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Last time I wrote about obstacles Yancey saw to keeping relationship with God. However, “Prayer means keeping company with God who is already present.” We must remind ourselves that God is present.

Mesiter Eckhart (a German theologian and mystic, c. 1260 – c. 1328) asserts, “The quieter the mind, the more powerful the worthier, the deeper, the more telling and more perfect the prayer is.” God does not yell. We must get ourselves off stage to listen more clearly to God.

Yancey writes, “I became more convinced than ever that God finds ways to communicate to those who truly seek God, especially when we lower the volume of the surrounding static. I remembered reading the account of a spiritual seeker who interrupted a busy life to spend a few days in a monastery. ‘I hope your stay is a blessed one,’ said the monk who showed the visitor to his cell. ‘If you need anything, let us know and we’ll teach you how to live without it.'”

Finally, “We learn to pray by praying.” You can read about prayer. You can listen to others pray. But to really grow in prayer you just need to pray.

“Everyone approaches God with a set of preconceptions gleaned from many sources: church, Sunday school lessons, books, movies, sermons by television evangelists, stray comments by believers and skeptics alike.” Like we talked about on Sunday, we all have images of God in our mind. Some of those are well founded. Some come from sources we should probably rethink, but it’s still difficult to get past those images.

Yancey argues that it is difficult to relate to God as a real person because of our preconceived image.

“As an adult, I still relate to people by virtue of their roles: the clerk at Starbucks, the car wash attendant, the software support person on a phone line from India. When I choose friends, though, people I want to know on a more intimate level, I push past the externals to the real person underneath. I spend time with my closest friends not because of what they can do for me but for the pleasure of their company.”

But how do we cultivate a friendship relationship with God? There are many obstacles. Yancey discusses God’s greatness and our relative insignificance. Much like Isaiah in the presence of God, we are overwhelmed by God’s greatness and our sinfulness. But God has provided for our cleansing.

A second obstacle is his invisibility. We don’t always sense his presence. But as we look around our world with eyes of faith, we can see God’s presence in a multitude of ways.

Yancey writes, “Prayer is a subversive act performed in a world that constantly calls faith into question.”

Philip Yancey writes, “Prayer invites me to lower defenses and present the self that no other person fully knows to a God who already knows.”

Yancey goes over several obstacles to this vulnerability in prayer. There is guilt and doubt, feelings of helplessness. He writes, “Prayer invites me to bring my whole life into God’s presence for cleansing and restoration.” And yet, we hesitate.

“Foolishly, I hide myself in fear that God will be displeased, though in fact the hiding may be what displeases God most. From my side, the wall seems like self-protection; from God’s side it looks like lack of trust. In either case, the wall will keep us apart until I acknowledge my need and God’s surpassing desire to meet it. When I finally approach God, in fear and trembling, I find not a tyrant but a lover.”

It is so easy for our world to get out of perspective, for us to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Sometimes we are reminded of our tininess by the grandeur of the world around us, but more often than not, we hold ourselves in pretty high esteem. Prayer, according to Yancey, helps us to reverse those thoughts. Prayer reminds us that it is not God who serves us, but we who serve God.

“‘Be still and know that I am God’: the Latin imperative for ‘be still’ is vacate. As Simon Tugwell explains, ‘God invites us to take a holiday [vacation], to stop being God for a while, and let him be God.’ Too often we think of prayer as a serious chore, something that must be scheduled around other appointments, shoehorned in among other pressing activities. We miss the point, says Tugwell: ‘God is inviting us to take a break, to play truant. We can stop doing all those important things we have to do in our capacity as God, and leave it to him to be God.’ Prayer allows me to admit my failures, weaknesses, and limitations to One who responds to human vulnerability with infinite mercy.”

I’ve been reading a book with the college students by Philip Yancey titled Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? I thought I’d share some of his thoughts here.

Yancey begins by examining the universal nature of prayer. Nearly every religion has some type of prayer, some way of approaching God to get his attention. Nearly everyone prays, at some time in their lives. Yancey then interviewed ordinary people on their prayer lives. He reports:

“Typically the results went like this: Is prayer important to you? Oh, yes. How often do you pray? Every day. Approximately how long? Five minutes–well, maybe seven. Do you find prayer satisfying? Not really. Do you sense the presence of God when you pray? Occasionally, not often. Many of those I talked to experienced prayer more as a burden than as a pleasure. They regarded it as important, even paramount, and felt guilty about their failure, blaming themselves.”

It is this subject that Yancey explores in his book. I’ll be sharing more from Yancey’s book over the next several weeks.

My family and I returned from a week at the beach. It was a beautiful week. We had wonderful weather and a great time visiting with family. The temperatures were in the low to mid 80’s all week. The water temperature in the high 70’s. Each day involved walks on the beach and resting at the house.

Several people have expressed their surprise that we went on vacation with our families. The list included my wife and I and our two boys, my brother and sister-in-law and their two girls, my parents, and my in-laws (for only a few days). There were twelve of us in the five bedroom house for part of the week, ten for the remainder of the time. We all get along well and for my family and my brother’s it’s free babysitting from the grandparents.

It was a very relaxing, fun week. We went to the Aquarium, Shackleford Island to see the wild horses and hunt shells, the Pier to see the sharks, and the beach every day. We ate out at several good restaurants and cooked in for several other meals. Overall a great week.