Remembering My Creator
Volume 1, Number 3
In This Issue:
- Prayer – Your Direct Line to God by Randy Sexton
- Keeping Company With God by Phillip Yancey
- Unraveling the Mysteries by Phillip Yancey
- The Language of Prayer by Phillip Yancey
- Prayer Dilemmas by Phillip Yancey
- The Practice of Prayer by Phillip Yancey
Prayer – Your Direct Line to God
By Randy Sexton
It is easy to lose sight of how available our God is to us. Because we don’t physically see Him every day, we sometimes forget that he is always there! As I read through the Old Testament and read about such great heroes of faith as Moses and David, I am impressed that they “inquired of the Lord” to know His will before they acted.
Notice how David did that before he went to battle against the Philistines (1st Samuel 23: 1-5). Notice again when he did that before allowing them to annoint him king over the house of Judah (2nd Samuel 2:1-4). And this was at a time when it appeared that every action of David was blessed with success and favor of God. But yet David did not presume to have God’s blanket approval to act without consulting him. I am afraid that we sometimes act like my sons do. They presume that because I do not expressly oppose a suggested action that they have presented to me, that I have given my approval.
Have you ever noticed how Moses appeared to have a “direct line” to God. Every step of the way, as recorded in Moses’ journal that we call Exodus, the Lord spoke to Moses and Moses spoke to the Lord. Notice from the time that… “God called to him out of the bush” and said to him “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:4, 10), Moses was able to call freely upon God. Because Moses felt that he was not qualified for this great task, he begged the Lord to send someone else (Exodus 4:13). When the Lord reaffirmed Moses as his choice, Moses went to Him frequently to seek guidance.
One of the best books that I have read on the subject of prayer is Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Phillip Yancey. Yancey suggests, in the four sections of his book, that prayer involves: keeping company with God, unraveling the mysteries associated with how prayer works, understanding the language of prayer, certain prayer dilemmas in which we find ourselves and the practice of prayer. The balance of this month’s Remembering My Creator will be different in that it will be a review of this book with hopes that it will help you in your prayer life as much as it has helped me. The comments that I have included here were made as part of a book discussion group during February through March 2007. Unless other-wise attributed, the comments are my own. I have also included some comments from Roger Shouse, Jordan Shouse, J.J. Woolf and Trent Ropp.
Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?
By Phillip Yancey
This excellent book is broken into the following four parts:
- Keeping Company With God
- Unraveling the Mysteries
- The Language of Prayer
- Prayer Dilemmas
- The Practice of Prayer
Part One – Keeping Company With God
This first part of the book explores the idea that prayer is universal because it speaks to a basic human need to fill a gap of emptiness within all of us. It also presents God as a loving Father who desires a relationship with us. Prayer then is …
Chapter 1 – Our Deepest Longing
The analogy made by Mr. Yancey as he opens this book was very effective. My own prayers often seem like “sending signals from a visible world to an invisible one, in hope that someone receives them.” without really knowing for sure.
I am not always as “connected” with God as I ought to be. I also had to admit that I often approach prayer as a burden rather than as a pleasure. My prayer-life definitely can be improved. I also have had many of the same questions about the nature of prayer.
I have never consciously tracked the amount of time that I spend in prayer but I know that it is not what it should be. So I look forward to improving through the thoughts discovered in this book and the opportunity to share the thoughts of others as they read.
Chapter 2 – View From Above
Life can truly be a struggle at times. I find myself getting so engrossed in the details of daily living that, if I am not careful, I have squeezed out time for God. The principle outlined by the author in this chapter is very relevant to this situation. If I can, through prayer, see things from God’s perspective (what Yancey calls “the corrective vision of prayer,” I will be more apt to “allow God to nourish my inner life.”
It is humbling to “look down at the speck that is myself” but it is reassuring to be reminded that “God already cares about my concerns” and does not need to be reminded of them.
Chapter 3 – Just As We Are
I fully accept the premise of the author that my approach to God must be heartfelt and not a performance, and that I must manifest a “heart attitude” of helplessness and humility. I would be interested to hear some discussion of the application of Mr. Yancey’s statement, “Prayer allows a place for me to bring my doubts and complaints-in sum, my ignorance-and subject them to the blinding light of a reality I cannot comprehend but can haltingly learn to trust.”
