September 25, 2010

According to my Kindle, I am 64% in to Philip Yancey’s book called “Prayer.” But I have to say my satisfaction level is at well over that percentage score – say at 90%. I’m a big fan of Yancey. He opened my eyes to God’s grace (What’s so Amazing about Grace), he gave me an appreciation for the Old Testament (The Bible Jesus Read), and supplied insight on the problem of pain (Disappointment with God). He is one of the most prolific writers among Evangelical circles, and I admire him because of the honesty in his writings and his deep compassion for marginalized peoples (he speaks often on behalf of his gay friends and his experiences with Dr. Brand who is a surgeon for leprosy patients in Nepal and elsewhere). However, anyone who has read some of my previous blog entries and followed a bit of my faith journey will soon realize I have, for a while now, battled Evangelical subculture and some of her main tenants, and so it is with some hesitation that I picked up Yancey’s book on Prayer and began reading.

First, let me give a little background as to why I have been dwelling on the subject of prayer. For a long time, years I would say, I have not been having regular quiet times. There, I said it. If I haven’t abandoned Evangelicalism by now, at this proclamation I’m sure Evangelicalism will have abandoned me. Part of the reason is because I started having children, whom, if you’re not familiar, are little human beings who demand your attention/resources/energy 24/7, and the Q in QT is a bit of an elusive concept for a new mother. But the bigger part of the reason is most likely the earlier reference to my rebellion against Ev. subculture, a dare, if you will, to see if I dropped QT’s if I will still be able to live and thrive with vibrant faith in our Lord Jesus, who is so much bigger than the constructs of Christian subculture. Along with QT’s, I also questioned prayer. The buzz word us post-Evangelicals, progressives, Christian hipsters, whatever the heck we’re called, love to use is “authenticity.” I want to pray what I honestly think and believe. So explain to me how a prayer that goes like this: “God I pray for my beloved friend’s cancer to go away, but your will be done” doesn’t sound like the most empty, holier-than-thou-by-copying Jesus’ words, INauthentic prayer ever?! What I want to say is “God, I want my friend’s cancer to go away, I know You desire healing and wholeness, and yet I know as I speak, there’s a 95-100% chance my friend will die in three months of this cancer.” Now that’s the truth.

And so it is with these issues that I decided to crack open Yancey’s book, hoping to shed some light on these contentions with prayer. Part one bored me and had me entertaining the thought of writing a book “Disappointment with Yancey”. It was all about prayer being central to our relationship with God and it is through coming to God that we realign our perspectives with God’s perspectives. Sounds good, except for I’ve heard it all before many many times, and I have some serious issues with the implications of, quote Yancey at location 477, “Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.” Horrible things have happened because Christians have gone to prayer and decided reality from God’s POV. I get what you’re trying to say, I disagree with it, let’s move on.

Ah, part two was much more interesting, confronting questions of what difference does prayer make, does prayer change God, etc. I really enjoyed this as it addresses some of the issues I had and I came away encouraged and hopeful. Some of the main points that I resonated with are as follows:

– for some reason we can’t fathom (well, love), God chose to work in partnership with us. We see this all over Scripture and history, He chose to choose a people, a nation, through whom to bless the world. In prayer, we acknowledge and engage in the partnership to bring forth His kingdom in this world.

– in prayer, whether it’s praise and adoration, weeping and chest thumping in pain or a myriad of other expressions, we both change God and ourselves. And God knows I need to be changed, so much for the better, thus prayer is a worthy enterprise – to be shaped into a person of holy character for use in His Kingdom. See, isn’t this getting so much more interesting?

– “we gotta pray with our lips and we gotta pray with our legs”, okay that’s not a direct quote from Yancey, but my paraphrase (I’m sure I got it from some other famous person.) In this section he speaks of prayers leading to social activism, loving our enemies, and caring for our environment (er, my husband said that last one, not Yancey, but it’s a good addition).

– we all know about answered prayers and unanswered prayers. And we also know the pat answers given: sometimes it’s not the right time, God knows better than we do, etc. etc. But one thing is for certain, despite the outcome of our prayers, God can redeem even the most horrific circumstances, and much of that redemption comes because we pray. I may have never witnessed a supernatural healing, but I have witnessed account after account of supernatural response from godly men and women. Most poignant example in my own life has been seeing my friends lose their baby and come through that experience continuing to serve in faithfulness on the mission field. Amazing.

The climax of the book undoubtedly came at the chapter called “Prayer and Physical Healing.” I recommend this chapter to anyone who doesn’t want to read the whole book if you have questions/doubts about this issue as I do. The big shocker to me was that he actually quoted Dr. Paul Brand (mentioned earlier as surgeon for leprosy patients in developing countries) this: “From my own experience as a physician I must truthfully admit that, among the thousands of patients I have treated, I have never observed an unequivocal instance of intervention in the physical realm. Many were prayed for, many found healing, but not in ways that counteracted the laws governing anatomy. No case I have treated personally would meet the rigorous criteria for a supernatural miracle.” Jaw drop. An Evangelical Christian writer writing about prayer and healing, openly quoting and admitting they have never seen or experienced a supernatural healing. Yay for me, I’m not the only one!

He goes on to say, instances of supernatural healing occurs much more frequently in the developing world (though note Dr. Brand worked in developing worlds.) Basically, the trouble with God is He doesn’t play by our rules. He says He wants us to pray for healing but He heals so haphazardly (from our perspective) and frankly very very rarely. Instead of being discouraged by this, I am so pleased that Yancey dealt with this so honestly and stuck to his journalistic integrity by reporting the facts despite it being not so glamorous for God. I am also thankful that Yancey encourages his readers to not perpetuate a sick person’s pain by falsely giving them hope of supernatural healing. We’ve all heard horror stories (starting with Job’s friends) of Christians who counsel their sick friends to simply have more faith…and they will be healed.

So again, why, then, do we pray (for healing)? First, because I still believe in a God of miracles. I believe my God made a miracle when He created my inner ear to maintain a sense of balance, I truly marvel at that act of design and creation. I believe He made a miracle when he gave my body the ability to self-heal. I believe He made a miracle to give humans the ability to think and research and create healing methods and drugs. So I appeal to this God of miracles to utilize all of the above resources to heal my dizziness. Second, Yancey writes of another doctor, Dr. Vernon Grounds, who in his ninety years of life has never observed an undeniable miracle of physical healing, prays daily with fervent hope for a friend with an untreatable kidney condition. Faith, Hope, and Love is why I will choose to continue to pray for myself and friends who are sick. Faith in that God of miracles, Hope that His promises of health and wholeness in the future will be ushered in because of the work of Jesus, and Love for all the people God has placed on my heart will continue to drive me to my knees.

I’ve got 36% more to go in the book.