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Prayer

by Greg Williamson (c) 2007, 2009

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UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED, ALL SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS

ARE FROM THE New American Standard Bible.

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How Much Does a Prayer Weigh?

There is a story of a man who tried to weigh a prayer. He owned a little grocery store. It was the week before Christmas, shortly after World War I.

A tired-looking woman came into the store and asked for enough food to make a Christmas dinner for the children. The grocer asked her how much she could spend.

"My husband did not come back; he was killed in the War. And I have nothing to offer but a little prayer," she answered.

The storekeeper was not very sentimental nor religious, so he said, half mockingly, "Write it on paper, and I will weigh it."

To his surprise, the woman took a piece of paper from her pocket and handed it to the man, saying, "I wrote it during the night while watching over my sick baby."

The grocer took the piece of paper before he could recover from his surprise and, because other customers were watching and had heard his remarks, he placed the unread prayer on the weight side of the old-fashioned scales. Then he began to pile food on the other side; but to his amazement, the scale would not go down.

He became angry and flustered and finally said, "Well, that's all the scale will hold. Here's a bag; you will have to put it in yourself, I am busy."

With trembling hands the woman filled the bag, and through moist eyes expressed her gratitude and departed.

After that the store was empty of customers, the grocer examined the scales. Yes, they were broken and they had become broken just in time for God to answer the prayer of the woman. But as the years passed, the grocer often wondered about the incident. Why did the woman come at just the right time? Why had she already written the prayer in such a way as to confuse the grocer so that he did not examine the scales?

The grocer is an old man now, but the weight of the paper still lingers with him. He never saw the woman again, nor had he seen her before that day. Yet he remembers her more than any of his customers.

And he treasures the slip of paper upon which the woman's prayer had been written -- simple words, but from a heart of faith, "Please, Lord, give us this day our daily bread." [ref]

 

 

As artists give themselves to their models, and poets to their classical pursuits, so must we addict ourselves to prayer.

~ Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) [ref]

 

The Primacy of Prayer

Simply stated, prayer is "communication with God." [ref] Prayer represents our innate and insatiable desire as finite human beings to reach beyond ourselves and make contact with the transcendent and eternal. Most non-Christian people groups link prayer with elaborate ritual and/or magic as a means of appealing to or manipulating the gods that be. And even in secular societies where "organized religion" may be frowned upon, people engage in prayer-like behavior when, for example, passengers aboard an aircraft break out in spontaneous applause following an especially turbulent flight (praise and thanksgiving), or "an angry crowd in a refugee camp appeals for justice" (petition). [ref]

 

And yet while there are any number of examples of people who make prayer a priority and devote much time to it, for modern people -- and especially those residing within industrialized nations -- prayer remains an elusive goal, being to the would-be petitioner something like what proper diet and exercise is to the obese person. Why is that? Why do we say we value prayer, but then devote so little time and effort to the actual practice of it? In his insightful book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, Philip Yancey identifies several common hindrances to prayer, including: science and technology; modern skepticism; prosperity; time pressures; and therapists and support groups. [ref] Truth be told, our natural tendency is to trust in and rely on only that which can be verified through one or more of our five senses.  

 

As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray.

~ Martin Luther (1483-1546) [ref]

 

The Old Testament

The first mention of prayer in the Bible is found in Genesis 4:26: "Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord." This passage teaches us that one result of the Fall was the removal of constant, unbroken fellowship between God and human beings. It also "lay[s] the foundation for all true prayer: acknowledgment of the divine name." [ref] The remainder of the OT shows God's people engaging in many and various forms of prayer, affording us insight into how and why we can and should pray. Specifically, we witness both individuals and communities addressing God in "petition, intercession, adoration, praise, confession, and thanksgiving." [ref]

Israel's attitudes and actions regarding prayer were very different from its neighbors. Whereas ancient pagan religions saw prayer as an attempt to influence deity through "mastery of technique and esoteric knowledge," [ref] for Israel prayer was conversation with a relationship-seeking God. This fact is reflected in the use of ordinary conversational language when describing prayer: say, said, call, called, etc. [ref] Today there remains a stark contrast between genuine Christian prayer and the prayers of other religious traditions such as, for instance, Islam and Shinto. In the former, prayer is highly formalized, involving ceremonial washing and specific posturing. In the latter, prayers are considered incomplete without "monetary donation at a shrine or food offerings at the home altar." [ref]