I found interesting the concept of the three levels of “the divided self.” It seems to me that the challenge to Christians is to transform our spiritual relationships from the more “shallow level” to a level where we are willing to share our vulnerabilities with one another. Fully understanding that God wants us, in our relationship with Him, to be willing to open “the secret places” of our lives will definitely impact our prayer-life.
Chapter 4- The God Who Is
“Prayer as a transaction rather than a relationship” (p. 46) is another appropriate description used by Yancey to describe that which can hinder my prayers. And the examples from the Nepal, Japan and Taiwan cultures drive this home! I constantly counsel my boys, when they pray, “think about what you are saying and don’t just rattle off some words.” When they are conscious of that, the thought behind their words is evident to both Linda and I. When I lead public prayer, I try to avoid “clichés” that have lost their meaning. I try to say the same thing in a more meaningful way.
I like the theme, mentioned in the last chapter and returned to here, that we should want to pursue a more intimate relationship with God so we will “push past the externals to the real person underneath” (p. 47).
I found the following reference interesting: “Etty Hillesum, the young Jewish girl who kept a journal during her stay at Auswitz, wrote of an ‘uninterrupted dialogue’ with God (p. 51).” Over the years I have used “journaling” to help me channel my thoughts. I have never been consistent in keeping a DAILY journal but have found it helpful on occasions to write and then to return later to what I have written as a tool for reflective meditation. While reading The Purpose-Driven Life in conjunction with one of Roger’s classes a couple of years ago, I purchased the Purpose-Driven Journal along with the book but was not consistent in recording daily thoughts. Charles Swindoll in his book on Moses also recommends the practice. The use of a Prayer Journal intrigues me. I agree with those who promote the value of such a practice.
Thanks to all of you who are sharing your thoughts as you read this book! I am finding this to be a very rewarding experience. Not only do I benefit from the mind of an excellent author but I get to share in conversation that builds relationships, and idea which Yancey will develop in Chapter 5.
Chapter 5 – Coming Together
“The main purpose of prayer is… to know God,” says Yancey as he begins this chapter. I think that viewing prayer in this way drives a whole new set of behaviors. If I think of prayer in this way, I will not spend precious time enumerating a “To Do List” for God but rather I will “converse” with him in the most intimate way seeking to assimilate our thought patterns as much as possible.
Yancey also quotes Clement of Alexandria’s definition of prayer as “keeping company with God (p. 62).” I like that thought as well. As I read Yancey’s analogy to talking to his wife, at the end of the day about the events of the day, I get a glimpse of what our time in prayer with God should be. If we can use this example to teach us how to “meditate on the day with each other, in the process bringing its details into a new light,” it should help us to improve our prayer-life.
Charles Swindoll puts it this way in his book, Moses, A Man of Selfless Dedication, (page 280), “Last year you may have entertained some of the most powerful, profound thoughts in your times with the Lord that you have experienced in a lifetime of walking with Him, buy they’re all gone if you never took time to record them.” He also quotes from Elizabeth Elliot’s book, Through Gates of Splendor, about her missionary husband Jim’s reflections as he talked with God, “I walked out to the hill just now. It is exalting and delicious to stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the heavens hailing your heart and the wind tugging at your coattail. To gaze and glory and give oneself to God, what more could a man ask? Oh, the fullness, the sheer excitement of knowing God on earth, I cannot, if I never raise my voice again for Him. If only I may love Him and please Him, perhaps in mercy He shall give me a host of children, that I may lead them through the vast star fields to explore His delicacies. But if not, if only I may see Him, touch his garments, and smile into His eyes, ah, then, not stars nor children matter, only Himself.”
Part Two – Unraveling The Mysteries
Chapter 6 – Why Pray?
Brother Jordan Shouse, when he read this book as part of a book discussion club that we were both a part of at Hickman Mills in Kansas City said this about this chapter, “ Chapter 6 was very insightful. Why pray? Well because Jesus did! What an awesome answer. It is hard to make such bold and heavy requests and not have immediate answers. Patience, faith and trust are all major keys of this whole process; all of which Jesus obviously possessed. I’m glad he addressed that question. I think that many still struggle overcoming this uncertainty of prayer.”
