Talking to God? Keep it real, author says

Published: December 6, 2006 | 5156th good news item since 2003

Philip Yancey says even biblical heroes such as Moses were willing to talk to God like a friend.

God doesn’t want pretty prayers. Instead, the Creator of the universe wants people to pour out their hearts, to talk to God like they would a close friend, to say things even though they might not sound noble. [Grace Plus Nothing]

That was the message nationally known Christian author Philip Yancey gave Tuesday to an audience of about 200 at First United Methodist Church.

When researching his latest book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, Yancey said, he read as many other books as he could on the subject. Those books were preachy and made regular folks feel inadequate. The authors talked of praying regularly for hours, and of making only the most pious requests.

“They made me feel inferior. I wanted to write a book that didn’t make people feel guilty and inferior,” said Yancey, an award-winning writer whose other books include such titles as Where is God When It Hurts?, What’s So Amazing About Grace? and Church: Why Bother?

Yancey, who has appeared on national cable TV news shows and has been praised by the likes of the Rev. Billy Graham, came to First United Methodist because of local connections. An aunt, Ruth Lott, lives in the area and attends the church. Its pastor, the Rev. Richard Schmidt, received spiritual guidance from Yancey and his books when his first wife was ill with breast cancer.

It’s no coincidence that many of Yancey’s book titles are questions of people struggling with doubts. Yancey was once one of them. He grew up in what he calls a “toxic church” in which racism and hypocrisy flourished. He rebelled but eventually returned to his faith.

Yancey said a book on prayer was a natural next step as his own faith matured.

“I could not have written this book 20 years ago,” he said.

Prayer, he explained, is not meant to eliminate suffering. Nor is it meant to impress God.

One need only look at the 650 prayers in the Bible to see that all are not happy.

“Some of them are pretty cantankerous,” he said. “They say, ‘God, you’re supposed to be powerful. It sure doesn’t look like it.’ ”

Yancey said prayer can change God’s decisions.

For example, God agreed to Abraham’s request to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were a handful of good people there. (There weren’t.)

Moses also argued with God when he was about to give up on freeing the Israelites and finding the promised land.

“Most of the time, Moses wins,” he said.

Yancey said prayer also changes the person doing the praying.

Many seminary students involved in the 1960s got burned out because they focused too much on action and didn’t nourish their spirits through prayer.

“Prayer is an essential part of doing God’s work in the world,” he said.

Yancey said the most important lesson, which he learned through writing the book, was that prayer is not a chore like calisthenics.

“I used to think if I did it long enough and right enough, that God would approve,” he said.

“I came to see prayer as more of a spiritual privilege.”

Published in Prayer
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