The most common type of prayer mentioned in the OT is intercession, in which a prophet, priest or king prays on behalf of others. Outstanding examples include Moses, David, and Jeremiah. These pray-ers and others remind us that "petitions are [to be] supported by confession, appeals to the past, and remembrance of God's mercy." [ref] In fact, the most common prayer involves a two-step process of 1) remembering what God has done in the past in order to 2) make a proper request that he act similarly again. [ref] Because God is real and personal, his actions reveal his character. Thus to approach God on the basis of what he has done in the past is to appeal to his steadfast, unchanging character. The OT leaves us with the distinct impression that God is pleased when we appeal to -- but do not presume upon -- his sense of "honor, glory, grace, mercy, or trustworthiness." [ref]

O God, give us work till our life shall end,

and give us life till our work is done.

~ Author unknown [ref]

The Psalms. The Psalms is a book of prayer, praise, and instruction. [ref] It is "a sizable collection of musical poems and prayers of diverse authorship and form. ... [which] serve to articulate the hope and despair, the faith and fear, the praise and invective of those who express themselves to God in the vicissitudes of life." [ref] Beautiful psalms of praise notwithstanding, the most frequent type of psalm is that involving complaint, in which the psalmist, "often with great pathos and highly figurative language," [ref] complains to God about a particular hardship he is having to endure. This situation is actually in keeping with the book's central theme of relationship: every person and every situation is viewed in the context of God's covenant relationship with his people.

The Psalms describe two broad categories of individuals: the righteous and the wicked. The most significant difference between the two is the fact that the righteous are rightly related to God, while the wicked are not.

 

The righteousness of which the psalmists speak is thus a religious quality, imputed as a consequence of faith in the Lord. While it undoubtedly has implications with respect to moral behavior, the term righteous does not signify sinless persons. Rather, it points to persons who have experienced mercy and forgiveness and who as a consequence have sought to lead a moral life. The protestations and affirmations of the righteous are thus not the proud exclamations of the self-righteous, but rather the faithful statements of those who have striven to maintain their lives within the merciful context of the covenant relationship with God. The statements concerning righteousness are balanced by the frequent statements in which sin is confessed and mercy and forgiveness are sought. [ref]

Oftentimes the psalmist will call down curses upon his enemies, imploring God to smite the wicked and deliver the righteous. Without seeking to minimize the raw emotion, it is important to keep in mind that the larger context is the justice that is a vital part of God's covenant relationship with his people. Imprecatory psalms are thus more like a defense attorney's passionate closing argument than a self-centered demand for revenge.

 

It becomes clear that the apparently vindictive and harsh nature of much of the language of the Psalms should be interpreted in a legal context, rather than being interpreted as an expression of personal hatred. The enemy of the psalmist has broken the stipulations of an agreement, but seeks to bring discredit on the psalmist, as if he were the guilty party. The psalmist, in turn, calls for the curses of the treaty to fall on the head of the enemy, in part to establish his own innocence of the charges laid against him, and in part because the enemy had agreed that he should suffer the curses if he broke the contractual stipulations. [ref]

 

Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer

is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it,

which will give you fresh courage, and you will

understand that prayer is an education.

~ Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevski (1821-1881) [ref]

 

The New Testament

From the NT we learn that Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of all legitimate prayer. Through the model prayer he offered and the parables he used, Jesus taught that the prayers of his followers are to be: persistent; bold; humble, compassionate; simple; intense; expectant; and communal (praying with and for others). [ref]

 

The Lord's Prayer. The Lord's Prayer is a model that teaches much regarding how we are to relate to God, others, and ourselves. Found in Matthew 6:9–13 and Luke 11:2–4, it includes an opening and six petitions. (The benediction, found only in Matthew, is absent from the earliest manuscripts.) The first three petitions are directed Godward, while the last three are focused on human needs and desires. (The following analysis is based on the material as found in Matthew 6.)

