One of the greatest mysteries in the Christian faith is the idea that God communicates with us and, amazingly, wants us to communicate with Him. So with great anticipation I began bestselling author Philip Yancey's PRAYER: Does It Make Any Difference?
Yancey's skills as a journalist shine through in this book. He mines the wisdom of ancient and contemporary writers on prayer, conducts interviews and consults statistics. Nine out of ten of us pray regularly, he notes. We pray when our child is ill and we pray for trivial things, such as lost car keys. Why then, as Yancey found when interviewing people, do so many find prayer a burden and not a pleasure? After all, it came so easily to Adam in the garden --- walking with God and conversing with Him.
Yancey writes that prayer doesn't come easily for him and confesses he appreciates prayer mostly in retrospect. "I look for ways to avoid it and keep glancing at the clock as I'm praying." But even these prayers are meaningful. "During the day, however, thoughts and impressions come to mind that stem directly from my prayers…. Like a lingering scent, prayer carries over into the rest of the day."
Yancey finds that most of his struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn't act the way we want God to, and why we don't act the way God wants us to. He writes, "Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge."
If prayer is about a relationship with God, perhaps it's no surprise that it is a rollercoaster of ups and downs. "Prayer includes moments of ecstasy and also dullness, mindless distraction and acute concentration, flashes of joy and bouts of irritation. In other words, prayer has features in common with all relationships that matter," he writes.
In this relationship with God, we don't have to be afraid to show our emotions: fear, anger, grief. God wants us to come to Him with honesty. After all, if He knows everything about us, down to the number of hairs on our heads, He already knows our feelings. Our willingness to approach Him honestly, however, may be tempered with our image of God. Do we see Him as an angry, vengeful God? A helpless wimp? A loving father? Good food for thought.
I appreciated Yancey's rejection of a "one-size-fits-all" sort of approach to prayer. Most of all, he calls us to relax. There's no right way to pray. The only wrong way is not to try. "Prayer is a way of relating to God, not a skill set like double-entry bookkeeping…. It should hardly surprise God that we respond in a way that reflects our true self."
If you like an author who doesn't have all the answers but is willing to explore the questions with you, then this book will be a good fit. Yancey offers no pat answers. "Why does God so rarely step in and bring miraculous intervention to our prayer requests? Why is suffering distributed so randomly and unfairly? No one knows the complete answer to these questions."
As Yancey explores various facets of prayer --- listening, petitioning, postures, prayer in the midst of suffering --- he draws several important conclusions. The main purpose of prayer is not to make life easier nor to gain magical powers, but to know God. Prayer gives us corrective vision and helps us align our petitions with what God wants for us. Prayer is a habit of att