resort.” It doesn’t have to be a long prayer. A sentence or two at a time can become a continuous conversation with God throughout the day. If you’ll pray first, Chris promises you will step into God’s reality and out of our worldly reality and into a heavenly reality, God’s realm, where we take our seat thanks to Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:6-7) Earth’s reality may say, “That’s impossible,” but God says “Is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)

Chris studied Jesus’ prayer life and noted three takeaways. First, Jesus made time for prayer. He recommending praying first thing in the morning. The first thing we give attention to is what we worship, he said. We need to let God know He comes
first. Second, Jesus had a place to pray, a spot where He would go off alone to commune with His Father. And third, Jesus had a plan. Here, Chris discussed the Lord’s prayer, the outline Jesus gave the disciples when they asked Him to teach them how to pray as He did. The disciples would have been more familiar with Jewish prayers. They memorized and recited prayers for different reasons as part of Jewish tradition. Jesus’ prayers had an intimacy because He approached Him as His Father.

And that’s how believers should approach God, Chris said. As kids, most of knew not to just barge in and outright demand things from our parents. We would greet and check in with them before requesting things — or test the waters if you were me.

That made me think about how I pray. I do tend to just jump in with my requests. I need to first greet God with my gratitude and worship. To have a quality prayer life, Chris said to pray consistently, to find a place, and to make time to pray. Our prayer closet technically is within, he said, so we always have a private place to speak with God. We can schedule time with God on a calendar. We can do as he does and pray first thing when we wake up for the day and just continue the conversation as we go about our activities.

In Part 2, Chris described some of the prayer plans he uses to keep his communication with God fresh and focused. He had collected several guides over the course of his 40 years in ministry that he shared with people. Having a deliberate plan to use helped him focus on why he’s praying and brought order to his thoughts. He thought through or processed his most important concerns first before turning them over to God.

Having a plan can prevent people from turning God into Santa, like He’s just there to hear our requests and give us what we think we want or need from Him. We need to see prayer time as a moment to praise and worship God, to seek forgiveness and restoration, and to make intercession for the people in our lives who have made requests. Chris said prayer is talking with God and staying in close communication with Him. We’re in a relationship with Him, and the more we commune with God, the more we know Him. We need to study His word and pray through scripture. In this crazy world, prayer has become even more essential. If we’re not in regular communication, how can we discern the voice of our Shepherd loud and clear over the noise around us?

Besides using the Lord’s prayer as a guide, Chris described the steps of the Tabernacle prayer, or the Prayer of Moses. He talked about the popular prayer of Jabez based on his prayer in 1 Chronicles 4:10 for blessing, influence, God’s presence and protection. He gave the prayer of the sheep where we can learn and pray the names of God as they correspond to our circumstances. He also gave a plan for prayers for the lost and prayers for spiritual warfare.

In the last section of this book, Chris talked about prayer and fasting as an essential spiritual practice. The Bible talked about prayer and fasting more than 70 times, he said. His church has prayer and fasting for 21 days in January (the first of the year) and August (the first of the new school year). They modeled their prayer and fasting from Daniel’s practice of praying and fasting for 21 days. Daniel had no meat or wine from the king’s table, but instead ate vegetables and grains with water. Chris also shared stories from individuals throughout the Bible who prayed and fasted, such as Moses, Paul and Barnabas, Nehemiah, the king of Nineveh, the prophet Anna, Queen Esther, and Jesus Himself. 

When you fast, you give up something for a time that has become an indulgence, a distraction, a comfort, or an escape for you. (This reminded me of Lent.) You disconnect from the world and all its distractions and appeals to the flesh and connect
with God and rely on Him alone. Chris made sure to say several times that if it is solid food you decide to give up you need to consult with your doctor. You can have a partial fast also and opt to give up a part of your diet, like dairy and sugar, or give up something else like time spent on social media or other forms of entertainment…like my Homescapes. (Sorry, Austin. We will have to put a pause on any new projects at the mansion.)

Chris said to first consider our reasons for fasting though. Some have used fasting thinking God will give them what they ask for just because they fasted. That’s not the right heart attitude though. Chris supplied 21 days of focus material for those who want to fast and pray as he described. He recommended easing into non-fasting at the end of however long we fast to avoid a worsened spiritual state. You don’t want to revert to old behaviors, practices, and ways of thinking that held you captive before your time of fasting, so he said we need to stay alert and keep our spirit closely aligned with God.

I saw that Chris has a companion to go with this book, a six-session study guide with streaming video. I look forward to viewing that as well. I plan to go back and make my own prayer guides based on the material in this book. Chris has written prayers within that I plan to use as prayer starters. I look forward to when the completed book will publish on Dec. 27, 2022. You can preorder his book here and here. Thank you Netgalley and Thomas Nelson Books for this opportunity to read and review this book on prayer.


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