December 18, 2015
I am picking up a theme in the titles of the bestsellers for Christian women. Beth Moore challenges us to an Audacious love for Jesus, and the one-word title of Priscilla Shirer’s book tells us what kind of prayer-life we need: Fervent. The success of these books says something about what women must be seeking, something more special and beyond the ordinary, something passionate and motivating. And who wouldn’t want a fervent prayer life?
Fervent is the #1 bestselling book for Christian women, having an average 5-star rating with 525 reviews on Amazon. This book is inspired by a popular movie in the Christian subculture called The War Room. Shirer starred in the movie (with Beth Moore). The subtitle of this book and purpose in writing is: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer. In her introduction, she explains:
Because this is war. The fight of your life. A very real enemy has been strategizing and scheming against you, assaulting you, coming after your emotions, your mind, your man, your child, your future. In fact, he’s doing it right this second. Right where you’re sitting. Right where you are. (2)
And she wants us to know that “praying with precision is key” (3). Fervent tackles ten areas where “the enemy is at work,” strategizing against us.
Shirer is in tune with the areas where women struggle. Each chapter cleverly begins with a strategy like, “If I were your enemy, I’d seek to dim your passion” (25), or “I’d devalue your strength and magnify your insecurities until they dominate how you see yourself” (55). I found myself flitting back and forth between agreement and “yeah buts” in this book. Shirer is so good at honing in on the gritty challenges women fight, she wants us to be more aware of spiritual warfare, and each chapter ends with a couple of pages of scripture related to it’s topic that we should use in prayer.
How She Describes Prayer
And yet there are some major things missing for a book that is about fervent prayer. When I read a book about prayer, I expect to learn about prayer and, well, the One we pray to. But I felt like this book is more about women’s struggles and Satan’s strategies. And while I don’t disagree that Satan has personal and tricky strategies, I felt like he gets the bulk of the blame for our lack of spiritual growth. Sin seems consequential to Satan’s ploys in this book. We need to hear that sin is a serious personal offense against God. We aren’t merely strategizing in prayer so that we have good marriages, a fabulous self-image, and peace in our lives.
Even when she speaks about repentance, Shirer doesn’t mention confessing our sin and asking for forgiveness. She does tell us to “see the foolishness of anything that perpetuates old sin patterns, and by His Spirit walk away,” and then, “Ask for freedom, for release, for the ability to deflect lies and embrace truth” (101). This all has the tone of self-empowerment by “claiming your calling” (105), rather than humbly submitting to a holy God whom we have offended. The word sin doesn’t even appear in her definition of repentance, which is the “R” in her acronym P.R.A.Y.
Let me just contrast what Shirer says about prayer with a recent book I’ve read that had a chapter on prayer, Daniel Block’s For the Glory of God.
Shirer: "Prayer is the portal that brings the power of heaven down to earth. It is kryptonite to the enemy and to all his ploys against you. (5)
Block: "Prayer is not about informing God of our needs as if he is ignorant; instead, it is 'a vehicle of humility, an expression of un-self-sufficiency, which in biblical thought, is the proper stance of humans before God.'” (212, quoting from Moshe Greenberg)
Shirer’s book reads like a “devil-busting” plan that we need to have, “with God on [our] side.” But I go to prayer to align myself with God’s plan. And yet, prayer is even more than that. As Block defines, “First, prayer is the supreme reverential verbal act of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign. Like all worship, true prayer is concerned primarily with the glory of God” (217). This is what I was missing in Fervent. Yes, there were some glimpses that made me wish Shirer would continue in that direction, but they were few and far between her focus on Satan’s strategies and our own in prayer.
Even the title misses the focus. Sure, a fervent prayer life is a good thing. But if every prayer is fervent, I think it loses it’s fervency. Every conversation with my husband is not fervent. And I love fervent kisses, but it would get weird if every time we were intimate, it had to be fervently. And if I felt like it had to be, I would end up doing a lot of faking. I’m glad we don’t have to go to God fervently every time we pray. And I would rather learn more about prayer itself, especially the God we are praying to, rather than an emotional way to go about it as a strategy against Satan.
