Monday, August 24, 2009


My new non-fiction book is Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, by Philip Yancey. In this book he promises to explore whether prayer changes us, God or both. Is God listening? Why should God care about me? Why do prayers go unanswered? Does prayer matter?

I was particularly drawn to this book because I so desire to be a pray-er, yet I struggle so much with it. I go through periods of regular, consistent prayer and then I'll go through a period of very little prayer. Even so, when I am regularly praying I still feel ineffective, stupid, and like I'm basically talking to myself. Fortunately for me (?), Yancey says that most people feel this way.

I want to pray. I want to talk with God. I want to hear from God. But I guess I struggle because I feel like I don't know how to do any of these. I grew up with this prayer: God, be with... In the last few years I've wondered what that means? What does it mean to ask God to "be with" someone? I avoid that phrase as much as possible and now I ask people for specific things to pray for (I guess thats also just me - I have a difficult time dealing in generalities rather than specifics). Sometimes I feel like this presents an awkward situation - like I'm digging for more information or gossip about a person or his/her situation... oh well, at some point I have to get over worrying about what other people *might* be thinking about me and just be me.

Anyway, I want to pray. I want to be aware of God throughout the day and not just during my designated prayer time in the morning. I struggle with that as well - and I even pray about it! Somehow, my mind ends up shutting that out throughout the day. Why? Bugs me - a lot.

I've read the first four chapters of this book and here are some things/quotes that have stood out to me so far:
"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."

"...the Lord of the universe has many things to manage, and in the midst of my self-pity I would do well to comtemplate for a moment God's own point of view." This is basically what God reminded Job of. Yancey sites this as an example of how we need to see ourselves from God's point of view - we need to remind ourselves that we are not the center of the universe with everything revolving around us... we are but a tiny speck in the midst of it all. This view brings us a sense of humility - not groveling, self-hate - that is necessary for prayer.

"For most of us... prayer brings no certain confirmation we have been heard. We pray in faith that our words somehow cross a bridge between visible and invisible worlds, penetrating a reality of which we have no proof." I feel this - a lot.

"In order to overcome self-deception, I need God's all-knowing help in rooting out hidden offenses like selfishness, pride, deceit, lack of compassion." This is definitely something I need help with - I think of myself as a good person and actually have a hard time identifying my specific sins rather than acknowledging my sinful nature. I have been working hard at the practice of confession, trying to confess specifics rather asking for a blanket covering (although as Kim and I discussed last time she was here - I hedge my bets and do both:)

Yancey discusses what happens when one has a shallow relationship with another person - it ends up fading or dying off. He also talks about how God wants our authenticity in prayer - the REAL me, not who I think I ought to be. "...unless I level with God - about bitterness over an unanswered prayer, grief over loss, guilt over an unforgiving spirit, a baffling sense of God's absence - that relationship, too, will go nowhere." Ugh. The part that hits me the hardest: God wants the real me rather than who I think I ought to be in his presence. Why is that so hard?

"Who one believes God to be is most accurately revealed not in any credo but in the way one speaks to God when no one else is listening. - Nancy Mairs. That quote took several read-throughs for me to "get it" and now has me thinking about how I talk to God. I wish I talked to God like I talk to Dave or Kim or Cara or Carissa. I don't - how do I get there?

"I have learned to see prayer not as my way of esablishing God's presence, rather as my way of responding to God's presence that is a fact whether or not I can detect it." "God is already present in my life and all around me; prayer offers the chance to attend and respond to that presence." Exactly what I struggle with throughout the day. After reading this, I also realize that I struggle with this during my actual prayer time. I guess there are times that I actually realize God's presence during the day moreso than during my prayer time... seeing the girls learn or see something spectacular for the first time, being awestruck by something in nature, recognizing answered prayer, etc. etc.

"We learn to pray by praying." Ouch. "To begin, I need to think more about God than about myself when I am praying." Double Ouch. Yancey talks about transactional prayers - our wanting God to do stuff for us. So pretty much while I am proud of myself for establishing a regular prayer time (confessing that specific sin: pride), I am humbled by the fact that my prayer time is spent asking God for my perceived needs or wants.

And now I just remembered my reading from I Corinthians 13 this morning: Love thinks of others more than self. How do I become more like this? Less self-absorbed? More other-focused? More God-focused? At a certain level I feel smothered by children, so I feel like I deserve to be self-absorbed about certain things. Like I am owed a personal agenda/schedule and the following through of that rather than anyone else's.

I want to be a person who quietly hopes in the Lord (Lamentations 3:26). Quietly. Hoping. In the Lord.


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