Answering Questions About Prayer
Q. What makes Christian prayer unique compared to other religions which also advocate prayer?
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.
Q. In Europe a lot of people say that they pray, but just a few call themselves Christians. How is that possible?
Yes, polls show that more people pray than believe in God! The writer Anne Lamott says she has two favorite prayers: “Thanks, thanks, thanks” and “Help, help, help!” That points to the natural human response we have. If something wonderful happens—a birth, perhaps, or surviving an accident or getting a clear report after a cancer checkup—we feel gratitude and want to express it. And when we’re in real trouble, we cry out for help. Those responses seem instinctive. Prayer offers a way to channel those instincts and connect us to the Giver of all good gifts, the One who can indeed help us in time of need.
Q. Does prayer make a difference?
I would express it this way: things happen on this earth that would not happen apart from prayer. I fill my book with illustrations, not so much the miraculous, supernatural kind because I don’t believe that is God’s normal way of working. God works in partnership with us, and prayer is the primary channel of that partnership. It involves listening as much as talking. My pastor in Chicago used to say, “Each day I wake up and ask where God might be working in the world, then ask how I can be part of that work.” That’s a healthy perspective.