Prayer (Philip Yancey)

I host a women’s study group in my home on Tuesday evenings. We read a Christian book collectively and meet once a week to discuss it over dinner together. We read one book over the course of several weeks, taking a break before we start another one. We originally started with two books on God’s role for us as wives. We've studied Mary and Martha and other women of the Bible. We've read about discipleship. And now we are about to read a book on prayer.

I love to read Christian books that are thought provoking and challenging. While going through a difficult experience this summer, someone told me how much they had enjoyed Philip Yancey’s book “Prayer: Does it make any difference?” I was praying more intensely than usual at this time; not only for my own needs but for others in need of God’s attention and mercy. And I devoured this book. I enjoyed it so much that I suggested it to our group. Then I read some negative reviews on Amazon. There were valid criticisms that I hadn’t given much thought to as I’d read the text. This left me wondering two things. Did I do the right thing to recommend this book? (Not the first time.) And why is it that someone else has to point out to me (quite often, it's my son) where a theme or concept is unscriptural? (i.e., Christ did not die on the cross so we could have a purpose driven life. It’s not about us, but the glory of God!)

I seem to read for the good and overlook things I don’t agree with. But when something does not line up with the gospel, I want to develop the discernment to instantly see it on my own and not think of it as a difference of opinion (mine and the author’s). I want to recognize when an author’s point of view does not line up squarely with God’s Word. It isn’t just a matter of opinion.

Since reading “Prayer” the first time, I have finished C.J. Mahaney’s “Living The Cross Centered Life” and am in the middle of reading John MacArthur’s, “Saved Without A Doubt.” Both are excellent. These two authors do not stray from scripture as much as Yancey does. So I’m wondering how differently I may view Yancey’s book the second time through. But we’ve decided that one of our purposes in reading it will be to examine and learn to recognize where an author strays from the Word of God.

Yancey does not approach this book as an expert on prayer. He asks more questions than he provides answers. The book is a conversation more than a manual and there are many reflections on prayer by others (authors, church members, spiritual mentors and ordinary people) scattered throughout. I got a lot of inspiration from those. I guess another thing I got from the first reading of this book was the reassurance that I am not the only Christian who isn't where she would like to be in her prayer life.

It deeply bothers me that I pray with such intensity in crisis or despair, then seem to relax a bit when the anxiety lifts. I don't want it to be this way. Unless a real emergency exists, I tend not to think the mundane details of my life are significant to God and, therefore, I don't ask Him for help as often as He probably wants me to. When I pray, I find myself just wanting to thank God and express my appreciation. That part comes so naturally. I struggle with the "petitions" and "requests" area of prayer. I feel so insignificant and unworthy. It's hard for me to understand why God would even listen to me, when I am so undisciplined and easily distracted. All my life, I have felt like a disappointment to God in so many areas. And yet He has been so good and so faithful to me in ways I never would have expected. He has proven how much the details of my life matter to Him. So it doesn't make sense that I would still fight this battle. But I do.

Truthfully, I have many of the same questions about prayer as were cited in Yancey's book, and one dilemma is that I find myself always trying to figure out "the right way" to pray instead of remembering that my relationship and communication with God is found in prayer. I'm unnatural when I try to pray out loud and in front of others. I long for that to be different. And so I ask anyone who may be reading this (especially my small group) if you would say a prayer for me that I would allow God to continue to stretch me beyond my comfort zone and help me to grow in all of these areas I have written about.