Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?by Philip Yancey
In his most powerful book
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Philip Yancey probes the very heartbeat--the most fundamental, challenging, perplexing, and deeply rewarding aspect--of our relationship with God: prayer. What is prayer? Does it change God’s mind or ours--or both? This book is an invitation to communicate with God the Father who invites us into an eternal partnership through prayer.
In his most powerful book since What’s So Amazing About Grace? and The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey probes the most fundamental, challenging, perplexing, and deeply rewarding aspect of our relationship with God: prayer. What is prayer? How does it work? And more importantly, does it work? In theory, prayer is the essential human act, a priceless point of contact between us and the God of the universe. In practice, prayer is often frustrating, confusing, and fraught with mystery. Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? is an exploration of the mysterious intersection where God and humans meet and relate. Writing as a fellow pilgrim, Yancey explores such questions as:
Is God listening?
Why should God care about me?
If God knows everything, what’s the point of prayer?
Why do answers to prayer seem so inconsistent and capricious?
Why does God seem sometimes close and sometimes far away?
How can I make prayer more satisfying?
"I have found that the most important purpose of prayer may be to let ourselves be loved by God," says Yancey. Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? encourages us to pray to God the Father who sees what lies ahead of us, knows what lies within us, and who invites us into an eternal partnership--through prayer. Also available: unabridged audio CD.
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Does It Make Any Difference?
By Philip Yancey
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2006 Philip D. Yancey
All rights reserved.
OUR DEEPEST LONGING
When a doctoral student at Princeton asked, "What is there left in the world for original dissertation research?" Albert Einstein replied, "Find out about prayer. Somebody must find out about prayer."
I chose the wrong time to visit St. Petersburg, Russia. I went in November of 2002 just as the city was reconstructing itself to prepare for its three-hundredth birthday the following year. Scaffolding covered every building of note and rubble littered the quaint cobblestone streets, which turned my morning jogging routine into an adventure. I ran in darkness (the sun rose mid-morning at that latitude) with my head down, dodging the workmen's piles of brick and sand while glancing ahead for the dim gloss that betrayed the presence of ice.
I must have lost concentration one morning, for suddenly I found myself facedown on the street, dazed and shivering. I sat up. I could remember jerking my head sideways as I fell, to avoid a piece of steel rebar protruding from the curb at a wicked angle. I removed my gloves, reached for my right eye, and felt blood. The entire right side of my face was wet with blood. I got up, dusted dirt and flecks of snow from my running suit, and felt for more damage. I walked slowly, testing my throbbing knees and elbows. I tasted blood, and a couple of blocks away I realized a front tooth was missing. I returned to search for it in the dark, in vain.
When I reached Nevsky Prospekt, a busy boulevard, I noticed that people were staring at me. Russians rarely look strangers in the eye, so I must have been a sight. I limped to the hotel and talked my way past dubious security guards to get to my room. I knocked on the door and said, "Janet, let me in — I'm hurt."
We had both heard horror stories about medical care in Russia, where you can go in with a surface wound and come out with AIDS or hepatitis. I decided on self-treatment. After raiding the minibar for tiny bottles of vodka, we started cleaning the scrapes on my face. My upper lip was split in two. I gritted my teeth, poured the alcohol over the cuts, and scrubbed my face with a packaged refresher-cloth left over from the Lufthansa flight. We taped the lip together tightly with a Band-Aid, hoping it would heal straight. By now the area around my eye had swollen and turned a spectacular purple, but fortunately my sight seemed unimpaired.
I took a few aspirin and rested awhile. Then I went back out to Nevsky Prospekt and looked for an Internet café. I climbed three flights of stairs, used sign language to negotiate the price in rubles, and settled in at a computer terminal. My fingers rested on a strange keyboard and I faced the Cyrillic alphabet onscreen. After ten minutes of false starts, I finally found my way to an AOL screen in English. Ah, connected at last. I typed a note to a prayer group at my home church in Colorado and to a few friends and family members. The wireless network kept cutting on and off, and each time I had to find AOL again and retype the message.
The message was simple: a few background details, then "We need help. Please pray." I didn't know the extent of my injuries. The next few days I was supposed to speak at a booksellers' convention in St. Petersburg, then go on to Moscow for more speaking assignments. The news banner on AOL was telling me that armed Chechen rebels had just seized a theater full of patrons and Moscow was under military lockdown. I finished my message and pressed "Send" just as a warning popped up informing me my time was running out.
