Thursday, October 27, 2011

More Questions than Answers on Prayer

PHILIP YANCEY from the book Prayer:  Does It Make Any Difference 

"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.

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?
"Prayer to the skeptic is a delusion, a waste of time.  To the believer it represents perhaps the most important use of time.  Why, then is prayer so problematic?  The British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed up the confusion:  'Of all the activities in which the human engages, and which are part of the spiritual 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 as 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?
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."  (pp. 15-16)

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