In this book, Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High-Impact Leaders by Dave Earley, one can find an immense trove of insights into the practical purposes and methods of prayer. This book is not only for the pastor or missionary, the Christian CEO or politician, it is for any believer who leads: the teacher, the parent, the coach, the mentor or the friend. The following reading reflection offers a close look at Earley’s work, focusing first on a chapter-by-chapter summary, then on a critical evaluation of the content within (namely Earley’s use of quotations and examples), and finally on a personal application of the information shared.
Summary of the Book
Dave Early introduces his book by stating the essence of what he has attempted—and successfully so—to get across to his readers, that “prayer influences men by influencing God to influence them” (Earley, x). Earley approaches his subject matter in Prayer by selecting nine prayer disciplines of high-impact leaders (xii). These nine disciplines open with a discussion of the value and power of prayer (Chapter 1), and then move into eight things that leaders who pray must do: make time to pray (Chapter 2), pray for those you serve (Chapter 3), train others to pray for you (Chapter 4), turn your problems into prayers (Chapter 5), fast and pray (Chapter 6), possess a bold faith (Chapter 7), build on the basics (Chapter 8), and adopt best practices (Chapter 9). He then concludes with a chapter that helps the reader put all of this information together (Chapter 10). The following paragraphs offer a summary of each of these nine chapters.
In Chapter 1, Earley discusses the value of prayer. Because most spiritual leaders do not pray enough, Earley suggests that prioritizing one’s prayer life is the first step towards a better ministry (Earley, 1). This most important (2) and influential task (3) saves time (5) and gives the one praying access to any location in the world, even to the closed countries, to the warzones, and to the hardest hearts (6). Prayer is a catalyst for true and lasting change (7), for “everything God does in ministry, He does through prayer” (10). This great spiritual weapon(11) demands constant exercise and use. Every believer would do himself well, after considering the value of prayer, to ask himself, “If all of this is true, why don’t I pray?” (15).
In Chapter 2, the author writes that leaders must make time to pray (17). He opens by naming the greatest example of prayer, Jesus Christ Himself (18), and then suggests that the only way one can make proper time to pray is by making prayer a priority. To discover how much time a person really does have to pray (22), he must set aside a regular daily prayer time (23), determining an amount of prayer time (26) and even selecting a regular prayer location (27). Each of these practical suggestions are methods of battling the disorganization of life that keeps many leaders from praying regularly. Taking time to pray is one sign of a spiritual leader (30); it just takes some real effort as well.
In Chapter 3, Earley suggests that leaders pray for their followers. Because effective spiritual leaders pray for their people (33)—as seen in the examples of Moses (34), Jesus, and Paul (35)—and elevate their followers above themselves (36), they can recognize what a difference intercession can make (37). Intercession can be costly (40), but it must remain persistent (45) to affect change in those for whom the intercessor prays (47). Earley closes this chapter with several practical guides for effective intercession.
In Chapter 4, Earley writes that leaders must train others to pray for them (53). While such a call requires humility, as the leader must recognize his need for prayer (56), gaining a proper view of prayer as seen throughout history (58-62) can also help each leader recognize the impact prayer partners have had on leaders since the days of Moses. Intercession is not something that only worked in the past, however, for intercessors still can make an impact today (67). Earley closes this chapter with several more practical suggestions for implementing prayer partners into one’s ministry, and these include finding a regular prayer partner and developing a team of people to uphold the leader in prayer (67).
In Chapter 5, the author encourages leaders to turn their problems into prayer (71), something that involves practicing spiritual stewardship. Again, the example for One who turned His pressures into prayer is Christ. Jesus took all of His pressures, most evidently those that He faced during His passion week, to His heavenly Father in prayer (75-77). Earley encourages his readers to do the same—to spread their problems out before the Lord (81) and cast all their cares on Him (82-84). Doing so turns worries into requests, prayers into provisions (84), problems into rescues (85), and indecisions into breakthroughs (86).
In Chapter 6, Earley writes about one of the most neglected tools of prayer, fasting (91). Scripture and Christian history are filled with spiritual giants who fasted and prayed regularly (91-92). Earley dissects this difficult topic by describing the various forms of biblical fasting (94-95), and then by sharing twenty-five significant blessings recorded in Scripture that come as a direct result of fasting and prayer (95-98). He describes the various spiritual purposes of fasting—for revival, for financial miracles, for evangelism—and then offers several pages of practical advice, both physical and spiritual, for how to fast correctly and effectively (107-108).
In Chapter 7, Earley encourages his readers to possess a bold faith (111). He tells them to not only be bold as they claim God’s promises (111), but also to diligently investigate whether or not God’s promises in Scripture apply to their specific circumstances (115-116). Earley then focuses on the particular promises in Scripture that deal specifically with prayer (116-118), and also gives some examples of how these promises were answered in the lives of people like Gideon, Nehemiah and John R. Rice (118-120). Besides praying one’s desires out of pure motives and even writing out prayers (121), Earley’s most emphatic suggestion in being definite in prayer is to “ask big” (121-125).
