Saturday, March 7, 2009

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

“Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, indecorous. It is more like haggling in an outdoor bazaar than the polite monolougues of the church.”
Walter Wink

I recently read the quote about some serious food for thought! Prayer is such a mysterious thing to me. I know that it is beautiful in that it is a way for God to intertwine intimately with our lives, but how it does that I do not at all understand. I was just invited to join a book club by a friend from church. Our first book since I joined was a Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey. I have read Yancey’s books before and enjoyed them, though this one hadn’t made it to my to-read list yet. It is pretty lengthy and written mostly in the style of a researched magazine article, as Yancey was a journalist before he was an author. He writes from the very humble position of having written other books on suffering and understanding where God is in the painful parts of life. Since writing those books he has heard from multitudes of people thanking him for his thoughts and lamenting the tragedies of life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though I am not sure it was the book’s extraordinariness, or more it being just the right book at the right time for me. Nevertheless, it caused me to think and process through ideas I have struggled with for years. Yancey addresses the really tough questions like why God answers some prayer and not others, if prayer really affects the outcomes of things, and why should we even bother praying. He doesn’t give pat answers, but draws great attention to the different perspectives and the mystery of it all. He addresses Biblical prayer and how it is by no means formulaic, but it is always passionate and even sometimes irreverent. It is above all a conversation between a loving parent and a child bumbling through life.

Overall, I feel like reading the book acted as an informal month-long prayer, or rather communication session, for God and me. While I now see more of the mystery of prayer, I see that need not discourage me from it, because with that mystery also comes freedom. So, that being said, here are a couple of favorite quotes...

“I understand prayer as partnership, a subtle interplay of human and divine that accomplishes God’s work on earth” P. 113.

“I used to spend a lot of energy asking God questions. Why must poverty persist in a rich country like the U.S.A? Why does one continent, Africa, absorb like a sponge so many of the world’s disasters? When will peace on earth ever arrive? Ultimately, I came to see these questions as God’s interrogations of us. Jesus made clear God’s will for the planet. What part am I playing to fulfill that will?” P. 274.

“When I betray the love and grace God has shown me, I fall back on the promise that Jesus prays for me -- as he did for Peter -- not that I would never face testing, nor ever fail, but that in the end I will allow God to use the testing and failure to mold me into someone more useful to the Kingdom, someone more like Jesus” P. 88.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on prayer, too...


  1. Great post, Erin... timely for us, too.

    The quotes that you've included definitely make me want to read the book as well.

    Prayer, in the form that I was shown growing up, is one of my biggest pieces of spiritual baggage. We were recently talking about this at Emerging Desert...

    For me personally, I've grown very discouraged with the pervasive phrase "answer to prayer." This rings hollow to me lately because I just don't perceive God operating in that way. It's this notion of "cause & effect"... that if we just pray earnestly or in great enough number then WE can truly impact God's actions (particularly in the way that is often fostered within the American church)... that has a tinge of superstition to me rather than sincere wrestling, communication, and abandonment to God.

    Beh... now I'm just rambling. Obviously I can't articulate my thoughts on this very well. All that to say, thanks for posting on this. Tara and I recently picked up Claiborne & Wilson-Hartgrove's book, Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers. Hoping it also sheds some new light on the issue...

  2. Prayer for me is a way of cleansing my soul, and bring my spirit closer to god. I think prayer is very important, but I don't believe god is the one who answers our prayers.