 

OPENING:

"Our Father who is in heaven" (v. 9).

Jesus routinely referred to God as his "Father" (Greek pater), and here he teaches his disciples to do the same. "Our" connects believers with both God and one another in an intimate familial relationship. At the same time, the phrase "who is in heaven" reminds us that we are dealing with the great and awesome King of the universe who deserves and demands our reverent respect and absolute allegiance. [ref] God "is a Father, and therefore we may come to him with boldness, but a Father in heaven, and therefore we must come with reverence." [ref] The fact that heaven is spiritual, on high, and pure, reminds us that our prayers should be likewise. [ref]

FIRST PETITION:

 "Hallowed be Your name" (v. 9).

In the ancient world a person's name was highly significant. To act in someone's name was to act with that person's authority and power, and to call on someone's name was to place oneself under that person's command and protection. [ref]

"Hallowed" (Greek hagiazo) "means to render or pronounce holy. God’s name is essentially holy; and the meaning of this petition is, 'Let thy name be celebrated, venerated, and esteemed as holy everywhere, and receive from all people proper honor.' It is thus the expression of a wish or desire, on the part of the worshipper, that the name of God, or that God himself, should be held everywhere in proper veneration." [ref]

SECOND PETITION:

 "Your kingdom come" (v. 10).

The kingdom of God can be defined as God's sovereign rule over the hearts and lives of those who place their faith in Jesus Christ and are spiritually born again. [ref]

Here the future aspect of God's reign is emphasized. [ref] "The petition is the expression of a wish that God may 'reign' everywhere; that his laws may be obeyed; and especially that the gospel of Christ may be advanced everywhere, until the world shall be filled with his glory." [ref]

THIRD PETITION:

 "Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven" (v. 10).

This petition follows naturally from the second, since by definition God's rule or reign includes the accomplishing of his will. [ref] [ref]

"The will of God is, that people should obey his law, and be holy. The word 'will,' here, has reference to his law, and to what would be 'acceptable' to him. To pray, then, that his will may be done, on earth as in heaven, is to pray that his 'law,' his 'revealed will,' may be obeyed and loved. His law is perfectly obeyed in heaven, and his true children most ardently desire and pray that it may also be obeyed on the earth." [ref]

To pray for God's will to be done on earth is a tacit confession that it has not been done. What's more, there will always be a tension between God's will on earth and his will in heaven until God's kingdom is fullu established on the former. [ref]

With this petition the emphasis shifts from the realm of heaven to that of the earth. [ref]

FOURTH PETITION:

 "Give us this day our daily bread" (v. 11).

This petition speaks of trusting God to determine our legitimate needs (versus mere wants), and then depending on him to provide them. [ref] Which is not to say that we are to sit idly by and wait for provisions to fall into our laps. Rather, it acknowledges that all good things -- including our ability to work and earn a living -- come from God. [ref]

While modern Westerners tend to think in terms of storing up for the next several days (or weeks), this petition would be especially meaningful for those living in Jesus' day filled as it was with day laborers who lived literally from one day to the next. [ref]

FIFTH PETITION:

 "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (v. 12).

Notice that the word "and" links together the last three petitions, strongly implying that life depends on more than food alone -- it also includes forgiveness and deliverance from temptation. [ref]

Here "[s]in is pictured as a debt, and the sinner as a debtor. Accordingly the word represents sin both as a wrong and as requiring satisfaction." [ref] "Forgive" literally means "to send away, or dismiss." [ref] Notice "the past tense, we have forgiven; since Christ assumes that he who prays for the remission of his own debts has already forgiven those indebted to him." [ref]

The point is not that we can earn God's forgiveness by forgiving others. Rather, asking God to forgive us as we have forgiven other people demonstrates the fact that we understand the difference between our absolute sinful condition before God and others' relative sin toward us. [ref] We are able to receive God's free gift of forgiveness only if we come to him with open, empty hands.

SIXTH PETITION:

"And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (v. 13).