Chapter 7 – Wrestling Match
Notice again Brother Jordan’s comments on this chapter, “I’m not even sure where to begin. I became very confused with this chapter. Hopefully someone can help me make some sense of it. There are obviously example of ‘fighting with God’ in the Bible, but are we to actually argue, fight and debate our desires over the will of God. Is it even our right to try and bargain? It seems totally wrong to me. Yes, God is our father and as my dad can agree, fathers and sons disagree at times, but God is also our King and Lord while we are nothing but lowly servants. Who are we to argue our desires over the Lord’s will when we hold no power or authority over God. I may just be seeing this from a weird angle but I just can’t see having reverence and a humble attitude in prayer when I’m trying to fight and argue my own wants over the Lords. HELP!!!”
Roger Shouse, in commenting on Jordan’s words, said this, “I think some of the Psalms seem as if the writer is arguing with God and even demanding a response from God. It is a common thought today among many writers that it is ok to cry, complain and argue with God as you are expressing your emotions to God and that is good. I too, am not comfortable with some of that. In human relationships, we often damage friendships and strain marriages when we argue, complain and fuss with each other. Job was challenged by God for the very fact that he questioned God. Grasping that God has the best in mind will keep someone from losing the reverence with God.”
Chapter 8 – Partnership
Yancey says on page 104, ‘all prayers are heard, though not all prayers are granted.’ In his example of prayer types, and the concept of partnership in prayer, he uses Jesus as the example. How great Jesus was and still is to us today! It is very encouraging and refreshing to think of our savior as having defeated all enemies for us. This knowledge should aid us tremendously in living the Christian life today!
In commenting upon chapters 6-8. Brother Roger Shouse says this, “These three chapters were harder to grasp than the earlier ones. Yancey is driving at the motive of prayer and the purpose of prayer which is not always easy to understand. In the opening paragraph of chapter 6, he seems to connect the care of God with the intervention of God. Those are not necessarily connected. Does God care when we suffer? Yes, does He always intervene and stop it? NO. There are reasons for that. Yancey makes a good observation on page 79, “He (Jesus) prayed as if it made a difference, as if the time he devoted to prayer mattered every bit as much as the time de devoted to caring for people.” You see the same thought in Acts 6 when the apostles would not take away from their prayers to feed the neglected widows. Praying was as valuable as feeding the widow. Another good statement: “I learn as much from the prayers Jesus did not pray as from those he did.” Interesting concept. On page 129 Yancey says, “In the end, I learn that God has ordained prayer as a means of getting God’s will done on earth, not ours.” That is the key to understanding prayer. It changes my attitude and motive. God doesn’t serve me, I serve Him.”
Chapter 9 – What Difference Does It Make?
Roger Shouse comments on this chapter, “I liked the Title to chapter 9: “What difference does it make?” I think that reflects the feelings of the Psalmist on many occasions and it will lead to Yancey’s discourse on “unanswered prayers.” But a song we sing answers that title question: In the song, “Does Jesus care?” the chorus reads, “O yes he cares, I know he cares” That is the difference prayer makes.
Yancey’s section on pg 118-119 “Free at Last” by Sergeey, especially the last two paragraphs (the section in grey) is very gripping. It is also very telling when he speaks of growing complacent. This chapter refers to some very political figures. Yancey seems to be impressed by that. I think the prayers of an unknown pheasant are as powerful as that of a world leader. The statement on pg 127: “Sometimes, like the boy who asks his parents to solve a math problem while he plays video games, we ask God for things we should be doing ourselves.” Great statement. We could include here growth, teaching the lost, connecting with each other.
Chapter 10 – Does Prayer Change God?
Trent Ropp comments on this chapter, “I enjoyed this chapter, as this has been a question of mine for some time. I have read CS Lewis so I appreciate Yancey’s quoting him in his book. I have always enjoyed CS Lewis analogies and comparisons. I like Lewis’s thought on prayer on pg 137. ‘Prayer is a designated instrument of God’s power, as real and as “natural” as any other power God may use.’
This chapter made me appreciate that God wants a relationship with me. He wants the intimacy with me. He is aware of everything and knows the outcome of everything, but God wants us to bring our cares and our concerns to him. God created us with a void in
our heart, and as humans we look to fill that void with carnality and materialism. We even go so far as to put our hope in these things. The void was put there by GOD and only he can fill it, that is where he wants our hope. God knows prayer will bring us closer to him, and the closer we get to God the void will disappear. Once that has happened God has our WHOLE heart, we are in line with God and his will, and then
I feel God is willing to change.”
