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NO HOLDS BARRED: Wrestling with God in Prayer
Mark D. Roberts
WaterBrook Press
Christian Living
ISBN: 157856705X

If your prayers feel routine, tired or cliché, get ready for a prayer shift. In NO HOLDS BARRED: Wrestling with God in Prayer, Mark Roberts (DARE TO BE TRUE, JESUS REVEALED) mines the Psalms for ways to move us from perfunctory prayer to an all-out, nothing-held-back conversation with God. "He wants us to come at him with everything we've got," says Roberts.

In each chapter, Roberts explores a different dimension of our communication with God, illustrated from the book of Psalms (asking, remembering, worshiping, thanking, etc.). Exercises are included to apply what is learned from each chapter.

No-holds-barred prayer was initially counter-intuitive for Roberts, who was raised with a traditional Presbyterian example of prayer: Deeply committed prayers? Yes. Gut-wrenching cries for divine help? No. When he tried to discover why he and so many Christians prefer "restrained" prayer, he discovered:

Most of us are taught to talk to God with retinence.

We don't hear other believers pray with abandon.

We're afraid we'll be penalized by God for telling him what we really think.

We have an incomplete or inaccurate image of God (the angry tyrant, the judge, a faithful sidekick).

Our sin interferes with our ability to pray.

He admits that some of his advice on prayer might seem contradictory, but then, so are the Psalms. For example, in one chapter Roberts emphasizes our need for solitude and stillness (Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God.") In the next chapter, Roberts urges us to energetic expression: singing, shouting, raising our hands. "If it's in the Bible…I'll do it!" He advocates both approaching God's throne boldly, and also offering worship with reverence and awe. "God's diverse nature calls forth diverse responses. Our God deserves both intimacy and reverence, both boldness and humility…."

Perhaps one of the most insightful chapters deals with the difficult Psalms of vengeance and hatred. What Christian hasn't stumbled, then quickly skimmed over, Psalms like 58:6-8:

O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!
Let them vanish like water that runs away;
like grass let them be trodden down and wither.
Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime;
Like the untimely birth than never sees the sun.

Not exactly first-grade Sunday School material.

However, Roberts doesn't sidestep or offer platitudes about this and other Psalms. "…If we believe that the whole Bible is God's holy, inspired Word, then we can't just overlook the parts we don't like. In fact, we probably have the most to learn precisely from those passages we find most distressing," he writes (perhaps paraphrasing C.S. Lewis).

It's Psalms like these that remind us we need to be more honest with God. "When we pray who we actually are, vengefulness and all, we stop pretending before God and experience greater transparency before him," writes Roberts.

We also learn to pray in solidarity with those who have experienced injustice, and to pray against God's enemies. We let go of the vengeful desires we have bottled up inside and we open our hearts more fully to God's transforming power, he writes. We all feel hatred, we all desire revenge at some point in our lives. God needs to hear our honest cries from the heart. "Pious pretending doesn't fool God, and it keeps us from experiencing his transforming presence," he writes. When we allow God to see into the ugliest corners of our hearts, we are often able to let go of deep, ugly wounds from the past. "Let God have your heart, all of it, so that he might heal and transform it."

Some Christians may wish Roberts, senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church and an adjunct professor at Fuller Seminary, would more specifically comment on some of the benefits of liturgical prayer (although he is clearly a strong advocate of praying in community and, of course, praying the Psalms). Regardless, longtime Christians whose prayer life has gone flat will find Roberts's book an invigorating breath of fresh air, and new Christians will discover solid ideas for implementing the Psalms into their life of prayer.

   --- Reviewed by Cindy Crosby. Contact Cindy at

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