In this petition we see "a prayer of conscious and confessed human weakness; it makes no pretense of confidence in its own strength and commitment; rather it expresses an unconditional abandonment to the will and grace of God." [ref]  

"'Bring' or 'lead' bothers many people. It seems to present God as an active agent in subjecting us to temptation, a thing specifically denied in James 1:13. ... Here we have a 'Permissive imperative' as grammarians term it. The idea is then: 'Do not allow us to be led into temptation.'" [ref]

The word "temptation" (Greek peirasmos) can refer to a "[t]rial, temptation, a putting to the test." [ref] While it is always a trial, if God is behind it, it is a test designed to reveal a weakness that can then be corrected; in other words, it is meant to strengthen us. Conversely, if Satan is behind it, it is a temptation designed to make us stumble and fall; in other words, it is meant to weaken us. [ref] And since Satan is behind all evil, the additional phrase "deliver us from evil" indicates that Jesus had the latter idea in mind here.

(NOTE: "The Doxology is placed in the margin of the Revised Version. It is wanting in the oldest and best Greek manuscripts. The earliest forms vary very much, some shorter, some longer than the one in the Authorized Version. The use of a doxology arose when this prayer began to be used as a liturgy to be recited or to be chanted in public worship. It was not an original part of the Model Prayer as given by Jesus." [ref])

The Lord's Prayer reflects emphases found elsewhere in Jesus' teaching: 1) Humble, unpretentious, unconditional trust in God to provide what is needed, not simply what is wanted. 2) An instant willingness to forgive others. 3) Persistently turning to God, relying on him and being grateful for what he chooses to give us. 4) Joining with other believers in "a community of like-motivated, mutually interdependent and mutually supportive people." [ref]

I cannot say our if religion has no room for others and their needs.

I cannot say Father if I do not demonstrate this relationship in my daily living.

I cannot say who art in heaven if all my interests and pursuits are on earthly things.

I cannot say hallowed be thy name if I, who am called by his name, am not holy.

I cannot say thy kingdom come if I am unwilling to give up my own sovereignty and accept the righteous reign of God.

I cannot say thy will be done if I am unwilling or resentful of having it in my life.

I cannot say in earth as it is in heaven unless I am truly ready to give myself to his service here and now.

I cannot say give us this day our daily bread without expending honest effort for it or by ignoring the genuine needs of my fellowmen.

I cannot say forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us if I continue to harbor a grudge against anyone.

I cannot say lead us not into temptation if I deliberately choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted.

I cannot say deliver us from evil if I am not prepared to fight in the spiritual realm with the weapon of prayer.

I cannot say thine is the kingdom if I do not give the King the disciplined obedience of a loyal subject.

I cannot say thine is the power if I fear what my neighbors may say or do.

I cannot say thine is the glory if I am seeking my own glory first.

I cannot say forever if I am too anxious about each day’s affairs.

I cannot say amen unless I honestly say, "Cost what it may, this is my prayer."

~ Anonymous [ref]

 

The Early Church and Our Divine Prayer Partner. "Prayer played a central role in the activities of the early church. From the records in Acts of the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:31) to the records of the apostolic fathers in the Mediterranean world at the beginning of the second century (e.g., Ign. Ephesians 1.2; Ign. Magn. 7.1; Ign. Smyrn. 7.1), prayer was a central activity and unifying feature of the Christian community." [ref] The followers of Jesus Christ used any and every occasion to pray: there were prayers of petition, prayers of worship, prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers of conversation. [ref] What's more, in a very real sense God himself has become our permanent prayer partner via his Holy Spirit. As one source summarizes the situation:

 

 

