Reading Prayer

I love Philip Yancey. Ok, I shall correct myself to make this less scandalous: I love the writings of Philip Yancey. There’s something about his writing that engages you, that makes you instantly relate to him. Maybe it’s his journalistic training, or his word-smith talent, but more than that, I think it’s his poignant doubts and questions he harbours as a believer that are so identifiable. But I think it’s just me. A close sister told me that she couldn’t follow his thoughts when reading his book (I think I raised one eyebrow upon hearing that). She thought that C.S. Lewis was more ‘readable’ (two eyebrows raised).

I had mentioned that one of the books that was on my to-read list was his 2006 book ‘Prayer (does it make any difference?)’ and I now declare that I’m a proud owner of this book. I was shopping at Tecman for Christmas presents when I made the serendipitous find, and I swear that I held my breath when I saw the book. No, I didn’t pick up it immediately because my aim at the shop was to buy Christmas presents for others, not for myself. And no, I wasn’t going to get that book for someone else. The books that I selected for others were ones that I would read myself, so I thought if I got them for friends, I could borrow them later (ha, cunning me). But I wanted that book for myself (oh, selfish me). So I vacillated between the options: to buy or not to buy. It took me a second walk down that aisle to decide that I would get that book as a Christmas present for myself (yippee!). The book is an inch thick, but I think I would be happy to lap it up. Under Philip Yancey’s name on the book cover was the line, ‘the most inspirational spiritual writer of our day’. Not that I’m protesting, but I think he would have winched. Through my readings, I sense a writer who is uncertain and doubtful of faith at times; I don’t think he would agree to the statement. But then again, as a speaker once said in an Adult Fellowship session, do not mistake uncertainty for humility. So I shall not.

One main reason why I was bent on reading the book is my struggle with prayer. Sometimes I wonder, why pray when God already knows? Or, why pray when prayer can’t change God’s plans? And I have a strong independent spirit, which compels me more to work than to pray. But I know I should pray more because Jesus prayed. I want to pray so that I won’t try so hard to be in control. I want to pray so that His kingdom would come and His will would be done in my life. However, I was already reading Twelve Extraordinary Women and I thought I shouldn’t be reading another book at the same time. Too much of a multi-reading. But I couldn’t resist it. Just flipping through the first chapter has left me hooked. And Yancey’s conclusion at the end of the first chapter seems to promise the answers that I’m looking for:

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? …

I have not attempted a guide book that details techniques such as fasting, prayer retreats and spiritual direction. I investigated 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 pretence…

If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must lean 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.

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