Is this how prayer works? I wondered as I walked back to the hotel. We send signals from a visible world to an invisible one, in hope that Someone receives them. And how will we know?
Still, for the first time that day I felt the lump of fear and anxiety in my stomach begin to loosen. In a few hours my friends and family, people who cared, would turn on their computers, read my message, and pray on my behalf. I was not alone.
A Universal Cry
Every faith has some form of prayer. Remote tribes present offerings and then pray for everyday things such as health, food, rain, children, and victory in battles. Incas and Aztecs went so far as to sacrifice humans in order to attract the gods' attention. Five times a day modern Muslims stop whatever they are doing — driving, having a coffee break, playing soccer — when the summons comes to pray.
Even atheists find ways to pray. During the heady days of Communism in Russia, party stalwarts kept a "red corner," placing a portrait of Lenin where Christians used to keep their icons. Caught up in the fervor, Pravda ran this advice to its readers in 1950:
If you meet with difficulties in your work, or suddenly doubt your abilities, think of him — of Stalin — and you will find the confidence you need. If you feel tired in an hour when you should not, think of him — of Stalin — and your work will go well. If you are seeking a correct decision, think of him — of Stalin — and you will find that decision.
We pray because we want to thank someone or something for the beauties and glories of life, and also because we feel small and helpless and sometimes afraid. We pray for forgiveness, for strength, for contact with the One who is, for assurance that we are not alone. Millions in AA groups pray daily to a Higher Power, begging for help in controlling their addictions. We pray because we can't help it. The very word prayer comes from the Latin root precarius — a linguistic cousin to precarious. In St. Petersburg, Russia, I prayed out of desperation. I had nowhere else to turn.
Prayer is universal because it speaks to some basic human need. As Thomas Merton put it, "Prayer is an expression of who we are. ... We are a living incompleteness. We are a gap, an emptiness that calls for fulfillment." In prayer we break silence, and sometimes those words flow out of our deepest parts. I remember in the days after September 11, 2001, saying over and over the prayer, "God, bless America." "Save America" is what I meant. Save us. Let us live. Give us another chance.
According to Gallup polls, more Americans will pray this week than will exercise, drive a car, have sex, or go to work. Nine in ten of us pray regularly, and three out of four claim to pray every day. To get some idea of the interest in prayer, type "prayer" or "pray" in an Internet search engine like Google and see how many millions of links pop up. Yet behind those impressive numbers lies a conundrum.
When I started exploring the subject of Christian prayer, I first went to libraries and read accounts of some of the great pray-ers in history. George Müller began each day with several hours of prayer, imploring God to meet the practical needs of his orphanage. Bishop Lancelot Andrewes allotted five hours per day to prayer and Charles Simeon rose at 4:00 a.m. to begin his four-hour regimen. Nuns in an order known as "The Sleepless Ones" still pray in shifts through every hour of the day and night. Susannah Wesley, a busy mother with no privacy, would sit in a rocking chair with an apron over her head praying for John and Charles and the rest of her brood. Martin Luther, who devoted two to three hours daily to prayer, said we should do it as naturally as a shoemaker makes a shoe and a tailor makes a coat. Jonathan Edwards wrote of the "sweet hours" on the banks of the Hudson River, "rapt and swallowed up in God."
In the next step I interviewed ordinary people about prayer. Typically, the results went like this: Is prayer important to you? Oh, yes. How often do you pray? Every day. Approximately how long? Five minutes — well, maybe seven. Do you find prayer satisfying? Not really. Do you sense the presence of God when you pray? Occasionally, not often. Many of those I talked to experienced prayer more as a burden than as a pleasure. They regarded it as important, even paramount, and felt guilty about their failure, blaming themselves.
A Modern Struggle
When I listened to public prayers in evangelical churches, I heard people telling God what to do, combined with thinly veiled hints on how others should behave. When I listened to prayers in more liberal churches, I heard calls to action, as if prayer were something to get past so we can do the real work of God's kingdom. Hans Küng's theological tome On Being A Christian, 702 pages long, did not include a chapter or even an index entry on prayer. When asked later, Küng said he regretted the oversight. He was feeling so harassed by Vatican censors and by his publisher's deadlines that he simply forgot about prayer.