It was in a praying atmosphere that the church was born (Acts 1:14; compare Acts 2:1); and throughout its early history prayer continued to be its vital breath and native air (Acts 2:42; 3:1; 6:4; 6:6 and passim).  The Epistles abound in references to prayer. Those of Paul in particular contain frequent allusions to his own personal practice in the matter (Romans 1:9; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:2, etc.), and many exhortations to his readers to cultivate the praying habit (Romans 12:12; Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:17, etc.). But the new and characteristic thing about Christian prayer as it meets us now is its connection with the Spirit. It has become a spiritual gift  (1 Corinthians 14:14-16), and even those who have not this gift in the exceptional charismatic sense may "pray in the Spirit" whenever they come to the throne of grace (Ephesians 6:18; Jude 1:20). The gift of the Spirit, promised by Christ (John 14:16 ff, etc.), has raised prayer to its highest power by securing for it a divine cooperation (Romans 8:15, 26; Galatians 4:6). Thus Christian prayer in its full New Testament meaning is prayer addressed to God as Father, in the name of Christ as Mediator, and through the enabling grace of the indwelling Spirit. [ref]

 

Do not pray for easy lives,

Pray to be stronger men.

Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers,

Pray for powers equal to your task.

~ Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) [ref]

 

Goals, Benefits, and Hindrances

Goals. Our English word "communicate" comes from a Latin word literally meaning "to make common." [ref] In prayer we seek to make our concerns common between us and God and, more importantly, God seeks to make his concerns common between he and us. This involves our willingness to see God not as some divine benefactor but as a heavenly Father with whom we have a real and personal relationship. Jesus modeled this attitude by routinely referring to God as his "Father," and by teaching his followers to do the same. [ref] Sometimes we, like children, ask for what is contrary to our ultimate well-being. At other times, we are so distraught that the best we can manage is a few garbled words of appeal. In such cases, God "understand[s] our inarticulate groans and translate[s] them into effective prayers. The picture is of a loving parent who listens to a child's confused complaint and responds to what is deeply wished but not well expressed." [ref]

A major goal of prayer is to move us out of our comfort zone and into a confused, lost world in dire need of seeing God's love expressed in real, tangible ways. God accomplishes this through our prayers: as we regularly, repeatedly humble ourselves before God, he will work to make both our attitudes and actions more Christ-like. This relates to the fact that we are to offer our prayers "in the name of Jesus" (John 14:13-14; 16:23-24). "This is equivalent to saying on [Jesus'] account, or for [his] sake. If a man who has money in a bank authorizes us to draw it, we are said to do it in his name. If a son authorizes us to apply to his father for aid because we are his friends, we do it in the name of the son, and the favor will be bestowed on us from the regard which the parent has to his son, and through him to all his friends. So we are permitted to apply to God in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, because God is in him well pleased (Matthew 3:17), and because we are the friends of his Son he answers our requests." [ref]  To pray in the name of Jesus necessarily "includes an acknowledgment of our own unworthiness to receive any favour [sic] from God," and of the fact that we are entirely dependent on Christ "as the Lord of our Righteousness." [ref]  "The use of Jesus' name in prayer is effective not as some sort of password that can be used indiscriminately by every petitioner. It is only effective to pray 'in Jesus' name' if we are truly living in the name of Jesus." [ref] In an of ourselves, we cannot even approach God, much less ask anything of him. To the extent that we are living for Christ and wish to honor and glorify him, our requests will be in line with God's will and will thus be heard and answered.

Prayer without study is like a soul without a body.

~ Jewish Saying [ref]

Benefits. Prayer meets some of our deepest inner needs and at times can even be therapeutic. Some of the inner needs that prayer meets include: "freedom from fear (Psalms 118:5–6), strength of soul (Ps. 138:3), guidance and satisfaction (Isaiah  58:9–11), wisdom and understanding (Daniel 9:20–27), deliverance from harm (Joel 2:32), reward (Matt. 6:6), good gifts (Luke 11:13), fullness of joy (John 16:23–24), peace (Philippians 4:6–8), and freedom from anxiety (1 Peter 5:7)." [ref]

Prayer is therapeutic when:

  • It is seen as a place of safety and acceptance.

  • It summarizes what we want to be and do and helps to point us in that direction.

  • It helps us to let go of the past.

  • It helps us see suffering in the light of God's sovereign grace.

  • It generates real hope and true determination.

  • It helps us focus less on ourselves and more on others. [ref]

If you seek your own advantage or blessing through God

you are not really seeking God at all.

~ Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-c. 1327) [ref]

Hindrances. Like any form of communication, our prayers can be hindered by anything that erects a wall between us and God. Specifically, the Bible identifies the following as barriers to answered prayer: "Iniquity in the heart (Psalms 66:18), refusal to hear God's law (Proverbs 28:9); an estranged heart (Isaiah 29:13), sinful separation from God (Isaiah 59:2), waywardness (Jeremiah 14:10–12), offering unworthy sacrifices (Malachi 1:7–9), praying to be seen by people (Matthew 6:5–6), pride in fasting and tithing (Luke 18:11–14), lack of faith (Hebrews 11:6), and doubting or double-mindedness (James 4:3)." [ref]

Pray without ceasing. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are commanded to "Pray without ceasing." How is that possible? Are we to be praying in some sort of subliminal fashion as we go about our daily activities? Actually, "without ceasing" (Greek adialeiptos) does not mean "without a break" or "non-stop" in an absolute sense; here it simply means we are to have a permanent mindset of prayer. [ref]  In other words, we are "to pray every time an opportunity presents itself and to be in a constant attitude of dependence upon God." [ref] "Without ceasing" is used a total of four times in the NT, always by the apostle Paul, and always in connection with prayer (Romans 1:9 = "unceasingly"; 1 Thessalonians 1:3 = "constantly"; 1 Thessalonians 2:13 = "constantly"; 1 Thessalonians 5:17 = "without ceasing"; cf Romans 9:2 [= "unceasing"] and 2 Timothy 1:3 [= "constantly"]). In secular Greek it was used of a hacking cough. [ref] [ref] Paul's point is that "the entire life of the believer is lived in dependence on God," [ref] seeking to maintain "continuous fellowship with God as much as possible in the midst of daily living in which concentration is frequently broken." [ref] We are to pray "regularly, much, and faithfully." [ref] Doing so, of course, demands that we see prayer as nothing less than a privilege, a responsibility, and a priority. [ref] "Prayer will help forward and not hinder all other lawful business, and every good work," [ref] including the joy (1 Thessalonians 5:16) and gratitude (1 Thessalonians 5:18) that are to accompany our prayers. 

 

How odd, that prayer seems foolish to some people who base

their lives on media trends, superstition, instinct, hormones,

social propriety, or even astrology.

~ Philip Yancey [ref]

 

Prayer: It Makes A Miraculous Difference

In Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, Philip Yancey explores prayer from many and various angles. "I write about prayer as a pilgrim, not an expert," he says, and the result is a warm, engaging, insightful pilgrimage. Following are several quotes from the book.

 

 

Prayer helps correct myopia, calling to mind a perspective I daily forget. I keep reversing roles, thinking of ways in which God should serve me, rather than vice versa. (page 21)

 

Mystery, awareness of another world, an emphasis on being rather than doing, even a few moments of quiet do not come naturally to me in this hectic, buzzing world. I must carve out time and allow God to nourish my inner life. (page 25)

 

Prayer allows a place for me to bring my doubts and complaints -- in sum, my ignorance -- and subject them to the blinding light of a reality I cannot comprehend but can haltingly learn to trust. Prayer is personal, and my doubts take on a different cast as I get to know the Person to whom I bring them. (page 40)

 

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. (page 56)

 

I see the Christian's life on this planet as a battle, too. We try to follow God on a place in active rebellion against him. I don't expect prayer to make that any easier, any less problem-filled. I do expect it to give me the inner strength to keep fighting. Persistence is my way of demonstrating faith. (page 83)

 

Like Abraham, I approach God at first in fear and trembling, only to learn that God wants me to stop groveling and start arguing. I dare not meekly accept the state of the world, with all its injustice and unfairness. I must call God to account for God's own promises, God's own character. (page 97)

 

As partners in God's work on earth, we insist that God's will be done while at the same time committing ourselves to whatever that may require of us. ... What is God doing in the world? The answer is another question: What are God's people doing? (page 112)

 

[T]he act of prayer emboldens me to join the work of transforming the world into a place where the Father's will is indeed done as it is in heaven. (page 124)

 