Roger Shouse comments on this chapter, “This is a natural follow up to the last chapter. If prayer doesn’t move God, then ‘What difference does it make?’ As important as wanting to know if God changes because of my prayer, it is equally important to consider, ‘Do I change because of my prayer?’
A good thought is on pg 133: ‘We do not have to work to gain God’s attention, we don’t have to convince God of our sincerity or our needs. We already have the Father’s ear as it were.’ It makes you wonder about the statement we sometimes use, ‘Lord we come to you with humble hearts’ That doesn’t sound very humble if we have to tell God we are humble!
I like how Yancey pulls together examples from the Bible: the number of times God repented or changed his mind. That’s good to see.”
Chapter 11 – Ask, Seek, Knock
Trent Ropp says of this chapter, “This chapter just motivates me further to keep praying more and more not matter how redundant I (emphasis on I) feel I am being (i.e. Canaanite women).
I enjoyed a benefit (one of many) that Yancey says he gets from praying. ’What I learn from spending time with God then better equips me to discern what God wants to
do on earth, as well as my role in that plan.’ I think this statement goes along with my last comment above on chapter 10. This relationship you are building with God and the discerning of God’s will and your role in that on earth is what leads to God making
Roger Shouse says of this chapter, “A powerful thought that could trouble us: ‘Generations may pass before persistent prayer receives it’s answer’ (pg 150). Prayers for our children or grandchildren may be answered after we have passed away. Remember, it’s not our seeing the prayers answered that is important; it is the hearts that have reached out for God.
On page 152 Yancey gives several benefits of persistent prayer. Those are worthy to consider. “
Part Three – The Language of Prayer
Chapter 12 – Yearning For Fluency
Roger Shouse comments on this chapter, “Yancey’s description of recounting answered prayers (157-158) or “Testimonials” has the potential for one to out due the other as he said and can lead to sensationalism. Do we need to hear what God has done for us to believe that he is active? Do we walk by faith or by sight? The stories of others can be encouraging, but connecting to the last chapter, what about those whose prayers may not be answered for another generation or two. What are they to think when they have no story to tell?
Chapter 13 – Prayer Grammar
I am a “book marker.” That is I like to highlight main points as I read. My wife finds it amusing that, sometimes when I read, I have more of a page highlighted than un-highlighted. I am having that problem with this book. There are so many insightful comments and quotes, that I find myself wanting to soak it all up. I have found, since I began reading this book and participating in this forum, that my prayer-life has improved and that I am less self-centered. I spend a great deal of my time (traveling in my car, running, sitting in the steam room at the fitness center, etc.) in prayers of intercession for the special needs of my brethren and of my family.
I have put into practice a few of the ideas presented in this chapter. Rewriting the psalms in my own words and substituting my name and particulars of thanks or anguish or petition for the original words (p. 176) is a very uplifting exercise for me. Using the Psalms as a practicum in prayer has added a new dimension to my prayers. I have also used the ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication) (p. 182) as a skeleton outline to help me organize my thoughts in prayer
I plan to memorize Bible prayers (pp. 178-179) for future recall at appropriate times. I love this concept of stocking up on the words of the Bible. I have also begun meditating on the prayers of the Apostle Paul with the view to stirring passion for the spiritual welfare of my friends and family (p. 178).
Roger Shouse comments on this chapter, “I like the reference on pg 171: ‘The Bible includes around 650 prayers.’ There are more prayers in the Bible than sermons. On pg 177 he says, ‘Of Paul’s letters, all but Titus contain at least one prayer.’ Later, ‘I get the sense, reading Paul’s prayers, that he cares more for others’ well-being than for his own.’ This conclusion is obvious because Paul’s prayers are about other people more than himself. Again, that is worthy for us to consider. Who do we pray the most about? Ourselves or others?
On pg 178 Yancey gives a list of 14 prayers found throughout the Bible. Some we may not think of as prayers, like Abraham’s pleading for Sodom, but He was talking with the Lord. I thought this would be good to read one of these prayers before I prayed.”
Chapter 14 – Tongue-Tied
Yancey’s description of distractions that have hindered his prayer and study time sounded very familiar and I appreciated his suggestions on how to minimize these distractions. But he really got to the heart of the matter with the statement, PEOPLE ON SINKING SHIPS DO NOT COMPLAIN OF DISTRACTIONS DURING THEIR PRAYER.
