John's Reviews > Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

Prayer by Philip Yancey
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Mar 29, 2010

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Read from March 17 to 29, 2010

My favorite chapter was Chapter 14: "Tongue-tied." This chapter talks, in part, about distractions that come up while praying, and it was a great reassurance to me to know that great prayer warriors have dealt with distractions just like I do.
Teresa of Avila admitted to shaking the sand in her hourglass to make her hour of prayer go faster.
Martin Luther wrote of his own experiences, and added: "Resolve to pray earnestly, and no doubt you will see how large an assortment of your own thoughts will rush in on you and distract you ..."
And John Donne: "I neglect God and his Angels for the noise of a Flie, the rattling of a Coach, for the whining of a doore."
And Philip Yancey shares good, practical advice on this subject from British theologian Herbert McCabe:
"People often complain of 'distractions' during prayer. Their mind goes wandering off on to other things. This is nearly always due to praying for something you do not really much want; you just think it would be proper and respectable and 'religious' to want it. ... Distractions are nearly always your real wants breaking in on your prayer for edifying but bogus wants. If you are distracted, trace your distraction back to the real desires it comes from and pray about these. When you are praying for what you really want you will not be distracted. People on sinking ships do not talk about distractions during their prayer."
I also liked this, from Chapter 9, "What Difference Does It Make?":
"I know a couple in New Jersey who saw signs on their street and announcements in the paper notifying the neighborhood that a registered sex offender had just been released from prison and had moved into the area. The couple started praying for the man pictured on the posters, and occasionally they would see him on the street. Neighbors made a wide berth around the home he was living in, sometimes wrote graffiti on it, and warned their children against the occupant. After praying, this couple visited him and then opened their home to a weekly breakfast for ex-offenders like him. For twenty-one years they have been hosting that breakfast."
Wow.
I also like this thought, from Chapter 21, "Prayer and Others": "What effect might it have if every Christian church adopted the name of one Al-Qaeda member and prayed faithfully for that person?"
Yes, I thought, and what effect might it have if, instead of writing an angry e-mail to my congressman when I dislike something he has done, I pray for him? No, I'm not comparing my congressman to an al-Qaeda member, but the principal is the same.
Yancey intersperses his text with stories from various people about their prayer experiences. This interrupts the flow of the text, and after the first two or three I stopped reading them. Perhaps I'll go back and read them later; I don't have to return the book to the library for a couple of weeks.
In a like manner, most of his footnotes were more distracting than helpful. Most of them could have been incorporated into the text or left out altogether.
Lots of good stuff in this book, although it did seem to me to keep covering the same ground in slightly different ways.
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