Classic Book of the Month – A Diary of Private Prayer

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, March 3rd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. 

Well, it’s the first Tuesday of the month, and that means it’s time for our Classic Book of the Month. Emily Whitten is our book reviewer and she joins us now for that. Good morning, Emily!

EMILY WHITTEN, GUEST: Good morning, Mary!

REICHARD: What Classic Book do you have for us this time? 

WHITTEN: I’d like to talk about one of the best-selling Scottish theologians in history. His name is John Baillie, and his book, A Diary of Private Prayer, came out in 1936. Since then, it’s sold more than a million copies. Not bad for a book of roughly 60 short prayers.

REICHARD: Short prayers? Well, what else makes this book noteworthy?

WHITTEN: Well, I think I’ll start with Baillie’s career. As a theologian, he held posts at a number of academic institutions in the U.K., Canada and the United States. Baillie served as a minister in the Church of Scotland for several decades. In 1943, he became the Moderator of the General Assembly of that church. In that role and others, he helped shape the church’s response to World War II and post-war reconstruction. 

REICHARD: I guess that helps explain why he sold more than a million copies of his Diary of Private Prayer. He had quite a platform.

WHITTEN: He definitely influenced a lot of people in his lifetime. But he wrote the book early in his career, so I suspect that content and format played a bigger role. A Diary of Private Prayer includes a month’s worth of morning and evening prayers. Through them, Baillie helps readers confess their sin, remember God’s character, and call on the Lord for provision. Compared to, say, Valley of Vision, these prayers aren’t as theologically heady, but they are warm and gracious. Let’s listen to Daniel Westfall of the Youtube channel Pray With Me reading one of his favorites: 

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.

WHITTEN: So as we just heard, Baillie often writes poetically. He uses lists and repetition and incorporates a fair amount of Scripture. The reading level is probably a little higher than most devotionals today. Some people will like that. For others, it may be a stumbling block. 

Susanna Wright is an editor and pastor’s wife in England, and she spent about ten years updating Baillie’s prayers. She got the idea for a new version of the book while ministering in a rough neighborhood. Here’s Wright speaking on Premier Christian Radio:

I remember reading these prayers thinking these prayers would be so incredible for them, and for anyone, but for them as new Christians. I wanted to make them a little bit more accessible. They were in King James Language, thee’s and thou’s. It took me a while to get my head around the language, cause we’re not used to it. It was written in the 1930s. And so I wanted to make it more accessible to them. That was my original motivation, was how great these prayers would be for them.

WHITTEN: If you’re interested in Wright’s more modern version, just look for A Diary of Private Prayer edited by Susanna Wright. If you like the older, original language, it’s pretty easy to find a used or digital copy. 

REICHARD: Very good. Anything else we should know about these books?

WHITTEN: Here’s a fun fact, Mary. Apparently the original publisher, Oxford University Press, printed a waterproof edition during World War II. And that was so that soldiers could have access to these prayers, even on the front lines. 

REICHARD: That says a lot…that soldiers would want to carry these prayers in battle. Kinda puts them in a different light.

WHITTEN: Yeah, not everybody needs a trench edition–though that would be really cool to find on eBay or somewhere–but we’re all involved in spiritual warfare. It wouldn’t hurt to learn to pray as if you’re in the trenches because in many ways, we are. 

REICHARD: Very true. Whether we know it or not. With all the distractions and busyness that pull me away from prayer, I can always use some encouragement.

WHITTEN: One cool thing, you don’t even have to speak English to benefit from Baillie’s work. His prayers have been translated into several languages. I brought along a beautiful Korean version read by Lois Park. Maybe we could close with that?

REICHARD: I think we can do that. 

WHITTEN: Great! One last thing before I sign off. I want to invite folks to read ahead for next month. We’ll be talking about The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. 

REICHARD: Fathers and sons…That’s a thick book, with something for everyone…a good one to read for sure. 

WHITTEN: Exactly. I know I’m a nerd, but I love to get lost in a big, thick book when it’s gray and gloomy outside. And I love to get feedback from our listeners! So if they want to record a favorite passage, or tell me about a favorite character, or if they just have questions they’d like me to answer next month, they can shoot me an email at [email protected]. They can also reach me @emilyawhitten on Twitter.

MR: This is your chance to ask an English Literature major a question! Well, I can’t wait! And thanks for our book recommendation today, Emily. 

WHITTEN: You’re very welcome, Mary. Happy reading!

REICHARD: For March, Emily recommended A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie. She also mentioned the newer version edited by Susanna Wright. You can find other classic book recommendations at Just search for Classic Book of the Month. 

Finally, just for fun, we close out our segment today with a Korean version of one of John Baillie’s prayers read by Lois Park. Commons/Rawle C. Jackman

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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