One thing I appreciate about Yancey’s writing is his reference to and quotation of other excellent works. This chapter is no exception, as he quotes from Plass, Green, Kempis, Donne, St. John Damascene, McCabe, St. Mary’s Press series on written prayers, Bondi and many others. I have added several of these works to my reading list for this year. I also find his insertion of applications in the lives of individuals such as Ron (p.188) and Lynn (p. 204).
Roger Shouse comments on this chapter, “This chapter begins with the problem of prayer “ staying focused. Who doesn’t have that problem? He lists several scattering thoughts that his mind drifts to. It may be helpful to try to capture those thoughts and incorporate them in prayer. Those things are our life ‘good, and bad. They concern us’ they cause us to worry. Let your thoughts that drift, be led back into prayer.
In saying, ‘the main requirement in prayer is honesty, approaching God ‘Just as we are’ (pg 185) should also include faith.
Yancey is so honest and revealing in this chapter. This is one reason he appeals to me. He doesn’t sugar coat things nor appear what he is not. How true the statement, ‘People on sinking ships do not complain of distractions during their prayer.’ (Pg 188)
He also shows the contrast to scheduled regular prayers and a person who is more spontaneous with their prayers. The summation on pg 191 is awesome: KEEP IT HONEST, KEEP IT SIMPLE, KEEP IT UP.”
Chapter 15 – The Sound of Silence
As one who has experienced more than normal mood swings in his life, I appreciated the reference in this chapter and the previous one to the use of the Psalms as a good model for combating spiritual depression (p. 197) and the suggestion of survival strategies (pp. 202-207) in dealing with the silence of God. Using seasons of spiritual dryness as a time of preparing for future growth is an encouraging thought, as is the notion that PRAYER INVITES US TO REST IN THE FACT THAT GOD IS IN CONTROL, AND THE WORLD’S PROBLEMS ARE ULTIMATELY GOD’S, NOT OURS.
There is much more that I could say about these three chapters. They are chocked full of rich thoughts and encouraging illustrations and admonitions. Thank God for His love and for allowing us to approach Him with our petitions!
JJ Woolf comments on this chapter, “I really have enjoyed this online book study. It has really helped me keep accountable and push me to read more, and I have really enjoyed this book
Great point, prayer IS our strongest weapon against invisible forces. God can and will give us the strength to overcome out adversary! That is part of the promise of the New Covenant.
How do those who believe in predestination tackle the question of why bad things happen? I know I personally take for granted our freedom to worship at times (similar to those in Eastern Europe who finally gained their freedom), and I pray God renews me with a thankfulness and a desire to give Him my best every time.
We live in such a fast paced society, we need to be careful not to leave out time for God (alone time with Him). I know when I do, it does bring things back into perspective.
Question for the group – (with thinking about the thought on p. 130 ‘what would happen if we followed literally Jesus’ command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?’) – what things can we do through our jobs and everyday life to truly do this?
As I read I learned more about the goodness of God, the greatness of God, and my place on earth, than I think I did about prayer per se. We are His vessels, we are here for Him, not for ourselves. I get this backwards at times. My prayer is that I can do more for the Lord, not to earn anything, but because He is The Potter and I am a cracked pot.
‘We pray in order to see the world with God’s eyes.’ If I do this, I won’t be as hard on my wife, I will think the best of others, I will reach out to help those in need. ‘What else can we do??’ (p.125) I will resolve this week to try to look for opportunities God puts in my path, and let His light shine, through my cracked pot.”
Roger Shouse comments, “Silence is hard to deal with. We at first blame ourselves. When the Syro-Phoencian woman came to Jesus she asked him to have mercy on her daughter. The Gospels say that Jesus did not answer her. Even “no” could be received better than nothing! This begins a great section of study by Yancey.
Pg 210 ‘Prayer invites us to rest in the fact that God is in control, and that the world’s problems are ultimately God’s, not ours.’ Couldn’t we even say that about our problems as well?
There will be much more to say about this in coming chapters.
Part Four – Prayer Dilemmas
Chapter 16 – Unanswered Prayer: Whose Fault?
I believe what scripture tells me about God being concerned about me even to the point of numbering the hairs on my head. So I struggle to understand this fact and to harmonize it with the feeling that it trivializes prayer to ask for things that are important to me but that are not very important in the BIG PICTURE. I see the real problem for one who has the power to grant requests, when He receives requests from His children that conflict with one another. Yancey has done a great job of defining the dilemma but after all the human words have been written, I am not certain we still understand the mystery!
