Prayer — Does it Make any Difference?
Acclaimed author and Messiah College Commencement speaker Philip Yancey probes the mysterious language of prayer in this excerpt from his most recent bestseller
We learn to speak not by studying vocabulary and grammar but by babbling, forcing the mouth and supple tongue to form sounds that mimic those we hear. . . . Amazingly, even deaf children babble, but with no aural feedback their ability dwindles. To talk, we need others’ help. A child cannot learn language in isolation, as proved by the horrific cases of children locked for years in attics and closets. . . .
Learning to pray, like learning to talk, read, or walk, takes time and involves trial and error. The process will doubtless include feelings of awkwardness and failure. Like grammar, the “rules” of prayer have the ultimate goal of making it a natural act. Fortunately, we have many mentors in the process and many resources to draw from. People have been praying for a very long time.
Consider first the Lord’s Prayer, or the “Our Father.” Jesus taught it to his disciples, who were already well-trained in the Jewish prayers of their day. Yet they recognized a new approach in Jesus’ style of praying and asked for help. In response, he gave this model prayer.
Like most churchgoers I have prayed the Lord’s Prayer hundreds of times, so that I say it without even thinking. It helps me to slow down, reflect on each phrase, and even add my own personal application.
Our Father, who art in heaven
I begin with an enduring term of relationship, “Father.” Remind me today that you live and reign, not in heaven only but all around me and in my life. Make me aware of your active presence all day, in all my undertakings and in the people I meet.
Hallowed be your name
How can I recognize you — in the splendor of nature, in the odd mix of people I meet, in the still voice that calls me to be more like you? May I “hallow” what lies before me, by consciously referring it to you, and also honor your perfection, your holiness, by seeking to become more like you.
Your kingdom come
Yes, and allow me to be an agent of that kingdom by bringing peace to the anxious, grace to the needy, and your love to all whom I touch. May people believe in your reign of goodness because of how I live today.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
I see that will most clearly in Jesus, who healed the sick and comforted the grieving, who lifted up the downtrodden, who stood always for life and not death, for hope and not despair, for freedom and not bondage. He lived out heaven’s will on earth. Help me be like Jesus.
Give us today our daily bread
We have no guarantee of a day beyond this one. May I trust you for what I need today, nourishment for both body and soul, and not worry about future needs and wants. May I also be ever responsive to those who lack bread today.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven
Remind me of my true state, as a debtor who can never buy my way into your favor. Thank God, I do not have to. Grant me the same attitude of forgiving grace toward those who owe me, and who have wronged me, that you show toward me.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us
from the evil one
Let me not slide mindlessly toward evil today. Make me alert to its temptations and strong to resist it, with neither fear nor regret.
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