Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Yesterday I finished Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference, by Philip Yancey. Discerning Reader has a fair review of it, although the "In short" review is "Too many questions and not enough answers." That's one thing I like about Yancey - although I may not agree with him on some significant doctrine, he writes the way I think and he's not afraid of unanswered questions.

Here are some quotes/excerpts for your consideration:
Prayer forces me to catch sight of this my true state. In Henri Nouwen's words, "To pray is to walk in the full light of God, and to say simply, without holding back, 'I am human and you are God.' At that moment, conversion occurs, the restoration of the true relationship. A human being is not someone who once in a while makes a mistake, and God is not someone who now and then forgives. No, human beings are sinners and God is love." (p. 34-35)

I am overwhelmed by the vastness of God, the imbalance of any creature's relationship to such a being. "Since it is God we are speaking of, you do not understand it. If you could understand it, it would not be God," said Saint Augustine. We who barely comprehend ourselves are approaching a God we cannot possibly comprehend. No wonder some Christians through the centuries have felt more comfortable praying to saints or relying on intermediaries. (p. 48)

The main purpose of prayer is not to make life easier, nor to gain magical powers, but to know God. I need God more than anything I might get from God. (p. 56)

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. (p. 127)
In a letter Yancey received from "Susan":
I used to worry about falling asleep during prayer. Now, as a parent, I understand. What parent wouldn't want her child to fall asleep in her arms? (p. 149)

In persistent prayer, my own desires and plans gradually harmonize with God's. (p. 153)

When I am tempted to complain about God's lack of presence, I remind myself that God has much more reason to complain about my lack of presence. (p. 208)

Somehow we must offer our prayers with a humility that conveys gratitude without triumphalism, and compassion with manipulation, always respecting the mystery surrounding prayer. (p. 221)

[Abraham] Lincoln's attitude [during the Civil War] stands in stark contrast to the triumphalism that normally accompanies war. Lincoln accepted the terrible cost of the Civil War as a just judgment on the evil of slavery the nation had perpetrated: "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this might scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue unto all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword ... so still must it be said that 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"

Moreover, Lincoln called for a spirit of reconciliation, not vengeance, as the war drew to a close: "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." (p. 227)

C.S. Lewis observes:

"The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable 'success' in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something much more like magic.

"It is not unreasonable for a headmaster to say, 'Such and such things you may do according to the fixed rules of this school. But such and such other things are too dangerous to be left to general rules. If you want to do them you must come and make a request and talk over the whole matter with me in my study. And then--we'll see.'" (p. 234)

... prayed the British author John Baillie:
"Let me use disappointment as material for patience.
Let me use success as material for thankfulness.
Let me use trouble as material for perseverance.
Let me use danger as material for courage.
Let me use reproach as material for long suffering.
Let me use praise as material for humility.
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance.
Let me use pain as material for endurance." (p. 240)

Those of us who struggle with unanswered prayer dare not overlook an important theological truth about how God acts in this world today. The church is the body of Christ, and as such it does God's work. As Ronald Rolheiser expresses it, "A theist believes in a God in heaven whereas a Christian believes in a God in heaven who is also physically present on this earth inside of human beings. ... God is still present, as physical and as real today as God was in the historical Jesus. God still has skin, human skin, and physically walks on this earth just as Jesus did."

To pray "God, please help my neighbor cope with her financial problems," or "God, do something about the homeless downtown" is the approach of a theist, not a Christian. God has chosen to express love and grace in the world through those of us who embody Christ. (p. 243-244)

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