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When The Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer was originally released in 1999 and was recently reissued. I initially felt some push back against Johnson at the beginning of the book because of emphasis against extemporaneous prayer and against written and fixed prayer. (Part of the renewal of my personal prayer life over the past decade has been finding fixed prayer and historic prayers especially using the Book of Common Prayer.) Part of her emphasis on extemporaneous prayer is based in the focus of the book on Contemplative Prayer, which tends to not be focused on fixed prayer. But also her background in Evangelicalism.
But as the book progressed, I was less bothered by the bias because of the clear wisdom about prayer in general. This is a book that I want to get in print eventually because there are so many good one line thoughts about prayer. Because I listened to the book on audio I didn’t write many of them down.
I have also started reading a second book on Contemplative Prayer, Flee, Be Silent, Pray. Both emphasize the fact that Contemplative Prayer is primarily about hearing from God and not ‘doing something’. Evangelicalism broadly tends to be overly focused on getting things done and utilitarianism. So much of what I have learned about prayer growing up and in college and seminary from the Evangelical world was about prayer as intercession, getting things done.
Contemplative Prayer is in many ways, anti-utilitarian prayer and a good corrective, although also not the whole of prayer.
(Also of note: Jan Johnson referenced Dallas Willard several times and she has written some study guides to his books. I can feel her relationship with Willard in the book. If you are a fan of Dallas Willard, this book builds on his work well.)
This is the best book on contemplative prayer I've read. It's hard to imagine a better one to recommend to other Christians. It offers a clear, biblical justification for the listening, transformative kind of prayer that ought to be at the heart of every Christian's relationship with God. It's a very encouraging book, but it doesn't make exaggerated claims. It carefully distinguishes a Christ centered form of prayer from other similar forms of meditation and contemplation practiced in other religions. It offers very practical help to those who desire to pray in this way. It helps the reader know what to expect, and what not to expect, and gives personal examples of the kinds of things that might happen in praying this way without being formulaic.
I have lead and participated in Christian prayer meetings for many years and have gotten the impression that, for many Christians, prayer consists mainly of asking God to do things. Petitionary prayer certainly has its place (see Knocking on Heaven's Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer for an excellent biblical exposition), but if it becomes the center of our prayer life we easily fall into the attitude that God serves our own agenda. Contemplative prayer is a powerful check on this and it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for greater intimacy with God. It focuses more on finding God's own heart and desires and aligning ours with them. This is how we get closer to God. I recommend this book very highly.
This is one of my favorite books. Jan's approach of teaching by NOT shaking a finger in my face and/or insinuating that if I would try harder, believe more, etc. is so appreciated - and rare. I also love her openness and honesty. I buy this book like candy and give it to anyone and everyone.
I have just read this book but now I want to learn this book. I want to sit on my patio and read just a few highlighted sentences slowly one by one. I want to sip my coffee slowly and let just a few words crawl into my mind and sit in my spirit. I want to take my time and soak in the love and the wisdom.