Chapter 17 – Unanswered Prayer: Living with the Mystery
Again, Yancey does a great job of describing the human struggle with the “sweeping promises” made in scripture about prayer in light of unanswered prayer. But the answer is not satisfying to the human yearning for understanding.
My father used to say about himself, “I am a pretty simple fella.” I feel the same way about myself and perhaps that helps explain the myriad of things in life that I don’t understand. There will be a whole host of things that I will want to ask about “when in the better land before the bar we stand…” One of these is the dilemma presented in this chapter. When I contemplate this and many other “conundrums” I am consoled by these words, “Farther along we’ll know all about it, Farther along we’ll understand why; Cheer up, my brother live in the sunshine, We’ll understand it all by and by.” Yancey has done a great job of stating the dilemma in these two chapters, but in the end “the only final solution” is that faith gets us through, faith causes us to “wait and trust.”
Chapter 18 – Prayer and Physical Healing
Yancey’s reference in this chapter to the work of Dr. Harold G. Koenig so peaked my interest that I have begun reading The Healing Power of Faith along side his book. I find the implications so overwhelming that they cannot be ignored. The best thing that we can do to treat any type of malady in our lives is to get our faith life and our prayer life in order! Koenig closes his book with the following statement, “I firmly believe that we are on the brink of a great new era in medicine: a time when health professionals will begin to help people regain control over their lives by providing them with spiritual tools to maintain health and wellness, and thus enable them to take maximum advantage of the healing power that faith can give us all.”
Many references have been made in this book to depression. In this chapter, Vince is quoted on page 252 as saying that the events of his life could get him stuck in a “mud-pit of depression” if he would let them. My experience with depression has taught me that happiness is a choice. WE determine whether we will be happy or depressed. It is not the EVENTS of our life that determine but how we react to those events. There are definitely some physical factors (in the form of imbalances to some of the brain’s chemicals) that can contribute and these must be corrected. But in conjunction, one must learn not to the malady as a crutch and to understand the part that a strong, healthy faith can play in recovery.
I identified strongly with the statement on page 254, “People who take quiet times during the day and force themselves to relax learn to control stress in a way that fosters health.” I have used “songs, hymns and spiritual songs” for this purpose for years. If I am having a stressed filled day at work, I will play one of these CDs followed by time spent in prayer and Bible reading over lunch. That quiet time is usually successful in settling the nerves and putting me in a mind-set to tackle the rest of the day.
Chapter 19 – What to Pray For
In this chapter Yancey provides a “template of how to pray.” I found his suggestions to be very helpful. Heart Desire, Lament, Confession, Peace, God’s Presence, Compassion, Gratitude, Faith, and Grace offer for me a useful way of forming the content of prayer.
I liked Bud’s suggestion of prayer as “the process of becoming available for what God wants to do on earth through us” (p. 276). I find myself hard pressed to approach God as aggressively as indicated by Yancey’s words, “I have learned to tell God exactly what I want regardless of how impossible it may sound” (p. 267) and “Not only does God tolerate complaint in our prayers, the Scriptures fill in the words for us” (p. 269). Yes, I have read Psalm 13, 22, 42 and 143. And I struggle with how to complement this attitude with the idea expressed by Stephen Schmidt that he “had to be healed of the need to be healed” (p. 278)
What Yancey wrote under the heading of “Preparations” touched my heart. I have always appreciated the faith and confidence expressed in Paul’s statements in 2 Cor. 4:16-18, Phil. 1:20-26 and 2 Tim. 4:6-8. In the brief time that my father was in hospice care and the days leading up to it, when he knew his time was short, those sentiments expressed in my Dad’s own words came home to me. My father told many of the doctors and nurses, in his last hours, “I am going home to get my dessert and I want you to come there too!”
I communed with my dad’s spirit in those final hours as we listened together to the words of songs, I Am a Poor Wayfaring Pilgrim, We Shall Behold Him, Enter In, Son of Man, There Stood a Lamb and Sheltered in the Arms of God. Dad let go of a body riddled with cancer in anticipation of a new beginning in the presence of God.
