Thursday, March 26, 2009

Yancey on Prayer: Why Is It So Difficult?

More from Prayer: Does It Make a Difference? By Philip Yancey:

“Some manuals on prayer imply that time spent with God will rank as the high point of the day and that prayer following spontaneously from anointed lips will usher in miraculous answers. Instead the prayer-er finds himself battling boredom, fatigue, and a nagging feeling that she’s wasting time. What went wrong? she wonders.”

And, as Yancey points out, modern life has provided more and more distractions that ever:

“Of course, all the electronic devices have an on/off switch, but somehow their offerings seem more productive or enticing than sitting quietly in conversation with God. Let’s be honest: by most standards they are more productive and enticing than prayer.” (p. 164)

Some of it has to do with expectations. Yancey cites the research of Daniel Yankovich, who identifies the cultural shift that occurred in America in the 1970s. It was right around the time that we traded in our values or self-denial and deferred gratification, and looked instead for self-fulfillment and emotional satisfaction, preferably without sacrifice or delay. But prayer doesn’t seem to work that way. It takes discipline and rarely yields measurable results or satisfies our emotional cravings right away.

Few people find prayer fulfilling, easy, or rewarding. One of Yancey’s friends wrote to him when he was doing research for this book and shared her theory that prayer is analogous to sex. “Sex and prayer and intimate are over-glamorized relationships. [This] sets up false expectations. And breaks down intimacy.”

Yancey agrees with her unlikely analogy. “Like sex, prayer centers in relationship, more than technique.” (p. 159)

And, as he suggests, reading a book about prayer, like reading a sex manual, is hardly as useful as knowing and building an intimate relationship with one’s partner.

See also: this article on "prayer and temperament"

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