Why does prayer rank so high on surveys of theoretical importance and so low on surveys of actual satisfaction? What accounts for the disparity between Luther and Simeon on their knees for several hours and the modern pray-er fidgeting in a chair after ten minutes?
Everywhere, I encountered the gap between prayer in theory and prayer in practice. In theory prayer is the essential human act, a priceless point of contact with the God of the universe. In practice prayer is often confusing and fraught with frustration. My publisher conducted a website poll, and of the 678 respondents only 23 felt satisfied with the time they were spending in prayer. That very discrepancy made me want to write this book.
Advances in science and technology no doubt contribute to our confusion about prayer. In former days farmers lifted their heads and appealed to brazen heavens for an end to drought. Now we study low-pressure fronts, dig irrigation canals, and seed clouds with metallic particles. In former days when a child fell ill the parents cried out to God; now they call for an ambulance or phone the doctor.
In much of the world, modern skepticism taints prayer. We breathe in an atmosphere of doubt. Why does God let history lurch on without intervening? What good will prayer do against a nuclear threat, against terrorism and hurricanes and global climate change? To some people prayer seems, as George Buttrick put it, "a spasm of words lost in a cosmic indifference" — and he wrote those words in 1942.
Prosperity may dilute prayer too. In my travels I have noticed that Christians in developing countries spend less time pondering the effectiveness of prayer and more time actually praying. The wealthy rely on talent and resources to solve immediate problems, and insurance policies and retirement plans to secure the future. We can hardly pray with sincerity, "Give us this day our daily bread" when the pantry is stocked with a month's supply of provisions.
Increasingly, time pressures crowd out the leisurely pace that prayer seems to require. Communication with other people keeps getting shorter and more cryptic: text messages, email, instant messaging. We have less and less time for conversation, let alone contemplation. We have the constant sensation of not enough: not enough time, not enough rest, not enough exercise, not enough leisure. Where does God fit into a life that already seems behind schedule?
If we do choose to look inward and bare our souls, therapists and support groups now offer outlets that were once reserved for God alone. Praying to an invisible God does not bring forth the same feedback you would get from a counselor or from friends who at least nod their heads in sympathy. Is anyone really listening? As Ernestine, the nasal-voiced telephone operator played by comedienne Lily Tomlin, used to ask, "Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?"
Prayer is to the skeptic a delusion, a waste of time. To the believer it represents perhaps the most important use of time. As a Christian, I believe the latter. Why, then, is prayer so problematic? The British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed up the confusion: "Of all the activities in which the Christian engages, and which are part of the Christian life, there is surely none which causes so much perplexity, and raises so many problems, as the activity which we call prayer."
I write about prayer as a pilgrim, not an expert. I have the same questions that occur to almost everyone at some point. Is God listening? Why should God care about me? If God knows everything, what's the point of prayer? Why do answers to prayer seem so inconsistent, even capricious? Does a person with many praying friends stand a better chance of physical healing than one who also has cancer but with only a few people praying for her? Why does God sometimes seem close and sometimes faraway? Does prayer change God or change me?
Before beginning this book I mostly avoided the topic of prayer out of guilt and a sense of inferiority. I'm embarrassed to admit that I do not keep a journal, do not see a spiritual director, and do not belong to a regular prayer group. And I readily confess that I tend to view prayer through a skeptic's lens, obsessing more about unanswered prayers than rejoicing over answered ones. In short, my main qualification for writing about prayer is that I feel unqualified — and genuinely want to learn.
More than anything else in life, I want to know God. The psychiatrist Gerald C. May observed, "After twenty years of listening to the yearnings of people's hearts, I am convinced that human beings have an inborn desire for God. Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is our deepest longing and most precious treasure." Surely, if we are made in God's own image, God will find a way to fulfill that deepest longing. Prayer is that way.
By journalistic instinct, I asked many other people about prayer: my neighbors, other authors, fellow church members, spiritual mentors, ordinary people. I have included some of their reflections in drop-in boxes scattered throughout the book, as examples of actual down-to-earth encounters with prayer and also as a reminder to myself not to stray far from their questions. I use mostly first names, though some of them are well-known in Christian circles, to avoid any kind of hierarchy. When it comes to prayer we are all beginners.