In Chapter 8, Earley encourages his readers to build on the basics of what they already know about prayer (127). This building includes using variety in prayers (128) while still basing the prayers off particular models, like “The Lord’s Prayer” (129) or the A.C.T.S. of prayer—Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. He then spends the remainder of the chapter discussing each of these four major headings of prayer, first by offering a great deal of biblical and historical example for each, and then by suggesting a number of practical ideas for how to effectively apply each in prayer.
In Chapter 9, Earley closes the main portion of his book by pushing for his readers to adopt the best practices (153), those tried-and-true practices to which history’s prayer warriors have always clung. The practices include such things as praying without ceasing (153-155), persevering petitions (155-157), prayer retreats (157-160), arrow prayers (160-162), praying the Scripture (162-163), praying with frank familiarity (163-165), and prayer walking (166-170).
Earley closes his book with an extremely helpful chapter called “Putting It All Together” (173), in which he reviews each of the nine disciplines with a “Prayer Life Inventory” (174) filled with yes-or-no questions aimed at revealing the most needful areas in the reader’s prayer life. He follows this with a “Prayer Life Assessment,” where the reader can focus in on his five most needful areas (177). He then has a segment called “Prayer Life Application” (177), in which the reader lists the steps of improvement he plans to take, and finally a “Prayer Life Goal” (178), a place where the reader can record one sentence or one idea from the book that will help him improve his own prayer life.
Evaluation and Critique of the Book
Since beginning this degree in January of this year, I have read an average of about one book per week for my classes. Over the span of eleven months, that has resulted in a great number of religious, non-fiction books. This particular book, Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High-Impact Leaders by Dave Earley, has been one of my favorites of all to read, and has certainly become my favorite book on prayer. I find this to be the case because of several elements that he wove into his text. Specifically, these elements are the obvious passion he has for the subject matter, the practicality of all his suggestions concerning prayer, the poignant examples strewn throughout, and the straightforward approach he employs in his writing, the almost conversational tone he strikes with his readers which makes his writing both easy and entertaining to read. The following paragraphs will extract several particular examples of positive elements that I drew from this book, followed by a brief discussion of one element I found somewhat questionable.
First, there are several particular examples of positive elements that stick out of Earley’s Prayer. These include a vast treasure of both quotations and examples.
The quotations that Earley spreads throughout his book, whether they be recorded quotations from past prayer giants or his own thoughts recorded in his own words, prove extremely effective in making the subject matter memorable. For example, one statement Earley makes early on in his book is that “God…can do more in a tiny fraction of a second than I can accomplish in years” (3). Such a thought truly can prepare one’s heart for the wisdom in the pages that follow and the humility that it takes to accept it. Another examples comes just a few pages later with Martin Luther: “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer” (5). I found myself quoting this line several times the week that I first read this quotation, and its meaning has begun to affect my own approach toward my “busy” life. A third poignant quotation also comes in Chapter 1, and it speaks to the overall focus of this course: “When it comes to spiritual warfare, to fail to pray is to fail altogether” (12). A fourth example comes in Chapter 5 as Earley discusses Martin’s Luther’s approach to worry, Earley writes: “I turn my worry list into a prayer list” (84). One final example of a powerful quotation that has challenged my way of approaching prayer—and would challenge the church’s approach to prayer, if only they could hear it!—comes in Chapter 7: “I think it is better to ask for a few definite things with boldness than to ask for a bunch of things halfheartedly” (121). These five simple quotations are but a small sample of the thought-provoking material Dave Earley has been able to fit into such a small, powerful book.
The examples that Earley spreads throughout his book have also proven to make the subject matter more memorable. While Earley utilizes biblical, historical and contemporary examples, I always found his biblical examples to be the most poignant. Of all his biblical examples, I found those that focused on the life of Moses to be the most memorable. All my Christian life, I have recognized Moses’ leadership abilities, his humility, his faults and his faithfulness, but because Moses’ walk with God was so vastly different than what we believers experience today, I never saw him as an example of a prayer giant. Earley’s handling of the life of Moses, however, brought to light the definite prayerful bond he had with his Heavenly Father. The instance in Exodus 17, for example, when Moses maintained victory for the Israelites as long as he held his hands up to God, and when the Israelites upheld Moses in the process by helping him keep his hands raised, shows how important two-way intercession was for these people (58-59). The instance referenced by the Psalmist in Psalm 106:23 also shows the strength of Moses’ prayer life, for God would have destroyed all of His people “had not Moses…stood before Him in the breach” (38-39). Earley shares plenty more examples in his book—examples from the lives of Nehemiah, of Jesus, of Paul, and of many more contemporary prayer warriors—but these about Moses proved to be the most effective for me.
