I’ve done a lot of reading this year. It seems like a good thing to do, seeing as I weekly get to stand up in front of a group of people who expect me to at least sound like I know what I’m talking about. Mostly I read books about Christianity, but I have enjoyed a few older classics by spiritually informed writers (for example, George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and Robert Lewis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). Still, of all of the books I have read (by last count, I’ve finished 34 this year), I have only read one book that I have wanted to share with every Christian that I know, and that is a book called “Dirty Glory” by Pete Greig (pronounced “Greg”). That’s why I’m calling it my “Book of the Year.” For me and for several people that I know, God has used it to breathe a breath of fresh air into our prayer lives. I think God wants to use it to do the same thing for you!
How can a mere book be used in this way? Well that’s God’s grace. Even so, Pete Greig is a gifted communicator on prayer. (Twice this year, groups at our church benefited greatly from using a six week video series called “The Prayer Course” that he put together). He speaks not only out of his personal experience, but out of the shared experience of the 24-7 Prayer movement, of which Pete styles himself as the “bewildered founder.” That self-deprecating spirit helps him to come across as just a regular guy that God has used to do amazing things. He wants us to understand that this is through no inherent virtue of his own, but completely due to the grace and power of God working in him and his circumstances.
First and foremost, Dirty Glory is a book about prayer. If that sounds boring, then this book is for you! That’s because the story of 24-7 Prayer is a story of discovering that “prayer didn’t have to be boring and benign, the gentle pursuit of sweet ladies in their autumn years. Prayer could be militant, catalytic…” (p. 17). Part of what makes Dirty Glory such a great book is that it’s not just thoughts about how great prayer is and how to do it. Rather, it’s story upon story of powerful answers to prayer, artfully interwoven with personal stories, reflections from scripture, and insights from the great saints of the historical church. It’s a testimony to the reality that God has been using the prayers of ordinary people to bring about not only profound personal transformation, but also faith-inspiring mission and work for justice.
All of this is done in a super-accessible way that, above all, feel honest. The difficulties of prayer are not side-stepped, but addressed head-on. We’re not all like the saints who are constantly hungering for more of God. As Pete Greig says, “There are times in all of our ordinary lives when Jesus honestly isn’t the most exciting, enthralling reality firing our hearts with desire. He can easily be filed away neatly in the ‘boring but important‘ category of life, alongside Leviticus, algebra, and flossing” (p. 35). Pete understands this reality very well, admitting that there was a period of his life where, as a pastor, he did a lot more talking about God than talking to God.
Not only does Pete deal honestly with the struggles to perform the act of prayer, but he speaks movingly about his struggles with unanswered prayer. On the one hand, he has seen profound, miraculous answers to prayer through the 24-7 Prayer movement. On the other hand, at the same time the movement was growing exponentially, his family discovered that his wife had an orange-sized brain tumor. Even when this was removed, she faced debilitating epilepsy that seemed stubbornly unphased by Pete’s most fervant prayers. This isn’t ivory tower prayer. This is prayer in the dirt and grime of the real world of imperfect circumstances and imperfect people.
In fact, that’s the primary theme of the book. The title Dirty Glory, in addition to sounding awesome, is a reference to the incarnation– God taking on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. We don’t have a God who stands far off– a safe distance from the reality of our lives– but who comes down in the person of Jesus, who gets his hands dirty in our ugliest practicalities and deepest needs (Maybe it’s not so hard to imagine why Mary Magdalene mistook the risen Jesus for the gardener!). It’s not surprising, then, that Dirty Glory is a testimony to God’s grace to work through limited, fallible human beings like you and me.
Dirty Glory is therefore a perfect book for Advent, as we anticipate Jesus’ glorious coming into the world and into our hearts. It’s the perfect book to pick up as we near Christmas, the celebration of the Word made flesh. Yes, it’s a book that will educate you, but more than that, it’s a book that will raise your faith and expand your horizons of what is possible for God. In our skeptical culture, we need to hear stories like these to remind ourselves that God not only alive and well, but also active in the real-world circumstances of ordinary people.
So why don’t you order yourself a copy (either from one of the big guys or from my favorite small book store, Hearts & Minds). If you’re not the book-reading type, maybe you should thinking about changing that! At the very least, consider picking up a copy of the audiobook. It might just transform your prayer life!