I have not attempted a guide book that details techniques such as fasting, prayer retreats, and spiritual direction. I investigate the topic of prayer as a pilgrim, strolling about, staring at the monuments, asking questions, mulling things over, testing the waters. I admit to an imbalance, an overreaction to time spent among Christians who promised too much and pondered too little, and as a result I try to err on the side of honesty and not pretense.
In the process of writing, however, I have come to see prayer as a privilege, not a duty. Like all good things, prayer requires some discipline. Yet I believe that life with God should seem more like friendship than duty. 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.
If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer. Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn't act the way we want God to, and why I don't act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge.CHAPTER 2
VIEW FROM ABOVE
We must stop setting our sights by the light of each passing ship; instead we must set our course by the stars.
To climb a 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado you need an early start — as in four o'clock in the morning early — but you need to limit coffee intake in order to avoid dehydration. You drive on chassis-slapping rutted roads in the dark, always alert for wildlife, gaining elevation to somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 feet, where the hiking trail begins. Then you begin the hike by wending your way through a forest of blue spruce, lodgepole pine, and Douglas fir on a trail that feels spongy underfoot from fallen needles. The ground gives off a pungent smell of decay and earth. You walk beside a tumbling creek, silvery white in the predawn moonlight, its burbling the only sound until the birds awake.
Around 11,000 feet the trees thin, giving way to lush meadows carpeted in wildflowers. The sun is rising now, first casting a reddish alpenglow on the mountain tops, then dropping its rays into the basins. Bright clumps of lupine, fireweed, columbine, and Indian paintbrush dapple the open spaces, while plants with more exotic names — monkshood, elephant head, bishop's cap, chiming bell, marsh marigold — cluster near the water's edge.
You follow the creek up the basin, skirting cliff banks, until a climber's trail veers off to zigzag up the grassy shoulder of the peak you have chosen to climb. By now your heart is racing like a sprinter's, and despite the morning chill you feel sweat under your backpack. You take a water break, then head up the steep trail, forcing yourself to gut it out. The dawn chorus of birds has begun, and you are startled by a flash of indigo, bright as neon, as a flock of Mountain bluebirds suddenly catches the sun's rays.
Excerpted from Prayer by Philip Yancey. Copyright © 2006 Philip D. Yancey. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Meet the Author
Philip Yancey es periodista, autor de varios exitos de libreria y conferencista. Sus mas de veinte libros son conocidos por su honestidad, profundas busquedas en torno a la fe cristiana, especialmente en lo que concierne a interrogantes y dilemas personales. Millones de avidos lectores lo consideran como un companero confiable en la busqueda de una fe que importe. Philip y su esposa Janet viven en Colorado.
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Prayer is a cross-cultural and ageless practice. But what, exactly, is it? A tough question Philip Yancey tackles in this latest book. Many times prayer is a thinly disguised wish list or an attempt to manipulate someone into doing something we want them to do. But is that what Jesus taught? Are those examples found in the Bible? The short answer...no. Mr. Yancey uses the prayers of the origial prayer revolutionary and the Psalms to explore what prayer is meant to be. Many times what was meant to be and what is, are miles apart. Sidebars contained within the book cover the gamet of emotions when it comes to prayer--happy, sad, struggling to just hang on. He writes as a sojourner, not as one that has all the answers. I feel as though I can explore along with him and draw my own conclusions. His conclusions, many times, are contrary to what is practiced today and some of which would be unpopular in many circles. If you struggle with prayer-what it is, what it has become, what it was meant to be-this book is for you. Another outstanding book from Philip Yancey.
Philip Yancey's scholarly research on the subject of prayer is evidenced in his book. I found the book helpful; especially his list of Prayer Resources. He referenced the works of Henri Nouwen and C.S. Lewis who also were great thinkers of their time. The book includes interviews he has had with other people on prayer. After reading this book, I realized more than ever that prayer does make a difference.
Philip Yancey covers the subject of prayer in great detail, and just like the subtitle of this book, he asks lots of questions. I did not find this book to be an instruction manual about how to pray, but rather guides the reader to change how they think about prayer. I found the book almost too much to digest, and wish it were easier to grasp what Mr. Yancey was trying to portray. My favourite part of this book was the individual interviews or writings by a number of various people who discussed their personal thoughts about prayer. Jim quoted on page 141, "Nowadays I don't spend time worrying, "Is God there or not?" I assume God's presence. I don't spend much time asking God for things either. Specific requests are almost a joke to me. Mainly, I want reassurance that God loves me, and that he understands what I'm concerned about. I've learned to trust God. When I do that, everything else slides down in importance." I found it much easier to relate to the inserts written by these individuals than to the author's words. I have read other books by Philip Yancey, but found this one just harder to get into. However, this book is one that I will definitely keep on the bookshelf and I will try to read through it again. Maybe I will get more out of it the next time.