The real value of persistent prayer is not so much that we get what we want as that we become the person we should be. (page 153)

 

Like a child who quits badgering a parent, I have sometimes found that I get an answer to my persistent request after I have learned to do without it. The answer than comes as a surprise, an unexpected gift of grace. I seek the gift, find instead the Giver, and eventually come away with the gift I no longer seek. (page 154)

 

Prayer remains a struggle for me. On the other hand, so does forgiving someone who has wronged me. So does loving my neighbor. So does caring for the needy. I persist because I am fulfilling God's command, and also because I believe I am doing what is best for me whether or not I feel like it at the time. Moreover, I believe that my perseverance, in some unfathomable way, brings pleasure to God. We should always pray and not give up, Jesus taught. (page 161)

 

I have found that my reluctance to pray increases when I regard it as a necessary discipline and decreases when I see it as a time to keep company with God. (page 163)

 

Fear, praise, anxiety, anger, love, sorrow, despair, gratitude, grief, doubt, suffering, joy, vengeance, repentance -- every human emotion and experience surges to the surface in the prayer-poems of Psalms. (page 172)

 

A sense of unworthiness hardly disqualifies me from prayer; rather, it serves as a necessary starting point. Apart from feeling unworthy, why call on God in the first place? Unworthiness establishes the ground rules, setting the proper alignment between broken human beings and a perfect God. I now consider it a motivation for prayer, not a hindrance. (page 185)

 

I may go through a period when it feels like God is absent, but if God were truly absent everything in the universe would cease to exist. I have learned to recognize that I am going through a particular season, and try not to judge reality based on how I am feeling right now. (page 209)

 

True followers of Jesus, however, hold in common his stunning command to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us. In so doing, we join together to extend the widening circle of God's love to those who may experience it in no other way. ... Who needs our love more than those who are consumed with hatred? Through prayer we stand beside our enemies and plead to God on their behalf. (In the Gospels, the demon-possessed never asked Jesus for a cure; they were incapable. Instead, other people brought them to Jesus.) ... If I nurse a grudge and have not the strength to forgive, I present to God that wound, along with the one who inflicted it, and ask for strength I cannot supply on my own. (pages 312-13)

 

By bringing us into the presence of God, and giving us a glimpse of the view from above, prayer radically changes how we experience life. Faith during affliction matters more than healing from affliction. Submitting to God's will is preferable to a rescue from crucifixion. Humility counts more than deliverance from a thorn in the flesh. (page 325)

 

I pray in astonished belief that God desires an ongoing relationship. I pray in trust that the act of prayer is God's designated way of closing the vast gulf between infinity and me. I pray in order to put myself in the stream of God's healing work on earth. I pray as I breathe -- because I can't help it. Prayer is hardly a perfect form of communication, for I, an imperfect, material being who lives on an imperfect, material planet am reaching out for a perfect, spiritual Being. Some prayers go unanswered, a sense of God's presence ebbs and flows, and often I sense more mystery than resolution. Nevertheless I keep at it, believing with Paul that "now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (pages 326-27)

 

AC21DOJ DISCLAIMER: While Philip Yancey writes about some profound theological concepts, he is not a theologian. In his own words, he writes "as a pilgrim, not an expert." His writing reflects a nonjudgmental, humble willingness to learn from others. His writing style is warm and engaging, and his thorough research results in  many beneficial insights. All that said, not everyone will agree with every word he writes.


 

SOURCES

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2,000+ Bible Illustrations

Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible

Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling

The Bible Knowledge Commentary

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (JFB)

The Complete Word Study Dictionary

Dictionary of Biblical Imagery

Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels

Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments

Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World

The Encyclopedia of Prayer and Praise

Evangelical Commentary on the Bible

Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

Expositor's Bible Commentary

The Harper Collins Dictionary of Religion

Holy Bible, New American Standard

The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (original edition)font>

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised

The King James (Version) Study Bible

Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary

New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology

New Dictionary of Biblical Theology

New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis

The New International Dictionary of the Bible

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

Vincent's Word Studies

Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary

Word Pictures in the New Testament


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