Author Mark S. Mirza is the founder of Common Thread Ministries, which offers coaching and help to individuals and churches in prayer. He leads the men's prayer ministry for Dr. Charles Stanley at First Baptist Church in Atlanta, but still Mirza admits that prayer doesn't come easily to him, but is something that needs constant work and practice. He is a speaker and teacher in the area of prayer, and now brings his insight to readers in this novel that teaches about prayer and spiritual warfare in a story setting.
In The Pray-ers, readers are introduced to three main characters living in different eras of history. Although living in different centuries, their stories form a set of parallels, as each is a prayer warrior facing difficult circumstances of their own. Although the trials experienced by each character are different, they are related in that they are learning similar lessons about prayer and faith, and the battles "behind the scenes" in the spiritual realm are very much the same.
Each chapter is titled with the time frame, so it's pretty easy to keep track of who's who. A cast of demons and angels have their parts to play as well. Of course the demons are trying to distract the pray-ers from developing an effective prayer life, and are trying to destroy them with discouragement, with opposition, and with gossip and other attacks on their character. A guardian angel named Hael is allowed to make contact with the pray-ers from time to time, in order to strengthen their faith and bring them encouragement.
There are a couple of things that the author does differently from most works of fiction, and he explains the reasoning in the preface. He doesn't capitalize the names of the demons, and this takes a bit of getting used to when reading. The other thing that is unusual for a work of fiction is the inclusion of footnotes. These are found throughout the book, and with few exceptions they are the references for Scriptures quoted or alluded to in the narration or dialogue. Personally, I found this to be overdone and distracting, but I think it's a matter of preference. A list of characters and the pronunciation of the unusual names is found at the back of the book.
A brief overview of the intertwined storylines:
- In the first century, Epaphras (mentioned in Paul's letters as the leader of the church at Colossae) acts as mentor to his nephew Thales and teaches him about prayer, faith, and obedience. Thales begins a friendship with the daughter of a Jewish merchant who happens to be related to Caiaphas (the high priest involved in Jesus' crucifixion). This merchant is strongly opposed to those who follow The Way.
- In the nineteenth century, Brother Alexander Rich is an itinerant preacher in Georgia. He is doing his best to faithfully minister to the folks in several small towns, but the demons think they can destroy him using misunderstandings, rumors, gossip, and suspicion.
- In the current era, Dr. Dale is a track coach and the leader of a thriving men's prayer ministry. In his portion of the story, there is a Christian student being unfairly treated by a psychology professor who is antagonistic towards Christianity. Dale also acts as mentor to a man leading a new group in the prayer ministry, and Dale's wife Margie leads a prayer group for young female students at the university. Dale and Margie have their own difficult circumstances to face too.
It is evident that Mr. Mirza is a very knowledgeable teacher and is passionate about encouraging Christians to get serious about their prayers. I haven't heard him speak, but my impression is that he is a gifted communicator and speaker. The idea of presenting Biblical teaching and principles of prayer within a novel setting is a great one; and I found many aspects of the fictional stories and the teaching on prayer to be timely and insightful. It was instructive to see how characters prayed the Scriptures, and a good reminder that the spiritual realm is very real, even though we seldom see with our eyes the evil schemes the enemy uses against us or the spiritual warfare going on around us.
I do wish that an editor had taken a heavier hand in polishing the final manuscript. The author explained his preference to not capitalize the names of demons, and that made sense to me; and although I didn't personally care for the practice of including all the footnotes, I understand and appreciate the reasoning for that as well. However, there were a great many places where misplaced quotation marks and missing commas hampered readability; and there were other minor problems throughout that I would expect a thorough editor to correct. The three main characters seemed to be basically the same character in different settings - which I think is somewhat intentional, but also gave me the impression that characters hadn't been well-developed, because with only two exceptions they all spoke the same way. I found the dialogue was often choppy and unrealistic to my way of thinking, and that characters in the earlier historic settings used modern-day colloquialisms that wouldn't have been in use during their time. (Granted, the first century characters wouldn't have been speaking English at all, would they? All the same, simple terms like "okay" or referring to children as "kids" are a bit out of place in the conversations of first or nineteenth century folk.) Smoothing out the awkward sections of narration and correcting the grammar and punctuation problems would make the book more appealing to readers. I hate to say it, but if I had not been committed to reading the entire novel for this review, I would have been frustrated by the mechanics during the first several chapters and would have given up. As it is, I'm glad I carried on because not only did the stories get better as I went, but I was able to bottle my inner editor and grammar-nerd and focus on the principles of prayer being demonstrated.
What I liked best:
- The principles being taught through the examples of the characters are firmly grounded in Scripture, and (although they were too much for me) the footnotes allow the reader to check for themselves.
- It's a unique way of teaching about praying!
What I need to mention:
- I've already mentioned my disappointment with incorrect punctuation, awkwardly constructed passages of narration, and undeveloped dialogue. I would love to see an updated edition of the book with corrections, and my hope is that the second book in the series will be better edited.
- My preference would be to see far fewer footnotes, but perhaps a discussion guide in the back of the book that would include these references.
- The author does state in the Preface that the primary purpose of the book is to teach rather than to entertain, and I think this is important to keep in mind.
My bottom line: I started out expecting a good historical novel that featured great examples of powerful and effective prayer. Having read the book, I think a better description would be an abundance of strong teaching and examples of effective prayer presented in a story setting rather than in a non-fiction book of instruction. It may seem a subtle distinction, but it made a difference in forming my opinion of this book. If you read it, be prepared to look past the need for another editing session and make up your mind to learn how to be a better pray-er as you see the example of the characters. I think it's appropriate for readers from young adult up who would enjoy receiving in-depth teaching on how to pray effectively from a story.
Would you like to spend some time with The Pray-ers? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website: http://www.ThePray-ers.com/
Pricing: The paperback is available for $23.95 and the ePub download for $4.99. Visit the website's Buy Now page for all the links and further information.
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