Philip Yancey probes the very heartbeat of our relationship with God: prayer. What is prayer? Does it change God's mind or ours or both? This book is an invitation to communicate with God the Father who invites us into an eternal partnership through prayer. Polls reveal that 90 percent of people pray. Yet prayer, which should be the most nourishing and uplifting time of the believer's day, can also be frustrating, confusing, and fraught with mystery. Writing as a fellow pilgrim, bestselling author Philip Yancey probes such questions as: 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? Why does God sometimes seem close and sometimes seem far away? How can I make prayer more satisfying? In this powerful read, Yancey tackles the tough questions and, in the process, comes up with a fresh new approach to this timeless topic. "I have learned to pray as a privilege, not a duty," he says, and he invites you to join him on this all-important journey.
Yancey begins with an insightful discourse on “Keeping Company with God” and continues to wax eloquently about the mysteries, the language and the practice of prayer. He also boldly delves into prayer dilemmas. Each topic is sprinkled with nuggets of Truth and revelations that had me jotting notes, smiling, crying, and sometimes singing praises to Jesus.
Surprisingly, some of this book’s most profound insights don’t come from its author. In each chapter, Yancey generously shares a variety of blessed “inserts”—myriad short stories, poems, and testimonies about prayer written by others. The honest cries of other souls yearning for connection with our Maker often left me breathless, humbled and a little less lonely. Furthermore, Yancey shows no fundamentalist bias in his selections, with contributions, from across the globe, as diverse as Christ-followers themselves.
Prayer is full of wonderfully enlightening analogies, Biblical references, and quotes. I loved the author’s likening of confession—an especially difficult concept for me in light of God’s omniscience—to the healing that comes after asking a spouse for forgiveness about a sin they are both acutely aware. Another of my favorite sections was “Battering the Gates”, full of familiar Bible stories: the widow nagging the judge for justice; the guest incessantly banging on his neighbor’s door for some decent hospitality; the years Hannah spent begging for a child. These reminders gave me renewed passion for those requests I’ve been presenting for many, many years, seemingly without a response from God.
Not only is this book the single best piece I’ve ever read on prayer, it may be one of the best books I’ve ever read on Christian spirituality. So clearly did I see God’s longing for me to be with Him as I read Prayer, that I repeatedly paused with the book open on my lap to carry on a conversation with my Lord.
Well, I didn't even get halfway through. Yancey's theology is very, very shaky. The problems start early on, when Yancey says that he doesn't believe God "personally programs" every lightning bolt (19). There are only two logical deductions from this belief; either God is not powerful enough to direct every atom in the universe (i.e., there are things beyond His control), or He is unconcerned with details like that. In either case, there is another power in the universe — random chance — that *does* direct those lightning bolts. The Bible is clear that God is indeed powerful enough to direct everything in the universe, and He cares enough to do so. The book of Job is poetic, but it makes several references to God sending lightning bolts as He pleases (chapter 36). The point is that God is totally sovereign over everything in nature. And most Christians are familiar with the passage in Matthew 10 where Jesus says that not a sparrow falls to the ground but that God sees it. He is intimately involved in His creation.
It is appalling that a well-known pop theologian like Yancey has not thought through the implications of beliefs like that. What it really boils down to is a small view of God. This is shown several pages later, where Yancey says "By trying to be strong, I might even block God's power" (36). Block God's power? God can't work His will because we decide to get in His way? Our wills are stronger than His? Is Yancey really saying that we puny humans can thwart the Creator-God of the universe so easily? Wow.
Yancey also misuses the verse about God's desire that none should perish, a common mistake of Arminian theologians. It is II Peter 3:9 which is addressed to the church, not the world at large.
Yancey's tiny, inadequate view of God is chronic and permeates everything he has to say about prayer. He cites Ray Anderson, another theologian who argues that Jesus did not know that Judas was going to betray Him (82). Supposedly this tells us about the uncertainty of prayer — ? Then Yancey goes on to talk about Jesus knowing that Peter would betray Him, as evidenced by His prayer in Luke 22. So Jesus knew Peter would betray Him, but He didn't know Judas would? I really don't understand how Yancey gets away with illogic like this!
I was further sickened by Yancey's over-emphasis on God's so-called "respect for human freedom" (85). Did God respect Israel's freedom when He chose them to be His people and bear the hatred of the rest of the world? No, it was a done deal when God made the choice, not when Israel did. In fact, Israel never did choose to be chosen! Did God respect Job's freedom to decide if he wanted to suffer like that or not? What about Abraham? What about Paul? Yancey writes, "The Lord of the universe becomes so small, so freedom-respecting as to put himself somehow at our mercy. Words fail to capture the enormity of descent when a sovereign God takes up residence in a person and says, in effect, "Don't hurt me. Don't push me away" (85). Faugh. This is not the God of the Bible. It's pathetic.
I only got about ninety pages into this book before I threw it down in angry disgust. The typos I caught were just insult added to injury. The only good things were the quotes from other authors; some were quite thought provoking. But then Yancey would go and include some inane testimony of a random person talking about how it's hard to concentrate while praying. *sigh*
Yancey, I may have appreciated The Jesus I Never Knew seven or eight years ago, but I doubt I would now. A small view of God affects every corner of a person's theology... and there are too many good theologians out there to waste time on the confused ones. Thanks, but no thanks.
Style: Yancey is very personable and easy to read, without being juvenile or condescending.