A Christian Post correspondent in Australia recently caught up with evangelical author Philip Yancey to discuss with him about his book, "Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?" which has been out for nearly a year.
Yancey, who has twice won ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publisher's Association)'s Christian Book of the Year Award, has touched the lives of over 15 million people since his first book was published in 1977. He's also written articles for Reader's Digest, The Saturday Evening Post, Publishers Weekly, Chicago Tribune Magazine, Eternity, Moody Monthly, and National Wildlife, among others.
Yancey currently serves as a columnist and editor-at-large for Christianity Today magazine, where he has been an editor for many years. He is also a member of the editorial board of Books & Culture, another magazine affiliated with Christianity Today, and travels around the world for speaking engagements.
The following are excerpts from the interview with the best-selling Christian author:
CP: Tell us about your latest book and what inspired you to write it?
Yancey: This may surprise you, but I wrote 'Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?' because I felt so bad about my prayer life. Surveys show that the vast majority of people pray at least sometimes. Yet if you're like me, when you read books on prayer you end up feeling guilty and inferior. Few people I've talked to experience satisfaction in prayer.
I write books about questions I don't know the answer to, issues that are still unresolved for me. And I've waited a long time to tackle this subject of prayer, mainly because I didn't know what to say.
In the process of writing, my prayer life has changed. I used to see prayer as a spiritual discipline – one of those things you're supposed to do. Now I see it as a spiritual privilege – an opportunity to communicate with the Creator of the universe who loves me and gives me the ability to converse. In the book, I set out everything I've learned about prayer.
CP: Do you consider prayer, then, as a gift from God to help us get to know Him more deeply?
Yancey: That's a good way to put it. For me, prayer is not so much me setting out a shopping list of requests for God to consider as it is a way of 'keeping company with God.' God encourages us to be totally honest about what is going on in our lives. As part of my research I studied each of the 650 prayers in the Bible, and their frankness and honesty stands out. We need to be honest with God and then get an honest portrait of what God is like. The best way to do that is to get to know Jesus.
A British archbishop (Michael Ramsey) wrote: 'In God is no unChristlikeness at all.' That's a fancy way of saying, 'If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.' Prayer involves a two-way relationship in which we make ourselves known to God and get to know God.
CP: What makes a Christian prayer unique compared to other religions which also advocate prayer?
Yancey: I'm no expert on other religions, but I would have to say the personal aspect of Christian prayer stands out.
Muslims have great reverence in their prayers, but not much intimacy. Hindu and Buddhist prayer practices can be esoteric or ritualistic. Even Jewish prayers lean toward the ritualistic. After following Jesus around for some time the disciples, faithful Jews who prayed daily, asked him, 'Teach us to pray.' They sensed something different in the way Jesus approached the Father personally and intimately.
CP: Amen. Before we conclude, I have one last question I'd like to ask. Tom Slater, the national director of the Australian Evangelical Alliance, has referred you as a "good friend" of the EA. I was wondering if you have any comments about the EA as it is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Yancey: On my tour of Australia, I am speaking to three gatherings of EA – in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. I agreed to this because I believe EA represents an important value of the Kingdom – that of unity. Jesus' last prayer with the disciples, in John 17, centered on the need for unity – and yet we in the Church haven't done a very good job of living out that prayer, have we? Last I heard, there were 34,000 separate denominations in the world. Obviously, the EA will not break down all barriers, but at least you can bring together Christians who share a commitment to the essentials. I believe in the mission of EA!