Ep.044: Book Review: Baillie, “Diary of Private Prayer”

Book Review: John Baillie: A Diary of Private Prayer (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1949)

Hi, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me.”

Today is book review day!  We look at “A Diary of Private Prayer” by John Baillie, a Scottish theologian who served in the First World War, held academic posts in the US, Canada, and Edinburgh, and died in 1960.

In one of his books, Baillie describes his crisis of faith saying, “I remember walking home one frosty midnight from a discussion on the existence of God. Into the deep immensities of a starry sky I hurled my despairing question, but no answer came back.” (paraphrased from The Idea of Revelation in Recent Thought).  Perhaps you have questioned God’s existence like Baillie did. I have. But somewhere in Baillie’s darkness, faith was born; a faith that is expressed deeply and articulately in today’s book.

“A Diary of Private Prayer”, published in 1949, has a morning and evening prayer for every day of the month. As an evangelical, I was raised to be suspicious of prayer books and liturgies. After all, aren’t the best prayers spontaneous expressions of the heart, not rote prayers from a book? But Baillie’s prayers are short, expressive, articulate, and full of heart. Here’s an example:

“O God, who has been the Refuge of my fathers through many generations,
    be my Refuge today in every time and circumstance of need.  
    Be my Guide through all that is dark and doubtful.  
    Be my Guard against all that threatens my spirit’s welfare.  
    Be my Strength in time of testing.  
    Gladden my heart with thy peace; through Jesus Christ my Lord.” (p. 9)

Isn’t that beautiful? O God, be my refuge, my guide, my guard, my strength, and make my heart glad. Simple and pure and direct. I wish I could pray like that.

Often the evening prayers confess the sin and failure of the day. Some people might find these prayers introspective and disheartening. But I have lots of sins and failures, and I find these prayer honest and cleansing and life-giving. Here’s an example:

“I remember with bitterness the duties I have shirked:
    I remember with sorrow the hard words I have spoken:
    I remember with shame the unworthy thoughts I have harboured.
        Use these memories, O God, to save me, and then for ever blot them out.”  (p. 35)

So that’s  “A Diary of Private Prayer” by John Baillie. If you only buy one book on prayer this year make it this one. It’s available online from Amazon, Thrift Books, and Abe Books. It might be in your public library. If you’re good about returning books, and you don’t mind being harassed about due dates, you might even borrow it from me.

Let’s pray, using the words of John Baillie:

“Dear father,
Take this day’s life into Thine own keeping.
Control all my thoughts and feelings.
Direct all my energies.
Instruct my mind.
Sustain my will.
Take my hands and make them skillful to serve Thee.
Take my feet and make them swift to do Thy bidding.
Take my eyes and keep them fixed upon Thine everlasting beauty.
Take my mouth and make it eloquent in testimony to Thy love.
Make this day a day of obedience, a day of spiritual joy and peace.
Make this day’s work a little part of the work of the Kingdom of my Lord Christ, in whose name these my prayers are said.
Amen.” (p. 41)

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.

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