I love the fact that Shirer ends each chapter with Scriptures that would be good to pray on that topic. However, I wish she would have designed the chapters around some of those Scriptures, maybe showcasing some helpful ways to pray through them.
And yet, I’m not sure how well that would be executed. I have some concerns with how Scripture is handled in a few of the teaching places. For example, she teaches through 2 Kings 6:1-7 to show a strategy on how to get our passion back. Shirer teaches that when one of Elisha's protégés lost the iron head from his ax in the water, he “lost his cutting edge.” She has some good principles laid out to teach, like, “Despite the lost ax head, the presence of God was still near” (31), but the exposition and application itself is hokey and wrong. She connects this text to how our “cutting edge” in prayer may be lost. And so she says we could be doing something good, and still lose our cutting edge, our passion in prayer. “In fact, one of Satan’s dirtiest little tactics is to sneak in and steal it while you’re square in the middle of investing yourself in worthwhile activities” (32). This is just not what the passage is saying. She then connects the fact that this was a borrowed ax to the fact that we get our passion from God, and the enemy doesn’t want us to know that. And just like this man, we may need a miracle to get our cutting edge back.
This is just bad exposition and application of Scripture. Nowhere does the text insinuate that this event has something to do with the passion in our prayer life or attacks from Satan. She just uses a play on words and turns it all around. That’s really a shame.
Also, there are times in the book where Shirer refers to being obedient to God’s word, when she is really talking about obedience to where you think the Holy Spirit is leading you. A distinction needs to be made here. She very well may have a different theological stance than me on the continuation of prophetic gifts as they were in the apostolic times. And so Shirer describes a friend who had a good job and family life, but was hesitant about venturing out to becoming a writer, something she felt the Lord may be leading her to do. Maybe he was, but Shirer takes this as direct disobedience against the Lord if her friend were not to take that step.
I’m not so sure it would have been. Is there anywhere in Scripture that says the jobs we are supposed to take? She wasn’t sinning in her job she was in; she was serving God well in it. Could the Holy Spirit be leading and preparing her for writing? Of course, but she did not know for sure. What if it failed, would the Spirit have then failed? She talks about her friend “implement[ing] obedience” and “going forward as instructed” (117), and this concerns me that women reading may also interpret all their dreams as direct orders from the Lord that they must obey. Where is this in Scripture?
Shirer ends the book sharing a prophecy she was given in a Bible study that she “would have the privilege of calling many people to prayer during [her] lifetime. And not just to prayer but to a refreshed, renewed focus and fervency of prayer they’d never known before” (186). She then writes about her realization that God was whispering in her ear that night about the readers of this very book. It kind of makes it awkward to review after that.
The Devil Behind Every Rock?
You’ve heard this phrase before, I’m sure, and that is how I felt about the main message in this book. Again, I think we could all use a wake up call about spiritual warfare. But we should never give Satan more credit than he deserves. We do a good job of sinning on our own. Shirer blames it all on the devil:
Because if it weren’t for him trying to get in there and cause trouble, would any of us be feeling the need to nurse hurt feelings, harbor unforgiveness, belabor the gossip, or (for goodness sake) find a whole new set of friends? (177)
All of our proclivity to sin is not Satan’s fault. We need to take responsibility for our own sinful nature. James tells us, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (1:14-15). In this age, we live under the effects of the curse. So our suffering could be from many different things. Yes, we need to be aware of Satan, who is at work, but Scripture’s emphasis is more on our personal responsibility and our focus on the Lord.
So while Shirer did point out some activity of the devil that we need to be mindful of, I wish she would have focused the book on the person and work of Christ before diving into warfare. She opens the book saying that praying with precision is key. I wish that there was more precision in her teaching on prayer itself, her biblical exposition, and her theology on sin, God’s revelation, and spiritual warfare.