I’m guest posting today at Susan Storm’s Psychology Junkie blog. Click here to read my article “10 Things INFJs Need In A Friendship”
Why doesn’t God answer more prayers? Why don’t we see dramatic miracles today as often as they happened in the book of Acts? Those are questions that puzzle many a modern Christian. We know God could do more, so why doesn’t He? Why does He choose to use His power in some situations, but not in others?
In other words: If God is love, why doesn’t He do something about all this suffering?
Those are some of the questions tackled in Philip Yancey’s book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (which I highly recommend). One of the things that he points out should be pretty obvious, but it’s something I hadn’t thought of much before. To borrow Yancey’s analogy, God’s not a vending machine. You can’t pop prayers in like quarters and have the answer you requested fall out. There’s more going on.
Prayer is for building relationships as much (or more) as it is for making requests. And while God does answer prayers, he often answers in a different way than we might expect. The “something” that He does in response to prayer has a great deal to do with His people’s relationship to Him.
Partners in the Kingdom.
Let’s start out with a couple quotes from Yancey’s book:
“I will build my church,” Jesus announced, proclaiming the new reign of God’s kingdom on earth. That, too, has taken shape gradually and fitfully over twenty centuries with many embarrassing setbacks to go along with the advances. I think of the profound grief God must feel over some chapters of church history. Yet, as Paul put in an astonishing metaphor, “the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!'” God has made the work of the kingdom dependent on the notoriously unreliable human species (p. 110)
It’s an astonishing thing to think about, really. God calls the foolish, weak, lowly, and despised people, then He entrusts them to act as the body of His son operating in the world (1 Cor. 1:27-28). With that thought in mind, I look at myself (and often others as well) and shake my head wondering, “Oh, Lord, what were you thinking?” And yet, for some reason, He welcomes all believers as partners in the kingdom. Read more
I realized after my last Classics Club post that I’m bad at writing book reviews. I’d intended to just write a short “this is what the books are like, this is what I thought” post for Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels but it turned into an essay on what makes a strong female character and the state of modern feminism. I think I’ll give up on book reviews. Apparently I can only write thoughtful, rambling essays.
That’s not a bad thing though, right? These are classics, after all. People have been writing reviews of them for decades or centuries. If you want to find out about the plot you can go on Goodreads. I’d much rather talk about the ideas prompted by these great books. And I think you might rather read about that, too.
NOTE: this post contains spoilers but not enough, I think, to ruin the book for you
Disclaimer: some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase on that website. Affiliate links are marked with *
A Perfect Fantasy Book
I feel like The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle* should have been a re-read for me, but this was the first time I’d read it. You’d think as much as I love unicorns and fantasy novels I’d have picked this one up earlier. Especially considering how much everyone loves it. Even the guy who wrote the best fantasy book I’ve ever read says, “The Last Unicorn is the best book I have ever read. You need to read it. If you’ve already read it, you need to read it again” (Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Name of the Wind*).
On the surface, The Last Unicorn seems like a pretty simple book. A unicorn overhears two men say there aren’t any unicorns left in the world. Worried that she might be the last one, she goes out searching for other unicorns and meets with the sort of adventures you’d expect in a fantasy novel. There’s a wizard, a merry band of outlaws, a wise woman, a curse, a wicked king, and heroic prince, a talking cat, and a beautiful princess. But there’s so much more than that, too.
How People See You
There’s a lot going on in this relatively short book, so I’m just going to focus on one theme that I found particularly interesting. When the unicorn first sets out on her search, I expected that problems would arise when people spotted a unicorn walking down the road. But all they see is a white mare. The unicorn is puzzled.
“I suppose I could understand if men had simply forgotten unicorns, or if they had changed so that they hated unicorns and tried to kill them when they saw them. But not to see them at all, to look at them and see something else — what do they look like to one another, then? What do trees look like to them, or houses, or real horses, or their own children?”(p. 11).
I have very little trouble believing that God is here with me, real, and listening when I pray. But I do struggle believing He’ll do something about it. I know He can, but I doubt that He will. I don’t ask, “Where are you, Lord?” nearly as much as I do, “Why this and not that?”
This struggle is why I recently read a book called Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey. I’d picked it up about a year ago and it’s been staring at me from my bookshelf ever since. I highly recommend you read it, even though it really didn’t answer my main questions about prayer. Instead, it shifted how I think about prayer.
Responding to God’s Presence
“I have learned to see prayer not as my way of establishing God’s presence, rather as my way of responding to God’s presence that is a fact whether or not I can detect it. … My feelings of God’s presence — or God’s absence — are not the presence or the absence. … God is already present in my life and all around me; prayer offers the chance to attend to and respond to that presence” (Yancey, p. 51-53)
The Bible does talk about people fleeing from the Lord’s presence, leaving His presence, or being unable to enter His presence. And since we’re told “seek Yahweh while he may be found. Call on him while he is near,” it seems that there are times when He cannot be found and is not near (Is. 55:6, WEB). We’re also told our sins can block relationship with God (Is. 59:2). But that doesn’t actually mean He’s not present. Read more
I’m guest posting today at Susan Storm’s Psychology Junkie blog. Click here to read my article “5 Signs You Might Not Be an INFJ – And What You Might Be Instead!”
One of the many issues Paul addressed in his first letter to the Corinthians was that of disunity. The church of Corinth was suffering from a spiritual malady all too common among churches today. They were split into factions, squabbling over which leader to follow, happily tolerating sin, and looking down on fellow believers. Paul’s words to them can give us guidance for finding a way out of similar problems today.
Disunity is Ridiculous
Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers, by those who are from Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” “I follow Cephas,” and, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:10-13, WEB)
Paul is begging these people in the name of our savior to stop their contentions and divisions. His questions, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you” shine a spotlight on how ridiculous their squabbles and disagreements really are. Christ is not divided and He’s the one into whom we were baptized. There is no division when we’re in Him.
The Mind of Christ
When Paul talks about being like-minded with each other in Philippians, he follows it with “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:1-5, KJV). Our unity comes from all of us learning to think like Jesus. It is the height of arrogance to think we could come up with a better plan, interpretation, or idea than what He has given us. Read more