Part Five – The Practice of Prayer
Chapter 20 – Prayer and Me
The idea of “wasting time with God,” presented by Yancey from the writings of Klaus Issler, is an oxymoron and as such is similar to the Apostle Paul’s use of the term “foolishness of preaching.” The terms are really mutually exclusive and do not belong on the same continent, much less in the same phrase! God forbid that I become so wrapped up in my own little world that I think that being with God is a waste of time or that time spent in preaching is a foolish pursuit! I am really sending that message when I fail to be active in both prayer and preaching!
I appreciate Yancey’s suggestion, from Dr. Alex Carrel (page 288), that “Prayer helps us resolve emotional conflicts, purge guilt, and overcome negativism. And by verbalizing what goes on inside, the pray-er practices a kind of self-induced therapy.” I can personally testify to receiving this benefit to intensified prayer, in just the time that I have been reading this book. If I have ill feelings toward another person, one of the surest ways to resolve those feelings, is to make that person the object of my heart-felt prayers. I would also concur heartily with his suggestion that “Whom we pray to matters more than how or what we pray.”
The statement made by Ben that “90% of prayer is showing up” (page 289) is so true. And the “whirling spirit” referred to by one writer as Spiritus vertiginis can also be a hindrance to prayer. If we never “show up,” or if when we do, we are so overwhelmed by anxiety to be doing something else, we will not receive the benefit that should accrue to being in God’s presence! I like the way Yancey identifies the peace that can come from time spent in prayer. On page 295 he says, “Prayer offers a time to set aside that list of concerns – or rather to present them to God – to relax, to let the mind roam freely, to drink deeply, to insert a pause in the day, to trust.”
Yancey’s statement on page 296 that begins, “I tend to bring a tangled mess of problems to God…” leads me to commend this book to those who are hurting and don’t quite know how to express that hurt to
God. Yancey’s references throughout this book to prayers of complaint and prayers of lament have helped me to better understand the value of prayer in finding resolution to the struggles and battles we sometimes face in life on this planet.
Yancey refers extensively to Anthony Bloom’s book, Beginning to Pray, commending his discipline and then concludes on page 300, “When I sense that my activity means something and has worth, and so move faster and faster trying to accomplish more and more, at that moment I give in to pride and a feeling that all depends on me. What a foolish thought. My heart could stop beating within the hour, my brain could fail from an aneurysm. This present moment itself is a gift from God – I would live more realistically, and at the same time accomplish far more, if I allowed that fundamental truth to pervade my day.”
Chapter 21 – Prayer and Others
Again Yancey nails a dilemma that has puzzled me as well; “How does God deal with a host of prayers that conflict with one another?” He deals with the question. His view of sickness, pain, suffering and death as “something … interfering with God’s ideal for this planet …” is helpful to me. Thinking about intercessory prayer as, “praying for God to open my eyes so that I can see that person as God does, and then enter into the stream of love that God already directs toward that person” (page 303) sheds new light upon my attempts to help those who are hurting! It also opens up for me objects of prayer whom I did not think readily of before. He describes workplace prayer and how praying for those with whom you work transforms how you relate to them (page 304). This gives me ideas that might work in my situation. I have six direct reports that I view differently when they and their families become the objects of my prayers.
One thing that has characterized my prayers in the past is the lack of specificity. As a result of focusing, these last several weeks on prayer, I NOW pray for the specific needs and circumstances of those that I lift up to God. I also pray for sensitivity to be open to other needs.
Chapter 22 – Prayer and God
Yancey has again stimulated my thinking in an area that I wish to do more reading and study. His mention of Teresa of Avila’s “interior castle model” of prayer and the idea of starting with “what really energizes you and touches your heart…” are concepts that I will dig more deeply into.
I like his statement on page 315, “I am learning the difference between “saying prayers,” which is an activity and “praying” which is a soul attitude, a “lifting up of the mind to God.” The section on Inappropriate Prayers contain much food for thought that can be of benefit to us when we are hurting and do not know where else to turn. What a great way to end the book! The prayer titled, “O Gracious and Holy Father,” will become a part of my speakers’ sourcebook material.
As with most of the chapters in this book, I could say much more but will close here. I will repeat again how much I have appreciated the book, of sharing thoughts with all of you and for Roger facilitating such an effort. I commend the exercise to all who have not yet been engaged. I believe my prayers have deepened in their intensity, in their frequency and in the effects that they have on me and on my outlook of life. God bless you all!