At the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast, US Senate chaplain Barry Black delivered a powerful speech that sparked cheers and brought thousands of attendees to their feet.‘In order to make ourselves heard in a way that really changes things,’ he said, ‘we must start by calling upon God—the one who holds the ultimate power.’ ” So reads the flyleaf of Dr. Barry Black’s latest book.
I have heard Barry Black the preacher (including the truly “powerful speech” referenced on the flyleaf). I have also heard Barry Black the lecturer. Dr. Black quotes philosophers as if they are his best friends and subtly sprinkles his presentations with the best principles of psychology and the latest theories of leadership. In a public university graduation speech, he encouraged the students along the path of lifelong learning and informed them that each new work assignment had been, for him, an opportunity for further study. By the time his academic credits were totaled, he had three master’s degrees and two doctorates. Now, enter Barry Black the author. What will we find? Powerful preacher? Erudite scholar?
What I found, instead, was a down-to-earth pastor, a passionate believer, and a biblical expert. Black does not just tell us what he has read; he shares what he has practiced. In 15 delightful chapters, Black expounds on what he sees as the essentials of a vibrant and effective prayer life, and Scripture is his unashamed platform: pray (1) with assistance, (2) the model prayer, (3) with purity, (4) fearlessly, (5) with effectiveness, (6) to escape the squeeze of temptation, (7) when God is silent, (8) when you don’t feel like being good, (9) with patience, (10) with celebration, (11) with intimacy, (12) with fervency, (13) with perseverance, (14) with submission, and (15) with a partner.
Black is consistently simple but never simplistic. Difficult subjects are dealt with head-on. In addressing how to pray when God is silent, Black offers uncanny counsel: “Sometimes, God doesn’t grant our requests because we are asking for something that doesn’t even exist. . . . The first way to deal with unanswered prayer is to make sure we are praying correctly.”
On how to keep praying when you feel like giving up, Black says, “Joseph spent more than two years in prison before being elevated to Pharaoh’s household. The promise was delayed, but not denied.” I believe the chaplain may be speaking to someone right now through these words.
And can we pray “not my will” and really mean it? Black declares, “There is also the pride of life, which involves our desire to accomplish and achieve, to be appreciated and accepted. We forget that God is more interested in our faithfulness than in our success or failure.”
What wonderful words of comfort with which we can encourage each other! In fact, in his closing chapter, Black states, “Praying with a partner will bring fresh power to our prayers, energizing our intercession. . . . we should pray with a partner because partners can bless and cheer one another.”
Chaplain of the US Senate—first military chaplain, first African American, and first Seventh-day Adventist in that position—surrounded by individuals with influence and intellect, Black never wavers in his purpose: to “offer my observations and advice about how to pray with power and make your voice heard in heaven.” He shared these principles with the entire nation on the occasion of the 2017 United States presidential inauguration. He shares these principles with senators day in and day out as he prays in the US Capitol and ministers to the senators’ families. He now shares them with us.
I was rather surprised not to see a list of senators who have endorsed the book as I have seen in some previous works. But the absence of such a list turns an apparent deficiency into an appealing blessing: “He must increase, and I must decrease.” This book is less about praying with a Barry Black formula and more about praying with Christ’s formula. “Repeat the prayers of the Bible, praying words that were inspired by the Holy Spirit, prayers guaranteed to be heard in heaven”.
This book on prayer is scripturally sensible rather than being spiritually sentimental—and biblically intimate without being gushingly emotional. Do you sometimes feel your prayers are just hitting the ceiling? If you want your prayers to be heard in heaven—this is your book.—Reviewed by Jeffrey O. Brown, PhD, associate editor, Ministry.