Philip Yancey’s excellent book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference, begins with a story from the author’s November 2002 visit to St. Petersburg, Russia. The city was preparing to celebrate its 300th birthday and many buildings were covered with scaffolds as the city got a facelift. Early one morning, Yancey went jogging and as he turned a corner, ran into a piece of steel rebar and passed out. When he awoke, he was in pain and missing a front tooth. Having heard horror stories about Russia’s medical care, he decided to wait and see his own doctor when he got home. He sent an email requesting prayer from loved ones… but his internet connection was poor and he was unsure if his message got through. He later reflected how we often wonder if our prayers reach God. Sometimes we pray and get dramatic answers, while at other times nothing seems to change. We are unsure if our prayers are effective. Even so, a Gallup poll several years ago revealed more Americans pray weekly than: exercise, drive a car or go to work. Remarkably, 75% of Americans said they pray daily. Patricia Hampl observed when we pray we place ourselves in God’s care and acknowledge we need him. But even those who pray regularly do not always do it well. Yancey told the story of an extremely shy woman who attended a class he taught about prayer. She came regularly, but never spoke, so the class was surprised when she said, “I’m not always sincere when I pray, and sometimes it seems forced, more like a ritual. I’m just repeating words. Does God hear those prayers? Should I keep going even though I have no confidence that I’m doing it right?” Yancey let her question hang for a few moments before replying, “Do you notice how quiet it is here? We all sense your honesty. It took courage for you to be vulnerable, and you touched a nerve with others of us in the room. You seem sincere, unlike a salesman, say, who gets paid to give a spiel. We’re tuned in, listening, respectful, because you are being authentic. And I imagine it’s the same with God. More than anything, God wants your authentic self.” Prayer is not about the right words, but instead about connecting with God. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need.” (Matthew 6:7-8, The Message) Jesus was right, God wants us to talk to him as the caring father he is, not as a mere acquaintance. Remarkably, as we do that, we discover he values our time with him more than we can imagine. Like all great dads, God eagerly awaits our visits.
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