I checked out this book from our local library twice. After going to check it out a third time, I decided to buy it so I would have a copy of my own. I also ordered two copies to give as gifts. It is a book that I like to pick up and read a chapter from time to time. The author writes about things I think about and questions I have also had myself. I liked his writing so much that I ordered two more books by him in the last few weeks. I think you will really enjoy having a copy of this book.
Yancey is not an easy read; he has his own style and once you get into his rhythm it reads smoother. The book is filled with wonderful insights about prayer and our approaches to prayer; what we expect from prayer and from God; and stumbling blocks we commonly have. I find his insight and perspective most helpful
Yancey has a gift for clarifying difficult subjects without watering them down. Prayer engaged both my mind and my heart. Doesn't get better than that.
I have read most of Philip Yancey's books & I think he is a thoughtful & puts felling in his books. However I think this is one of his weaker efforts. I think the book is not as well written as his other books. I think it is ok, but not as good as other books on prayer.
Very good book.
This is Yancey's best by far. I pray regularly, but it has given me a whole new outlook. It is extremely readable, while at the same time provoking deep thought. A wonderful contribution to the literature on prayer.
I am a type 1 diabetic. My parents have not been getting along well. My sister is very mean to me. My younger sister might get a nook and join the rp. Me and my friend don't see each other much. My parents are mean to me. Lastly, my sister is kind of sick. Please pray. ~Noah~
I just want to put it out there I really need to pray for my brother he needs lots of help no one is helping him get through this very hard time and he is very depressed. And I would love for you al to pray for him with me. Thank you.
A lot of shootings hav been going on and I am worried about everyone. Also, I have strep throat and we are snowed in the house so we can't get to the doctor. Thank you!
Please pray for my me and my mom, we are really struggling in our relationship to get along.... its been going on since i was little. Also if anyone is going through this or has advice please respond. My name is kenzie... i could really use some help.
Step one: Search "Prayer". Use the capitals. Step two: Explore the results. Post a list of loved ones to pray for, things to thank God for, and simple prayers you use. Step three: Look for other people's prayers, and pray ones you like. Most importantly, remember to bless the Catholic Christanity, and thank God for &hearts you.#Blessed2BAlive
Please pray for my dad and his company. He can't afford to have employees. There is not enough work and he might have to lay off some people. Please pray that he can find more jobs so that people don't have to be unemployed around the holiday season.
Pray for my grandma and papa because my grandma has brain cester and it is hard for all of us and ahe is not doimg what the nurses are teeling her to do she is not getting any better then we went her too si pkease pray for my family
I ask of you to pray for an old friend of mine. His father recently died of cancer, and he's only 12. Him and his family are all Christians, but they must be having a hard time right now. Please pray for comfort for them.
((I love this! I have a christian get saved program at holy bible res one so im really excited!)) Please pray for my freind, she has parents that are divorced and are trying to claim her. And her mom wants her to kill herself. Nd her dad just doesnt care. Please pray that she also grows in her walk with the lord
First, let me just say that this prayer post thing is AWESOME! It is sooo exciting to see christians gather together, even if it's only on nooks. I just ask for prayer for this country and for Donald Trump, that he would lead our country the way God guides him. Thanks to whoever started this! I will definetly come here every day to pray!
Pray for this world, this messed up society we live in to improve. Pray so that the rules aren't so twisted, pray for fairness. Pray for all those with depression/anxiety or suicidal thoughts. Pray for the opinions of those who aren't strong enough to voice them. Pray for people's relationships with each other. Pray for all those who are oppressed. <p> And l will pray for you.
This is a great thing you are doing! My payer requests:<br> My math grades would go up, my friend Hayley's mom has just died of alcoholism, so that she would be comforted, and come to know Jesus, and for all the people out there still living in the darkness.
I really want my friends to become Christians. Also my great grandmother is dying. And shes catholic. Please pray for her to become christian.
I made me desire to pray more. Pray real. Pray in earnest.