Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference by Philip Yancey, revisited.

This year, the deacons all had to read Prayer by Philip Yancey. I read it early last year and really enjoyed it, but was happy to revisit it. We had a good discussion about prayer, what stuck out to us in the book, and how we experience prayer.

These days I do find it difficult to know what to pray. Things in our lives are good – we have jobs and a nice house and our health. We’re busy but happy. We have great friends and a good support system. We are active at our church and learn a lot from our participation there. All of that is true. But I also struggle with feeling overwhelmed, feeling like I don’t have time for my friends and family. There are a lot of problems in the world and in our country. I pray The Divine Hours, and I pray for people who have asked me for prayer, but I do not know what to pray for myself. I believe that prayer makes a difference. At least 80% of me believes that. Most of the time. I believe that the process of taking something to God, the creator of the universe, changes things, though I can’t tell you exactly what that looks like. I think he cares, and I think that the process of prayer can give me compassion and spur me to action, take me out of my feelings of being overwhelmed and my selfishness. I think that being in communication with God is important.

But I can’t say that I always believe that praying for myself makes any difference. I still struggle with bitterness and resentment, just like I did in high school. I still try to please people too much, just like I did in college. I am still too impatient, just like I was in the early days of our marriage. I think I am a little bit softer than I was in high school or college. But it doesn’t seem like quite enough.

Lately I haven’t had words to tell my friends and family about my life. I don’t want to always be griping about the classes that I am taking, so I don’t say anything, and the frustration builds up. There has been some extra stress in one particular area the past few weeks, and I haven’t been able to talk about it or explain myself. We’ve been especially busy, with Mike getting the hang of teaching this first year. I don’t know how to carve out time to do the things that help me feel better, like spending time with my friends and baking. And I haven’t known what to say to God, either. I know he’s there, but I still have so many questions about prayer and faith that I haven’t been able to figure out what to say.

Part of it is that I miss my dad. I understand, on one hand, that we live in a broken world and that we have poisoned our bodies with many of the wrong things. And I don’t blame God for that. But I also really feel like, you know, I wish my daddy was still here. I think all of us are more used to how things are now, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t have questions about why God tells us we ought to pray for physical healing when it so rarely happens.

Philip Yancey devotes a chapter to the idea of physical healing, and he emphasizes the importance of a humble, expectant faith mingled with the possibility/probability that healing may not take place. He also reminds us that God is “the God of all comfort.” But he admits that he himself struggles with the dilemma of prayer and physical healing. One of the reasons I appreciate Philip Yancey so much is that he doesn’t offer pat answers to these questions. He points out what the Bible says and offers his own beliefs and opinions, but he also allows space for the tension of struggle that exists on these sorts of issues. Reading that chapter, I was reminded that the healing that God offers is for more than just our physical selves. As much as I wished that my dad could be healed from pancreatic cancer, I am thankful that he has now experienced a greater sort of healing and completeness.

Perhaps what I should be praying for is for my own healing from this pain. I don’t know what that would mean, exactly, because I know I am going to keep on missing my dad and being sad that he’s not here. I am going to keep on having questions. If there is one main point to this book, it’s that it’s important to keep talking with God about the things in your life, even the things you have questions about. God desires a relationship with us, and we can believe that even if we don’t get our answers. We can also believe that one day understanding will come. Yancey sums all of that up in the book’s final paragraph:

Sometimes I think about my first face-to-face conversation with God. I have so many unresolved questions, so many laments and regrets. Where should I begin? Various openings play out in my mind, until I remember with a start whom in fact I will be talking to, the One who spun out galaxies and created all that exists. Objections fade away, doubts dissolve, and I imagine myself falling back on words akin to Job’s: “Oh, now I get it.” And then the conversation resumes.

My dad did not want to leave us. But I believe he has already had the chance to take the question of why he cannot be here directly to his creator. And I trust that now he gets it, even if I do not.

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