Second, there is also one element in Earley’s book that I found particularly questionable. This element relates to Earley’s call for a leader to “boldly claim God’s promises” (111), using Charles Spurgeon’s description of prayer as “God’s checkbook” as an example. While Hebrews certainly does allow for this verbiage of going boldly to God for things we require (Hebrews 4:16), there is another side to boldness that often gets overlooked: that of humility. The only reason believers have the boldness to approach God’s throne is that the believer’s way to the Father has been paved by the blood of His Son, Jesus. Believers can go boldly to the Throne of Grace when they do so “in the name of Jesus” (i.e. Colossians 3:17). While God has promised to care for the needs of His people, physical or otherwise (Luke 12; Philippians 4:19), those who imply that God is an ATM or that prayer is a checkbook remove the necessary humility from this relationship made possible only through the death of God’s Son (Colossians 1:21-22). Such a concept also touches on Earley’s suggestion of speaking to God with “frank familiarity” (163). Jerry Bridges joins these two ideas in The Practice of Godliness:
“The same writer who tells us that we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place…also tells us that we should worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, ‘for our God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 10:9 and 12:28-29). The same Paul who tells us that the Holy Spirit dwelling within us causes us to cry, ‘Abba, Father,’ also tells us that this same God lives in ‘unapproachable light’ (Romans 8:15 and I Timothy 6:16)” (Bridges, 21).
As stated above, I found Dave Earley’s Prayer highly effective in my own struggle to improve my prayer life. I have struggled my whole Christian life with discipline, specifically in the area of prayer, and while this book has not yet caused me to make a complete one-eighty in my prayer life, it has certainly caused me to face a number of long-time problems in my spiritual walk. While I will not delve too deeply into my answers from Chapter 10 and “Putting It All Together,” I would like to focus on two specific areas where I plan to apply some of the principles I learned from this book. These areas include my current and future ministries and my determined lifelong outlook on prayer.
First, I would like to apply some of these principles as they relate to my current and future ministries. I am currently a high school teacher in the Midwest. I teach middle, junior high and senior high school English as well as tenth grade World History. Dave Earley wrote in the beginning of Chapter 3 that “one of the purest and most powerful ways for a leader to express and exercise [genuine] love is in intercessory prayer” (Earley, 33). This principle, specifically as it is lived out in the lives of Moses for the Israelites and of Jesus Christ for His disciples and followers, is precisely how I can best serve and teach my students now. When I first arrived at my school, I saw myself almost as a substitute teacher, filling in for a time but not really sticking around or getting to know the students very well. As the first quarter of school has already flown by, however, I have come to recognize that I am not only really getting to know these students on a personal level as I interact with them day after day, I am also getting intimate looks into their personal lives: I see where they struggle; I see where they prevail; I remember the things that I went through at their age and naturally know just what it is they spiritually require. Suddenly, I am not just an English or history teacher: I am a behind-closed-doors intercessor for these students and a constant advisor for when they need help. I do not think of myself any better than anyone else, but I recognize that God has placed me in this school at this time for a reason, if for nothing more than to understand how to pray specifically for each of my students.
While I am currently a teacher in the Midwest, my ultimate goal is to return to Asia as an English teacher, with the actual goal of serving my Savior as His ambassador in a closed country. Having already lived there for three years, I understand a bit more than others the spiritual culture and the openness of the people despite the closed doors of the country. This is why Earley’s discussion in his section titled “Prayer is Omnipotent” (6) also struck me as supremely helpful. “Effective leaders understand the unrestricted reach of prayer…I cannot be in two places at once. But God can” (6). Such an insight gives me confidence to pray for my future field even today, not simply to wait until I know for certain the date on which I will return there. Such prayer will prepare my heart specifically for the compassion and determination required to enter the danger-zone for Christ.
Second, I would like to apply some of the principles found in Prayer as they relate to my lifelong outlook on prayer. As I began reading this book, the first major insight that jumped out at me (besides the quotes mentioned above) was how Earley related the following:
“I doubt that anyone ever comes to the end of life saying, ‘I prayed too much.’ But many come to the end of their lives saying, ‘I prayed too little.’ What would happen if you prayed more than ever before? What could it hurt? Who might it help?” (6)
When I feel an urge to pray, despite my knowledge of I Thessalonians 5:17, I often respond to it by thinking that God is getting annoyed with me, with my constant petitions, problems and confessions: God needs a break, so I really should not pray right now. Such thoughts, while obviously natural for humans, go against everything that God is. Earley asks, “What could it hurt?” And as I ponder the answer, I realize now that the answer is: “Nothing!”
Dave Earley’s book has enlightened dark corners of my heart that I have been too happy for too long to keep darkened. He has brought me to face my need for discipline in prayer specifically, and his practical applications throughout the book have made this facing much easier. While I am certainly no mighty prayer giant today, I fell that I now have the proper vitamins to help me start growing.
Bridges, Jerry. The Practice of Godliness. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1983.
Earley, Dave. Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High-Impact Leaders. Chattanooga, Tenn: Living Ink Books, 2008.
© 2010 E.T.