BACK in 2002, Charlie Cleverly returned from leading an inner-city church in Paris to become Rector of St Aldate’s, Oxford. That same year, he had a book published, on models of prayer in the Bible. This is the revised and updated version of that book.
Each chapter unpacks an approach to prayer drawn from a biblical character or theme, such as St John on Patmos (first-love Christianity), Isaiah (praying for the nations), and Hannah (prayer amid apparent hopelessness). Cleverly writes movingly of prayer when God seems silent, and explores prayer of lament, drawing on painful experiences in his own life.
More controversial are the author’s exhortations to pray for the modern-day State of Israel. And in a few places his claims sound odd or spurious. He claims that Los Angeles, the “City of Angels”, has perverted a God-given calling to be a “messenger” from God, by being home to an anti-Christian film industry. In fact, the name Los Angeles was abridged from a longer title of Mary, Queen of the Angels. And he might equally have pointed out that LA is the city where the modern Pentecostal and Jesus People movements were born, and is home to many Christian media professionals and some highly creative churches.
Cleverly has a wide range of reference: from St Teresa of Ávila and St John of the Cross to Merton and Nouwen, via Spurgeon and Wesley. But the author’s own churchmanship is always evident, not least in his stories of spiritual breakthrough in times of “prayer ministry” in churches around the globe. Similarly, his writing style is soaked in popular Charismatic piety. There is plenty of standing in the gap, concern for the lost, having an anointed ministry, pleading the cross, catching the travail of the Spirit, having a burden for groups of people, and seeking God’s face — with no glossary for those who might find such terms baffling.
The Revd Mike Starkey is Head of Church Growth for Manchester diocese and author of the Faith Pictures course.
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